The Westinghouse Power Play

Westinghouse Electric, with its hilltop campus in Cranberry Woods, is easily the Township’s largest employer with a workforce of 2,700 divided between its Cranberry and Warrendale operations.  The Westinghouse name has been emblematic of industrial savvy in the region for longer than anyone can remember.  But by the time its relocation to Cranberry was announced ten years ago, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation which had been one of Western Pennsylvania’s leading industrial icons for generations, had already dissolved.  

The firm which set up its headquarters in Cranberry Woods was actually a wholly new company formed from assets acquired by the giant Japanese firm Toshiba from British Nuclear Fuels, which had purchased the Westinghouse nuclear power operations years earlier.  Today, the Westinghouse name, which appears on 62 facilities in 18 countries, is used under license and its technology is in use at nearly half of the world’s power reactors.  

Advanced technology
Even though the business had changed hands several times, the company continued its work on an innovative design for a new generation of megawatt-level nuclear power plants, designated the AP1000.  And it came at a time when industry observers felt that the world was on the cusp of a nuclear power renaissance.  

The AP1000 offered a number of important benefits compared to older power reactors.  For example, using a standardized and federally approved design, it substantially reduced engineering time and expense.  Built with modules that can be fabricated off-site at the same time, it significantly shortened the plant’s construction schedule.  And its passive safety systems, relying on gravity rather than multiple electrical pumps, slashed the amount of safety-related equipment needed by nearly half. 

No matter whether it is fueled by coal, gas or nuclear energy, essentially every power plant is little more than an industrial-size water heater using steam to spin the turbines that generate electricity.  Nuclear plants enjoy the lowest carbon footprint of them all.  In a power-hungry world requiring both TLC and multiple sources of energy, the company is betting the environmental benefits of nuclear will help to retain and expand its share of the world’s energy supply.  

In 2006, following several years of negotiation, the State Nuclear Power Technology Company of China, an agency tasked with helping to satisfy the country’s burgeoning power needs, signed a framework agreement that included an order for four of the AP1000 reactors – a huge win for Westinghouse.  But the work it required would exceed the capacity of Westinghouse’s Monroeville campus, so a national relocation search was begun – a search which ultimately led to Cranberry Woods.  

  1. Prior to shipment, Westinghouse Quality Control Manager Nicole Stadelman makes sure the control instrumentation in the cabinets around her match the specifications of their nuclear power plant customers. 

Nicole Stadelman
Ups and downs
There has always been a certain degree of public concern about risk involving nuclear energy – a perception the industry works hard to mitigate.  After a 2011 tsunami disabled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, work on a number of plants around the world was suspended.  Then natural gas prices started falling, making electricity generated by gas-fueled power plants cheaper to produce.  So, after initially scaling up to meet its orders from China, Westinghouse found itself scaling back. 

Lately, however, the company has found a more stable footing.  In addition to completing work on the four plants in China, it has two new plants underway in South Carolina and two in Georgia.  It is bidding on three others in the U.K. and recently inked a deal for six more in India.  However, in addition to new construction, there is a constant need to replenish the fuel rods, replace worn generators, update control equipment, and refurbish instrumentation over the 60-year lifespan of a typical nuclear plant.  Continuously supporting the 444 power units now operating worldwide with fuel and replacement parts currently represents a major piece of the company’s business.  But it doesn’t end there.

Beyond supporting active plants, there’s also a cradle-to-grave aspect of Westinghouse’s business.  When a nuclear plant approaches the end of its service life and its government-issued licenses expire, taking the plant safely offline is a complex process.  Today, however, with some of the oldest facilities reaching the sunset of their lives, there is a growing need for contractors who know how to decommission them.  It is a business that Westinghouse expanded last year when it acquired a division of a Chicago Bridge and Iron.  

Why Cranberry?
For more than a century, Westinghouse has been one of America’s most recognized and respected company names.  Today, the footprint of its nuclear business is global with most of its current growth centered in Asia.  So, for a Japanese-owned company that could have decided to locate practically anywhere, what led Westinghouse to choose Cranberry?  
It almost didn’t happen.  Offers from business development agencies all over the country – which included generous land, construction, training, and tax abatement deals – looked quite attractive.  But then-Governor Rendell was determined to keep Westinghouse in Pennsylvania.  And he held an important card: the company had thousands of seasoned employees already in place throughout Western Pennsylvania.  Nuclear engineers are not that easy to find and a move out of state would likely result in the company losing a number of them.  

“We chose Cranberry as our headquarters primarily to have everyone at one location as much as we could,” explained Denise Hughes of the company’s Corporate Communications department.  “Of course a big factor was talent retention and talent acquisition – business continuity.  Access to the infrastructure here, along the 228 corridor, was another big component.  They have hotels, they have good housing, you have a thriving community, which is good for the employee population, but also good for our customers.  Having a site with infrastructure already in place – the utilities, the Interstate access and the size of the land we needed – was important, and they all contributed to why we decided to come here.  

“I think it’s worked out,” she said.  “A lot of employees are very happy.  We’ve minimized disruption.  We have shuttles for people who want to van pool as well as a lot of car pools.  Employees who still live east can park at our Churchill facility and ride together.  And Westinghouse is really good at engaging employees to support community outreach.  We want to engage people in the community and interest high school students in engineering careers, many times leading to internships and eventually full-time employment.  People still want to work with Westinghouse.”