Bidders down to final pair for nuclear sell-off

Sunday, October 21, 2007

AN Italian and a British company are the last in the running to buy Project Services, BNFL’s specialist nuclear-decommission-ing division.

Italy’s Finmeccanica and Britain’s VT Group will this week submit their final bids.

BNFL, a state-owned nuclear agency, is being broken up. Over the past 18 months it has sold Westinghouse, the power-station builder, and Reactor Sites Management, which operates nuclear plants in Britain.

Project Services employs more than 730 scientists and technicians, and specialises in decommissioning nuclear plants and other hazardous sites. It has contracts at Sellafield and other UK civil nuclear-reactor sites, and works for the Ministry of Defence.

It also has contracts outside Britain, and in recent years has grown quickly in central and eastern Europe. It is advising Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom on the clean-up of the nuclear submarine fleet of the former Soviet navy.

Project Services is expected to fetch almost £100m. The sale is being handled by the investment bank NM Rothschild.

Bidders for BNFL included private-equity firms, but it is understood they dropped out after the recent credit crunch.

Finmeccanica is a fast-grow-ing defence business that has expanded quickly in the UK after deals to take control of the Westland helicopter plant in Yeo-vil and the former BAE Systems avionics and radar businesses.

BNFL has three major remaining assets – Nexia, which provides specialist nuclear technical services, a one-third stake in Urenco, a pan-European uranium enrichment business, and a one-third stake in AWE, the management company for the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston.

Nexia is unlikely to be sold, but will probably be transferred to the government, and its management put out to tender. The Urenco stake, which is thought to be worth more than £1 billion, is likely to be transferred to the Shareholder Executive, the Whitehall agency that manages government investments.

The AWE stake is up for sale, with BNFL close to finalising a shortlist of bidders.

Dominic O’Connell, Times Online, The Times and The Sunday Times.

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