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Problems in Europe with Westinghouse nuclear fuel assemblies

A Bankruptcy That Wrecked Global Prospects Of American Nuclear Energy, Forbes, Kenneth Rapoza , 13 Apr 17  “……….Unlike with fossil fuels, in nuclear, fuel assemblies are a high-tech and R&D-intensive product. These assemblies can make even reactors run more efficiently, sometimes exceeding their original lifespan. But under investment impacted the quality and comparative performance of WEC versus their main rival, Russian owned TVEL, a unit of Rosatom. In some markets fuel rods supplied by Westinghouse have failure rates almost 1.5 times greater than those manufactured by its competitors, according to at least one utility in Finland that has a Russian reactor.

Westinghouse supplies fuel assemblies mainly to Europe where it has always used its mighty lobbying clout in Brussels to prop their market share. Back in 2003, the European Commission adopted directive 2003/54/EC which made it compulsory for EDF, the French energy giant, to buy nuclear fuel from an “alternative vendor”. This completely opened the door to WEC, with wheels already in motion a year earlier.  EDF buys about 15-20% of its fuel from Westinghouse today.

WEC had Washington’s help within companies operating Rosatom reactors, fiercely lobbying for nuclear fuel supply diversification in Eastern Europe. They tried to supply fuel assemblies to Finland and Czech Republic, but both countries eventually chose TVEL. The Czech even had to cancel their contract with Westinghouse amid safety concerns at their Temelin site, despite a large-scale lobbying push which involved letters from the European Commission to utilities encouraging them to switch to WEC. As of now, even after Washington’s cheerleading Toshiba, Westinghouse’s biggest star as far as nuclear fuel assembly diversification goes is Ukraine.

It’s quite understandable that Ukraine, effectively at war with Russia, may be tempted to turn a blind eye to the issues facing Westinghouse. But concerns over incident risks are growing amid reports that plants using WEC’s fuel have had frequent emergency outages. Many claim that corruption and lack of safety culture in Ukraine make it a really dangerous game potentially leading to another Chernobyl, according to a Washington Times columnist with a flare for the dramatic.

Westinghouse told me that their recent contracts with Ukraine to supply Russian built reactors with fuel assemblies was still intact……….

For Westinghouse’s global ambitions, China was the really big picture and Europe was its hub to challenge Russia’s market in the lucrative fuel assembly business. WEC says that the bankruptcy here will not affect their businesses there, but judge Michael Wiles rejected a request by the company to allow for Apollo’s loan to go towards WEC’s European units. Without those loans, the European companies could face their own funding woes now. AxilPartners said that a cash pool the European affiliates normally draws from was halted by the Swedish bank that serves as its monitor. It is unclear who this monitor is, or what that means precisely, Debtwire’s Tracy says. But without that bank, pensions in Europe could become a problem for Westinghouse, as well as tax and payroll issues cropping up in the U.K.

Westinghouse, meanwhile, is hoping for the best. Or as industry cynics would say: Westinghouse is hoping for pixie dust……https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2017/04/13/a-bankruptcy-that-wrecked-global-prospects-of-american-nuclear-energy/#608e8b7e17a1

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April 14, 2017 - Posted by | EUROPE, technology, Ukraine

2 Comments »

  1. Someone has claimed that it is a matter of fuel rod shape – do not know if this is true. I wonder how many problems for AP 1000 and perhaps fuel rods are mixing metric and non-metric. Also, there seem to be wider variation in reactor models in west. TVEL is trying to hide what their fuel rods are made of as proprietary but want to test them in US reactors! There isn’t even an extradition treaty between US and Russia.
    Proprietary claims are used by Toshiba, Holtec, too. Reverse engineering of fuel rods is probably a problem. Fuel rods brands should probably match reactor brands. Bad Toshiba doesn’t make TVEL good. This is called “what aboutism” favored by the USSR. Forbes has more pro-Putin authors than most…except RFERL and RT. RFERL is supposed to be US propaganda but seems to often toe the Kremlin line almost better than Russian RT.

    Comment by miningawareness | April 14, 2017 | Reply

    • I’m pretty sure that the problem has been that the reactors, especially in Ukraine, were Russian designed, and required Russian designed fuel assemblies

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | April 14, 2017 | Reply


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