Work starts on EPR component plant

23 July 2009

Areva and Northrop Grumman have started construction of their joint venture plant in Newport News, Virginia, for the manufacture of heavy components for EPR reactors.


Areva Northrop Grumman component factory (Northrop Grumman)
How the completed plant will look (Image: Areva)

A ground-breaking ceremony for the $360 million plant was held on 22 July. It was attended by Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding president Mike Petters, together with local dignitaries.


The new 30,000 square meter plant is being constructed at Northrop Grumman's shipbuilding site at Newport News. Known as Areva Newport News, it will be operated as a joint venture by the companies, with Areva taking the majority stake. It will be able to finish the largest nuclear grade steel-alloy components such as reactor pressure vessels, steam generators and pressurizers. Operations at the new facility, plans for which were announced in October 2008, are expected to start in 2012.


The Newport News facility would be the 'twin' of Areva's Chalon/Saint-Marcel facility in France. It will not forge the largest nuclear plant components, such as reactor pressure vessels, but will take the subcomponents once forged and produce the finished items ready for installation. The Chalon facility produces about 12 large components per year but in January, Areva announced plans to almost double this. The company said that it will increase annual production capacity at the plant to an average equivalent of 2.7 EPRs, up from current capacity of around 1.7.


"Areva Newport News is powerful evidence of the reality of the US nuclear energy resurgence and our commitment to it," said Lauvergeon. She added, "The start of construction at the Areva Newport News manufacturing facility demonstrates that the march on the path of certainty for the deployment of an EPR fleet continues in earnest."


Tom Christopher, CEO of Areva Inc, the group's North American division, noted: "In addition to our joint venture with Northrop Grumman, we are working with Lehigh Heavy Forge in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to produce qualified forgings for the US EPR, further strengthening the US manufacturing sector."


This project is significant for Northrop Grumman in that it marks its return to the commercial nuclear power business. The company has produced electronic control and monitoring systems for nuclear power plants in the past, but its only nuclear activities since 1996 have been related to propulsion systems for the US Navy.


"Our partnership with Areva and entrance into the commercial energy market signifies an important and historic milestone for our 123 year-old business in Newport News," said Petters.


Areva expects to build at least seven of its 1600 MWe EPR-design nuclear power plants in the USA, and regulatory examination of four of these has already begun. The new component facility would not be limited to American EPRs, however, and they are also planned for the UK and China, as well as France while also being proposed for Italy.