Interview: François Harari, Westinghouse Electric Company

VP & MD France, Benelux & South Africa

Starting his career within the French Army, François Harari joined the nuclear industry in 1990. He held several high-level positions within Cogema, Areva and Westinghouse Electric Company. He is currently Vice-President and Managing Director of Westinghouse France, Benelux and South Africa. He explained us how his company is active in various areas as Nuclear New Build, Dismantling & Decommissioning operations, Small Modular Reactors.

Q1. Could you describe your academic background and professional path?

I have a strange and particular background. I graduated from the well-known French Military Academy of Saint-Cyr in 1977. I spent then 12 years in the Army, 4 years in France and 8 years in Germany, as a mechanized infantry officer (light tanks). In 1990, I left the Army to join Cogema as project manager developing safety vehicles to transport enriched uranium and MOX fuel. After a couple of years, I took the lead of two Areva subsidiaries, Transport Celestin in the South of France and Etablissement le Maréchal in la Hague, specialised in the motion of irradiated materials. For optimization reasons, I merged the two daughter companies and became the CEO of the newly created subsidiary, known as Areva LMC. In 2007, Areva proposed to me to close a factory. At the same time, I had an opportunity to join Westinghouse, what I didn’t refuse. In 2009, I became the Director of Field Services for Westinghouse Europe and since 2011 I’m the Vice President and Managing Director France-Benelux-South Africa. So, as I said, a very particular background and career path but really interesting ones with a lot of professional satisfaction. But for me, what I really like in my career is the international environment I have always worked in.

Q2. In a few words, could you describe your current position within Westinghouse?

Westinghouse counts four business units: Nuclear Power Plants, Nuclear Fuel, Nuclear Services and Nuclear Automation. As Director France-Benelux-South Africa, I’m currently in charge of managing our teams, in these regions of the World, which are in contact with our customers interested by one or several of our business unit services. As an example, let’s name the customers EDF in France, Electrabel and Tractebel in Belgium, or Eskom in South Africa. Because of the will of South-Africa to increase their industrial capabilities with respect of the environment, this country represents a big potential market. They planned indeed to multiply by 5 their nuclear capacity by 2030 with the construction of at least 8 new nuclear reactors.

Q3. Could you give us a structured view of the different Westinghouse’s nuclear activities at the world level while mentioning the approximate importance of each entity in terms of employees and revenues?

As mentioned in the previous question, the activities of Westinghouse are organised in 4 business units. World sales of the 4 entities makes Westinghouse a multi-billion € company. The company has approximately 15.000 employees and 40 locations worldwide: 9.000 employees are located in the U.S., 4.000 in EMEA and 2.000 in Asia. The approximate importance of the 4 business units can be classified as follows:

  1. Nuclear services: This business unit is the most important one. It offers maintenance services and replacement equipment, as the replacement of steam generator for example, and provides services and methods in the design and safety of power plants.
  2. Nuclear Fuel: At the second place, the Nuclear fuel business unit provides fuel assembly fabrication, zirconium-alloy products, nuclear grade tubing, and core components. It also performs product engineering, testing, and processing of commercial nuclear fuel.
  3. Nuclear Power Plants: Specialized in the design and construction of nuclear power plants and component manufacturing, this business unit is today mainly active in the US and Asia.
  4. Nuclear Automation: The youngest business unit is Nuclear Automation which offers world-class Instrumentation and Control (I&C) solutions and related services for operating and new nuclear power plant designs.

Q4. How many Westinghouse’s nuclear reactors are currently under construction worldwide? Could you precise the reactor type, the location and the current status?

Eight Westinghouse Gen-III+ reactors are under construction at that time, four AP1000® in the US and four AP1000® in China. The first AP1000® reactor is expected to be in operation in 2014 at the Sanmen Nuclear Power Plant Station. Six additional AP1000® could be built in the US by Westinghouse Electric Company while having possibilities in EMEA as well (Czech Republic, Poland and UK). The AP1000® design is particularly appreciated by customers for its 72 hours passive systems and modular construction responsible for energy and cost savings.

Q5. According to Westinghouse, what are the perspectives of nuclear development in Europe, in the world?

For the New Build in EMEA, we are investigating possibilities in Czech Republic, Poland, Finland and the UK. The business in Europe is nevertheless more focussed on nuclear services for existing nuclear power plants and decommissioning & dismantling. At the World level, as I mentioned in the previous question, we are currently building eight AP1000® reactors while India, South-Africa, the UK, other European countries and Americas are opening a huge market. China plans to build twenty reactors by 2020 and fifty by 2050 while South-Africa wants to build eight new reactors as well.

