Some U.S. nuclear workers are staying home on Westinghouse woes

The contractor that Scana Corp. hired to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina went bankrupt. Its credit ratings are at risk of downgrades. Its shares have plunged.

And now some of the people hired to help finish its reactors aren’t showing up for work.

Scana executives assured South Carolina regulators during a meeting Wednesday that work continues on the two units being installed at the V.C. Summer plant, despite its contractor, Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric unit, filing for Chapter 11 last month. But the Cayce, South Carolina-based utility owner also said construction manager Fluor Corp. has reported a “high incidence” of new hires failing to show up for training since Westinghouse went bankrupt.

“We’re monitoring this aspect of the project to see if that trend continues,” Stephen Byrne, a senior vice president at Scana, said, based on a transcript released by the state Public Service Commission Thursday. “Work continues on-site without substantial disruption,” he said, adding that about $120 million a month is being paid to keep up construction.

Westinghouse’s bankruptcy has thrown the fate of both Scana’s reactors and Southern’s Vogtle nuclear project in Georgia into question. Westinghouse has estimated that finishing the plants may cost another $4 billion that it can’t collect from Southern and Scana. The projects are already years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Byrne identified Fluor and Bechtel as two companies capable of finishing Scana’s project should Westinghouse drop out as lead contractor.

Fluor didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Scana Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Addison said during Wednesday’s meeting that the company was recently told by Westinghouse that its V.C. Summer project accounts for $1.5 billion of those estimated cost overruns. Should Westinghouse walk away from its obligations, the utility may collect about $1.7 billion worth of damages from it and could seek compensation directly from Toshiba.

“Toshiba has a number of very valuable businesses, the most prominent of which is its flash memory business — in fact, they invented the flash memory and are Apple’s principal flash memory supplier,” Addison said. “Our assessment is that there is substantial at Toshiba to support our claim for damages if Westinghouse fails to pay.”

Scana is in the middle of a 30-day evaluation period during which it’s reviewing all options for the V.C. Summer project. The company’s considering continuing construction, abandoning plans for one of the two reactors or dropping the project altogether and seeking recovery under state law.

Construction of the entire project is about one-third complete, Byrne said.

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