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Nuke power slowdown cited in Cheswick job cuts

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 8:24 p.m.

Changing global demand in the nuclear power industry prompted Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Co. to eliminate 29 jobs at its Electro-Mechanical division in Cheswick, the company said.

The plant, which employs about 800 people, designs and makes pumps that circulate water around nuclear reactor vessels, as well as generators and other equipment. The positions cut at Cheswick last week affected workers in nearly every department.

Spokeswoman Sharon Dey said Curtiss-Wright reduced the work force because of "shifts in the overall global business climate, including the long-term impact of Fukushima," a reference to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in northern Japan in March 2011 that followed a tsunami and flood.

While those reactors were not designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., Curtiss-Wright's business with the Cranberry company "has been impacted" by the tragedy in Japan, as well as by the sluggish U.S. economy generally, Dey said without elaboration.

Curtiss-Wright is the sole supplier of coolant pumps for Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Curtiss-Wright is shipping the first two of 16 pumps to China this month under a $298 million contract with Westinghouse to equip four AP1000 reactors being built there.

Westinghouse spokesman Scott Shaw said his company's business with Curtiss-Wright is "not slowing down," noting it has similar pump supply contracts for AP1000s planned for utilities in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

But caution is in the air. Progress Energy Florida Inc., for instance, said on Tuesday it would not place into service the first of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors slated for Levy County, Florida, until 2024, instead of 2021. The delays are due to lower-than-expected power demand, the slower economy and nuclear power's competition from low natural gas prices.

"There's a bunch of factors that are playing a role in slowing down the whole nuclear renaissance," Shaw said.

In addition, the Japanese disaster affected business "around the world" for building nuclear power plants, he said. The last of that nation's 50 operable nuclear power plants are scheduled to be taken off line on Saturday.

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