PARIS Russian nuclear group Rosatom would be interested in taking an equity stake in French peer Areva if the French government allows it, a top Rosatom executive said on Tuesday.
Under a government-led restructuring, 87 percent state-owned Areva (AREVA.PA) will be split up, with its reactor unit Areva NP sold to state-owned utility EDF (EDF.PA) while its nuclear fuel unit will become a separate firm provisionally named NewCo.
Areva, EDF and the government are looking to sell minority stakes to foreign investors in both units.
Areva has said third-party investors have made a 500 million euro ($520 million) offer for a combined 10 percent stake in NewCo and that talks are under way with China's National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) (7011.T) about taking a stake in NewCo.
Asked whether Rosatom would consider buying into Areva, Andrey Rozhdestvin, head of Rosatom Western Europe, said it would be willing to consider a stake in Areva NP and in NewCo.
"We do not rule this out. If it could help Areva, I think this can be considered," Rozhdestvin told reporters.
He said talks are ongoing with Chinese and Japanese potential equity partners, but not with the Russians.
"This is worrying us," he said, adding that Rosatom has several cooperation projects with Areva.
"Of course we try, if it is possible, to participate in the resolution of the situation," Rozhdestvin said.
Franco-Russian relations have been strained by Russia's role in Ukraine and Syria. French conservative Francois Fillon, a leading contender to win the presidential election in May, has said he wants to restore ties with Russia.
Asked if he hoped a possible Fillon win would facilitate Rosatom buying into Areva, Rozhdestvin said that following the election Rosatom would work with the new government.
"We have discussed these topics, but they were not well received by the current government... We are waiting for the end of the sanctions. After that, maybe we can talk," he said.
Rosatom is advised by former EDF chief executive Henri Proglio, who is a board memmber of Akkuyu Nuclear JSC, a Rosatom venture to build a nuclear plant in Turkey.
Rozhdestvin said Rosatom was talking to Areva NewCo about setting up a project to sell nuclear fuel services such as reprocessing together to third countries, possibly next year.
"Areva NC is very strong in the nuclear fuel cycle, from upstream to downstream. Some countries need this expertise. Areva and Rosatom could work together to offer certain services they need," he said.
Areva was not immediately available for comment.
Areva and Rosatom are among the world's top reactor builders, but Areva, weighed down by construction problems and writedowns on an African uranium mining project, has had to be rescued from bankruptcy by a government bailout.
Since 2007, Areva has only won one major contract - for the Hinkley Point project in Britain - while Rosatom has signed a string of deals in recent years, mainly in developing countries.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)