Julien is one of the three nuclear welders in the Nuclear Propulsion team on the Naval Group site in Toulon. Together, they completed the refit of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier’s two nuclear reactors, which lasted eighteen months. An ordeal of fire for this blacksmith at heart.
Nuclear welders are the only welders certified to work in a nuclear reactor. “Different safety barriers are in place to avoid any risk of leaks. Nuclear welding is the last of these barriers. It must be perfectly hermetic, the installation must be completely closed. There is no room for mistakes”, underlines Julien.
Highly technical in nature, these welds on stainless steel are performed in a confined and very tight space. In places where it is sometimes impossible to get a hand through, the welders work using mirrors, contorting their bodies, using a breathing apparatus if necessary, to ensure an almost surgical intervention.
“Before we even light our torch, the slightest detail must already have been prepared in advance. For certain large welds, as was the case for the Charles de Gaulle, I consult with Franck and Jérémy, my two welder colleagues. Even though we each work independently in 2/8 shifts with our own teams of metalworkers and mechanics, we discuss the approach to take to ensure the weld is a success. We also rely on the support of the installation’s technical referent to obtain technical information. Contrary to popular belief, no two welds are the same. The same valve on another ship two weeks later will be completely different. We must constantly adapt.”
A tight-knit team
Rigour, continuously questioning yourself, the constraints, the risks… Julien is adamant: “you can’t be a welder without having a passion for metalworking”.
He has always been immersed in the forging trade, firstly as a blacksmith within the cavalry regiment of the Republican Guard. Then, “through life’s unexpected turns”, he found himself in front of the Toulon harbour. “I knocked on the door of Naval Group, I took a training course and for the last ten years I have been having a great time in the company”.
The trio he forms with his two colleagues is also very important for him. “We are a tight-knit team! And the mid-life refit of the Charles de Gaulle has been very beneficial for us. It allowed us to excel”.
The future? “The Nantes-Indret and Cherbourg sites to give a hand to our colleagues on the Barracuda-class submarines. It will allow us to get acquainted with them before they come back for maintenance a few years from now!”