Westinghouse ditches small reactors
The nuclear industry is often referred to as a priesthood, by critics and supporters alike. The thought is that the followers of the belief in nuclear power have to have a strong faith in the technology and a willingness to sacrifice themselves to advance the ideology. Some of the hardest working people I have ever met, promote nuclear power.
Part of the understanding within the priesthood is that you try to never harm the position of others in the industry when you change your plans. So it was with special interest i read the recent news that Westinghouse had dropped out of the small reactor market. In this news story the Westinghouse spokes people (who are always very careful what they say to the press) tell us that the only reason they are dropping out of this technology is “there are no customers.” They go on to elaborate that the only way they can actually make money on small reactors is by selling a bunch of them. The Westinghouse CEO confessed, “Unless you’re going to build 30 to 50 of them, you’re not going to make your money back.”
Worldwide, no one is building reactors without huge financial incentives from the manufacturer or their supporting country. The idea that small reactors are going to be snapped up by utilities without external generous financing is as fanciful as the notion that nuclear power will be “too cheap to meter.”
But what is really going on here? My guess is that Westinghouse has done the economic math and they see that “they can’t get there from here.” That the persistent experience of the nuclear navy is repeating itself in the non-military world . That being that reactors do not shrink in an economically advantageous way. Nuclear power is fantastically complex stuff, the French EdF/Areva have put a lot of time and money into going the other way and building even larger reactors, hoping to get economies of scale. The problem is not that you have to sell 50 of them, the problem is that no matter how many you sell, other energies are going to be cheaper, and so it is likely a loosing game from the get go.
Now that Westinghouse (which is the number 2 maker of reactors worldwide) is following the French (number 1) lead and Siemens (the German nuclear giant) is stepping out of reactor construction completely, we have to ask. “What do the most experienced and best financed reactor makers in the world know about small reactors that the rest of us don’t seem to know?”
Perhaps it is this: Small is Ugly.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]