by Robin Sutton Anders
National security, clean energy, medicine, space exploration—when it comes to solving some of the world’s most important challenges, nuclear energy plays an important role. With two of the nation’s four nuclear energy companies headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, the City of Seven Hills is a leading nuclear technology cluster in the United States.
“One of the big advantages of Lynchburg being a nuclear hub is that smaller companies who want to serve the nuclear industry can land here and have a built-in customer base,” says Rick Loving, chief administrative officer for the Lynchburg-based BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT). “It also helps us all attract talent. A nuclear engineer or machinist or welder who sees several large and mid-size nuclear businesses in town can decide to move here or stay here with confidence, knowing that career opportunities will likely be stable for years to come.”
Loving, who has been with BWXT for 41 years, is most excited about the work his company is doing to support national defense. From their Campbell County production plant, BWXT manufactures naval nuclear reactor cores for submarines and aircraft carriers.
“We are also energized by some other projects that could have a big impact on the world,” Loving says. Like an innovative process to manufacture a common medical isotope to diagnose disease. Or the technology that could allow astronauts to get to Mars using nuclear power. “And we’re developing compact microreactors that can provide power in remote locations.”
Over the decades, Loving has seen his colleagues come to work at BWXT for a number of different reasons. But most of them stay because they believe in the mission and purpose of the company. “Our products protect the country and improve lives,” he says. “We’re constantly innovating, taking on something new, something challenging. There’s a lot of energy in that—it’s very attractive.”
So is the city of Lynchburg, Loving adds. “There’s a lot to do here, especially given a city of our size.” From outdoor activities, the growth of downtown, neighborhood connectedness, the arts, and opportunities for continued education, their headquarters appeals to people who want to build a life outside of work, and sink roots in the community. “When we hire locals, which we do a lot of, they already know that. But when transplants come in, they are excited to take advantage of all that Lynchburg has.”
From its U.S. home base in Lynchburg, Framatome designs, manufactures, and installs equipment for nuclear power plants. “If you think about a power plant, it’s a machine,” explains Denise Woernle, vice president of Communications. “It needs routine maintenance— parts repaired and replaced. It needs engineering and chemistry support.”
Enter Framatome, a company committed to keeping those utilities plants running safely and efficiently. “We go in to help the plant continue to operate and produce electricity, and put that electricity on the grid,” Woernle says.
Woernle appreciates the opportunity Framatome provides her and its other employees to contribute to the greater good of society. “Not only are we helping to produce electricity, which is a necessity, but it’s electricity that is reliable and affordable and environmentally friendly.” Referring to the global call for carbon-free ambitions, she adds that nuclear energy is a carbon-free source of energy. “It provides that baseload so you can add wind and solar.”
In addition to engineers and chemists, Framatome employs skilled workers in a variety of fields, including finance, accounting, HR, communications, IS, and IT. Because many of its employees travel around the globe, Lynchburg’s easy access to major airports is an added bonus when it comes to convenience. “Framatome is owned by a French company, so our global headquarters are in Paris, France,” Woernle says. “We have a unique opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in France and Germany.”
Not only is Lynchburg’s proximity to major airports in Washington D.C. and Charlotte, N.C. helpful for business travel, but the city’s location is also prime for personal travel and entertainment. “We’re within driving range of major cities with a broad diversity of options for entertainment and dining,” Woernle says. “And at the foothills of the mountains, it’s a great place for people who enjoy outdoor activities. People can get out and run, cycle, kayak, canoe—even ski.”
With a nuclear workforce at 34 percent above the national average, it’s not surprising that approximately 27 firms with similar capabilities and suppliers help maintain Lynchburg’s highly skilled labor market. “I think it’s beneficial to the region to have two high-tech companies that offer employment at a range of levels, and well-paying jobs in an industry that’s essential to the nation,” Woernle says.
After 18 years with Framatome, Woernle loves working for a company with such rigorous standards when it comes to performance, safety and quality. “Some of the innovation we’re working on to bring new tools and processes to the industry is fascinating,” she says. For example, Framatome has developed robotics to perform work in hazardous conditions. “It’s fun to see those game-changing projects come to life.”
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All images courtesy of BWX Technologies, Inc. Used with permission.
Robin Sutton Anders is a Greensboro-based writer and the managing editor of Verdant Word Communications.