RWE and E.on prepare to sell UK nuclear project

Advisers approached but sales process could stretch into next year

German energy giants RWE and E.on have kicked off plans to sell their UK nuclear power plant joint venture. It is understood that they have asked a select number of corporate advisers, accountants and investment banks to come up with ideas of how they would sell Horizon Nuclear Power.

Requests for proposals were sent out just before the Easter break, a week after the German duo rocked government plans for a new wave of nuclear power plants by announcing they could no longer afford to participate in the programme.

This has led to speculation from nuclear's many critics that the coalition's energy policies are doomed to failure. However, it is believed that there are a number of overseas parties that are interested in at least taking a stake in Horizon, which is expected to fetch £250m.

The problem for whoever is asked to run the sale – and that appointment could be made as soon as this week – is that they will effectively have to develop a market for the business. Few energy or investment companies would be willing to risk developing Horizon's proposed stations in North Wales and South Gloucestershire on their own, as their construction could cost more than £15bn by the time the second opens in 2025.

An industry source said: "This is a seriously proper corporate sales mandate where [the selected adviser] will have to create the bidders. RWE and E.on are inviting parties to bid that can think clearly who the runners and riders might be and how you put them together into some disorderly gangs to bid for Horizon."

It is not clear which advisers have been approached, but it is thought that Rothschild and Nomura are probable candidates. At least one of the big four accountants are also believed to have been approached.

Because of the complicated nature of the business, which still has to choose the reactor designs it will use as well as the prospect of heated planning application battles, the sale process could stretch into 2013.

Unless the eventual winning venture can make up the time in improved programme management, this would mean that the first of Horizon's proposed stations, Wylfa on the Isle of Anglesey, will start generating electricity in 2022 rather than 2021. Any delay will worry the Government because of the prospect of a widening gap between energy demand and supply.

This is not the only sales mandate at present attracting rainmakers.

Mining giant Rio Tinto is in talks with a number of investment banks over the possible auction of its $2bn (£1.26bn) diamond business.

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