Maria Eugenia Vega has developed her professional life in Equipos Nucleares (ENSA). She joined the company in 1996 when she entered the Engineering Division. Since 2012, after working as Project Manager in charge of the Business Development Area, she is Business Development Manager at this Spanish company that builds large components for nuclear power plants all over the world.
In ENSA’s almost 50 years of life, says this industrial engineer, “we have provided equipment to practically every country with nuclear power plants”. The interview reflects how proud she is of working in the nuclear sector with “amazing professionals.” “We are fundamental actors in the effort of ensuring that there is no shortage of electricity in our homes and industries,” she adds.
Can you summarize the type of services and products developed at ENSA’s factory in Cantabria (Spain)?
Our main work at the ENSA site in Maliaño, very close to Santander, involves building components for nuclear power plants. Our main products have a high tonnage and are also linked to the plant’s primary line, such as steam generators, vessel components, pressurizers, etcetera. We also build all the products a nuclear power plant might need, such as tanks and exchangers.
Currently we have achieved high specialization in the area of storage and transport of spent fuel: Racks and, especially, casks.
For many years now we have been very active working on new reactor or reactor development projects. I would like to highlight the ITER fusion reactor, where we participate both as manufacturers of parts for the fusion vessel sectors and on the onsite assembly of their nine sectors and all their ports.
"For the ITER Fusion Project, we build part of the fusion vessel sectors and work on their assembly"
Please tell us a bit more about ENSA’s contribution to ITER, the experimental fusion reactor
ENSA has been working at the ITER Project since its early stages, to the degree that we provided the first piece of equipment that Fusion for Energy delivered to the Cadarache site in France. In this case it was a tank, parto f a pack designed and manufactured by ENSA.
Our star project would be our work in the vacuum vessel, both as regards manufacturing and assembly, at Cadarache. This project is full of challenges, which is something that pushes you to position yourself technologically.
We started working on the vacuum vessel almost nine years ago. It was a truly challenging project, and we have qualified special procedures to perform all the tasks, which include welding and dimensional control or inspections. The work was very demanding, but we have the satisfaction of having completed it successfully. This perpetuates ITER Organization’s trust in our work, which allows us to continue with various open selective processes.
How many factories similar to Equipos Nucleares are there in the world?
Our factories are highly specialized, with special resources. We are speaking of high-tonnage equipment on which we also need to work with very strict tolerances and following extremely rigorous norms given the characteristics of this sector.
Apart from our capabilities, it gives ENSA great value to count on highly specialized professionals in the nuclear sector, with competencies acquired during our nearly 50 years of existence in a company that has been underpinned by the basis of Nuclear Safety Culture.
"There are no more than half a dozen companies in the world like Equipos Nucleares"
Given all these premises, I would be very generous to say that there are no more than half a dozen companies in the world like ENSA.
How did pending orders advance due to the pandemic?
Without a doubt 2020 had a great impact on everyone, but 2021 is also proving to be difficult. The worst part of the pandemic goes, of course, to those people that were closely affected, to whom I send my deepest support.
At ENSA we managed to work during practically the entire pandemic; from the beginning we established early preventive measures and put great effort into the creation of a Safety and Health Plan against Covid-19 so that the activity could continue as normally as possible, always with the goal of continuing to offer our clients the best service.
"During the pandemic we established early prevention measures to continue to do our work and to offer the best service to our clients"
What countries do you export to?
Soon we will be celebrating our 50-year anniversary, highly focused on the supply of equipment and services to international clients. We have provided equipments to practically every country with nuclear power plants in four continents: Europe, North and South America and Asia.
"We have provided equipments to practically every country with nuclear power plants"
Como proyectos estrella en el mercado internacional en los que actualmente estamos trabajando, tenemos generadores para reposición en el mercado francés, el proyecto ITER sobre el que he tratado anteriormente y estamos fabricando tanques, presionadores y anillos soporte de vasija para la nueva central nuclear de Hinkley Point C en Reino Unido.
Some of the star projects for the international market that we are working on include generators for reposition in the French market, the ITER Project I mentioned before; we are also manufacturing tanks, pressurizers and vessel support rings for the new Hinkley Point C reactor in the United Kingdom.
As Manager of Business Development and Investee Companies, what changes do you see in the way business is done and in the interrelations with other countries after Covid-19?
I cannot add much more than what we are all seeing around us since the beginning of the pandemic. At ENSA, as in other companies in our sector, and especially those of us in the international framework, we are used to a significant amount of interactions with our client as part of our work.
As far as I am concerned, before this pandemic started I did not spend much time at the office and my work involved a demanding schedule of travelling, meetings with clients, project follow-ups, etcetera. This activity came to a sudden stop and radically changed work dynamics.
Fortunately, the pandemic came at a moment where we have very robust technologies at our disposal that allow us to stay in contact with our teams, partners and clients in real time and communication is very fluid.
