back to article Westinghouse sale signals arrival of a new nuclear age

Uranium fuel producer Cameco Corp and investment firm Brookfield Renewable Partners intend to buy Westinghouse Electric Company in a bid to accelerate a nuclear power resurgence.  The deal will cost the pair (and Brookfield Renewable's unnamed institutional partners) $7.85 billion, including $4.5 billion in equity and the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they were to simply get on with the job of refurbishing and extending existing plant lifetimes for another 20-25 years that in itself would be a very good thing.

    Is it too late for Germany's shuttered plants?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, even Greta Thunberg is now cool with them but I think they should start working on the newer types. They're a lot cheaper, less risky and far quicker to produce.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Indeed. But there are none, they are all in the design phase. Sadly we started on developing MSR's and SMR's 20 years too late. We need working, proven designs today, and we are not even close.

        The actual practical issues with MSR's for example will have to be solved. Then once that has been done, you need to mass produce enough to have an impact.

        So realistically we should see a couple of working MSR prototypes with a couple of years running by 2030. It's difficult to see significant numbers before 2040, and big numbers before 2050.

        We need to keep as many of the existing reactors going until 2050 if we can. If we can drop a new MSR nuclear island into existing sites before then, good-o.

        If renewables manage to replace fission by then, that's OK too.

        What we don't need to do is burn more fossil fuel to make all the renewable infrastructure that is going to be needed. And that is what is currently happening.

        1. thames

          Cameco have MOU with several modular reactor design companies to supply fuel to them. There are fairly firm plans by government in Canada to evaluate these designs and build one as a trial, followed by more if successful.

          I suspect that Cameco may be looking to have some sort of organization which can take the results of these trials to other markets around the world and support these customers.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Renewables won't. In all but a very few locations, solar has a near-zero EROI over its lifetime, while wind universally does (and becomes even worse once you factor in the very low capacity factor of wind), meaning they produce less energy than is required to replace themselves and supply anything else. That is not a viable energy production model. The obsession with renewables has wasted thirty or forty years of development time and funding that could have been spent on making nuclear energy production even safer, cheaper, and more reliable than it already is.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          But there are none, they are all in the design phase. Sadly we started on developing MSR's and SMR's 20 years too late. We need working, proven designs today, and we are not even close.

          We're closer than you think. They're already starting to supply tiny 1MW test loops in Denmark, China has the first commercial one up and running, there are multiple MSR build projects in progress (some in Europe, I think the Netherlands and France are doing that) and the US has finally realised they're going to get screwed over by the Chinese if they don't get going themselves so that bottleneck has now been unplugged at government level as well (and the Chinese threat means they're now getting active support, which helps).

          Add to that research into e-fuels and I think we're well underway to finally do something decent. I just hope it's not too late.

    2. I could be a dog really

      ... refurbishing and extending existing plant lifetimes for another 20-25 years ...

      While it sounds nice and simple, in reality it's not going to be possible in most cases.

      Especially in the primary containment (reactor pressure vessel), neutron bombardment alters the physical properties of the steel over time. Added to other effects, the net result is that the safe operating zone which is bounded by a number of lines representing physical limits of the plant gets smaller and smaller over time. Eventually, you have to accept that you can no longer have confidence in the safety of the pressure vessel (and other parts) at the temperatures/pressures the plant needs to operate at.

      When you reach that point, "extending the plant lifetime" is more like "open it up and replace/rebuild the internals" - which is not a cost effective way of spending your money when there are newer designs now available.

  2. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

    Perhaps if the nuclear pollution industry fully cleaned up Fukushima and Chernobyl and Sellafield FIRST it might be able to show its dirty face in polite company again. Instead it is dumping its filth into the oceans (Fukushima) or just leaving it where it is (Chernobyl and its 1000 square miles of evacuated land) or taking an indeterminate length of time (Sellafield) to clean up.

    And who is footing the bill for this? Tax payers. Tax payers are on the hook for decades, while in slides this private investment company to take some profits. It's capitalism spelled "fraud" - privatise the profits and socialise the costs.

    I would not like to see another nuclear *event* but I expect it will come round again sooner or later. And we will be told the same old crap as always. It couldn't happen now. It was an old design. This is another of the not-one-off one offs. Then the nuclear industry will lay low for a time, maybe five years while their pollution is still fresh in the minds of the whole world, then out they will come again, sprouting up like the poisonous fungi they are. They will find some reason. Climate change, energy security, whatever. But it will all be about grabbing money for a few people and shovelling the crap onto the heads of everybody else.

