A Bethlehem company with its roots in the storied history of Bethlehem Steel has been tapped to manufacture components for next-generation commercial nuclear power reactors – items that have not been built in the United States for more than three decades.
Lehigh Heavy Forge Corp. and The Babcock & Wilcox Co. announced Wednesday that they had entered into an agreement that would have the Bethlehem foundry producing components for new small modular reactors currently being developed by B&W, a North Carolina-based energy technology company, according to a news release.
The Express-Times reported that the agreement could mean the creation of 100 new jobs in South Bethlehem over the next 10 years.
Gov. Tom Corbett was at the Bethlehem company’s headquarters for the announcement.
“Energy equals jobs,” the governor said. “These small modular reactors promise to take us farther down the road to energy independence while creating new jobs and sustaining old ones right here in Pennsylvania."
The news release said the two companies would be working together to “revitalize the United States manufacturing infrastructure needed to supply heavy forgings for the commercial nuclear power industry after a national capability gap of more than three decades.”
B&W was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate development of small modular reactors. Company President Christofer Mowry told the newspaper that the new reactors allow more flexibility and customization for power companies and will have a potential market value in the billions of dollars.
Small modular reactors are part of a plan to build a new nuclear power plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the newspaper reported.
“American manufacturing is at the heart of the history of both our companies, and we are proud to have Lehigh Heavy Forge join the … effort in bringing small modular reactor manufacturing expertise back to the U.S.," Mowry said in a news release.
Lehigh Heavy Forge currently employs 220 people on Emery Street where it operates the largest open die forging press in the Western Hemisphere and the last super heavy forging operation in the United States.
Company President James J. Romeo told the newspaper that additional laborers and engineers will be hired over the next decade.
Lehigh Heavy Forge is the former BethForge Division of Bethlehem Steel, which started operations in 1887.
Initially known for supplying heavy armor and oversized gun barrels to battleships, it also produced the 70-ton, 45-foot long axle for George Ferris’ revolving wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
During the final years of the corporation’s demise, Bethlehem Steel sold the BethForge division in 1997. It is now a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based WHEMCO.