French nuclear giant Areva signed a preliminary deal Wednesday to provide India with up to six new-generation nuclear reactors, expanding the list of countries that are adopting the technology in response to skyrocketing energy demand.

The Paris-based company says the deal signed with Indian electric utility Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. will pave the way for technical co-operation on at least two and as many as six of Areva's so-called EPRs, or Evolutionary Power Reactors, at the Jaitapur site in the western state of Maharashtra.

Areva's statement didn't provide the estimated value of the deal.

India has refused to sign non-proliferation agreements and had faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974. In September, the countries that supply nuclear technologies agreed to lift the ban, paving the way for lucrative contracts with India.

The Areva-designed pressurized water reactors, which are meant to replace aging reactors around the world whose designs date from decades ago, are already under construction in Finland, France and China. Areva also has plans to build the new reactors in Britain and the United States, company spokeswoman Patricia Marie said.

The Finnish project has been plagued by repeated delays due to faulty materials and planning problems since construction began in 2005. The 1,600-megawatt plant was to be online in 2009, but the latest estimated startup date is 2012.

India requires a "huge addition in power generation" to meet its growing demand, Areva said. NPCIL already has five reactors under construction, which will increase its electricity generating capacity by 2,660 megawatts, from 4,120 megawatts currently. It operates all of India's 17 existing nuclear reactors.

Last year, an executive at Areva's rival General Electric Co. estimated the size of India's nuclear market at more than $30 billion US.

Today, India gets just three per cent of its energy — about 4,100 megawatts — from nuclear power. By 2032 the government plans to quadruple total generating capacity to 700 gigawatts, with nuclear accounting for 63,000 megawatts.

That adds up to about 40 new nuclear reactors, worth some $80 billion, according to NPCIL chairman Shreyans Kumar Jain.

Besides GE, Areva competes with Westinghouse Electric Co. and Russia's Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corp. to build new reactors in India. Rosatom is already helping India build two nuclear reactors.