    Nuclear power is also unaffordable without guaranteed prices - AKA taxation. They overrun costs (to be born by the tax payer one way or another). They take years to build. Everything about nuclear is rotten from start to finish.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

      Ah yes, the well-known monument to the decadence of capitalism that is the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant.

      Windscale, too. Because private capital was definitely the driving force behind the production of large amounts of weapons grade plutonium.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

      This message sponsored by the National Coal Board

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

        This message sponsored by the National Coal Board

        we called the National Gas Board and they said it's definitely *not* their problem.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

          What about the national dairy council?

    3. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

      … as opposed to CO2 which is being absorbed into the worlds oceans and seas increasingly acidifying them.

      A balance of ‘at scale’ reliable base load is required- nuclear, (pumped storage) hydro, wave, tidal, geothermal, renewables (where sun/wind is reliable/dependable) and yes for the time being gas/oil to replace filthy coal until the whole sector greens and cleans up.

    4. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

      Agreed, Nuclear is neither clean nor safe, but then neither is ANY energy production system.

      You seem to enjoy spouting such populist drivel, now go research it properly and learn about reality, as opposed to "Truth", or are you too far down the rabbit hole to even consider the possibility that you might be wrong?

    5. I could be a dog really

      Re: Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe

      Aha, anti-nuclear bingo !


      Well, you've killed your argument right off by invoking the Chernobyl argument.

      The RBMK reactor there did not even come close to meeting western reactor safety standard - even very old ones. It lacked several fundamental safety mechanisms - like proper containment ! Then oeprators switched off the safety systems and performed unauthorised experiments. Unfortunately, even after seeing "hmm, that doesn't look right" effects - they carried on regardless. Eventually, they took the reactor into a zone where between "oh sh....." and "shutdown", that design has a region of positive feedback (AIUI, as you drop the rods, there's a short time where reactivity increases) before the rods reduce the reactivity. And that short period led to the reactor going prompt critical.

      As to the radioactivity. In a western design it wouldn't have been released because we build reactors in containment systems.

      You did miss a bonus point by not mentioning the many derelict blocks of apartments that no-one will return to. Well look at it this way - you lived in a Soviet era hovel of an apartment, and got moved to something newer and better, would you be clamouring to go back ?

      And this area is probably one of the most studied areas due to the information it can give us. And guess what, wildlife is thriving since man moved out. Radiation isn't actually all that high - and there is a big element of "public thinks 'nuclear == bad' so let's not waste effort to try and persuade anyone otherwise".

      So, mentioning Chernobyl makes your argument as convincing as suggesting that because Galloping Gertie collapsed, all suspension bridges are automatically unsafe.


      Ooh, where to start with this. Firstly, cleanup is going on, and AIUI the authorities have admitted that the degree of evacuation was led by anti-nuclear paranoia rather than reasoned thinking. But if we take a step back, the problem was the reactor which - if it had been operated correctly would have "survived" intact - lost all external power due to the diesel generators (and loads of electrical equipment) being swamped by salt water. That alone wouldn't have caused what happened as the design had some passive safety built in - something I only learned in a recent course.

      However, it seems that engineers were concerned about the risk fo over-cooling the pressure vessel which could have taken it below its nil ductility temperature while it was still pressurised - a risk of brittle failure. So they closed the valve supplying water to the emergency cooling system. Then they found they didn't have enough battery power left to re-open it.

      But since it has been revealed that there were known issues with the way the plant was being operated - in a way that would be impossible to hide from the regulators over here.


      Well, to start with, you need to be a bit more precise as to what you are referring to.

      A lot of people like to refer to the pile fire - but as already pointed out, that was created purely to make plutonium for the atomic weapons program. It had a graphite core, and was air cooled. Graphite is just carbon in a different crystalline structure to coal, i.e. highly combustible if you get it hot enough. If you starve it of air then it burns hotter. If you douse it with water, it decomposes the water to generate CO2 and hydrogen. At least Cockcroft's Follies kept most of the nuclides out of the environment.

      As to the rest of the site, and the problems that exist. Pressures were different back then, and knowledge was still developing - i.e. we know a lot more now than we did back then ! Again, decisions that were made back then would not have the same result today. So again, you're suggesting that because we got it wrong in the past then we will always get it wrong (in the same ways) in the future.

      And yes, the site is being cleaned up - and there's already been quite a lot of progress made.

      For completeness, I might point out that we shouldn't have as big a waste problem as we do. To start with, a lot of what is labelled as "waste" would in almost any other industry be classed as "resources". A lot of the "waste" sat in the cooling ponds could actually be consumed if we were brave enough (politically) to build the sort of reactor that could burn it up - but because the politics is "difficult" (plutonium is an intermediate nuclide within the reactor), we've shied away from doing that. So instead we treat it as waste.

