Dutch clear way for nuclear sale

Sunday, March 17, 2013

HOLLAND has dropped its historic opposition to a sale of Urenco, clearing the way for a full privatisation of the state-backed nuclear fuel maker.

The sudden change of heart came after several rounds of intergovernmental talks over the future of Urenco, which is owned by the governments of Britain and Holland and two German utility companies.

The British and Germans were planning to press ahead with selling their stakes this year, but the Dutch had held back because of fears about security.

Sources close to the talks said the Dutch had now agreed to a sale, provided strict controls on the company, including a golden share to be held by the governments, were put in place.

Urenco, based in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, is the world leader in uranium enrichment, making fuel for nuclear power stations. It employs 1,400 and has four plants in Europe - including a British site at Capenhurst, Cheshire - and an enrichment facility in America. Its centrifuge technology can also be used to make atomic weapons.

The company's dominant position has made it a keenly sought after asset. Bankers think it could fetch as much as £12bn, bringing a much-needed £4bn windfall for the chancellor.

It will be the biggest privatisation since the Conservative government sold off the railways in the late 1990s. The proceeds may exceed those from the expected sale of Royal Mail. this year.

The government has appointed Morgan Stanley, the American investment bank, to handle the sale. A float of the company is also a possibility.

The Dutch state's change of heart, expected to be revealed in the coming weeks, will alert potential buyers around the globe. At least four groups are believed to be assembling offers.

Two of these are Canadian. The Canada Pension Plan, which manages the assets of the country's largest pension fund, is believed to be among the suitors. Cameco, the Canadian uranium producer, is weighing a bid, as is Toshiba, the Japanese industrial giant.

Areva, the nuclear reactor developer controlled by the French state, is understood to be holding talks with a handful of private equity houses, including Apax and CVC, about a possible joint offer.

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