AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands is willing to sell its 33 percent stake in nuclear fuel producer Urenco, but wants governments to retain a majority holding in the firm or keep control over key aspects of its business, the Dutch finance ministry said on Thursday.
Britain also holds a 33 percent stake, while the remaining third is held by German utilities E.ON (EONGn.DE) and RWE (RWEG.DE). The three countries are in complicated talks about selling a stake in the security-sensitive uranium enrichment firm.
The Dutch finance ministry said in a statement that the Netherlands does not want to find itself in the situation of a minority government shareholder in Urenco if the two other shareholders sell their stakes to private owners.
But in a letter to the Dutch parliament, Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the Netherlands would be willing to consider a sale of its stake as long as governments retain control over key aspects of Urenco’s business.
Dijsselbloem said the Netherlands was talking to Germany and the UK about ways of preserving safety, security of supply and preventing the spread of nuclear materials and know-how.
Such provisions could see governments retaining power over sales contracts for enriched uranium and the disposal of radioactive waste and keeping the right to approve company directors and fire them if there were security risks.
Governments could also have the right to approve Urenco shareholders, and the extent of their shareholding, and have the option of depriving them of their voting rights.
“Intense talks are underway between the contracting states to the Treaty of Almelo and Urenco shareholders to lend greater substance to our intention to sell and the safeguarding of the public interest,” Dijsselbloem said, referring to an ownership treaty agreed at the founding of Urenco.
Following Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy, E.ON and RWE want to sell their stakes. Britain has also said it wants to sell. The Netherlands has been more reticent, focusing on the security risks that a Urenco sale could pose.
In 1975, Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist who worked for a Dutch nuclear research lab and had access to the Dutch Urenco plant in Almelo, was accused of espionage and fled to his native country, where he set up an enrichment facility and later became known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb.
In 2004, Khan confessed he had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The scandal led to a series of investigations and parliament hearings in the Netherlands.
A Dutch government spokeswoman said the Dutch expected talks with other Urenco shareholders to make progress by this summer.
Dijsselbloem’s letter said the three countries were looking at the possibility of a private sale as well as an initial public offering.
Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Potter