It’s not exactly unexpected—not for a company with, as The New York Times describes it, a “history of financial calamity.” Still, when Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in a New York court, the US nuclear industry shuddered. Well, what’s left of it shuddered.
In 2006, Westinghouse was purchased by the Japanese conglomerate Toshiba for a generous $5.4 billion. The big attraction at the time was Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design, which was supposed to be cheaper than other designs on the market (as well as safer and more terrorism-resistant). But based on evidence now available, the AP1000 is not cheaper. It’s the basis for four reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, and these projects have been plagued with—you guessed it!—delays and cost overruns. Legal tussles have resulted. Bigger tussles are now expected. It’s not certain the facilities will ever be completed.
Increasingly, it seems that the nuclear playing field will be ceded to national firms from a handful of countries, China above all. What happens after the Chinese Fukushima?