Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Westinghouse Bankruptcy and the Future of Nuclear Power

  1. Mar 29, 2017 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2017 #2
    No and no. I think.

    The nuclear power plants are the kind of investments which requires huge capital up first, and the return time is long. Right now, the expectation is fast return, with no investment (startups, you see?). These two just does not match.
    When it'll be again the time for big infrastructural developments, there will be companies to start/continue with the nuclear power.

    About the second half: this kind of business requires huge capital up first (with a decent industrial background). No land for small fry.
     
  4. Mar 29, 2017 #3

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Companies in Japan, Korea and China are already capable of building and running Westinghouse designed plants. . I think the manufacturing will just move there , same as the shirt factories did decades ago.

    Probably. Be wary of those who rejoice at calamity.
     
  5. Mar 29, 2017 #4
    Two things that most don't know

    1) the Westinghouse you probably remember from years ago no longer exists; it was split up into many smaller companies over 20 years ago. The "nuclear" Westinghouse does nuclear only, they don't make pumps, valves, light bulbs, refrigerators, or anything else. They are big in the nuclear industry but they are not really a big company. They pay royalties to CBS to carry on using the name "Westinghouse."

    2) the financial problems leading to the bankruptcy are due to construction cost overruns at the two sites here in the US where the new AP1000 units are being built. Westinghouse (nuclear) is an engineering company that never should have allowed itself to become responsible for the construction work. They learned this once (back in the 1960s). That's why the plants built in the 1970s and 80s were constructed by construction companies like Bechtel or EBASCO. Those companies were the architects and constructors and they know how to finish projects without going bankrupt. Westinghouse knows how to do reactor design and component manufacturing (reactor vessels, steam generators, big piping). That is worlds apart from power plant construction.

    Westinghouse will continue to try and sell their reactors, they just won't be taking on the plant construction scope. They will also continue to provide reactor fuel and all the engineering services to the operating plants. At least, that's what they say.

    http://www.westinghousenuclear.com/About/News/View/WESTINGHOUSE-ANNOUNCES-STRATEGIC-RESTRUCTURING
     
  6. Mar 29, 2017 #5
    @Rive suggests that startups would not be a factor in the nuclear industry but Bill Gates (and his money) is seemingly interested in the liquid sodium cooled design to be built by TerraPower with support by Babcock and Wilcox. They have a target date of 2022 for start-up. This design is interesting because it uses spent fuel from conventional reactors as its fuel. It is also challenging because of the liquid sodium that is used to cool It.
     
  7. Mar 29, 2017 #6
    Just because Bill Gates plans to start something up it does not mean that it'll be a 'startup' - as the meaning of the word taken these days.
     
  8. Mar 29, 2017 #7
    TerraPower was created to find a new product for the nuclear power industry. It is financed by entrepreneurs has a full management team, and partners with multiple organizations and business to develop that product. Just because one investor is the richest man in the world should not make TerraPower anything but a startup


    .

    Even though the world seems like it is drowning in oil such a reactor would be a boon for countries who depend on the shipping of oil or coal for their power generation.

    But getting back to one of the main point of this post even though Westinghouse got in over its head in building power stations costs are still rising and other companies as France's Areva has been reported to be struggling financially. Most of the reactor companies are government owned China probably the biggest. China is raising some eyebrows because they are building reactors for about $2B each far below the US. Forbes notes that China may become the biggest exporter of reactors for this reason. But one has to ask if the quality of their reactors might be similar to that of their famous stainless steel bolts China has 42 reactors expected to be operating by the end of this year with 21 under construction and much more in the planning stage. Eighteen of their reactors are Westinghouse AP-1000's!
     
  9. Apr 14, 2017 #8

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Source
    I believe the latest Westinghouse-Toshiba designs are used in six of these reactors under construction.

