PARIS French nuclear group Areva (AREVA.PA) would be interested in taking a stake in uranium enrichment firm Urenco, Areva's CEO was quoted as saying on Saturday.
Urenco, owned by the British and Dutch states and Germany's two top utilities, is up for sale and Areva - which already has a partnership with Urenco - is believed to be a leading contender to buy a stake in the firm. Areva so far had played down its possible interest in Urenco.
"If ever something were to happen in terms of Urenco's capital, clearly, we would have to be interested," Areva Chief Executive Officer Luc Oursel told French daily Le Figaro at the inauguration of its new enrichment plant.
An Areva spokesman confirmed he had made the comments.
Following Germany's decision to phase out nuclear energy, German utilities RWE (RWEG.DE) and E.ON (EONGn.DE) have decided to sell their combined 33 percent stake. The UK and the Netherlands also want to sell their 33 percent stakes.
At Areva's 2012 earnings presentation at the end of February, Oursel had dampened speculation that Areva was keen to buy a stake in Urenco, saying that Areva's priority was to restore its finances, not to plan any major strategic moves.
Urenco's shareholdership is governed by the Almelo treaty between Britain, Germany and The Netherlands, which aims to prevent proliferation of its top-secret uranium enrichment technology. A sale is complicated as it requires the go-ahead of the three governments.
Urenco is the world's second-largest uranium enrichment firm after Russia's Tenex and claims a global market share of 31 percent. Areva and U.S. USEC are also major nuclear fuel producers.
Areva and Urenco jointly own Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), which produces uranium enrichment centrifuges exclusively for its two shareholders.
Urenco, whose enrichment technology is among the world's best-guarded technologies, is believed to worth around 10 billion euros.
Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corp (CCO.TO) has also expressed an interest in the nuclear fuel producer.
The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), one of the world's biggest pension funds, Japan's Toshiba Corp (6502.T) as well as a series of private equity players have also been cited as potentially interested in bidding for a Urenco stake.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Patrick Graham)