Westinghouse CEO looks beyond bankruptcy

15 September 2017

As the start-up of the world's first AP1000 unit approaches, Westinghouse is using the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection process to transform itself. The company will come out of the process "leaner, stronger and more competitive", Westinghouse president and CEO Jose Gutierrez told the World Nuclear Association Symposium.

Gutierrez said Westinghouse took the "strategic decision" to file for Chapter 11 protection on 29 March. However, he stressed the company is "in a much better situation than many of you could think".

He said the Chapter 11 process is an opportunity for Westinghouse to transform itself. The company, he said, will protect its "core business" - nuclear fuel, engineering, component supply and decontamination & decommissioning. "All those areas that have been the traditional business of Westinghouse," he added.

"During this process, we have been delivering on all our commitments," Gutierrez said. "We have not stopped any of our processes - all our factories and services centres have been working - and in the USA and Europe we have been delivering all our products and services without any kind of interruption."

Westinghouse is working on a transformation plan that will take it "back to its fundamentals" by building on its core business, including fuel supply and reactor services. Gutierrez stressed that Westinghouse will no longer be involved in construction.

"We are coming back to our previous business model that has been in engineering and procurement. That is where we have the right skills, the right abilities and right capacities."

There had been construction issues with the VC Summer and Vogtle AP1000 projects in the USA, he acknowledged. Contracts for the projects were signed in 2008 "in the context of the nuclear renaissance". Westinghouse was subsequently obliged to introduce some changes in the design because of new regulatory requirements, he said.

"In 30 years, we didn't have any nuclear construction projects in the United States. That means we had a lack of recent knowledge and experience to support new build in the USA." He said the construction of the US AP1000s could be considered as a first-of-a-kind, with all the difficulties that brings. In 2015, Westinghouse bought Stone & Webster from CB&I "in a way to secure the construction of the four US reactors".

It is "very unfortunate" that Scana and Santee Cooper decided not to continue with the VC Summer project, Gutierrez said. However, Southern Nuclear decided to go ahead with the Vogtle project, which is "moving forward without any kind of interruption".

He emphasised the problems with the US project was "purely construction" and not a problem with the technology. The first AP1000 will be connected to the grid soon, he noted.

"We are working with our Chinese partners and customers - State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) and State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC)", he said. "We have been working very well with them. We have finished all the cold hydro tests and all the cold functional tests at Sanmen 1 and Haiyang 1. We have already finished the cold hydro tests in Sanmen 2. We are now working on the cold hydro tests in Haiyang 2.

"In cooperation with our partners in China, we know that the technology is working, the results of all those tests are really good - even better than we expected - and we continue working with SNPTC and SPIC and very soon hopefully we will have the good news that Sanmen 1 will be loading fuel and moving forward."

Gutierrez said Westinghouse is preparing for growth. "We have an aggressive plan to grow in many different areas and markets, and new technology areas."

He said, "I want to transmit a very optimistic message about the future of Westinghouse - the company and its core business are really very solid, it has a very good backlog [of orders] and also we have the trust of our customers in the USA, Europe and Asia. We continue signing very important and long-term contracts with our customers.

"That is a very good signal that we are moving in the right direction. We are very confident that we will be exiting out of this Chapter 11 process very, very quickly. And this company is going to be leaner, stronger and more competitive."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News