French group Areva will sign on Thursday an agreement to start exclusive talks with U.S. power group Duke Energy to build a new generation nuclear reactor in Ohio, said a source close to the situation.

The companies will enter into exclusive talks for the development of an EPR reactor on the Piketon site, in Ohio, the source told Reuters, confirming a newspaper report by La Tribune.

The source, who asked not to be named, said that the chief executive of Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, would sign an agreement on the Piketon site just before midday, in local time, with executives of Duke Energy, and other partners in the project.

Areva has 18 months to prepare documents, notably the early site permit, and a combined construction and operating license, the source said, adding that Areva and Duke Energy would partner with Unistar Nuclear Energy, a joint venture between French power group EDF and Constellation Energy Group , and uranium enrichment specialist USEC .

Duke Energy will organize a bid open to Areva's competitors, as requested by law, but the source said: What is sure is that Duke will talk to no one else for 18 months.

The source added that if a deal had not been entirely reached by the end of 2010, Areva and Duke Energy may decide to extend their negotiations beyond this date.

Areva is in the process of having its EPR technology certified in the United States before it can go ahead with eight projects, including Piketon, it has there.

The new U.S. administration is hoping to pass a bill that aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 by promoting the development of energies such as nuclear, wind and solar power and other alternative energy, as well as cleaner coal.

Areva, a state-controlled nuclear reactor supplier, is currently building four EPR reactors in the world, one in Finland, a second in France and two others in China.

(Reporting by Marie Maitre; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)