March 30, 2017 / 11:30 AM / in 4 months

Westinghouse wins UK reactor approval from nuclear regulator

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the American company Westinghouse is pictured at the World Nuclear Exhibition 2014, the trade fair event for the global nuclear energy sector, in Le Bourget, near Paris October 14, 2014.Benoit Tessier/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Toshiba's (6502.T) Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, has won approval for its AP1000 reactor design, Britain's nuclear regulator said on Thursday.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) approval is needed before the design can be used at NuGeneration Ltd's (NuGen) Moorside new nuclear project in north west England, which consists of three AP1000 units.

"The closure of our assessment of the generic design of the AP1000 reactor is a significant step in the process, ensuring the design meets the very high standards of safety we expect," Richard Savage, ONR's chief nuclear inspector, said.

"We will now focus our regulatory attention on site specific assessments, and NuGen's application for a nuclear site licence," he added in a statement.

Westinghouse's bankruptcy filing has raised questions over whether it will be able to complete capital intensive projects, although the move does not affect Westinghouse's operations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to a company statement.

All new nuclear plants in Britain need ONR approval through its GDA process, which typically takes around four years and the Westinghouse reactor was expected to be approved by the end of this month.

The approval has taken much longer since assessment first began in 2007. It was paused by the ONR at the end of December 2011 while it asked for design modifications, but was resumed in 2014.

"(The regulator review) represents a major milestone towards bringing a new generation of safe, clean energy to the United Kingdom through the Moorside Project,” José Emeterio Gutiérrez, Westinghouse interim president and chief executive, said in a statement.

"In addition, it expands the global regulatory pedigree of the AP1000 plant design and further confirms Westinghouse’s innovative safety technology," he added.

Britain needs to invest in new infrastructure to replace ageing coal and nuclear plants set to close in the next decade, but has struggled to get large projects built, especially nuclear, due to the costs involved.

EDF's (EDF.PA) 18 billion pound ($22.5 billion) Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England got the final go-ahead in 2016 after several years of delay, but only after securing backing from the French government.

NuGen, a joint venture between Toshiba and French utility Engie (ENGIE.PA) has also come under doubt since Japan's Toshiba said last month it planned to pull out of the construction work at the British plant after posting a $6.3 billion writedown on Westinghouse, which has been hit by billions of dollars in cost overruns at new nuclear plants.

A spokesman for NuGen said it could not comment on specific financial issues relating directly to Toshiba or Westinghouse and that it will continue "business as usual" to gain the necessary permits and licenses to build the project.

additional reporting by Karolin Schaps; editing by Alexander Smith

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