EXPRESS #1 - September 25, 2018
Westinghouse is back – is nuclear back also?
Westinghouse, one of the great names in energy history, is back.
The company, founded in 1886, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2017 in the U.S.
The filing affected only its US operations, which included projects to construct four AP1000 reactors at two sites, Vogtle in Georgia, and VC Summer in South Carolina.
On 4 January, Brookfield Business Partners agreed to acquire 100% of Westinghouse from Toshiba for about $4.6 billion. The acquisition was completed in August.
Westinghouse’s bankruptcy was not just any company demise. As World Nuclear News reports, the modern Westinghouse Electric Company LLC “was formed in 1998 from the nuclear power division of the original Westinghouse Electric Corporation that was founded in 1886. In 1957, it supplied the world’s first pressurised water reactor – the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, which was in operation until 1982. Today, Westinghouse technology is used in more than half of the 450 reactors in operation around the world and 131 of them run on its fuel.”
What is more, Westinghouse was also in the forefront of developing new Generation-III nuclear reactor technology, designed to make nuclear power even safer than it is now, with its AP1000, the U.S. equivalent to EDF’s European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) design. The company’s bankruptcy also seemed to herald the end of AP1000-technology, with 2 of the 4 planned AP1000 reactors in the U.S. abandoned. They had similar problems to the EPRs being built in Flamanville, France and in Finland: large cost overruns, long delays.
But the company was saved from the brink of disaster. At the same time the fortunes of the AP1000 reactor seem to be reversing: in July, the world’s first AP1000 achieved grid connection and power generation at unit 1 of the Sanmen nuclear power plant in China.
Electric Company is now “starting the next phase in its long history with one key message”, notes WNN: “The nuclear industry, which has always provided safe, clean and reliable energy, needs innovation now more than ever before.”
Speaking at the World Nuclear Association Symposium 2018 in London, Westinghouse President and CEO José Gutiérrez described the company’s future strategy.
“We’ve streamlined our operations and reduced overhead costs to drive efficiencies and we’ve done that whilst also expanding our base business, which means the company continues to be an industry leader”, Gutiérrez told delegates at the symposium. He added: “And the best way to support the operating fleet and also to build new ones is through innovation.”
Gutiérrez described the AP1000 at Sanmen 1 as “the world’s first true Gen-III+ nuclear power plant” and referred to praise of the technology from Wang Binghua, chairman of State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC)at the symposium the day before.
“The news coming from China is that the unit is working as planned, that the most advanced technology in the world is succeeding,” Gutiérrez said, adding that “all first-of-a-kind challenges connected with the design have been solved.”
Binghua told delegates that a passive safety test had been successfully conducted at Sanmen 1, proving its passive safety capabilities, notes WNN.
“Last week we had five full days of a full power loading operation. Then the reactor was suddenly shut down manually and then all the operating four reactor coolant pump were shut down manually. Then started the heat exchange. We took 12 minutes to transfer the residue heat to the used fuel pool. We were so impressed by this passive safety feature which supported the transfer of residual heat to the used fuel pool. We appreciate very much the outstanding engineering design from Westinghouse.”
Gutiérrez noted that three of the four AP1000s under construction in China – Sanmen units 1 and 2 and Haiyang unit 1 – had been connected to the grid. Connection of Haiyang 2 is expected next week.
Mingguang Zheng, senior vice president of SNPTC, today gave delegates the scheduled dates for Haiyang 2 as 14 September for grid connection and 11 December for the start of commercial operation. Commercial operation for Sanmen 1 and 2 are expected, he said, on 28 September and 8 November, respectively. For Haiyang 1, this is expected on 25 October.
Westinghouse continues to learn the lessons of its projects and to innovate for one reason, Gutiérrez said. “We believe that nuclear energy is more valuable to the world energy mix than ever before.”
Westinghouse’s senior vice president for nuclear fuel, Michele DeWitt, described some of the technologies the company is working on. I will reproduce part of the report in World Nuclear News as it sheds interesting light on some of the actions and innovations taking place in the nuclear industry. I think this may come as a surprise to some readers since for most outsiders, the nuclear sector remains more or less a black box.
Westinghouse designs and manufactures more types of nuclear fuel than any other supplier, DeWitt told delegates, and currently supplies nuclear fuel to one-third of operating reactors, including pressurised water, boiling water and advanced gas-cooled reactors.
She said it is crucial the fuel manufacturing industry “delivers what matters” by providing the lowest fuel cycle costs; operational flexibility; higher burnup capability; supply diversity; accident tolerant products; and robust fuel performance.
“The landscape in which we operate is changing rapidly and our ability to innovate is critical,” she said. The nuclear industry faces competition from renewables and natural gas; utility customers are increasingly facing the need to shift their nuclear assets from baseload to load follow; operating fleet life extensions are under way; and new build reactors are based on new technologies.
Some of the company’s key innovations include its “game-changing” EnCore fuel, DeWitt said.
“Our EnCore family of products provides not only enhanced accident tolerance, but also improved fuel cycle economics. It’s being developed to deliver design basis tolerance safety margins and withstands far more serious conditions than today’s fuel.”
“Having fuel that can withstand the most severe accident scenarios is game-changing for utilities. The right fuel can also bring significant plant and operational savings by improving fuel cycle economics and enabling longer fuel cycles.”
“Westinghouse expects its coated cladding and advanced pellets could be provided in lead test assemblies by 2021 and in reload quantities from 2023, she said. In addition, silicon carbide test assemblies will be rolled out in 2022 with reload quantities beginning in 2027.”
The company expects to deliver a lead test assembly of its TRITON11 boiling water reactor fuel to Finland’s TVO for insertion in Olkiluoto unit 2 in January next year and to unit 3 of Swedish OKG’s Oskarshamn plant in June the same year. It is targeting full reload introduction in Europe and the USA in 2023 and 2024, respectively, she said.
The company is also meeting customer demand for diversification and security of supply with its advanced VVER fuel designs, she said. Westinghouse produces fuel for VVER-1000 reactors, an original Soviet design, at its facility in Västerås Sweden. It is currently providing fuel to six of Ukraine’s 15 power reactors, which will increase to seven at the beginning of 2021.
“Recently we were pleased to join the celebration for the loading of South Ukraine NPP unit 3 for the full core of Westinghouse fuel. This is the first unit in Ukraine to operate with 100% Westinghouse VVER fuel.”
“We are also actively working with other customers to expand our VVER-1000 supply and will provide six lead test assemblies featuring our next generation VVER design to Temelín unit 1in the Czech Republic. And we’ve also led a consortium to develop a conceptual VVER-440 fuel design and determine the establishment of manufacturing and a supply chain to fabricate and transport VVER-440 fuel assemblies,” she said.
Another innovation Westinghouse is exploring is 3D printing, she added. “We can produce components for complex geometric and design margins that would otherwise not be possible. 3D printing has also enabled us to accelerate the development process by shortening the time to develop prototypes and bring these products to market.”
Its BlueRad camera assists with fuel assembly visual inspections “whilst providing state-of-the-art optical quality for underwater inspections,” she said.
Quiver Fuel Rod Storage, another product it has developed, is “a simple and safe system” of handling the storage of failed PWR and BWR fuel rod fragments, DeWitt said, adding that its size allows it to be handled in the same way a PWR or BWR fuel assembly would be.
All of this is just to give you a quick look behind the nuclear screen. Whether or not it means that nuclear “is back”, I leave for you to decide. But it’s safe to conclude that nuclear is at least busy.