Westinghouse Electric Co was once commonly associated with America’s industrial strength but its recent wager on nuclear power may put that designation to rest. As the company sinks, the Japanese technology giant, Toshiba Corp unit has filed for bankruptcy-court protection. The company cites a debt level as high as $10 billion.
This is a move that should help to bring the end of the company’s era of troubles. An era which started in 1999. At that time, the company had shed its other businesses in order to focus on reactors. Of course, nuclear power did not catch on as they had hoped, largely because the cost of building these reactors in communities which might them, as well as more affordability among competing technologies.
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Peter A Bradford comments, “They placed a big bet on this hallucination of a nuclear renaissance.” Now a teacher with Vermont Law School, Bradford goes on to say, “Toshiba seemed to believe that all the nuclear plants were actually going to get built. Nuclear power in the last round was a financial disaster, and it is in this one too.”
At the time, Westinghouse innovated a new approach it had hoped would revolutionize nuclear power. The AP1000 simplified modular design which could be sold to more than a dozen utilities at a fraction of the cost.
“The AP1000 was supposed to open a new era of reactors with a generic design that can be sold or licensed,” explains Paris-based nuclear energy consultant Mykel Schneider. “What they did was move the problems from the factory to the construction site, where you’re dealing with a labor force that hasn’t built reactors in decade. And they used extremely optimistic cost and construction estimates.”
Originally, Georgia and South Carolina regulators approved construction of these AP1000 reactors, back in 2009. This, of course, was a major sign of the promise of nuclear renewal in the United States; and US regulators around the world had also been evaluating various related proposals.
This activity hit a snag, though, towards the end of 2011 when the United States failed to adopt new legislation to curb carbon emissions.