For decades, Westinghouse was the goliath of nuclear reactor design and construction. Approximately half of the world’s nuclear power reactors are based on Westinghouse technology. In 2006, when Toshiba bought Westinghouse for $5.4 billion, the seller projected that by 2020 the global market for nuclear power generation was expected to have grown by 50 percent.
Westinghouse was set to be the king of what Toshiba thought would be the golden age of nuclear power. Toshiba’s president and CEO envisioned a market where 10 large nuclear reactors would be built each year until 2020, amounting to 130 gigawatts of new reactor capacity.
Just 10 years after forecasting billions in profit, Westinghouse’s bankruptcy filing cited as much as $10 billion in debt.
As part of the new golden age, Westinghouse proposed a new, commercially unproven reactor design — the AP1000. The company touts the reactor as “the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace.”
In the U.S., four of these reactors are under construction. But the reality is this: These projects are so far behind and so over-budget that they triggered the bankruptcy of the world’s premier nuclear contractor.The four reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina were scheduled to be completed by 2019-2020, but are seriously behind schedule. The projects are only between 30 percent to 40 percent compete.
According to a Morgan Stanley analyses, the owners of the reactors face billions of dollars in cost overruns, and with the bankruptcy, it is very possible the projects may never be completed. In South Carolina, the completed project could be as much as $5.2 billion over budget, while Southern Co. in Georgia faces cost overruns that could reach $3.3 billion.
“If I had known any of this a decade ago, we could have gone a different way.”
It is no wonder that Stan Wise, the chairman of Georgia’s state Public Service Commission, said “If I had known any of this a decade ago, we could have gone a different way.”It was just last year when the “newest” nuclear reactor in the U.S. went online. It used 1960s technology, took 43 years to complete and cost $6.1 billion. In March of this year, the reactor went down and has yet to be fixed.
The news of Westinghouse’s death rattle comes at the same time that California’s consideration of the historic proposal to close the state’s last nuclear power plant and replace it with greenhouse gas-free renewable energy.
The agreement to close the last remaining nuclear power plant in California — Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) Diablo Canyon – was released in June 2016. The landmark agreement was a product of a proposal by PG&E and Friends of the Earth, with other environmental, labor and community groups.
As the plant goes offline, the needed power would be replaced with renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage resources free of greenhouse gasses (GHG).The renewable energy alternatives cost less than continuing to operate the controversial, aging reactors at Diablo Canyon.
In the agreement, PG&E, which owns and operates the nuclear reactors, unions representing workers at the plant, the local communities, and environmental organizations agreed: “Orderly replacement of Diablo Canyon with GHG-free resources will be the reliable, flexible and cost-effective solution for PG&E customers.”“Cost-effective.” Two small words, but a historic end to the perilous age of nuclear power in California.The agreement to close Diablo Canyon sets to rest the economic question: operating outdated, aging nuclear power plants is more expensive than procuring cheaper, more efficient and cleaner technologies.
This is what 21st-century clean energy looks like. It’s cheaper, cleaner, safer and does not produce proliferation-related and terrorism-related risks of nuclear power. Immagine what could be achieved with the billions being wasted on nuclear energy today.
A view from R-G
There is still one hope for the nuclear industry, Thorium reactors. China, India and some european countries are spending a lot of money developing this safer, more economical form of nuclear energy.
It will be interesting to see the changes in government policy around the world in the next few years when it comes to nuclear. Already many governments are planning to go non nuclear in the next decade. In the USA, rumor has it that Mr Burns and Homer Simpson will be appointed on the energy advisory council. This should make for some interesting policy adjustments.