French ONET buys UK’s nuclear engineer Gravatom

Posted on 7 Jan 2009 by The Manufacturer

French company ONET Technologies, a division of ONET Group, has bought Gravatom, a UK nuclear engineering company, for an undisclosed sum. .

Gravatom designs and manufactures nuclear engineering solutions and employs 130 people in two UK sites, in Fareham and Workington. It will become part of ONET Technologies, a leading French nuclear decommissioning contractor and the second biggest in reactor maintenance after Areva.
In 2008, ONET Technologies turned over Eu167m and employed 2,000 people across Europe. The acquisition was completed on December 23, 2008 and the new company retains the Gravatom name.

No jobs will be lost as a result of the deal, and both partners have expressed their commitment to increase employment following the tie-up. “It is our intention to increase human resources at the new company, by hiring about 30 people in 2009 across a range of disciplines; engineers, shop floor workers and administration, at junior and senior level,” says Dominique Mouillot, president of ONET Technologies and a member of the ONET group board of directors. She adds ONET intends to improve existing ties with local schools and universities to foster apprenticeships. Gravatom has links with the University of Lancaster (Workington site) and Portsmouth University (Fareham). It is ONET’s intention not to bring French engineers to the new entity for now.

Gravatom’s core business is the design and production of engineering solutions for the nuclear industry, including isolator technology, shielding, dispensing systems, transport packaging, and decommissioning equipment. It also makes equipment for radiopharmaceutical, or nuclear medicine, processes. The company reported revenues of £9.7m in the year ending May 31, 2008. “ONET Technologies has acquired Gravatom as part of an ambitious strategy to expand in the UK and exploit the opportunities for nuclear decommissioning and new build,” says Mouillot.

ONET is the leading decommissioning contractor in France, serving energy companies including EDF, CEA and Areva. The acquisition is both commercial and strategic, and is another clear sign of growing French interest in British nuclear energy. “The French nuclear industry is looking at its British counterpart for opportunities,” says Mouillot. “There is a lot of competence in the sector in France – 80% of France’s power is nuclear – and we are bringing those competencies to Gravatom and in turn the wider UK nuclear sector.”

The deal appears to be a win-win for ONET and Gravatom. The new entity will benefit from ONET’s size and expertise in nuclear decommissioning, enabling Gravatom to apply for larger tenders than they are currently able to. “It presents a big opportunity to exploit the Sellafield decommissioning programme and the dismantling of the Magnox graphite reactor,” says Gravatom’s managing director Dave Barker.

ONET will acquire a footprint in the UK nuclear energy industry, which is set to expand following the government’s approval in January 2008 to build new nuclear power stations.

“ONET is a highly respected, progressive company committed to strengthening Gravatom’s position in the UK,” says Barker, adding that the combined entity will offer a much more powerful player in the UK nuclear decommissioning market. Pierre Bertet, who runs ONET Technologies UK – set up last year to create new business in the UK before Gravatom’s acquisition – will inherit the managing director’s job, but Barker stays on at the firm in a consultancy role.

The new ownership will enable investment in additional plant for Gravatom’s growing nuclear medicine business, Barker says, which includes new designs for the manufacture of radio isotopes and PET scanning systems. ONET currently makes its own ancillary nuclear research equipment such as hot shields (protective lead shields) and glove boxes in France.

“We intend to move these contracts to the new UK company,” says Mouillot. “This will further benefit the company because these products are currently made to exacting French regulations and standards, which the UK division will inherit.” Adopting such standards may filter down through the UK nuclear manufacturing industry, Mouillot speculates.

Existing nuclear reactors are aging and the government’s strategy will be to decommission them over time and lay the foundation for the construction of new reactors if nuclear is to remain, and increase its share, in the UK’s energy mix. Nuclear reactors currently supply about 20% of electricity in Britain.

“The Government is actively and regularly encouraging new nuclear builds with industry, including foreign energy companies, through initiatives presented at the Nuclear Development Forum, for example, that facilitate the tendering process,” says a spokesperson for the new nuclear build office of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Pictured, From L-R: Former Owner Gerry Holden, Dominique Mouillot, Dave Myers (former owner), Dave Barker