Westinghouse’s trou­bles loom over 2 projects

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By The As­so­ci­ated Press

Westinghouse Elec­tric Co ., the U.S. nu­clear unit of Ja­pan’s Toshiba Corp., filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion Wed­nes­day, call­ing into ques­tion the fu­ture of a num­ber of bil­lion-dol­lar nu­clear projects un­der con­struc­tion, in­clud­ing two in the U.S.

Westinghouse said it filed the Chap­ter 11 pe­ti­tion in U.S. Bank­ruptcy Court in New York. The move had been largely ex­pected.

The trou­bles at a com­pany long as­so­ci­ated with nu­clear power add to the in­dus­try’s prob­lems. Nu­clear power is cleaner than gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity with coal or nat­u­ral gas, but build­ing a nu­clear re­ac­tor is much more com­plex and pro­hib­i­tively costly. Af­ter the March 2011 nu­clear dis­as­ter in Fukushima, pub­lic sen­ti­ment turned against nu­clear power in coun­tries such as Ja­pan and Ger­many.

In the U.S ., nu­clear power gen­er­ates about one- fifth of the na­tion’s elec­tric­ity. But some older nu­clear plants are be­ing shut­tered and the four nu­clear re ac­tors Westinghouse is help­ing to build in South Carolina and Ge­or­gia are be­hind sched­ule and bil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get.

Westinghouse said Wed­nes­day that it ob­tained fi­nanc­ing to main­tain its op­er­a­tions and made ar­range­ments to con­tinue work on the projects in South Carolina and Ge­or­gia while it as­sesses their vi­a­bil­ity. Westinghouse also said it will con­tinue projects in China, and that its op­er­a­tions in its Asia and Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa aren’t af­fected.

Toshiba ac­quired Westinghouse in 2006 with much fan­fare, mak­ing nu­clear power an im­por­tant part of its busi­ness strat­egy. In­stead, Westinghouse has sad­dled the Ja­panese com­pany with mount­ing losses. Toshiba said Westinghouse had racked up debt of $ 9.8 bil­lion. Toshiba said it could post a loss as big as $ 9 bil­lion for the fis­cal year end­ing March 31.

In South Carolina, Westinghouse is a part­ner with state- owned util­ity San­tee Cooper and pub­licly- traded SCANA Corp. on the con­struc­tion of two re­ac­tors at the V. C. Sum­mer Nu­clear Sta­tion near Jenk­insville. SCANA said in Septem­ber that the cost of build­ing the re­ac­tors had in­creased nearly $ 3 bil­lion from the orig­i­nal $ 11 bil­lion es­ti­mate in 2009. The first re­ac­tor was sup­posed to open in 2017, but has been de­layed at least two years.

The Plant Vog­tle project in east­ern Ge­or­gia was more than three years be­hind sched­ule and more than $ 3 bil­lion over its orig­i­nal bud­get as of the end of 2016. Oglethorpe Power, one of the part­ners in the project, said in a reg­u­la­tory fil­ing thisweek that “the re­vised in- ser­vice dates of De­cem­ber 2019 and Septem­ber 2020” for the two re­ac­tors it’s build­ing “do not ap­pear to be achiev­able.”

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