Westinghouse declares bankruptcy, casting nuclear plant projects into uncertainty

Duke Energy had planned to build two additional reactors at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant, but shelved the expansion. (Photo: Duke Energy)

T he Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County was supposed to have siblings. But in 2013, Duke Energy filed paperwork with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to stop further development of the two additional reactors,   primarily because of the extensive length of time — at least 15 years — until they would be operational.

These reactors would have been built using Westinghouse Electric’s new AP1000 technology, the same technology that in part, has forced the manufacturer into financial disarray.

Yesterday, Westinghouse Electric, a primary manufacturer of nuclear plants worldwide declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company is owned by Toshiba Nuclear Holdings. Chapter 11 allows for a company to restructure and pay its creditors over time.

Duke Energy operates three nuclear plants in North Carolina: Shearon Harris in Wake County, Brunswick in Brunswick County and McGuire in Mecklenburg County. Shearon Harris and McGuire were built using an earlier Westinghouse technology. Brunswick contains reactors manufactured by General Electric.

The AP1000 technology was supposed to make nuclear plants safer, but cost overruns and construction delays contributed to Westinghouse’s financial downfall. (Illustration: Westinghouse)

New plants were being built using AP1000 technology, which the company said would make the reactors safer. However, in construction those AP1000 reactors, Westinghouse ran more than a billion dollars over budget and encountered years of delays.

Duke had received federal approval to build twin reactors near Gaffney, SC, using this technology. It’s unclear how Westinghouse’s financial instability will affect that $11 billion project.

Rita Sipe, manager of nuclear communications at Duke Energy, issued a statement to NCPW:

Westinghouse has been a key player in commercial nuclear power for decades. We continue to carefully monitor the financial situation of Toshiba/Westinghouse, including the Westinghouse bankruptcy filing, and cannot speculate on how this will be resolved. Westinghouse continues to provide components and services in support of nuclear operations and we currently have no indication this will change.

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