Eight AP1000 reactors are under construction around the world: four in China and four in the US. All of them, in both China and the US, are about three years behind schedule.
A Chinese nuclear engineer told nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger in 2015: "People felt we paid full price for a half-completed design." The result, Shellenberger writes, was three years of delay, higher costs, and a deteriorating relationship between China and Westinghouse.1 Likewise, the 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that the AP1000 projects in China have suffered construction delays and cost overruns, design changes and equipment failure.2
Nonetheless, the four AP1000 reactors in China will very likely be completed.
Whether the four AP1000 reactors in Georgia and South Carolina will be completed is now subject to a 30-day "assessment period" according to Westinghouse.3 Work is continuing during the assessment period.
Costs to complete the four reactors could amount to approximately US$8.5 billion.4 The combined cost overruns for the four reactors amount to about US$11.2 billion and counting.5
Stephen Byrd from Morgan Stanley anticipates that the total costs of the plants in Georgia and South Carolina, if completed, will be about twice Westinghouse's original estimate.6
An April 2 article from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report website summarizes the situation:7
"The outcome for the U.S. AP1000 projects is more dire, and abandonment is an explicit option. In the case of the Vogtle project in Georgia, Stan Wise, chairman of the state's Public Service Commission, pointed out that it is "possible ... that Plant Vogtle just doesn't get finished at all. It's a real hit and a real blow to something that we felt like was going to be the very best possible energy choice for Georgia maybe even into the next century". But he also went on to talking about the changes in the energy landscape since the Vogtle plan was initially approved, "with natural gas getting very cheap, and technologies like solar power and batteries improving" and declaring: "If I'd known any of this a decade ago we would have gone a different way".
"[South Carolina's] SCANA chief executive Kevin Marsh, on the other hand, was more bullish: "Our commitment is still to try to finish these plants. That would be my preferred option. The least preferred option, I think realistically, is abandonment". But he has also said that SCANA will evaluate various options during the coming 30 days, including:
- continuing with the construction of both new units;
- focusing on the construction of one unit, and delaying the construction of the other;
- continuing with the construction of one and abandoning the other; and
- abandoning both units.
"Independent analysts have pointed out that not abandoning the project right away could result in "the chaos of bankruptcy and reorganization [leading] to a long period of project restructuring uncertainly and more spiraling costs".
"If either of those projects are abandoned, they would join the ranks of the forty nuclear new-build projects ‒ including 12 Westinghouse reactors ‒ that were abandoned in the United States between 1977 and 1989 at various stages of construction (see Global Nuclear Power Database for details8). At the time, several utilities went bankrupt."
No other reactors are under construction in the US and there is no likelihood of any new reactors in the foreseeable future. The US reactor fleet is one of the oldest in the world ‒ 44 out of 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more ‒ so nuclear decline is certain.
Will any other AP1000 reactors be built around the world?
In 2015, then Westinghouse chair Danny Roderick said he was "pretty confident" in achieving Westinghouse's goal of winning orders to construct 64 AP1000 reactors worldwide over the next 15 years.9 As recently as November 2016, Westinghouse said it had plans to build 30 AP1000 reactors around the world, and Roderick said the company was "very much in the running ... to get up near 50 units over the next 15 to 20 years in China."10
Those expectations have gone up in smoke.
An April 2 article from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report website states: "The idea that Westinghouse might get any more contracts to build nuclear reactors in China seems doubtful, to say the least. As Lin Boqiang, director at the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University told Bloomberg News: "The only way Westinghouse can win contracts in China is to demonstrate they can build reactors quicker and cheaper than anyone else in China's market and win hearts with actions, not words. Westinghouse so far hasn't demonstrated such abilities.""11
Toshiba received notice from French company Engie on April 3 that it had exercized its right under a joint agreement to require Toshiba to purchase Engie's 40% stake in the NuGeneration (NuGen) consortium that planned to build three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK.12 NuGen is "facing some significant challenges", Engie said. Engie anticipates payment of approximately ¥15.3 billion (US$137.5 million) from Toshiba for its stake in NuGen.12
Once the transaction is completed, Toshiba will be left with a 100% stake in NuGen. Toshiba noted that Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing met the definition of an 'event of default' under the terms of its agreement with Engie. That gave Engie the option to sell its stake in NuGen to Toshiba, or to acquire Toshiba's stake, and Engie chose the first option.12
Toshiba was hoping to sell its 60% stake in NuGen and is now seeking to sell its 100% stake.
Ironically, just as the Moorside project took a giant leap towards being abandoned, UK regulators announced on March 30 that the AP1000 had successfully completed the Generic Design Assessment process.12
Engie is the seventh international energy utility to give up on UK new nuclear build over the past decade, the others being Toshiba, E-on (Wylfa), RWE Npower (Wylfa), Iberdrola (Moorside), SSE (Moorside), and Centrica (Hinkley Point).13
While South Korea's Kepco has shown no interest in acquiring a stake in Westinghouse, the utility is interested in acquiring a stake in NuGen.14 Whether that interest is affected by Engie's withdrawal remains to be seen. Kepco might seek to deploy its APR1400 reactor technology instead of AP1000 reactors, in which case development would be delayed by a further 4‒5 years while the APR1400 is put through a Generic Design Assessment by UK regulators.
