Tucked away on Horn Rapids Road, AREVA’s nuclear fuel facility has quietly been manufacturing nuclear fuel and fuel-related products for customers throughout the world for almost 50 years now.
And like most others in the nuclear industry, we are facing several challenges. But several of these challenges and the state of the industry have driven us to seek new opportunities, develop new products and expand our customer base.
Several U.S. utilities announced they plan to shutter their reactors for a variety of economic reasons. The expected and sometimes unexpected closures of these facilities only make the existing market that much more competitive and reinforce AREVA’s continued focus to further strengthen our quality and performance.
It was a busy production year for our 550 employees at the Richland site. Last year we pressed more than 92 million pellets of uranium. That was enough pellets to manufacture more than 2,300 fuel assemblies to supply fuel to nuclear power reactors around the world. To put this in perspective, it takes about five of these cylindrical pellets, each about 1/3 inch in diameter, to power a household for an entire year.
We expect to have similar production in 2017, including some new fuel contracts and new opportunities with emerging technologies in the nuclear industry.
In each case, we have relied on what has made the Richland site a staple in the community since 1969–the expertise of our people.
One of the major highlights for AREVA happened just recently as NuScale Power, based in Corvallis, Ore., submitted a design certification application (DCA) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its small modular reactor (SMR) design. NuScale’s light water reactor design is the first SMR submission to the NRC and could revolutionize the nuclear energy industry, providing an economical, factory-built and shippable scalable reactor that would improve the safety and reliability of nuclear energy.
For more than two years, AREVA has partnered with NuScale, providing licensing, testing and fuel expertise to help with the historic submittal. A lot of that work took place at our Richland fuel manufacturing facility where we built and tested fuel assemblies using our state-of-the-art testing facilities.
We continue to work with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop enhanced accident tolerant fuel (eATF), an advanced fuel design for today’s reactors. The goal of this program is to design fuel that is more durable under severe accident conditions. We have made great strides in these areas with research and testing activities. We have also partnered with other companies to improve the safety and reliability of our products as well as those in the industry.
We continue to invest in our facilities with ongoing upgrades to our equipment and facilities. This spring, we will break ground on a new $12 million scrap uranium recovery facility. This facility will replace our existing solvent extraction facility where we recycle uranium from our own plant as well as other companies.
Along with investing in our products and operations, we remain committed to investing in our future workforce, preparing them for a career in the nuclear industry. In 2016, we launched several outreach initiatives and partnerships focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and the importance those roles play at AREVA. We also spearheaded the “Careers in Manufacturing” initiative with Columbia Basin College and other manufacturing companies and local area schools, which exposes students to manufacturing careers. This hands-on workshop for high school students introduces them to welding, testing, designing and other careers that are vital to the nuclear industry and the Richland site.
As we move forward in 2017, we will continue to do what we do best, and pursue opportunities for innovation, growth and industry leadership for our operations and our employees.