Areva SA, the world’s largest nuclear reactor maker, is set to start exclusive talks to sell its radiation-measurement unit Canberra to Astorg Partners SAS for more than 300 million euros ($391 million), two people with knowledge of the plans said.
The French buyout fund beat Mirion Technologies Inc., owned by American Capital Ltd., with an offer that was a few million euros higher, one of the people said, declining to be identified because the talks are not public yet. Antitrust issues may also have made a sale to Mirion more difficult, the person said.
Astorg, based in Paris, may commit to not fire workers at Canberra’s French operations for two years, the person said.
The sale of Canberra would allow Paris-based Areva to further exceed a plan to sell at least 1.2 billion euros of non-strategic assets by the end of 2013 to shore up a balance sheet that’s been impaired by the acquisition of uranium mines in Africa, losses at a nuclear reactor under construction in Finland, and slowing demand for nuclear fuel and services following last year’s accident at an atomic plant in Japan.
Patricia Marie, an Areva spokeswoman, declined to comment. A spokesman for Astorg said Thierry Timsit and Xavier Moreno, founders of the fund, had no comment.
Standard & Poor’s cut Areva’s long-term credit rating by two levels to BBB- last December because of “expected weak credit metrics” and free cash flow for 2012.
Since then, Areva has sold more than 1.2 billion euros of assets, including stakes in uranium and gold mines, as well as a holding in French nickel company Eramet SA. It has also raised its targets for 2012 earnings and cash flow.
Canberra, which makes radiation detectors and monitoring systems and software, employs more than 1,000 people and has 12 production and engineering facilities in countries such as the U.S., the U.K., France and Canada, according to its website.
Areva share were up 0.2 percent to 14.16 euros at 3:47 p.m. Paris time, taking this year’s decline to 26 percent.