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GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to enter market for pressurized water reactor services

Washington — GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, which sells and provides services to boiling water reactors, will for the first time enter the market to provide refueling services to owners of pressurized water reactors made by competitors, the company said Monday.

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GE Hitachi will begin with a contract to provide refueling services for a PWR owned by Exelon this fall, GE Hitachi officials said.

General Electric designed and built more than 60 of the 81 boiling water reactors, or BWRs, in operation globally. GE and Hitachi have joint ventures including GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, to deploy shared nuclear reactor and fuel technology together.

GE Hitachi executives said the decision was made to address the large market for pressurized water reactor services and in response to customers who operate both BWRs and PWRs.

"These BWR customers that have PWR plants would like the opportunity to use a single vendor sometimes," said Kevin Walsh, senior vice president of nuclear services and fuels for GE Hitachi. GE Hitachi, unlike competitors like Westinghouse, was unable before the decision to work on both of the reactor types.

GE Hitachi will begin providing services to PWR units during periodic refueling and maintenance outages, when plant owners bring in hundreds of contract workers to perform a series of fuel replacement, testing and inspection activities, said Beth Lemmons, general manager of GE Hitachi's field services business.

"They're looking for options for additional vendors to support their outages," Lemmons said of the PWR operators.

GE Hitachi has provided refueling services, inspection services and reactor modifications -- as well as fuel -- for companies operating BWRs for decades, she said.

GE Hitachi has been working with the largest US nuclear plant operator, Exelon, and will perform work in connection with a refueling outage at an unspecified Exelon PWR this fall, Lemmons said. GE Hitachi will perform reactor vessel disassembly, fuel movement and vessel reassembly for the outage, she said.

Exelon owns and operates a fleet of 22 reactors, including 14 BWRs and 8 PWRs.

PWRs have become a larger part of the global nuclear reactor fleet in recent years as China, the country building the most reactors, settled on that design for all of its units. Countries with a tradition of embracing BWR construction, including Germany and Japan, stopped building new units after the Fukushima I nuclear accident in Japan in 2011 and have shut many reactors permanently.

Of the world's 434 reactors operating, 63% were PWRs and 19% were BWRs, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a 2014 report.

Major PWR vendors including Westinghouse and Areva have competed to carry out BWR reactor services in recent years.

GE Hitachi employees have been trained on and observed PWR outages in recent months, Lemmons said.

"We've learned about the market, we've been able to get our people trained in the operations of fuel moving and reactor disassembly and reassembly, working with our key customers," Lemmons said.

While the PWR services effort begins with the US market, it could be expanded internationally, Lemmons said.

GE Hitachi has hired a manager to oversee the business, as well as contract employee technicians with PWR skills and experience for the upcoming outage.

"We have a large share of the BWR business for our customers, with a lot of our customer outages on the BWR side under long-term outage contracts. Responding to your customers that have both PWRs and BWRs, it's appropriate for us to do that," she said.

GE Hitachi will formally announce the new initiative at the Nuclear Energy Institute's annual conference in Washington Tuesday.

--William Freebairn,
--Edited by Derek Sands,