French state-controlled nuclear energy group Areva on Thursday posted an 8.5 percent rise in first-quarter sales to 3.003 billion euros ($3.9 billion).

Growth would have been 3.9 percent at constant exchange rates and comparing operations like-for-like.

Areva is at the heart of a French drive to lead a global expansion drive in nuclear energy as one of the ways to cut countries' dependency on oil. Other big French groups in the sector are EDF and GDF Suez.

On Thursday it lost a chance for a U.S. station as Ameren Corp suspended efforts to build a new nuclear power plant in Missouri due to unfavorable legislation. Areva would have provided the reactor.

Areva said that for the year as a whole it confirmed its outlook for order backlog and revenue growth as well as rising operating income.

The backlog of orders was 49.5 billion euros, up 28.3 percent. The backlog was mainly boosted by nuclear, which was up 31.3 percent, while transmission and distribution rose 10.2 percent.

Areva said that during the quarter, uranium prices dropped, which led to greater selectivity in mining investments.

It said civil work was continuing at the OL3 project for a nuclear station in Finland and work on Flamanville, France, and Taishan in China was proceeding according to schedule.

The group is implementing a 600 million euro cost reduction program and plans to reduce working capital by 300 million. ($1=.7678 Euro)

(Reporting by Marcel Michelson, editing by Will Waterman and Gerald E. McCormick)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2009.