TOKYO — The Japanese government has entered into negotiations to acquire U.K.-based Urenco, a major European producer of enriched uranium, in a deal that is expected to be worth several billions of dollars.
The state-owned Japan Bank for International Cooperation is expected to make an offer together with U.S. nuclear energy company Centrus Energy.
The not-so-ulterior motive is to block companies from Russia and China — two countries that are increasing their influence in the global nuclear power market — from taking control of the company.
At home, the Japanese government is promoting nuclear power generation as a major source of electricity — another reason it hopes to secure an interest in Urenco’s enriched uranium.
The Japanese government is holding talks with major shareholders of Urenco, sources close to the matter said. Ownership of Urenco is evenly split by three parties — the governments of the U.K. and the Netherlands as well as German electric utilities including RWE.
The German side is exploring a sale as the government plans to phase out nuclear power. The U.K. government, working on fiscal consolidation, is also looking for a buyer.
Urenco is engaged in turning natural uranium into enriched uranium, which is critical in generating nuclear power. The company ranks second in the world after Tenex — a unit of Russian nuclear concern Rosatom — in terms of capacity to produce enriched uranium, holding a global share of around 30%.
JBIC and Centrus Energy are looking to acquire a majority or larger stake in Urenco, which would cost several hundred billion yen (several billions of dollars). JBIC by itself hopes to hold a stake of around 20-30%. Negotiations are expected to last through the summer. A deal could be struck as early as this year.
The joint bid for Urenco is aimed at keeping Russia and China at bay. Both countries are said to be showing interest in acquiring the enriched uranium producer.
According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, China had 35 nuclear reactors in operation as of January 2017, while Russia had 30. Including reactors in the planning stage, however, the numbers grow to 82 in China and 55 in Russia, surpassing Japan’s 53.