Areva to add $12 million facility to its Richland nuclear fuel plant

Areva in Richland manufactures nuclear fuel rods used to create about 5 percent of the nation’s energy.
Areva in Richland manufactures nuclear fuel rods used to create about 5 percent of the nation’s energy. Tri-City Herald file

Areva plans to start construction on a new $12 million facility in June at its Richland nuclear fuel manufacturing plant.

“Our philosophy is to continually invest in the plant to make it state of the art,” said Ron Land, manager of Areva’s Richland plant. “We plan to be here a long time.”

In the past decade Areva, one of the largest manufacturers in the Tri-Cities, has spent an average of $7 million a year on upgrades to the plant.

The scrap uranium recovery facility will replace a 35-year-old facility in one of Areva’s buildings at its Horn Rapids Road plant.

The new facility, which will be attached to an existing building, will be high bay and have a footprint of about 11,000 square feet, Land said.

Its new and upgraded equipment will include features to increase operator safety and reliability.

2,300 fuel assemblies produced in 2016 at Areva’s Richland plant

92 million fuel pellets produced in 2016 at Areva’s Richland plant

The facility will be used to purify uranium material that has picked up contaminants.

It will continue the current process of using a solvent to separate the uranium from the contaminants. The uranium then is stripped from the solvent and can be made into nuclear fuel.

The plant strives to be among the greenest nuclear fuel plants in the world, producing no liquid waste and limited solid waste.

The scrap uranium recovery facility is not expected to increase employment, at least immediately, Land said. Areva does some uranium recovery for other parties and will continue to offer the service in its updated facility.

The company still is evaluating bids for a construction contractor for the project. It expects the scrap uranium recovery facility to be completed at the end of 2018.

Areva’s Richland plant has about 600 employees. Last year it manufactured more than 2,300 fuel assemblies and more than 92 million fuel pellets. It supplies commercial pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors.

It was awarded the first contract worldwide in late 2015 to produce nuclear fuel for small modular reactors, signing a contract with NuScale Power of Oregon.

The Richland plant is about 45 years old and has been owned by Areva since 2001.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews