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First Long-Lead Time Components for a New Nuclear Plant Ordered by Industry Consortium

Aug. 4, 2006 (EIRNS)—Just two days after announcing that BWXT, the only U.S. company capable of manufacturing large-scale components for nuclear plants, has joined the UniStar consortium of Constellation Energy and nuclear supplier Areva, UniStar announced Aug. 3rd that it has entered into agreements to procure heavy forgings for the first new U.S. nuclear plant that will be built in nearly thirty years. Constellation Energy is considering a couple of its existing sites for an additional nuclear unit, and has made a commitment to purchase Areva's advanced Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor.

According to UniStar, the procurement includes 44 heavy forgings, which cannot be manufactured in the U.S., but will come either from Japan Steel Works or from France. The precision machining that will turn the forgings into pressure vessels and other power plant components will be done either at the recently-revived BWXT plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana, or at Areva's Chalon-St. Marcel plant in France.

Constellation's Mike Wallace said that UniStar's early investment decision to order the long-lead-time materials reduces "the possibility of delays due to potential congestion in the global nuclear supply chain." It also puts emphasis on the necessity rebuilding U.S. nuclear manufacturing industry.

Industry Consortium Starts Rebuilding U.S. Nuclear Manufacturing Supply Chain Capability

Aug. 4, 2006 (EIRNS)—The chief executives of European-based nuclear power plant supplier Areva, nuclear utility Constellation Energy, and pressure vessel manufacturer BWXT held a briefing for the press in Washington today to announce that they are joining forces to help rebuild the U.S. nuclear manufacturing industry, to get ready for building new nuclear power plants.

Last Fall, Areva and Constellation formed UniStar, in order to push forward the licensing and approval procedure for Areva's Generation 3+ new nuclear plant design, the Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor (EPR). Now Areva has teamed up with BWXT, the only company in the U.S. that can manufacture pressure vessels and other large, long-leadtime nuclear components, to start to rebuild the industry by supplying components for Areva's EPR. Their immediate goal is for 80% of the hardware for a new nuclear plant to be built in the U.S. This country shut down its nuclear power plant manufacturing industry from the mid-1980s through the 1990s.

In answer to a queston from EIR, BWXT President John Fees said that it had taken about six months for its plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana to be recertified for commercial nuclear component work, indicating that more of heavy industry could be brought back into the nuclear supply chain. Areva CEO Tom Christopher, when asked by EIR about the possibility of using idled auto and machine tool manufacturing capacity for nuclear components, said that the UniStar consortium is looking across all of American industry to see what capabilities can be brought to bear on nuclear manufacturing, "and auto is on the list."

The need for more nuclear plants—more than can be quickly built right now—was stressed by Constellation Energy Executive Vice President Mike Wallace. Although the utilities have been projecting electricity demand growth rates of little more than 1% per year, the real growth rate has been over 3%, leading to increasingly critically short supplies, on the east and west coasts, Texas, and the mid-west (i.e., just about the entire country).

Interview: How To Overcome Critical Bottlenecks in Producing New Nuclear Power Plants

Aug. 4, 2006 (EIRNS)—In an interview with EIR today, Tom Christopher, CEO of Europe-based nuclear power plant supplier, Areva, stressed that the major bottleneck in reconstituting a full-scale American nuclear industry is producing the large forgings needed for major reactor components. Christopher, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, reported that "the heyday for nuclear power construction in the United States was 1973. At that time, there were 162 nuclear plants on order, a significant portion of those were under construction, the others were under design. At that time, there were four large facilities making nuclear components." All of them have since been shut down.

The BWTX plant in Indiana will be manufacturing pressure vessel componets (See "Industry Gets Ready To Build Nuclear Power Plants," in EIR, July 21, 2006), but the rough steel forgings still have to be imported. Christopher reported that Areva got its "first order last week for replacement reactor vessel heads for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants. Those forgings will be supplied by Japan Steel Works, JSW, and be shipped to the [BWXT] Mount Vernon facility in Indiana where all the rest of the work will be done. For these super-large forgings, JSW is currently the only [supplier]."

Christopher estimates that "with just the critical forgings coming out of JSW, we would be limited to probably no more than eight nuclear plants a year around the world. JSW also makes forgings for industrial components like petrochemical plants, so 100% of their facility is not dedicated to nuclear, so there is some variability in those numbers. But very clearly, JSW cannot support a global market of more than 15 or 20 plants per year." Areva, he said, will "continue dialogues and examinations in the United States to see if we can re-qualify a U.S. company for large forgings for commercial nuclear plants."

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