The roots of Toshiba’s admission this week that it has serious doubts over its “ability to continue as a going concern” can be found near two small US towns.
It is the four reactors being built for nuclear power stations outside Waynesboro, in Georgia, and Jenkinsville, South Carolina, by the company’s US subsidiary Westinghouse that have left the Japanese corporation facing an annual loss of £7.37bn.
Construction work on the units has run hugely over budget and over schedule, casting a shadow over two of the biggest new nuclear power station projects in the US for years.
Events came to a head last month when Westinghouse was forced to file for bankruptcy protection to limit Toshiba’s losses.
Westinghouse’s problems in Waynesboro and Jenkinsville could provide a cautionary tale for the UK, which is also embarking on a nuclear power station-building programme.
Toshiba’s losses stem from Westinghouse’s acquisition in 2015 of the nuclear construction business CB&I Stone & Webster, which it hoped would solve the delays on the two sites. That deal has now backfired spectacularly, pushing Westinghouse and its parent company to the brink of financial collapse.
The regulator for one of the projects, Plant Vogtle, in Georgia, has said Westinghouse’s bankruptcy means the project will require more “time and money”.
Meanwhile the utility company paying for the Virgil C Summer Nuclear Generating Station, near Jenkinsville, South Carolina, warned this week that abandonment of the project was one of the options it was now considering.
EDF, the French state-owned company which has started pouring concrete at Hinkley Point in Somerset, where it plans to have two reactors operational by 2025, maintains it has had plenty of recent practice.
The EPR reactor design for Hinkley is the same as that for the reactors it is building in Finland, and at Flamanville, in France, though both of those are running late and over budget
The South Korean power company Kepco last month expressed an interest in buying into the project, and the business secretary , Greg Clark, went to South Korea last week for talks on collaboration on nuclear power.
However, any rescue by Seoul is far from certain. The two leading candidates in South Korea’s elections in May said this week that they favoured rowing back on nuclear power and switching to renewable energy. Kepco would also face a regulatory delay of several years if it wanted to use its own technology at Moorside.