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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An interesting time for Westinghouse

Westinghouse Electric, most widely noted in recent news items as the manufacturer of the AP1000 design (1000 MWe pressurized water reactor) being built at Vogtle and now, with recent issuance of COL's at V.C. Summer (total of four units) has had quite an eventful couple of weeks in terms of business developments.

A press release from March 23 noted the movement of a two executives; click here to read it. Jim Ferland is noted as being the incoming CEO in this release (effective April 1.)

Those moves were at the top positions of Westinghouse's Nuclear Fuel Division and of its Americas Region. However, within a few days Westinghouse announced a restructuring of its nuclear power plant product line; click here to read a press release. This move, also attributed to Ferland as was the previous personnel change, was intended to improve the company's chances for continued growth in the field. The move split Westinghouse's nuclear plant manufacturing operations into two divisions; one called Nuclear Power Plant Delivery (in charge of actual manufacture and delivery of plants) and the other designated Nuclear Power Plant Business Development, which essentially appears (at least initially) to be focused on marketing Westinghouse plants.

At roughly the same time Westinghouse applied to the Department of Energy for funding to support its (rather secondary, until this time) developmental program for small, modular reactors (SMR's.) Read a release here. This move attempts to place Westinghouse directly into the fray to compete in this market sector which is rapidly gaining attention - particularly because of competitor Babcock & Wilcox's progress towards building several of its SMR designs at the TVA's former Clinch River Breeder Reactor site. In this release the Westinghouse SMR is described as 225 MWe.

Fascinatingly, there is now an upheaval in progress at Westinghouse even with all of these developments. Yesterday, news broke that incoming Westinghouse CEO Jim Ferland had resigned effective immediately. Click here for the April 3 Westinghouse press release. No reasons for the departure were given in Westinghouse's press release. No effect is noted on Ferland's previous moves as regards personnel, or as regards the division of the nuclear business, or as regards Westinghouse's approach to the SMR field. One has to wonder if some or all of these decisions will be altered or reversed.

Today we have another surprise; Jim Ferland has just this morning been announced as the incoming President and CEO of Westinghouse competitor Babcock & Wilcox. Thanks to David Bradish at Nuclear Energy Institute, we have the link for B&W's press release; click here to read the still new press release.

It is highly interesting to this writer that Ferland moves to Babcock & Wilcox, whose sole present nuclear reactor product as new build is in the SMR class, immediately after having moved to place Westinghouse in line for DOE funding in exactly this class of product. (Babcock & Wilcox has not been an active reactor vendor in large commercial nuclear plants for many years.)

The whole shakeout of the effect at Westinghouse is yet to be seen; however, the owners of Westinghouse (Toshiba) are sure not to allow these developments to affect their skyrocketing success of late with construction of numerous AP1000 large commercial nuclear plants here in the United States and in China. What happens to the personnel and operations of Westinghouse is yet to be seen, but the most interesting observations will come as Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox appear to prepare to go head to head in the SMR generation field.

10:12 AM Eastern Wednesday April 4, 2012

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