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Westinghouse to construct colossal nuke plant in Turkey

by KATELYN FERRAL
| Monday, November 24, 2014 11:33 a.m.

A Westinghouse Electric Co. plan to build a four-reactor nuclear power plant in Turkey continues its pivot to stronger overseas markets for nuclear power.

The Cranberry-based company announced plans Monday to negotiate and develop the project, which experts said could be worth about $40 billion, with state-owned companies in China and Turkey. A four-reactor nuclear plant is larger than any operating in the United States.

“If it’s four units, it’s a big deal,” said Carol Werner, executive director of Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a nonprofit that researches sustainable energy issues. “This would be a very important driver for the company in terms of its economic well-being.”

Westinghouse has focused on developing its international business as the company and the broader industry experience competition from natural gas as a cheaper energy source. The 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan, had a chilling effect on nuclear plant projects.

“It really was the economics that changed everything in terms of much cheaper natural gas coming in,” Werner said.

The Turkey deal could signal a rebound for Westinghouse, which laid off more than 650 workers worldwide in 2012, more than 5 percent of its workforce, as an expected boom in nuclear plant construction did not materialize.

CEO Danny Roderick, who took over the company that year, has since steered its projects toward countries with an increasing appetite for nuclear power. International markets account for 60 percent of Westinghouse’s business.

“We are excited to expand into the Republic of Turkey and provide our cutting-edge technology and innovative passive safety systems,” he said in a statement.

The company did not disclose the value of the project or terms of the negotiations, and representatives from Westinghouse did not return phone or email requests for comment Monday. Nuclear reactors based on AP1000 technology, which Westinghouse developed to be simpler and safer, are estimated to cost nearly $10 billion, experts say.

A nuclear reactor produces electricity by boiling water into steam in a process called fission, which involves splitting uranium atoms. The pitfalls of that process from accidents like the one in Fukushima, where an earthquake caused contaminated water and radioactive material to leak from a reactor, have kept safety concerns at the fore of developing nuclear.

Safety will be a key concern for any project in Turkey because the country sits on two major fault lines, making it earthquake prone, Werner said. Add Turkey’s geology to its geopolitical position, bordering a war in Syria, and security becomes preeminent.

“They should be concerned in terms of security and technology in making sure (to) minimize or eliminate any risk for nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands,” Werner said. “It’s a very big undertaking … four units is a big contract, so it’s very significant economically to the company (but) … adds these issues that could also be of grave concern.”

China has been a driver of nuclear development in countries with growing economies and a corresponding thirst for energy.

Turkey’s growing demand for energy is among the fastest in Europe. Its energy consumption has risen steadily over the last decade and is expected to continue. Consumption is predicted to double over the next decade, growing at an annual rate of 4.5 percent from 2015 to 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

The country is a key transit hub for natural gas and oil from Russia and the Middle East to Europe. Turkey imports most of its energy, 98 percent of its natural gas and 92 percent of its oil.

At least one other nuclear plant is under development in Turkey and is expected to begin operations in 2021.

The Westinghouse project is another sign of growing nuclear energy use worldwide, and such contracts are good news for manufacturers at home, said Eileen Supko of Energy Resources International, a Washington-based consulting firm.

“Whether they’re supplying pumps and motors, whether they are architectural, engineering, the development of nuclear power by U.S. companies in foreign countries brings jobs to the U.S.,” she said.

Westinghouse is building eight other nuclear reactors in the United States and China. Two are under construction in South Carolina, two in Georgia and four in China. In April the Czech Republic’s state-owned utility company canceled a $10 billion deal for Westinghouse to build two nuclear reactors there after falling electricity prices made the project less feasible.

The company is negotiating a deal to provide reactors for a proposed nuclear plant in Utah and has signed deals to develop plants in the United Kingdom and Bulgaria.

Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

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