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US nuclear firm Westinghouse sues South Korean supplier over Poland reactor deal

Highlights

Poland planning imminent award of multi-billion nuclear plant contract

Westinghouse says South Korean reactor has licensed technology

KHNP reactor offer said to be least costly of three in play

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  • William Freebairn
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  • Christopher Newkumet
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US nuclear energy company Westinghouse has sued in federal court to block a potential deal for competitor Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power to sell reactors to Poland.

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In a legal filing late Oct. 21, Westinghouse said KHNP's reactor design includes intellectual property licensed by Westinghouse and requires permission from the US company before being transferred to Poland and other countries considering deploying the APR1400 reactor.

The filing appears to have been made because Westinghouse learned that Poland's government was preparing to sign a preliminary agreement to buy nuclear reactors from government-owned KHNP. Poland is evaluating offers from Westinghouse, KHNP and France's EDF for acquisition of its first nuclear power plant, and private companies have been in talks with several reactor vendors about additional units. Polish media reported last week that utility PGE was in talks with KHNP over reactor construction.

Meanwhile, Poland's climate ministry said in a statement Oct. 23 that following meetings with counterparts in the US, the government hoped to be able to announce the selection of the vendor for the first nuclear plant in the coming days.

The tussle shines a light on the long-simmering dispute over the presence of Westinghouse intellectual property in KHNP's reactor designs, which were based on a US design. Westinghouse insists the APR1400 incorporates technology from the System 80 reactor design it acquired in 2000.

In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Westinghouse said KHNP needed Westinghouse support to comply with US laws restricting nuclear power technology sharing. Under these rules, known as Part 810 requirements, the US Department of Energy must clear the sharing of certain technologies with other countries.

Westinghouse said in its filing that KHNP conceded this need when the South Korean company sold four APR1400 reactors to the United Arab Emirates in 2010. Three of those reactors, the first to be operated by an Arab country, are connected to the grid with the fourth almost ready for operation.

The US company said it had become aware that KHNP was about to sign a memorandum of intent with Poland's government to supply APR1400 reactors to that country. Supplying the technical information for such a memorandum would require DOE approval and Westinghouse consent, Westinghouse said.

It asked the court to issue a judgment that the APR1400 reactor contains US-origin technology that is subject to DOE review under Part 810. Westinghouse also asked the court to enjoin KHNP from sharing technical information covered by Part 810 with Poland or with authorities in the Czech Republic or Saudi Arabia, which are also considering acquiring APR1400 nuclear plants.

After receiving proposals from EDF, KHNP and Westinghouse this year, Poland's government said in mid-October it would make a decision on which vendor to select for the multi-billion dollar project within weeks. In recent days, Polish media have reported, citing unnamed government sources, that the lowest price was offered by KHNP, with Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor design more expensive and EDF, with its EPR2 reactor offered, the most expensive of the three.

Polish Climate Minister Anna Moskwa and Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin met in Washington wit US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to discuss the reactor tender as well as other nuclar-related matters, according to a statement by the ministry Oct. 23. The meeting "served to clarify any issues that remained to be clarified as regards the government's decision to select a partner in the Polish nuclear power project," Sasin said in the statement.

Poland's nuclear plan calls for the first power reactor to be operational in 2033. The country eventually wants to have 6-9 GW of nuclear capacity in the 2040s.

A Westinghouse spokeswoman declined to comment Oct. 23 on the legal filing.