Originally created 05/14/98

Company passes on buying SRS



COLUMBIA -- A French nuclear company said its interest in buying the Westinghouse Electric Co. division that runs Savannah River Site ended when it was told any sale would be to an American company.

A South Carolina newspaper reported earlier this week that Westinghouse was negotiating to sell its nuclear and government contracting divisions with a partnership that included French-owned nuclear giants Framatome and Cogeme, along with Fluor Daniel, an Irvine, Calif., engineering company with offices in Greenville.

But Framatome spokeswoman Sophie Chergui said Westinghouse already had made it clear that it would sell its military and civil operations as a single unit to a U.S. company.

"When Westinghouse told us that, our interest ended," Ms. Chergui said.

There have been reports that another interested partnership includes nuclear conglomerate BNFL of Great Britain and Morrison Knudsen, an engineering company headquartered in Boise, Idaho. But officials with both companies will not comment on the reports.

BNFL said through a spokesman Wednesday it was "unable to comment."

Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert told The Augusta Chronicle on Tuesday, "We will keep Westinghouse a U.S. company." But he would not rule out a company created in the United States by a foreign parent company.

Westinghouse, which has managed SRS for the Energy Department since 1989, has more than three years left on its current fiveyear, $6 billion contract. Its parent company, CBS Inc., is trying to shed its manufacturing and nuclear operations, as well as its government and environmental services group, as the old Westinghouse transforms into media conglomerate.

The company changed its name to CBS earlier this year to reflect the shift.

Although the law generally prohibits the transfer of a government contract, a third party could be allowed to take over the contract in certain instances, the Energy Department said in a statement.

The federal agency must approve the transfer, however, as must the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. The latter would ensure the transaction does not violate antitrust regulations.

"Further, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., chaired by the Treasury Department, will focus on the national security implications if a foreign purchase is proposed," the Energy Department said.

The possibility of foreign ownership has raised the interest of politicians. U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-South Carolina, said he could not support "substantial foreign involvement in the site."

John DeCrosta, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, RSouth Carolina, said a potential foreign ownership would "raise concern" on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Thurmond is the committee chairman.

Staff Writer Karin Schill contributed to this article.