The Trump administration is trying to find a U.S. or allied buyer for Westinghouse’s nuclear business to keep Chinese investors from acquiring the bankrupt company, which has been a Chinese espionage target for years, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
Quoting sources, Bloomberg said Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are involved in the effort to find a buyer for Westinghouse’s money-losing reactor construction business and address a sale to keep the Chinese from acquiring technological secrets.
Three scenarios reportedly are under consideration: blocking a sale, encouraging an alternative bid or government investment.
Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection March 29.
President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida Thursday and Friday, and Bloomberg said its sources expect Westinghouse to come up in the talks.
Bloomberg said Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning has met with Perry and Tillerson. Westinghouse currently is building two nuclear reactors for Southern subsidiary Georgia Power. It’s also building two plants in South Carolina for the V.C. Summer power plant, and six reactors are under construction in India.
Any purchase by a foreign investor would have to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment, which is chaired by Mnuchin and could block a sale deemed a national security risk. Former President Barack Obama blocked two such deals, one involving a wind farm in Oregon and the other a semiconductor supplier.
The Japanese government wants Toshiba to unload Westinghouse to protect its financial future. Toshiba bought Westinghouse in 2006, anticipating a rising demand for nuclear power in the U.S., U.K. and China would lead to 45 new contracts for nuclear reactors in the next 15 years, but cheaper natural gas and the 2011 Fukushima disaster put a damper on expectations.
About half of the 430 nuclear power stations in the world are based on technology developed by Westinghouse, which built the first commercial pressurized water reactor more than 50 years ago.
Westinghouse hopes the bankruptcy filing will allow it to reorganize. Its petition cited years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns on the U.S. plants under construction for its difficulties, singling out post-9/11 Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements mandating design changes to make sure the plants could withstand a plane’s impact.