New $20M Framatome facility to open by year’s end

Richland plant set to begin operating new 11,000-square-foot scrap uranium recovery facility

A $20 million facility is set to open before the end of the year at Richland’s Framatome, coinciding with the nuclear fuel manufacturing company’s 50th anniversary in town.

“The longevity of the Richland facility illustrates our employees’ commitment to innovation and excellence, year after year,” said Lionel Gaiffe, Framatome’s senior executive vice president, in a written statement. “Framatome’s continued investment in this facility demonstrates our view that the fuel and products developed at the Richland site are key to the future of nuclear energy.”

As one of the largest manufacturers in the Tri-Cities, Framatome said its Richland site manufactured more than 2,300 fuel assemblies and more than 100 million uranium fuel pellets last year, an increase of more than 8 million pellets just since 2016.

Calling the site in north Richland one of the “most technologically advanced and flexible fuel fabrication facilities in the world,” the company is adding the scrap uranium recovery facility, called SURF, this year. It will house new and upgraded equipment that allows staff to extract and recover nearly all uranium that ends up in a feed stream and may be surrounded by other contaminants. Any uranium recovered may be sent through a second process where uranium dioxide is extracted and used to make fuel pellets for the rods used in nuclear reactors.

The Richland plant is a fuel fabrication hub, creating the nuclear fuel responsible for about 5 percent of utility-generated power in the U.S.

Work on the new 11,000-square-foot SURF began in July 2017, with the goal of having it replace a 35-year-old extraction facility currently on site within the engineering laboratory operations building on the campus at 2101 Horn Rapids Road.

The company said the new facility will “update the existing equipment for increased operator safety and reliability.”

Framatome is often mistakenly associated with the Hanford nuclear reservation due to its proximity to the site and also because of its work with nuclear power. But the company is not a Hanford contractor and is not responsible for any work on nuclear waste remediation.

Framatome is a 60-year-old company mostly owned by the French, through Electricity of France, or EDF, with its global headquarters in Paris and U.S. headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia. It employs 14,000 people worldwide, with 575 in Richland.

 Framatome is 10 years into its 40-year fuel fabrication license renewal, a license that was a first for the industry when awarded by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During its time in Richland, the fuel manufacturing facility has shipped more than 66,000 fuel assemblies to the nuclear sites worldwide under a number of different company names.

The plant opened in 1970 as the Jersey Nuclear Co. with three buildings and about 60 employees. Since then, it’s also been known as Siemens Power Corp., Framatome ANP Richland and Areva NP. It returned to the name Framatome in 2018 once Areva sold a portion of the company to EDF.

Framatome has averaged $7 million in annual capital project upgrades over the past decade, allowing the company to deliver fuel products to commercial pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors. It shipped its first enhanced accident tolerant fuel to U.S. customers this year, a product designed to increase safety and burn more efficiently to extend the time between refueling.

The company also co-owns Enfission, partnering with Lightbridge Corp. to commercialize new kinds of nuclear fuel.

“We are proud of the great history at our Richland facility and plan to be here for another 50 years,” said Ron Land, Richland site manager. “This milestone is a result of our employees’ expertise and dedication to operational excellence.”

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