Q6. For some time, China has seemed to be interested in exporting nuclear technology, benefiting from the construction of the two AP1000® in order to develop its own model. What about it?

No doubt about that! China is dealing at the same time with the Areva’s EPR reactor, the AP1000® reactor of Westinghouse and other designs. Based on all these experiences, I know they are already developing their own design and will probably be ready very soon to enter on the nuclear new build market. But, as I said, China has to build twenty reactors by 2020 and fifty by 2050, so, even if they start constructions by themselves, they will always need for help and support from Western companies to reach this ambitious objective. However, this implies that Western companies are condemned to be always in an advanced position compared to China. They are to be safer, better and more diversified than ever. In that purpose, Westinghouse has already integrated lessons from Fukushima in its GEN-III+ reactor design and offers a possibility for small modular reactors as well.

Q7. As far as decommissioning is concerned, how does Westinghouse expect to be involved in this activity? Where? What are the different possible techniques and which of them is recommended by your company?

Only in Belgium and Germany, 25 nuclear reactors have to be dismantled in the coming decades. Without a doubt, this represents a huge work load requiring the expertise Westinghouse has in that field. Westinghouse also expects to be involved in France and Spain for decommissioning and dismantling activities. Because the company has already dismantled the Vogtle nuclear power plant successfully in the US and because it relies on the efficient cutting technique, Westinghouse is ready for dismantling activities in Europe.

Q8. A troubled period currently affects the European nuclear industry.

a) Which future do you expect for nuclear energy?

In France, Belgium and Germany, we can indeed speak about troubled period. The first country wants to decrease the share nuclear energy has in its energy mix while the two other countries decided to phase out the use of nuclear energy in the coming decades. But the feeling of troubled period is not shared everywhere. In Europe, Finland is currently building a new reactor; the UK is working on the Energy Market Reform intended for encouraging investment in the Nuclear New Build industry. Beyond Europe, a lot of countries already decided to move forward. In a non exhaustive way, let’s just mention China, India, South-Africa, the USA, Brazil, and Vietnam. China and India only are going to represent one third of the world population and the electricity demand in these two emerging countries is expected to significantly increase in the years to come. Do you really think these countries will fulfil their needs without nuclear energy?

b) What is your perception of the main challenges for the Westinghouse Electric Company, let’s say, for the 20 years to come?

Three challenges will affect Westinghouse:

  1. To continuously increase the quality and safety of our products, while offering competitive prices. Because the contracts we have with our customers last often 10 to 20 years, it is of paramount importance for Westinghouse to continue to be chosen as preferred service supplier.
  2. To be deeply involved in decommissioning, dismantling and waste management activities.
  3. To be stricter and stricter with ourselves on the safety aspects of our products.

Q9. We observe an increasing interest in Small Modular Reactors, mainly in the US.

a) What is your opinion on the role these SMRs could play in the future?

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) benefit from longer fuel cycles and consequently reduce required human interventions. Despite a relative higher cost today in comparison to large reactors, SMRs need less investment and are, as a result, accessible to many more utilities. Their shorter construction phase also allows reducing the financial impact of interests to be paid during the construction period. Furthermore, the concept of modularity of such a plant offers a possibility of self-financing process: thanks to the revenues the first unit gets from electricity production, the utility can build, if needed, a 2nd unit. This kind of reactor could particularly be attractive for locations with small population and growing up industries.

b) Westinghouse’s SMR design has not been selected for the 2012 DOE financial support. Will the company continue anyway to develop this product?

Yes, of course, the market is open! The funding given to the mPower design is maybe dedicated to feasibility studies but, according to me, the DOE will in any cases choose two different designs to increase the competition for SMRs in the US because competition increases quality, safety, efficiency and tends to decrease the price as well.

c) In which specific markets Westinghouse would like to build SMRs?

Several Nations in the Middle East and North Africa. Countries as Morocco, Egypt or Vietnam are possible customers interested in Small Modular Reactors.

Q10. Do you have any message that you wish to address to the young generation and students who intend to work in the nuclear sector?

Yes! The first observation is that we are entering in an important retirement period creating a crucial need for know-how transmission. Young people involved in the nuclear industry are thus more needed than ever! Nuclear jobs are much diversified. For those who want to work in Belgium or Europe, engineering studies (related to safety, reactor design,…), maintenance of current operating reactors, development and implementation of improvements for the existing reactors represent a lot of exciting possibilities. Dismantling, decommissioning and waste management for all the European reactors also represent a huge work requiring many young nuclear
professionals, engineers and technicians.

For those who want to travel around the world, needless to say that New Build activities will offer to the
young generation a real exciting international environment!

In any cases, young people working in the nuclear sector can be proud to put their knowledge to good use for humanity!