A bidding war is currently underway between EDF and RWE for British Energy as the deadline for further bids draws nearer.
EDF (Electricite de France) is the world's biggest nuclear operator, with 58 reactors and a market valuation of €110 billion.
German power giant RWE, which owns npower, is valued at €42 billion and has been operating nuclear plants in Germany since the 1960s.
EDF previously showed an interest in buying only part of British Energy, but both companies are now bidding for the whole company, which produces about a sixth of the UK's energy with its eight nuclear and one coal-fuelled plants.
Other possible bidders include Spanish energy provider Iberdola which owns Scottish power, another German company, E.ON, which owns Powergen, and Swedish provider Vattenfall.
Centrica, which owns British Gas, also showed an interest but lacks the nuclear expertise and financial firepower to launch a full bid for the company. It is predicted that some of the potential bidders will form a coalition and make a joint venture.
The Government currently has a 35 per cent stake in British Energy which it says in under review; its position is that while it would not oppose foreign ownership, it will not allow a single company to take it over as this would raise issues of unfair competition by generating a high concentration of power capacity with just one company.
This is because the changing hands of British Energy will involve building a new generation of reactors, costing tens of billions of pounds, and it is crucial to the Government's plans for green energy
and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
Share prices in British Energy soared 40 per cent when it was reported that the board was considering a variety of options for its future, including a break-up or a sale. The closing date for bids is in several weeks and a final decision is expected by July.
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