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Leonard Hyman & William Tilles

Leonard Hyman & William Tilles

Leonard S. Hyman is an economist and financial analyst specializing in the energy sector. He headed utility equity research at a major brokerage house and…

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Westinghouse Bankruptcy Could Stall UK Nuclear Plans

Late last week press reports indicated that Japan’s Toshiba Corp (6502.T) was preparing a bankruptcy filing for its Westinghouse nuclear design and construction subsidiary. Bankruptcy would affect the prospects for nuclear projects in the United States. Now it looks as if the fallout from such a filing could affect energy plans in the UK, as well.

Toshiba was planning to build three Westinghouse-designed AP 1000 reactors at Moorside in Cumbria (UK). Government officials said these plants were expected to provide about 7 percent of the UK’s energy needs when they come on line around the year 2030. Toshiba owns 60 percent of the project along with French partner, Engie, which owns the balance. (Engie, formerly GDF Suez, is one of the largest generating companies in the world.)

Given the possibility of a Westinghouse bankruptcy, as well as related financial woes, Toshiba has been seeking to offload its interest in the Moorside project. The CEO of Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO) initially sounded enthusiastic about assuming Toshiba’s Moorside stake stating publicly he was ready to “jump in” after questions of the project’s debt and equity were clarified. KEPCO, however, later ruled out buying Westinghouse.

Nowhere in various press report, though, did we see KEPCO officials embrace the Toshiba/Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design.

The Koreans have their own nuclear reactor designs which they have had some success exporting. Actually, they have two of them; the OPR 1000 and the larger APR 1400. The United Arab Emirates has purchased four of the larger nuclear units.

Why does this matter?

It could take the UK’s nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Generation (ONR), at least four years to certify a new reactor design. The ONR’s latest Generic Design Assessment is almost complete for Westinghouse’s AP 1000. Related: Huge 300,000 Bpd Fracklog Could Derail Oil Price Recovery

As sophisticated designers and builders of new nuclear facilities, with their own proprietary technology, we believe there is little likelihood the Koreans will take on the AP 1000 design. Building with a new and unfamiliar design would add to their risk.

If the Koreans assume Toshiba’s Moorside stake and pursue their home-grown reactor design, this will add years to the plant’s estimated in service date. The only good news, here, is that Britain’s electricity demand has fallen so much that maybe the delay would be a blessing in disguise.

Once again, though, we wonder if the UK’s nuclear policymakers have a plan B. They never had one before.

By Leonard Hyman and Bill Tilles for Oilprice.com

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