Areva, Northrop Grumman break ground on $363 million nuclear component plant

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Calling it a significant step for the resurgence of nuclear power in the U.S, the CEO and chairman of France-based Areva NC joined 200 business and government leaders in Newport News this evening to break ground on the building of the first new nuclear component plant in the U.S. in 35 years.

Wearing a beige suit, Anne Lauvergeon stood out from the group of men wielding the silver shovels. “We intend to build a lot of new reactors in the U. S. We believe in the North American markets and the work force,” she said. The more than 500 skilled manufacturing jobs that will eventually be created by the plant will go to American workers and not overseas, she said to applause.

photos courtesy Chris Oxley, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding
Back row from left: Joe Frank, mayor of Newport News; Mike Petters,
president, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding;
Anne Lauvergeon, chairman and CEO, Areva;
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Areva is partnering with Northrop Grumman to build a $363 million, 330,000-square-foot plant on land adjacent to the shipyard. Lauvergeon said in an interview with Virginia Business that the expertise of shipyard workers in building nuclear ships and the proximity to the Port of Virginia—where the heavy components can be shipped overseas—were key reasons why Areva chose Newport News for the project.

The company, which has a U.S. headquarters in Lynchburg, holds a 70 percent stake in the project while Northrop Grumman holds a 30 percent interest.  “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 Mike Petters, president of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. 

The mood was celebratory with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Newport News Mayor Joe Frank , along with many legislators and state officials, on hand for a special ceremony punctuated by hard-charging music, a video on nuclear power and fireworks.

Adrian Zaccaria, vice chairman of Bechtel Group Inc., drove from the company’s operations center in Frederick, Md., for the event. He termed the plant “incredibly important” for the country. “It is the best alternative to energy independence,” he said. Bechtel, which built two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland years ago, wants to partner with Areva in the engineering procurement and construction of the new plant.

Also on hand was Mitchell Singer of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C.  “This is the template, and it will be the pioneering effort in leading America’s manufacturing sector back to prominence,” he said. According to Singer, 13 companies have submitted operating license applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build new nuclear reactors in this country. Richmond-based Dominion Resources is among them and hopes to obtain approval for a third reactor at its North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County. “We expect that four to eight new reactors will be built by 2016,” Singer said.

While there are smaller fabrication and forging facilities in the U.S., Areva officials said the Newport News plant would be the first full-scale, heavy manufacturer of components weighing more than 500 tons. Once Areava Newport News LLC becomes operational in three years, it will produce reactor vessels, steam generators and pressurizers for future Areva reactors in the U.S. and other projects around the world. Skills needed will include metal working, heavy machining, assembly and welding. Company officials said no nuclear fuel nor nuclear materials will be used or produced at the plant. 

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