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Westinghouse plans to cut jobs in Cranberry

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 1:06 p.m.

Westinghouse Electric Co. will eliminate up to 660 jobs worldwide in the coming weeks, including some at its Cranberry headquarters, because of a global slowdown for nuclear power reactors.

The cuts underscore the difficult environment for the industry with the rise of natural gas as a cheaper source of energy and concerns about public safety after a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of reactors in Japan in 2011.

“The market we serve has been affected by the incident at Fukushima and the global economic slowdown, so in some markets, our business has flattened,” said Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert.

Gilbert declined to say on Wednesday how many positions would be cut at the sprawling campus in Cranberry, where nuclear reactors and related components are engineered, and at other facilities in the Pittsburgh region.

Westinghouse employs about 6,000 people locally, including 4,300 in Cranberry.

The cuts would be made through a combination of layoffs and attrition, Gilbert said. He did not have a breakdown or the types of jobs that will be eliminated. Many of the positions in Cranberry are high-paying technical jobs.

Westinghouse had been on a hiring binge in the last five years, mainly to develop its new generation AP1000 nuclear reactor and to meet the growing demand for nuclear energy, especially in China.

But the economic advantage of natural gas power plants and changing attitudes about nuclear power safety since the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi complex in northern Japan have dampened demand for new orders.

In the nearly two years since the plant meltdown, governments in Japan, Germany and France have begun to scale back nuclear power, industry experts say.

“There has been an impact globally from Fukushima, raising additional concerns about nuclear safety,” said Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, an education and science policy organization in Washington.

The reactors at Fukushima were not Westinghouse designs, but were supplied by General Electric Co., Hitachi and Toshiba, which is Westinghouse's majority owner with an 87 percent stake.

Werner cited the sluggish global economy and utilities' extending their power plants' operating lifetimes up to 20 years as additional pressure placed on the industry.

“But the biggest influence has been natural gas,” she said. “For any utility looking at building a new nuclear plant, the costs have escalated, while at the same time, natural gas (power plants) come in faster and cheaper.”

Gilbert said he did not have a figure on how much money the company intended to save from the job cuts, which amounted to 5 percent of its 13,300-person global workforce.

“The goal is to ensure we have the proper cost structure in place to meet the needs of the industry,” he said.

Westinghouse relocated its headquarters from Monroeville to a four-building Cranberry complex in 2009. Most workers there are nuclear, electrical or mechanical engineers, and the remainder hold administrative positions in the finance, purchasing and legal departments.

The company has nuclear fueling, servicing and related operations in Churchill, Madison, Blairsville and New Stanton.

Westinghouse is building four of its new generation AP1000 nuclear reactors in China, the first of which is expected to go into operation in 2014. The company is in the earlier stages of building two AP1000s in Georgia and two in South Carolina.

Gilbert said Westinghouse had hired about 5,000 workers in the last five years and that the coming job reductions were the “result of an ongoing analysis.”

Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree he didn't know how many people would be affected at the Cranberry offices and hadn't talked to Westinghouse officials.

“I'm sure it's part of their necessary adjustments to the marketplace,” Andree said.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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