French authorities are ready to launch a capital increase for state-owned nuclear group Areva and are in talks with Japan's JNFL about taking a minority stake, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Tuesday.
Under a government-led rescue, Areva is preparing to split off its uranium mining and nuclear fuel activities into a new company, provisionally called NewCo, which will get a 3 billion euro capital increase as part of a 5 billion euro ($5.3 billion) mainly state-funded cash injection.
The source also said the government is ready to proceed with the Areva capital increase early next year as well as with a second capital increase for utility EDF (EDF.PA) in March.
"There is no doubt about the commitment (on the two capital increases), the plan is not being put into question," the source said.
The source said he expected a European Commission decision on Areva's restructuring in coming days. But a French government source said no date had been set yet for an EU answer and the French government was ready to send the Areva restructuring dossier to the Commission any time now.
The source said JNFL - which manages Japanese nuclear fuel recycling plant Rokkasho-mura - was still talking about taking a minority state in Areva NewCo but that nothing had been decided yet.
JNFL would replace Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom, which had also discussed a stake in Areva NewCo earlier but has lost interest.
The source confirmed that there are also talks with Japanese and Chinese investors to take a combined minority stake in Areva worth about one billion euros ($1 billion).
Areva chairman Philippe Varin said last month that talks are under way with China's National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) (7011.T)
French media have reported that CNNC, MHI and Kazatomprom were each set to buy an 11 percent stake in Areva. Varin has said that in any case the French state would retain a majority of more than two thirds of NewCo's capital.
The source said the talks were focused on governance and that the Chinese want to be the main minority shareholder but the French government would prefer the Chinese and Japanese stakes to be equal.
"JNFL has shown an interest in replacing the Kazakhs. No decision has been taken. The problem is the balance between the two or the three. It is difficult with two nationalities," the source said.
(Reporting by Reuters Paris French service; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Callus/Ruth Pitchford)