Dedicated nuclear component factory

24 October 2008

The nuclear plant power supply chain has been boosted considerably by the announcement of a new large component factory in the USA. Areva has teamed with Northrop Grumman for a joint venture to make parts for EPR units worldwide.


Areva Northrop Grumman component factory (Northrop Grumman) 
A big grey box: how the plant is to look.
What happens on the inside is more
important (Image: Northrop Grumman)

Upon start-up in 2011 it will join an elite of nuclear component manufacturing sites able to finish the largest nuclear grade steel-alloy components such as reactor pressure vessels, steam generators and pressurizers. Construction should start in the first half of next year.


An Areva spokesman told World Nuclear News that the facility would be the 'twin' of its 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.


Areva and Northrop Grumman could source many of the heavy subcomponents from Lehigh Heavy Forge in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, subject to it obtaining the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' (ASME's) N-Stamp, the global standard for light-water reactor main loop parts. Lehigh has made a test forging for a pressurizer, which is now under examination by ASME officials. If Lehigh obtains the N-Stamp, a contract would be brought forward for a production program.


Pressure vessel production for the largest vessels as needed by Areva's EPR requires a press of around 15,000 tonnes and the ability to accept ingots of up to 500 tonnes. Lehigh has a 10,000 tonne press and can produce components up to 300 tonnes, but could not respond to questions about potential plans to expand. Currently such capabilities are held only by an elite group of manufacturers.


This cadre is seen as being led by Japan Steel Works, but includes Mitsubishi Heavy Indutries, also of Japan; Doosan Heavy Industries of Korea; OMZ of Russia and Skoda of the Czech Republic. Some of these firms are increasing their production capacity, and they are expected to be joined soon by Sheffield Forgemasters in Great Britain and several Chinese firms as the global move for new nuclear plants gains traction. Meanwhile, India's Larsen & Toubro is planning to join the global market soon.


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.


The new plant is to be constructed at Northrop Grumman's shipbuilding site at Newport News, on the James River in the state of Virginia. Known as Areva Newport News, it will be operated as a joint venture by the companies, with Areva taking the majority stake. The new plant is "powerful evidence of the reality of the US nuclear energy resurgence and our commitment to it," said Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon in a company statement. Northrop Grumman said it would bring its existing "culture of excellence" required for US Navy work to the joint venture.


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


The development of major supply-chain factories for Areva EPRs follows similar moves by Westinghouse, supplier of the AP1000, another pressurized waster reactor. That company has established a factory to produce certain large modules for construction of its reactors in China, while similar module factories are planned for the USA and the UK.