Thursday, October 04, 2012

Guest Post: Advancing Nuclear Energy Innovation, Technology


AREVA CEO Mike Rencheck (right), along with MOX Services Executive Vice President and Deputy Project Manager Steve Marr (center), answer questions about the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility for NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel (left).
Yesterday, a group of NEI executives led by our President and CEO Marv Fertel, traveled to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to personally see the progress being made on the construction of a nuclear fuel fabrication facility that will be jointly managed by the Shaw Group and AREVA.

Once construction is complete, the facility will begin to mix weapons grade plutonium with uranium -- a process that will eventually eliminate 68 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium from U.S. and Russian stockpiles. NEI Senior Vice President Scott Peterson, who accompanied Fertel on the tour, provided us with the following report.
Nearly 60 years ago, the U.S. government began production at its first reactor at the government’s sprawling Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., launching a legacy of research and technology innovation.

That mission continues today with construction of a nuclear fuel fabrication facility that will mix weapons-grade plutonium with uranium to produce electricity and continue reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles both in the United States and Russia.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s plutonium disposition program will eliminate 68 metric tons of surplus weapon-grade plutonium in the United States and Russia, or about 8,500 warheads each. The two countries will eliminate the material for weapons use by converting it to mixed-oxide fuel for use in commercial reactors.

NEI executives joined the Shaw-AREVA leadership team at the site on Tuesday to survey progress at one of America’s first advanced-technology nuclear energy projects. One fuel assembly—comprised of 95,400 finger-tipped sized fuel pellets—will power 9,000 homes.

“This project is on the forefront of rebuilding America's infrastructure and providing energy solutions for future generations,” NEI Chief Executive Officer Marv Fertel said after touring the project. “The Shaw-AREVA consortia has created thousands of jobs and is developing a highly skilled workforce that is steeped in quality assurance work that is required in nuclear energy projects.

“Coupled with new reactor construction in Georgia and South Carolina, this region is leading the future of nuclear energy, which is the only large-scale, 24/7 and clean-air electricity source on the power grid. The mixed-oxide fuel facility will contribute to a secure, domestic source of fuel for nuclear energy facilities while furthering our government's commitment to reduce the Cold War weapons stockpile.”

The project has myriad advantages that make it attractive to local economies and suppliers in nearly every state:
  • As many as 2,700 workers have been building the facility, including about 1,000 skilled craft workers. Project managers have been tremendously successful in recruiting highly skilled, nuclear-qualified welders, which is providing a benchmark for organized labor at two Georgia Power reactors in Burke County, Ga.
  • The project is helping drive the expansion of U.S. manufacturing, with $790 million in contracts awarded to 8,900 small businesses in some 40 states. Ninety percent of the components in the fully automated fuel manufacturing process will be U.S. sourced.
  • Shaw-AREVA MOX Services is proving the value of modular construction for nuclear energy facilities. Even as civil construction continues at the massive facility, engineers and mechanics are assembling and testing key systems in a huge warehouse near the construction site. This same approach is being used by Shaw to build four reactors in Georgia and South Carolina.
  • The commitment to safety is clear among the Shaw-AREVA MOX Services team. At the current rate, workers at the site this week will reach 12 million hours without a lost workday accident. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the project, has not identified any needed safety improvements at the project.
Four advanced Westinghouse reactors are being built within 75 miles of Aiken, S.C—construction projects also managed by Shaw. Those projects will take advantage of lessons learned in modular construction, craft worker training and quality assurance from the mixed-oxide fuel facility.

“This is the beginning of the nuclear energy renaissance,” says Steve Marr, executive vice president and deputy project manager for the MOX facility. “We are leading the way both in technology evolution and innovation at the MOX project.”
Thanks to everyone at Shaw AREVA for helping to arrange the tour. For a video concerning the facility and the important work it does, click here. For a slideshow of photos from the tour, see below or click here.

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