Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are weighing proliferation risks as they push to sell a jointly owned uranium enrichment company, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Urenco's owners spun off the four-decade-old firm's centrifuge manufacturing operations 10 years ago to form a separate company, but they fear a new stakeholder could seek to traverse the divide between the uranium fuel sales arm and the producer of equipment capable of generating nuclear-bomb material.
"Technology development is now in the hands" of the newer entity, Carnegie Endowment nuclear specialist Mark Hibbs said. "It is holding assets which in both the Netherlands and in Germany are considered the deepest industrial secrets those countries have."
The countries have formally committed to protect their shared weapon-sensitive expertise.
An insider with one of the governments said "countries like France, Japan and the U.S. already have nuclear know-how, signed the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and pose no proliferation risk."
Potential buyers reportedly include the French atomic firm Areva, the U.S.-Japanese firm Westinghouse and a group overseen by an atomic sector veteran. The Chinese government, uranium excavation companies and investment pools might also seek a stake in the $13.5 billion firm.