    When American Airlines went Chapter 11 in 2011, I don't recall queries about the death of airlines. I suppose the difference here is the supply of anti nuclear advocates which the media keeps on speed dial. The first quote in that Guardian article is from Mycle Schneider, who is identified as a nuclear "consultant", when in fact he's a founder of an anti-nuclear group with the slogan, "imagine a world without nuclear", and has no scientific degrees in nuclear physics or engineering, though he publishes a great deal about the industry.
     
  10. Apr 15, 2017 #9
    But then AA was not a prime supplier of aircraft.

    Ever since the Fukushima incident Japan has all but shut down its nuclear power generating capability suspending operation of 41 reactors. shutting down 11 since 2011 leaving only 3 operating with 2 under construction and only 3 planned. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors.

    As far as anti-nucs go look to Japan to lead the way

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Japan

    What has happened in Germany? I was surprised to see that Germany has shut down most of its reactors for reasons I do not know Germany I would have thought should have been a leader in the nuclear power industry.
     
  11. Apr 15, 2017 #10

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Germany exited the nuclear sector for two reasons imho:
    1 The industry really failed to perform in a good faith manner. Corners were cut too often, most notably in waste disposal but also in reactor operations.
    To illustrate, the Juelich experimental pebble bed reactor had a fuel jam, so the operators used a broomstick to mash the fuel pebbles back into the feeder. They broke a bunch of them, contaminating the site and the neighborhood and then tried to hush it up.
    2 Fukushima shocked the political leadership by demonstrating the scale of disaster that a nuclear accident produces. Japan was totally lucky that almost all the contamination blew out to sea, yet they still have a large no go zone 30-50 km deep around the site. Recognizing that such an event in Germany could be country killing, they opted to drop the reactors.
     
  12. Apr 15, 2017 #11

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The exclusion was at most 25 to 30 km, was gradually reduced, and now is being lifted except for handful of areas. There were no deaths from acute radiation, nor are any measurable deaths expected in the future according to WHO.
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/20...ima-areas-residents-slow-return/#.WPLe8f8pDxA

    Another speculative reason for German nuclear closures is the influence of the German fossil fuel power plant industry. Germany has as much coal plant capacity today (49 GW) as it did in 2002, and much more gas plant capacity. Germany has another large coal plant without CO2 capture under construction at this time (1100 MW), whereas the US has none. Japan similarly has dozens of coal plants planned.
     
  13. Apr 16, 2017 #12

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member


    I seem to remember 50-80 km initially suggested as the exclusion zone, but happy it wound up less. That does not alter the reality that the actual plume was massive and that Japan was super lucky it went out to sea. The USS Reagan certainly felt it at 100 km distance. Germany would get the contamination, no matter which way the wind blows.

    Likewise, there is no doubt the fossil fuel industry is aggressively anti nuclear, in Germany as well as elsewhere. Their opposition stance got a lot wider following because of the nuclear industry's own failures and lack of credibility.
     
  14. Apr 16, 2017 #13

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    I dont believe that is so.

    http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/...017/global-nuclear-wind-solar-capacity-surges
    upload_2017-4-16_21-10-30.png

    Shell got out of the reactor business because they felt they couldn't build them for the agreed on price. Ft St Vrain cost Gulf & GA millions.
    https://atomicinsights.com/shell-oil-gas-companys-perspective-energy-future/

    Construction is a different world from R&D.
     
  15. Apr 17, 2017 #14

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    So true about construction being a different world from R&D.
    That explains why an experienced construction team can put together a big nuclear plant on time and on budget, while startup efforts have massive delays and cost overruns. Unfortunately both the US and Europe currently only have startup efforts for nuclear plant building, so any entity there interested in nuclear installations faces insurmountable economic uncertainties. Absent some very different approach, I think there will not be additional reactors here.
     
  16. Apr 17, 2017 #15

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Throwing the label 'massive' around is easy to do, if the point is dismiss an option. For instance: German coal mining operations are 'massive', the ash waste is massive, the coal emissions including radioactivity and mercury are massive.
     