In 2015, Toshiba estimated a total cost of ¥1.5 trillion yen (US$13.6bn) for the NuGen project but analysts now believe the cost could be roughly double that amount due to higher labor costs and revised safety standards.5
Of course, the cost could be brought down by weakening safety standards and one way to do that would be to abandon AP1000 technology in favour of South Korea's APR1400 design. The APR1400 lacks safety features of AP1000 and EPR designs such as aircraft crash protection.15
Danny Roderick from Westinghouse said in November 2016 that the company was on track to build six AP1000 reactors in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh and expected a final engineering, procurement, and construction agreement before the end of 2017.10
But funding had not been secured, India's nuclear liability law remained an obstacle, and the project faced stiff public opposition ... and that was all before the Toshiba / Westinghouse financial crisis began to surface late last year. The project is unlikely to proceed ‒ it is almost impossible according to three industry sources contacted by Reuters in early February.16 Likewise, a separate, less-developed plan for an additional six AP1000 reactors in India has little chance of progressing.
Toshiba said in mid-February that India's liability legislation ‒ which provides some recourse to sue vendors in the event of an accident ‒ would have to be changed to promote reactor projects in India.17
Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted in an April 7 article: "India is clearly not set to follow China into a rapid nuclear growth phase. Its targets announced for nuclear generation in the early 2030s look even more unachievable than before, and the Indian industry is becoming inward-looking once again. Its tie-up with Russia on reactors appears sound, but proposed cooperation with Areva, Westinghouse and GE now looks dead in the water after their recent financial disasters."18
A senior Indian government official reportedly said in early April that the "atomic meltdown" of Toshiba and Westinghouse "is a blessing in disguise", and the Economic Times of India reported that "many in the Indian atomic establishment are silently celebrating this premature death of suitors who were wooing to put tens of atomic plants in India".19 The argument is that the 'Indian atomic establishment' can take up the slack with new reactors in India and the atomic meltdown "could also provide an opportunity to the country to become a hub for low cost suppliers of nuclear technology".
But in all likelihood, despite the opportunities afforded by the meltdown of its competitors, the Indian atomic establishment will probably continue doing what it does best: building bombs, taking an axe to the global non-proliferation and safeguards regime, and failing to meet its nuclear power targets by orders of magnitude.
1. Michael Shellenberger, 13 Feb 2017, 'Why its Big Bet on Westinghouse Nuclear is Bankrupting Toshiba', www.environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/2/13/why-its-big-bet-on-west...
2. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2016, www.worldnuclearreport.org/The-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2016...
3. Westinghouse, 29 March 2017, Westinghouse Announces Strategic Restructuring, http://www.westinghousenuclear.com/About/News/View/WESTINGHOUSE-ANNOUNCE...
4. Samantha Cheh, 3 April 2017, 'Never-ending misfortunes: Toshiba stuck in the news cycle from hell', http://techwireasia.com/2017/04/toshiba-stuck-newscycle-hell/
5. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba-Westinghouse: The End of New-build for the Largest Historic Nuclear Builder', www.worldnuclearreport.org/Toshiba-Westinghouse-The-End-of-New-build-for...
6. 1 April 2017, 'Westinghouse files for bankruptcy', www.economist.com/news/business/21719836-global-nuclear-power-industry-b...
7. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 April 2017, 'Westinghouse: Origins and Effects of the Downfall of a Nuclear Giant', www.worldnuclearreport.org/Westinghouse-Origins-and-Effects-of-the-Downf...
9. Reuters, 5 April 2017, 'Toshiba fired Westinghouse chairman two days before bankruptcy filing', www.reuters.com/article/us-toshiba-accounting-westinghouse-idUSKBN1770O6
10. Nikkei Asian Review, 29 Nov 2016, 'Toshiba aims to nail down multiple nuclear orders in China, India', http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Companies/Toshiba-aims-to-nail-down-mult...
11. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 April 2017, 'Westinghouse: Origins and Effects of the Downfall of a Nuclear Giant', www.worldnuclearreport.org/Westinghouse-Origins-and-Effects-of-the-Downf...
12. World Nuclear News, 5 April 2017, 'Engie gives notice to sell NuGen stake', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Engie-gives-notice-to-sell-NuGen-stake-0504...
13. Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 4 April 2017, www.nuclearpolicy.info/news/as-engie-becomes-the-seventh-internationalen...
14. Song Jung-a in, 22 March 2017, 'Kepco rules out buying Westinghouse stake', www.ft.com/content/cd70d392-0ec8-11e7-b030-768954394623
15. Steve Thomas, July 2014, 'Nuclear technology options for South Africa', http://earthlife.org.za/www/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/nuclear-cost_repo...
16. Geert De Clercq and Kentaro Hamada, 3 Feb 2017, 'Battered Toshiba seeks exit from UK, India in nuclear retreat: sources', www.reuters.com/article/us-toshiba-accounting-idUSKBN15I0VG
17. World Nuclear News, 14 Feb 2017, 'NuGen confirms Toshiba commitment to Moorside', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-NuGen-confirms-Toshiba-commitment-to-Moorsi...
18. Steve Kidd, 7 April 2017, 'The future of the nuclear sector – is innovation the answer?', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionthe-future-of-the-nuclear-sector-is-i...
19. 9 April 2017, 'Global nuclear giants go bust, should India celebrate?', http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/58091514.cms