Westinghouse bankruptcy: What does it mean for US nuclear power?

One of the biggest players in the nuclear power game has taken a step back, raising questions about the future of nuclear power in the United States.

On Wednesday, Westinghouse Electric, Toshiba’s nuclear unit in the US, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As part of its bankruptcy restructuring, the Pennsylvania-based company plans to stop installing reactors in order to focus on maintenance and design, a decision that throws into doubt the future of four reactors that are under construction. 

For some, the challenges are a sign of systemic problems that mean nuclear power generation should be phased out. The Westinghouse bankruptcy “is a powerful signal of the end of the fantasy of a nuclear revival,” writes Daniel Hirsch, director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor.

Others see the bankruptcy filing as another short-term challenge to a beleaguered industry, but they predict a nuclear resurgence down the line. “The Westinghouse bankruptcy is a setback, but I expect it will only be a temporary setback,” writes Steven Biegalski, director of the Nuclear Engineering Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. “The United States and world need nuclear power to meet the global growth in demand for electricity.”

Westinghouse is responsible for technology used in about half of the world’s nuclear power plants. When Toshiba purchased the company for $5.4 billion in 2006, it expected Westinghouse to be a lucrative sideline to its consumer electronics business. But delays on the four nuclear reactors it was constructing in the US, combined with increased regulation after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 that forced changes to reactor design, left the company in the red.

Nor is Westinghouse the only struggling nuclear player. General Electric has also scaled back its nuclear…

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