Nuke plant unaffected by Westinghouse bankruptcy

The company seeking to build a nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, says its project won’t be affected by the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Co., which designs the reactor units it hopes to use and has run into problems building other projects involving those same units.

Aaron Tilton, president and chief executive officer of Blue Castle Holdings, said Westinghouse’s problems have arisen from its construction services it has been providing for the South Carolina and Georgia projects, whereas Blue Castle will be having others build the Westinghouse-designed reactors it plans to use.

“Their engineering and fabrication is a profitable business,” Tilton said of Westinghouse.

He said Westinghouse “just wasn’t able to make the construction side work.”

Sarah Fields of Moab, program director for the environmental group Uranium Watch, believes the Westinghouse developments underscore dubious prospects for the Green River plant.

“We’ve long said there really is no possibility for any utility to buy into the Blue Castle project and this just makes it even more of an impossibility,” she said.

Westinghouse, which is owned by Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy in late March. It reportedly has faced delays and cost overruns with its effort to install its AP1000 reactors in Georgia and South Carolina.

In 2014, Westinghouse and Blue Castle Holdings agreed to pursue the development of two AP1000 units at Green River.

Tilton said while Blue Castle continues to believe the AP1000 technology is the most advanced in the United States, and plans to use AP1000 reactors, it decided last year not to have Westinghouse build them.

“We’ve been well aware of the construction issues Westinghouse has been having as contractor at those (eastern U.S.) sites,” Tilton said.

To some degree, Blue Castle has benefited from the challenges Westinghouse has faced, he said.

“We got to see what went well and what didn’t go well,” he said.

He said the problems have included using a modular fabrication process involving an off-site facility that had never built the modules before, which required them to have to be torn apart and reassembled when they didn’t fit. Westinghouse also relied on a single contractor to build major components of the project, rather than splitting things up among contractors so there are fewer impacts and delays if issues arise with any one contractor, Tilton said.

The Westinghouse situation has cast another cloud on the future of nuclear power, which already has seen setbacks from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and the fact that utilities have been able to turn to natural gas as a cheap power source for new plants. Fields said with Toshiba losing billions of dollars in connection with the same reactors Blue Castle hopes to use, the Green River project seems “less and less a possibility anytime in the future.”

Tilton believes the key to a viable, competitive nuclear power project is to build it on time and on budget, something he believes Blue Castle can do. He added that while utilities are turning to more gas-powered plants, a lot of coal-fired plants in the region will be coming off line in coming years and utilities won’t want to rely too heavily just on gas-fired plants to replace them because of volatility in gas prices. While they’ll also add some renewable power, he believes the Green River project will be a big part of the mix in replacing coal power in Utah.


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