EDF is considering the sale of a €3bn (£2.2bn) stake in its British nuclear business in a bid to raise cash for new Hinkley Point reactors.
Possible buyers would be state-owned Chinese companies, who are already committed partners on the £18bn Somerset project.
EDF could unveil details of a sell-off plan on 16 February, when it is scheduled to release annual financial figures and is expected to give a final investment decision on building Britain’s first new reactors for 20 years.
The French daily, Les Echos, reported on Thursday that EDF may reduce its stake in the eight existing nuclear reactors it owns from 80% to 29% by bringing in a new investor as part of a wider €6bn disposal programme.
Industry sources told the Guardian that the possible sell off was only one of a number of different options that were under consideration as the group looked at financing Hinkley Point C and other projects.
They said it was still likely EDF would give the go ahead to Hinkley next month even though it did not have all the financing in place. The project is estimated to cost £18bn, according to EDF, though the European Union has warned it could go as high as £24bn.
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, already has a 20% holding but has made clear in the past that it does not want a larger commitment to nuclear, and declined to participate in the Hinkley newbuild scheme.
The entire existing nuclear fleet, made up of advanced gas reactors such as those at Hinkley Point B in Somerset and Dungeness B in Kent, have a book value of €9bn.
EDF struggled to interest anyone else in the Hinkley scheme, which many in the City have deemed over-expensive, so the Chinese would seem first in line to buy into the rest of the EDF nuclear business if it comes up for grabs.
EDF is also said by Les Echos to be considering disposing of a half stake in the Constellation Energy nuclear group in the US, plus a a similar option to ditch its 50% holding in power transmission business RTE.
Over the last six months the company’s chief executive, Jean-Bernard Lévy, has made clear he is reviewing various parts of the business in a bid to pay for a range of new commitments and rising debt levels.
EDF has been pressured by the government to buy a stake in its ailing engineering partner, Areva, and must set aside at least €55bn to upgrade its huge fleet of French reactors following safety concerns raised by the Fukushima accident in Japan.
Environmentalists opposed to EDF’s new building plans in Britain believe the company may yet be forced to abandon Hinkley Point C because of a European legal challenge against the state aid promised by the UK.
This article was written by Terry Macalister, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th January 2016 18.48 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010