An Engineer by trade, Mike Waite, director of new plant market development for Westinghouse, is currently focusing on the state-of-the-art, AP1000 Pressurised Water Nuclear Reactor. Mike develops opportunities from small ideas into mature nuclear plant projects and works with countries and companies all over the world.
The new design
The AP1000 plant is Westinghouse’s most advanced yet proven design, with four units currently breaking operational performance records, and a number of further projects being developed globally. There are also two units in the late stages of construction at the Vogtle site in Georgia, USA, which will bring the total to six operational units. Mike also confirmed that among these global opportunities, he is hopeful of up to four new units in the Czech Republic and that the current Polish administration is looking to acquire six units across two different sites. He highlighted that nuclear is now being seen more as a strong alternative energy source as it provides countries with their own reliable, secure energy. Today, energy security is such an important topic that the ability to be independent from imported fossil fuel sources is imperative.
With energy supply chains under scrutiny of late, the ability of the UK to become both energy self-sufficient and secure is essential. The Westinghouse Springfield site manufactures fuel for almost all the UK’s nuclear fleet. Although the uranium ore comes from various global sources (mainly Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan) there is enrichment capacity in the UK through Urenco. The potential for an energy-secure UK comes through developing nuclear energy and leveraging domestic fuel supplies.
The challenge of politics
Due to the cyclical nature of the market, and the importance of government policy and views on nuclear, energy plans can change very quickly. Mike conceded that when new administrations come into power globally, plans do occasionally have to be put on hold due to changing energy policies. He stressed, however, that Westinghouse keep channels of communication open so if and when policy changes, for whatever reason, then they can build on work already completed.
With the drive to reach net-zero emissions, the focus of UK government has swung back to nuclear. The ever present, reliable, consistent and carbon-free alternative can provide huge amounts of electricity to the grid. Several decades ago in France, Westinghouse worked to enable the capability of the French nuclear industry to be self-sufficient, driving down carbon emissions to the lowest levels in Europe. Mike made it clear that to hit the 2035 emissions targets in the UK, work must commence immediately, with diverse nuclear technologies, to get full benefit from a widespread nuclear solution.
Dispelling the narrative
A common misconception surrounding nuclear has been that it is potentially unsafe, yet statistically, nuclear power is the safest, large-scale energy source available. Mike was quick to reassure that the advanced “passive safety” design of the AP1000 reactor means that a Fukushima scenario, for example, just cannot happen. At Westinghouse “we have the leading technical solution available in the market,” he emphasised. The new design is also far more compact and sits on a quarter of the concrete than alternative designs built at Hinkley Point.
Westinghouse recognises that much must be done to achieve net-zero, but Mike firmly believes that by working together with the Government and other companies, they can develop the long-term solution for the UK’s energy security.