Westinghouse to build 3 nuclear reactors in England

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Westinghouse Electric Co. will build three nuclear reactors in England as part of a deal its parent company announced on Tuesday.

The AP1000 reactor projects were agreed on as Westinghouse and the broader industry face a difficult climate 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 work is a result of Toshiba Corp.'s purchase of a 60 percent stake in NuGeneration Limited, a British project that is developing nuclear plants at a site in northwest England, for about $168 million. Toshiba is the majority owner of Cranberry-based Westinghouse.

A Westinghouse spokeswoman said she could not disclose details, but executives previously told the Tribune-Review that an AP1000 reactor costs about $5 billion to build. Westinghouse is building four of these power plants in China, two in Florida and two in South Carolina.

The British agreement occurs as the company works on other deals. CEO Danny Roderick has been trolling for power plant business in international markets even as the company looked to garner work servicing and fueling reactors to offset a drop in demand for new builds.

After a dip in the prospects of nuclear energy, the deal is a good sign for Westinghouse and the larger industry, said Eileen Supko, president of Energy Resources International Inc., a Washington consulting firm.

Westinghouse had four fewer AP1000 projects going last spring than it had expected. It had planned to have a dozen deals. The British agreement occurs one month after it announced a deal to negotiate with the Bulgarian government.

“It is moving in the right direction — perhaps not as quickly as we had anticipated previously,” Westinghouse spokeswoman Sheila Holt said. “But we are very optimistic about it.”

The decline in demand for nuclear power plants had prompted Westinghouse last year to eliminate more than 600 jobs worldwide. It's too soon to say whether the British project will require Westinghouse to add to its staff of 5,600 in Pittsburgh, Holt said.

British companies will make up “a large portion” of the project's supply chain, and the Westinghouse Springfields operation in England will make the fuel, the company's announcement said. It's the kind of project that supports company operations all over the world, Holt said.

The nuclear industry is just emerging from hard times, Supko said. The financial crisis, Japan's March 2011 meltdown at Fukushima and the emergence of cheap natural gas from shale have all dampened interest in building nuclear power plants.

There are still growth markets internationally, including England. It's been motivated by climate change — shrugging off the meltdown concerns that took nuclear off the table in other parts of Europe — and the investment should be reason for optimism at Westinghouse, Supko said.

“It is a good trend that there is continued growth, whether it's actual net growth or just stabilizing,” she added. “Natural gas isn't always going to be king. It isn't always going to be low-priced in the future. So we really do need to have a diverse energy supply.”

Toshiba bought out the 50 percent stake of Spanish company Iberdrola and 10 percent from the European energy company GDF SUEZ, which will stay on as a minority partner, Toshiba said in its announcement.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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