Atomic Energy Authority in bid for Trident stake

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The Independent Online

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is among the bidders for the Government's one-third stake in the company responsible for running the Trident submarine nuclear missile programme at Aldermaston.

First-round bids for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) stake, belonging to state -owned British Nuclear Group (BNG), are due in this week. Industry sources said it could fetch between £100m and £200m.

American nuclear group CH2M Hill, which has formed a joint clean-up venture with UKAEA, is also understood to have submitted a bid and could link up with the UK company.

The energy authority, which is itself state owned but is earmarked for part-privatisation later this year, carries out nuclear decommissioning work and research into nuclear fusion. It declined to comment.

Services group Serco and US defence firm Lockheed Martin own the other two AWE stakes and released a joint statement last month expressing an interest in exercising their pre-emption rights to buy out BNG's stake.

But the Government, which earlier this year won a controversial Commons vote to renew the programme, is understood to be keen to bring in a partner which can provide new skills and expertise. BNG, Serco and Lockheed Martin signed a contract with the Government in 2000 to run AWE for 25 years.

According to accounts filed at Companies House, AWE made a pre-tax profit of £44m in 2005.

Other bidders are thought to include Amec and US engineering giant Bechtel. NM Rothschild is running the auction as part of the Government's tortuous sell-off of its nuclear assets.