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2016 in Review: Nuclear utilities in crisis

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Troubled utility Toshiba Corp. will cease taking orders related to the building of nuclear power stations, according to recent news reports, in a move that would effectively mark its withdrawal from the nuclear plant construction business. Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman provided some context in a 29 January 2017 post:1

"Toshiba Corp. will take no new orders related to the construction of nuclear power stations, with the company's chairman expected to resign over the massive write-down that has doomed the company's U.S. nuclear business. The Financial Times, London, reported that "Toshiba's nuclear climbdown deals a blow to Japan's broader ambitions of bidding for nuclear construction projects around the world ‒ a key aim of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abenomics" economic revival program and a driving force behind his unprecedented global diplomatic push."

"The newspaper points out that the exit from new nuclear builds is another example of its shrinking global foot print and adds pain to a company recovering from a 2015 accounting scandal in which it padded reported profits by about US$1.3bn over seven years. Also, the company was forced to make huge cuts to headcount ‒ a measure analysts say is likely to have hurt the company's competitiveness.

"Delays and cost overruns on Westinghouse nuclear construction projects in the US will now be expressed as writedowns that analysts estimate could be as high as US$7bn. The company's decision to cease taking orders effectively marks its withdrawal from the nuclear energy business. It also apparently ends the so-called nuclear renaissance in the U.S. for full size reactors. During 2007-2010 there were more than two dozen applications expected for new reactors, but now only a few licenses that have been completed and they do not have any links to near term plans to build the units. ...

"After Toshiba ceases taking new orders, it will focus on maintenance and decommissioning operations. The company will continue work on four nuclear plants under construction in the United States that are expected to be completed by 2020. Two are in Georgia and two more are in South Carolina. It is expected that Toshiba may license its AP1000 technology to other firms as it has done in China. ...

The Japanese industrial conglomerate may announce company chairman Shigenori Shiga's resignation as soon as 02/14/17, when it reports its April-December financial results. Shiga once served as president of the U.S. nuclear unit, Westinghouse Electric Co., which Toshiba has said could face a multibillion-dollar loss due to cost overruns from delays in US plant projects."

The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report summarized troubles facing nuclear utilities around the world:2

"Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables.

  • In Europe, energy giants EDF, Engie (France), E.ON, RWE (Germany) and Vattenfall (Sweden), as well as utilities TVO (Finland) and CEZ (Czech Republic), have all been downgraded by credit rating agencies over the past year. All of the utilities registered severe losses on the stock market.
  • French utility AREVA has accumulated €10 billion (US$10.9 billion) in losses over the past five years. Share value 95% below 2007 peak value. Standard & Poor's downgraded AREVA shares to BB+ ('junk') in November 2014 and again to BB- in March 2015. The company is to be broken up, with French-state-controlled utility EDF taking a majority stake in the reactor building and maintenance subsidiary AREVA NP will then be opened up to foreign investment. The rescue scheme has not been approved by the European Commission.
  • The AREVA rescue scheme could turn out to be highly problematic for EDF as its risk profile expands. EDF struggles with US$41.5 billion debt, downgraded by S&P, shares lost over half of their value in less than a year and 87% compared to their peak value in 2007.
  • RWE shares went down by 54% in 2015.
  • In Asia, the share value of the largest Japanese utilities TEPCO and Kansai was wiped out in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and never recovered. Chinese utility CGN (EDF partner for Hinkley Point C), listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange since December 2014, has lost 60% of its share value since June 2015. The only exception to this trend is the Korean utility KEPCO that operates as a virtual monopoly in a regulated market.
  • In the U.S., the largest nuclear operator Exelon has lost about 60% of its share value compared to its peak value in 2008."


1. Dan Yurman, 29 Jan 2017, 'Toshiba to withdraw from nuclear plant construction',

2. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 2016, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016',