Japanese industrial group Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is considering making a bid for nuclear power engineering company Westinghouse Electric.

State-owned British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) is looking to sell the US-based company for around $1.8 billion following its acquisition in 1999.

Mitsubishi, which is hoping to expand its reactor business outside Japan, is said to be looking for partners to make a joint purchase for what would be one of the largest Japanese acquisitions of recent years. Potential players include other arms of the Mitsubishi Group.

MHI has a decades-long licensing agreement with Westinghouse for pressurised water reactor technology and would be reluctant to let the company fall into the hands of a competitor.

General Electric Co, however, is another major industrial player with designs on the nuclear plant developer. It already makes boiling water reactors, which it has licensed to Hitachi and Toshiba.

Meanwhile, French state-owned Areva is also thought likely to make a bid for one of its major competitors.

British Nuclear Fuels has apparently said that some 15 companies have expressed an interest in buying Westinghouse.