  17. Apr 17, 2017 #16

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The four reactors currently under construction in the US are being built by long established companies: Westinghouse, SCANA, Southern.
     
  18. Apr 17, 2017 #17
    I think etudiant was referring to construction companies SCANA, and Southern are utility companies (the buyers) and Westinghouse is a reactor designer. Westinghouse a division of Toshiba used a questionable low bidding construction company (Shaw) with no nuclear power plant experience to start resulting in huge cost overruns delays and eventual bankruptcy. Shaw was eventually sold Chicago Bridge and Iron but CBI saw the problems and removed itself from the project. Westinghouse eventually settled on Fluor Corp. experienced in nuclear plant construction but too late. The last reactors approved for construction in the US prior to this project was in 1979 so even "experienced' companies with a 20+ year gap between projects can't be considered that experienced.

    The question remains will the Georgia and South Carolina plant ever be finished? The US nuclear power industry appears crippled. However there a growing expectation by nuclear engineers that nuclear power plants can be refurbished to possibly doubling their operational life. Even today some power plants have been recertified by the NRC for another 20 years of operation so the normal 40 year life is being extended to 60 and may be extended to 80 years. But you can also ask if we a being sold a bill of goods and do the proponents of these extensions have their fingers crossed.
     
  19. Apr 17, 2017 #18

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Please show how Shaw was responsible for overruns/bankruptcy as you stated, and not, for instance, an NRC mandate issued in 2011 for aircraft impact resistance, *after* the NRC approved the Vogtle license in 2009.

    Etudiant stated the companies were startups. Neither the operator, the designer, nor the builder are startup companies. Of course no US builder has any *current* experience with major nuclear construction prior to Vogtle, Virgil.

    Anyone can speculate, but what is the factual basis for failure to complete at this stage? Why would they not be? Major components have been ordered, and at least some (all?)of the RPVs have been installed. All four of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors under construction in China are nearly complete and should come online this year,

    Crippled how? The roughly 100 existing US reactors are not materially effected by the Westinghouse bankruptcy, and the only pending new reactor approval in the US is from another firm, Nuscale. There is a good argument that cheap natural gas is a threat to US nuclear power, nothing existing and planned, but not the bankruptcy of a firm that continues to operate.

    I'm aware of some license extensions. How do you survey the expectation of "nuclear engineers"?
     
  20. Apr 17, 2017 #19
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/arti...-reactor-mess-winds-back-to-a-louisiana-swamp

    Admittedly the NRC did not help. Fukushima didn't help either. Shaw was low bidder with a history of poor workmanship and falling behind schedule was relieved of it duties. CBI temporarily accepted the project later to bow out. I haven't seen anything that suggests that finishing it is a done deal. The project is over $1B over budget.

    By Chinese companies.

    Westinghouse will probably remain a designer and servicer of reactors. Nuscale designs reactors The AP1000 is a certified reactor design so Nuscale competes with Westinghouse. There are 37 reactors commission in 1975 or earlier that must get license extensions Can we be sure they will get one? There are only two reactor projected by 2028-2030 in Utah with as estimated cost of $20B. And yes cheap gas is an issue . Duke Energy brought a gas fired plant on line In 2013 for less than t $1000/Kw compared to a $6000+/kw for the Utah facility.
     
  21. Apr 18, 2017 #20

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I don't know of any multi-billion dollar project that is guaranteed to finish during construction, but Vogtle and Virgil are well on their way, with billions already spent, and I know of nothing that would stop them at this point. The long term benefit is compelling: the cost to operate mature, multi-reactor plants can be as low as 1.5 cents/kWh, for reliable, emissions free power, for decades. Nothing else besides hydro comes close.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted



Similar Discussions: Westinghouse Bankruptcy and the Future of Nuclear Power
  1. Nuclear Power (Replies: 61)

Loading...