WASHINGTON -- The CEO of the U.S. nuclear power firm Westinghouse Electric Co. -- which used to be under the Toshiba Corp. umbrella and which filed for bankruptcy in March 2017 -- has told the Mainichi Shimbun that the "nuclear renaissance" in the 2000s "was not realistic."
Company chief Jose E. Gutierrez added that the U.S. "lost a lot of expertise in (nuclear power plant) construction." Looking ahead though, Gutierrez indicated his willingness for Westinghouse Electric to start building nuclear power plants again, mainly in emerging countries.
Westinghouse Electric was acquired by Toshiba in 2006. At the time, nuclear power was gaining attention as a countermeasure to tackle global warming, with a spate of power plant construction projects emerging across the world, particularly in the U.S.
However, after a drop in demand for electricity caused by the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as well as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, demand for new nuclear power plants has plunged worldwide.
Looking back at this time, Gutierrez acknowledges that the nuclear renaissance, whereby firms would build plants, never actually happened, and says that Westinghouse Electric senior management's bold plans to build dozens of new plants across the world was not realistic.
Moreover, the four nuclear power plants that Westinghouse Electric set about building were the first in the U.S. in about 30 years, after construction of new nuclear plants was halted in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
The projects were also hit by swelling costs caused by major delays in the construction schedule, and as Westinghouse Electric's parent company Toshiba suffered huge losses, the American subsidiary ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Gutierrez believes that the loss of expertise in construction was a factor behind the failed construction projects, stating that, "A lot of vendors were not necessarily very well prepared for this."
In January 2018, it was decided that the Canadian firm, Brookfield Asset Management Inc., would acquire Westinghouse Electric, and in March, a U.S. bankruptcy court approved the firm's business rehabilitation plan.
Gutierrez is upbeat about the future -- indicating his intention to build new plants in countries such as India and Saudi Arabia, conducting research on small nuclear reactors for U.S. and Europe and also expanding its decommissioning business.
(Japanese original by Kenji Shimizu, North America General Bureau)