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    Nuclear technology powering LynchburgPioneering nuclear power in Lynchburg region: Framatome and BWXT

    September 11, 2023 - RACHAEL SMITHThe (Lynchburg) News & Advance


      LYNCHBURG - The Lynchburg area is home to the leading nuclear technology cluster in the U.S., thanks to the more than 70-year history of powerhouse firms BWX Technologies and Framatome.

      Lynchburg's nuclear workforce is 8% above the national average and the region's nuclear industry cluster is 34% larger than the national average, providing more than 3,000 local jobs in the nuclear sector, according to Marjette Upshur, director of economic development and tourism.

      With nearly 7,600 employees across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, BWXT's Mount Athos facility is the largest site. Rex Geveden, CEO, said Lynchburg's workforce has grown under his leadership, with about 2,800 employees in the region - representing one third of the company's global workforce.

      Geveden said BWXT was no stranger to innovation, as the company's expertise lay in manufacturing components for the naval nuclear program. Drawing parallels between nuclear and conventional power generation, he emphasized how both involved harnessing heat to generate electricity through turbine engines.

      Additionally, the company has expanded its business portfolio, securing projects, such as the space-based reactor DRACO and the terrestrial reactor Pele.

      The company's involvement in cutting-edge projects such as micro and space reactors, nuclear medicine, specialty materials and fuels research, environmental restoration and clean energy are all a part of the company's mission.

      The search for the optimal site for BWXT's operations commenced in 1954, a pivotal era characterized by the burgeoning atomic age. As the world began to recognize the potential of nuclear power for electricity generation and other applications, BWXT, a company originally founded in 1867 and previously engaged in naval nuclear programs, set its sights on a site that could propel commercial nuclear power into the future.

      Detailing the site selection process, Geveden said multiple factors influenced the decision. The physical attributes of the site were paramount, considering soil conditions, natural defense and location away from aquifers. The Lynchburg site, situated on a peninsula along the James River at Mount Athos offering natural protection, fit these criteria perfectly. Moreover, the positive living conditions, strong education systems and supportive community weighed in the decision-making process, he said.

      Geveden said BWXT has a commitment to community development with its benevolence campaigns, leadership positions in community organizations and scholarships for local students.

      Additionally, Geveden emphasized the company's economic impact, providing high-quality jobs and contributing to the region's prosperity.

      The Lynchburg workforce at BWXT puts $90 million back into the local economy.

      "There is an undeniable and extremely powerful economic impact on the region and these jobs that we have range all the way from executive level jobs down to very high-paying craft labor jobs," he said. "These are high-quality jobs and they put a ton of money into the local economy and the absence of it would be impactful."

      He also stressed BWXT's role in shaping the community culture through stringent employee qualifications, which require security clearance, promoting a sense of responsibility and ethical behavior.

      Looking forward, he said he is excited about the thriving nuclear market and the evolving landscape of energy security and urbanization.

      "It's a very exciting time to be in our business," he said.

      Framatone's role

      Additionally, Framatome has a strong presence in the U.S. nuclear energy market, helping power 36 million American homes. As a reliable partner with a long history of proven performance, it focuses on servicing and supporting secondary license renewal as well as new nuclear reactor development, and advancing the future of nuclear energy globally, Kathy Williams, CEO, said. Framatome was founded in 1958.

      "Nuclear energy is deeply rooted in the state of Virginia and more importantly, right here in the Lynchburg region," she said. "With Lynchburg being the home of our North America headquarters for more than 50 years, our teams lead in advancing the nuclear industry by providing breakthrough innovations in research, development and technology that our customers count on."

      She said Framatome is excited about the outpouring of public acceptance for clean, reliable, nuclear energy.

      "Our employees' passion and expertise positions us to lead this industry through the realization of the next generation of nuclear energy production and medical isotopes development, while maintaining the industry's operational nuclear reactors."

      She said this is a moment of historic growth for nuclear energy and Framatome with a full pipeline and years of backlog orders to serve the critical mission for the future of the planet and clean energy economy.

      Above all, Framatome is proud of its people.

      "Our workforce is dedicated to upholding strong values of safety, integrity, passion, performance and dedication to the future. To prepare for our future, we are striving for a more inclusive workplace that unites diverse perspectives in our shared mission to deliver clean energy," she said.

      Its employees provide time, talent and resources to serve the community throughout the year, she said.

      "We are currently implementing our Directed Giving campaign - an effort that spotlights our employees' support to the communities where we live and work. Employees donate, volunteer and advocate for organizations of their choice, giving them the opportunity to [be] part of something bigger than themselves," Williams said.

      One program the company is proud of is the recent relaunch of Framatome's Nuclear Technology Academy. This is a collaborative workforce development partnership with Central Virginia Community College that provides students with hands-on experience in the energy industry.

      The program is designed to have students pursue degrees in nuclear technician specialties, rotating each semester between the classroom and working in real-world environments at Framatome customer sites. Students receive full-time pay and benefits, and all tuition and fee costs are covered by Framatome for the duration of the program, Williams said.

      "This is an excellent opportunity for recent high school graduates as well as individuals interested in a career change opportunity," she said.

      She said the company is excited about the future of several ongoing projects. For example, it recently received nuclear regulatory qualification for Framatome's spray-in-place liner for use in buried piping maintenance.

      "Advancements in nuclear fuel are driving growth as we showcase our expertise with new fuel designs that increase safety and performance and lowers costs for our customers," she said. "We are proud of our leading position in aggressively designing, developing and implementing accident tolerant fuel [ATF] as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's ATF program. This new fuel design increases the safety of today's plants and improves its performance at a crucial time for the industry. We are also actively developing new fuel technologies for the next generation of nuclear energy generation."

      Lynchburg is America's nuclear city - the center for excellence in nuclear innovation, Megan Lucas, CEO and chief economic development officer of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, said.

      "We couldn't be prouder to be the home of BWXT and Framatome and working together with them to grow and innovate," she said.

      She said nuclear has had a long-standing history in the region as the economic engine of the city's manufacturing industry.

      "With BWXT's recent expansion of their innovation campus and Framatome's relaunch of the Nuclear Technology Academy, we are seeing continued investments in nuclear at the local level," she said. "They continue to choose to invest in the Lynchburg region because they know it is a great place for business with a strong nuclear workforce and resources and we will help them as they continue to grow."

      She said the region benefits greatly from BWXT and Framatome's innovation.

      "Right now, they employ nearly 4,000 people locally in high-paying jobs and their business growth increases our region's tax base and encourages more nuclear providers to do business in our region -creating even more jobs and investment in our community," Lucas said.

      This summer, with the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, the office of economic development formed a consortium called the Lynchburg Regional NITCH - Nuclear Industrial Technology Commercialization Hub - to submit a proposal for the federal EDA Phase 1 Technology Hub Strategy Development Grant.

      This planning grant would help create strategies to advance and grow the nuclear technology sector and position the city of Lynchburg for significant economic growth, Upshur said.

      "It's also important to highlight innovative workforce development strategies that are already in place to bolster the nuclear industry in Lynchburg," she said. "Framatome partnered with CVCC to launch the Framatome Nuclear Technology Academy, providing both classroom and hands-on training for those interested in joining the energy sector - it is available to current and future CVCC-enrolled students. Upon successful completion of the program, participants begin their full-time careers as nuclear technicians, growing the next generation of nuclear engineers and streamlining pathways to the nuclear industry."

      Rachael Smith, (434)


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