LONDON (Reuters) - Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) (015760.KS) is in talks to buy a stake in Toshiba's NuGen nuclear project in Britain, a KEPCO executive said on Wednesday, a move that could throw the troubled project a life-line but also delay its start.
NuGen, in Moorside, northwest England, is expected to provide around 7 percent of Britain's electricity when built, but has been thrown into doubt after developer Toshiba's (6502.T) nuclear arm Westinghouse went bankrupt this year.
Toshiba's NuGen joint venture partner Engie (ENGIE.PA) subsequently pulled out of the project, leaving the Japanese firm searching for new investments.
"We are in negotiations with Toshiba (6502.T) to take some share (in the project)," Jong-hyuck Park, chief nuclear officer at state-owned KEPCO, said on the sidelines of an industry event in London.
If successful, the South Korean firm would want to use its own nuclear reactor design for the British project, Park said, which would likely delay its start date.
Toshiba's Westinghouse was initially expected to provide the reactors and won regulatory approval for its technology earlier this year.
Park said KEPCO could submit its reactor design for approval by Britain's nuclear regulator early next year, and that if a deal was struck with Toshiba and regulatory approval given, the plant, using KEPCO technology, could be in operation by 2027 or 2028.
Toshiba had targeted a 2025 start date, as well as a gross capacity of up to 3.8 gigawatts.
New nuclear reactor technology in Britain must go through a generic design assessment (GDA), which takes around four years.
Tom Samson, chief executive of NuGen, the venture set up by Toshiba and Engie to build the plant, said other companies were also interested in investing in the project.
"No decisions have been taken on ownership or technology," he said, on the sidelines of the same event.
Britain needs to invest in new infrastructure to replace aging coal and nuclear plants set to close in the 2020s, but has struggled to get large projects built, especially nuclear, due to the costs involved.
EDF's (EDF.PA) 18 billion pound Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England got the final go-ahead in 2016 after several years of delay, but only after securing backing from the French government.
KEPCO is already developing a nuclear project in the United Arab Emirates, and hopes to export more of its technology .
Park said the company's international strategy remained, despite recent changes in domestic policy in South Korea.
The government on Tuesday suspended construction of two partially completed nuclear reactors in the country while it gathers public opinion on the facilities and decides whether they should be scrapped.
Reporting by Susanna Twidale; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter