Areva Inc. has a strong tradition of incorporating innovation into its technology and business operations. Areva's global commitment to innovative solutions earned the company a spot on Forbes' list of the 40 most innovative companies in 2011, coming in at 37. The notion of embracing an innovative culture to produce customer-focused solutions has been a key part of the company's strategy and led to the development of an internal Innovation and Entrepreneurship group. This group then developed the Business Incubator program, which supports the funding of feasibility studies for innovative business and technological ideas from employees at every level of the organization.
The effectiveness of these innovative ideas and their direct impact on the future of the industry continue to be realized throughout the company. On Jan. 29, Areva Inc. recognized its most successful entrepreneurial teams at its annual President's Innovation Awards. Among this year's innovation award winners was a project directly related to the work performed at Areva's Richland fuel fabrication facility: the Atrium 10XM Third Generation FuelGuard (3GFG) retrofit.
Employees at the Richland facility produce Areva Inc.'s advanced fuel for pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs). One of the facility's main challenges is to improve debris resistance for its fuel products to avoid leaking fuel rods. Because fuel leaks can adversely affect utility costs, employee dosage and public perception, reaching and maintaining a level of zero leaking fuel rods is an express goal of the facility and the entire nuclear industry.
Developed originally as part of an advanced future fuel product called Atrium 11, Areva Inc.'s 3GFG is a state-of-the-art debris filter that significantly improves resistance to debris in nuclear fuel rods, especially flexible, wire-type debris. The filter was specifically designed to ensure that any wire debris would be too small to pose a significant risk for initiating a fuel failure. In addition, the 3GFG filter has the ability to capture and retain debris, allowing the debris to be permanently removed from the coolant system once the assembly is discharged.
Areva Inc.'s innovative solutions are not just focused on planning for the future. Innovation is often about effectively addressing problems we face today. Customers are interested in Areva's next generation Atrium 11 product and its 3GFG filter, but debris is an issue that many of our customers need to address immediately. To address this immediate need, Areva Inc. collaborated with a fuel customer, which led to the award-winning retrofit of the 3GFG filter to the existing Atrium 10XM fuel product for BWRs. This innovative retrofit allowed the customer to gain the debris protection advantages of 3GFG several years earlier than originally planned and is now available for all BWR customers.
For utilities, benefits of the retrofit option include $2.5 million to $20 million in expected cost savings and other cost benefits. In addition to reducing costs, this innovation increases productivity and optimizes efficiency. More importantly, reducing the incidence of fuel failures will fortify the Richland fuel fabrication facility's ability to provide safe, reliable fuel to the nuclear industry, ensuring the production of clean, safe nuclear power well into the future.