      We also do not have massive piles of "highly active material with a long half life". The two are mutually exclusive - if it's highly active it has a short half life and becomes very much less radioactive quite quickly; if it has a very long half life, then it's not highly radioactive. To put that in perspective, if something has a half life of (say) 5 years (Cobalt-60 has a half life of 5.3 years), then after just 50 years its decayed to under 1000th of its original activity. The bigger problem is with things like Caesium-137 which has a half life of 30 years - hence needing a few hundred years to decay to low activity. But we know how to build things that will last a few hundred (or a few thousand) years so that is a solved problem technically.

      But, lobby groups insist that we can't do the sensible thing. Let's say you have an open fire at home. Do you clean out the ashes while they are still hot (with bits of red hot ember still glowing in them) - or do you leave it and clean it out the next day when it's cooled down ? Similarly, if you've been cooking ships in a pan, do you carry the pan about to put it away while its still hot, or leave it to cool down first ? The logical thing to do with nuclear is to let stuff "cool down" first - after (say) about 100 years, the core of one of our Magnox reactors would be "cold" enough to just walk in and carry out the blocks. But, some people refuse to accept that as a solution, and insist we dismantle them while they are still "hot" - so massively increasing the cost, and creating extra "waste" in the process. Put another way, the very lobbyists who complain about the amount of waste are (at least in part) responsible for increasing both the amount and the activity of it - and in the process massively increasing the costs they complain about.

      Sits back and waits for the "nuclear is bad, don't try and persuade me otherwise with logic and facts" brigade to downvote me.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Owned for a long time by the state-controlled British Nuclear Fuels. It was sold to Toshiba in 2005 for about £5 billion.

  4. Youngone Silver badge

    Odd Phrasing

    This article, and several others I have read lately all use the phrase "entering a renaissance phase." but then the details sound more like "taking fresh baby steps" to me.

    Maybe it is just copied from the press release.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it too soon for the corporate clichés?

    "The sector is primed for explosive growth "

    "investors will make a bomb"

    1. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Is it too soon for the corporate clichés?

      You missed driven by crypto and blockchain.

      Another bubble in the making.

      Nuclear and bomb in the same press release. Yikes !!!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it too soon for the corporate clichés?

      It has glowing prospects

  6. Alistair

    Nuclear will be back in a fairly large way.

    It will be the underpinnings we need.

    And its kinda interesting, if Westinghouse wants to, there's this design that actually works, has for years, they just need to get licensing from the folks up here. No need for Molten Salt Reactors. Deuterium isn't *really* that hard to come by.

  7. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Nuclear Boogieman, woooooooo!!! Be frightened!!

    Just mention the word "Nuclear" and half the population has a fit, yet there have been and continues to be plenty of safe, efficient, profitable nuclear power stations all around the world. Yes, there was Calder Hall (Windscale), Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as other incidents you may never have heard of, but there was also Aberfan and a great long list of coal mining disasters that have killed tens of thousands over the years, not to mention oil/gas industry disasters like Deepwater Horizon, Piper Alpha, Torrey Canyon, Exxon Valdez, Kielland, Seacrest, Ocean Ranger, and many MANY more that everyone seems to conveniently forget. If you are talking deaths, injuries, pollution and other hazards to health then even Wind Power is more harmful than Nuclear Power. Don't believe me? Then go do the research yourself.

    1. I could be a dog really

      Re: Nuclear Boogieman, woooooooo!!! Be frightened!!

      Point of correction.

      Calder Hall was the civil power station one side of the river. Not the same as Windscale - the experimental reactor and reprocessing/storage site - on the other side of the river.

      Otherwise, yes you are correct - other forms of power generation have their own costs - some not so obvious. Coal actually puts more nuclides into the environment than nuclear power does (there's a small amount of uranium in coal, and it goes up the stack to fall on the land downwind). Hdro isn't without its issues. Wind has the big problem that it's intermittent.

      Like so many other aspects of life, there is a massive benefit from reliable power. We can light our homes at night at the flick of a switch, it powers industry so we have a relatively affluent lifestyle (with its benefits in longer life expectancy), etc, etc. If we didn't have reliable lecky, we'd have deaths due to CO poisoning from people being "not very clever" in how they site a generator, or dying in house fires started by candles. Yes, it's a complicated thing to try and analyse rationally.

  8. MachDiamond Silver badge

    I suppose

    This will free up more resources within Westinghouse to concentrate exclusively on their business of licensing the Westinghouse name and logo to Chinese companies so they can slap it on even more sub-par devices for export.

    It's good to focus on what a company does best.

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