Kazakhstan To Buy Into Westinghouse

Move is causing controversy

Kazakhstan's national atomic company is to buy 10% of Westinghouse Electric from Toshiba in a potentially controversial $540 million deal unveiled August 13.

By forging ties with the uranium-rich former Soviet republic, which is an ally of the U.S., Japan's Toshiba Corp. aims to secure stable supplies of the resource used by power plants. But the deal could spark controversy in the U.S. where environmentalist groups have already urged the government to block the proposed sale. "We oppose the transaction on the grounds that the sale will undermine efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, and will give sensitive nuclear technology to a brutal, repressive and undemocratic regime, which may lack long-term legitimacy and stability," Greenpeace and other campaigners wrote in an open letter to the U.S. Treasury Department last month.

"By welcoming Kazatomprom -- a global leader in resource exploitation -- as a Westinghouse investor, Toshiba will strengthen the global development of its atomic energy business," the company said. Toshiba and Kazatomprom have agreed to cooperate in various fields and begin discussions on joint projects, the Japanese high-tech giant said.

After the sale, Toshiba will retain 67% of Westinghouse Electric, while Shaw Group Inc. of the U.S. will continue to hold 20% and Japanese engineering group IHI Corp3%.

Last year, Toshiba invested almost $4.16 billion to take a 77% stake in Westinghouse Electric from British Nuclear Fuels in one of the largest Japanese overseas acquisitions in years. The sale fetched more than twice as much money as expected amid a renewed interest in nuclear energy in the U.S., triggered largely by concerns over high oil prices.

Japan, which has virtually no natural energy resources of its own, relies heavily on Middle East oil to power its economy, and has been seeking to diversify its sources of energy. In August last year, Junichiro Koizumi became the first Japanese prime minister to tour Central Asia, including a visit to Kazakhstan where he offered aid and discussed cooperation in the energy sector.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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