On April 2, 2021, Bernard Fontana – CEO of Framatome – was Nicolas Doze's guest on BFM Business.
Read the answers given by Bernard Fontana on a range of subjects including challenges to be met, EPR reactors, extension of the service life of nuclear power plants and nuclear medicine (translated from the BFM Business interview and made by Scribeo):
Specialized in nuclear power plant design and reactor equipment, Framatome has been contributing its expertise and know-how since 1958. Interview with Bernard Fontana, CEO of Framatome.
Can you give us a general presentation of what Framatome does?
Framatome is an international leader in the world of nuclear energy, recognized for its innovative solutions and its high value-added technologies in low-carbon energy. Thanks to the strengths of our 14,000 employees, we have developed a real specialization in nuclear reactors with expertise in 5 areas:
- the maintenance of nuclear reactors, carrying out interventions on around 380 of the 450 reactors installed worldwide;
- the design, fabrication and loading of nuclear fuel into reactors;
- the conception and construction of new nuclear reactors;
- the design, manufacturing and supply of large equipment for nuclear reactors;
- I&C systems for reactors.
What are the main challenges that your company has to face up to today?
Nuclear & occupational safety are our absolute priority. Our ambition is to strengthen our position as a leading industrial player in France and on the international nuclear energy market, while focusing on our core business: the design and supply of NSSS (Nuclear Steam Supply Systems), related services and nuclear fuels. Our objective is to put our expertise, along with quality, operational excellence and commercial excellence at the heart of our strategy.
Our industry is founded on the knowledge and skills of its employees. To ensure that our technical skills are renewed and strengthened, we are recruiting around 1;000 people every year and we have launched a Knowledge Management program, an area in which we want to become a world leader in the industry.
Operational excellence is one of our primary concerns. We are deploying a program to improve the quality and standardization of our manufacturing, with a view to getting it right first time, in order to carry out our projects with the quality, costs and delivery times expected by our customers. We have developed several centers of excellence related to our specific areas of expertise (Center of Excellence for Welding in Burgundy, Center of Excellence for Machining at Jeumont, Computing Center at Saint-Marcel).
We are investing almost 200 million euros a year in improvement of our industrial facilities and in the performance of our sites and the interventions we carry out in nuclear power plants. We play a part in a robust industrial supply chain, by working with critical suppliers.
You have been successful in becoming one of the world's leaders in nuclear energy. To maintain this position, you are placing special emphasis on innovation. Can you tell us more about this?
As an industrial partner of the nuclear sector, Framatome is integrating the most recent cutting-edge technologies. We are devoting more than € 100 M/year to R&D, and almost € 50 M/year in digitization. Framatome is using these technologies to improve the way it works and to operate in total safety both internally and with our customers.
Framatome is at the forefront of the drive to introduce technologies which make it possible to improve nuclear and occupational safety and allow it to generate technical and economic added value for its customers. We can cite 3 examples of this:
- The development of Accident-Tolerant Fuel (ATF), where we were the first to supply a complete fuel assembly of this type.
- In recent years, we have been doing R&D work in the field of additive manufacturing (3D printing), with a view to using 3D-printed components for fuel assemblies in commercial and research reactors. The first 3D-printed safety component will be loaded into a commercial nuclear power plant in the spring of 2021.
- We are contributing to the development and production of medical isotopes used in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- Framatome's experts and researchers are passionate about what they do and are continuing to innovate and adopt advanced technologies to continuously improve the way in which nuclear power plants produce efficient, reliable and low-carbon electricity.
As an expert, can you explain to us what the challenges and prospects for the future are for your group, and for the nuclear sector more broadly speaking?
Global demand for electricity is on the increase. To face up to the climate emergency, low-carbon electricity should be produced via different means such as nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar power… Nuclear energy is a fundamental, stable source of energy which makes it possible to compensate for the intermittence of renewable energies and issues of storage. From our point of view, it is a necessary part of any future energy mix.
Teams from Framatome have been involved in the development of nuclear for 60 years, providing safe and competitive solutions for the world's nuclear fleet and new nuclear programs.
The major undertakings that lie ahead of us are the extension of the service life of nuclear power plants in France and worldwide, and the construction of new nuclear plants for which it will down to us to provide support for decades to come by guaranteeing the availability of critical skills over the long term.