"Currently we have very powerful technologies at our disposal that allow us to stay in contact with our teams, partners and clients in real time and communication is very fluid."
Perhaps, at the commercial level, the highest difficulty is in dealing with new clients or products. Establishing the first connection from a distance is much more complex.
However, after almost a year and a half of this situation, I think we all miss being able to have closer relationships. We are taking the first steps towards a return to normality. We have attended the first events that allowed us to regain contact with our colleagues in the sector. The most recent one was Fuel 2021 held in Santander. We are doing this with equal measures of excitement and responsibility. I hope the pandemic doesn’t have any more surprises in stock for us and we can continue like this and meet face to face at the next Word Nuclear Exhibition (WNE), where we will be participating with Enwesa, our subsidiary company, at the Spain Space coordinated by ICEX Spain in cooperation with the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum.
At ENSA you are passionate about improvement, about I+D+i and your commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as the ensigns of your organization. Is that correct?
Passion for improvement symbolizes the strong sentiment that moves us every day at our company. We are passionate about what we do because in our work environment we are surrounded by design, engineering, quality, safety, productivity, talent, equality, research, development, innovation, sustainability and transparency. These are the main values that define ENSA’s passion for improvement, the same that motivate and guide us in our daily life.
In our work environment at ENSA we are surrounded by design, engineering, quality, safety, productivity , talent, equality, research, development, innovation…
As part of our goal for constant improvement we are very excited about the recent creation of the ENSA Professorship on Advanced Technologies for training and research, launched in cooperation with the University of Cantabria and the Cantabrian Government. The ENSA Professorship will encourage creating and attracting talent, as well as establishing new fora to discuss new ideas and solutions in the area of Technology of Manufacturing and Non-Destructive Testing.
Our company cares about society, and due to our Corporate Social Responsibility we show our commitment to the SDG projected by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We add our two cents because we believe that any step we can take is a step towards a more sustainable future.
How would you define the Spanish nuclear sector and its professionals?
I always thought this sector had the advantage that many institutions embraced it nationwide. There was a lot of investment on knowledge from the engineering companies, manufacturers, service companies and, of course, nuclear operators. All this knowledge base has made it possible for us to continue to grow and for the Spanish nuclear sector to be highly valued internationally.
One of the things that always attracted me about this sector is having the opportunity to work with amazing professionals. I say “amazing ” not only because of their experience and knowledge, but also because of the strong commitment they always show, that we – please allow me to include myself – show with our work and with the sector’s maintenance. I would say we enjoy our work and believe in our sector.
"We nuclear professionals show a great commitment and believe in our sector "
Here I would like to mention those of us professionals who, at the hardest time of the pandemic, not only continued operating and maintaining the plants but also faced refuelling outages with complete normality, and all this without ever forgetting that we are fundamental actors in the effort of ensuring that there is no shortage of electricity in our homes and our industries.
How do you see the future of nuclear power in Spain and in the world?
Yo soy optimista por naturaleza pero, además, estoy convencida de la necesidad de realizar una transición energética hacia una producción más sostenible. Estoy segura de que la energía nuclear formará parte, como apoyo, para asegurar un suministro de energía estable y libre de emisiones.
I am a born optimist, but I am also convinced of the need to carry out an energy transition towards a more sustainable production. I am sure that nuclear power will be part of it, as support, to ensure a stable and emissions-free energy supply.
"I am convinced of the need to carry out an energy transition towards a more sustainable production which nuclear will be part of"
The proof is in the highly important developments taking place around the world: large fusion reactors, modular reactors, portable reactors, reactors with different refrigeration systems, at atmospheric pressure, etcetera, all of them designed to produce nuclear-based energy in the safest, most efficient and ecological way. All the advances we make in these developments will be an important legacy for the coming generations.
On a more personal level, is there a book, film or exhibit you are particularly fond of?
Reading is one of my passions, but it is always very difficult to mention a favourite book. I am going to recommend a book I love, taking this opportunity to vindicate Spanish literature: “Tell me who I am”, by Julia Navarro.
Your favourite place to disconnect and relax?
The place where I find it easiest to disconnect is the beach, especially in autumn and winter, when you can take long walks without all the hubbub, breathe in the peace and enjoy the wonderful landscapes of my land.
I am one of those people who believes that you should always try, obviously as far as it is possible, to take away something positive out of any hardship. In this sense, something good that the pandemic gave me was time at home to enjoy my family more. Spending time with them is my greatest hobby.
"It is time to take care of ourselves and others, so that we can see each other as much as possible."
Would you like to add anything else?
I would just like to thank all of you at the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum for the work you do every day, both as informers and educators; I would especially like to encourage you to continue to support us by organizing commercial missions and fairs.
I would like to send my best wishes to all my friends and colleagues in this sector. It is time to take care of ourselves and others, so that we can see each other as much as possible.