Nuclear SMR welding breakthrough: A year's work now takes a day

Nuclear SMR welding breakthrough: A year's work now takes a day
The reactor vessel welded by the new method
The reactor vessel welded by the new method
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The reactor vessel welded by the new method
The reactor vessel welded by the new method

Small Modular Reactor (SMR) construction shifts into high gear, as UK company Sheffield Forgemasters welds a full-size nuclear reactor vessel in under 24 hours instead of the usual 12 months. The rollout of this game-changing tech could be massive.

Modular reactors have the potential to revolutionize the nuclear power industry by turning nuclear generating plants from major civil engineering projects to factory-produced commodities. Instead of being essentially one-offs, modular reactors have a standardized design, can be mass produced, installed in any number required to serve local needs, and don't require the incredibly expensive buildings conventional reactors depend upon.

The problem is that there are bottlenecks in how to build reactors of any size. One is welding the vessels used to contain the reactor core, isolating it from the outer environment. Using conventional techniques, this can take over a year, but Sheffield Forgemasters have reduced this to under a day using what is called Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW) to complete four thick, nuclear-grade welds.

LEBW is a revolutionary method to weld two pieces of metal together using a high-energy density fusion process centered on a high-powered electron gun operating in a local vacuum. This melts and fuses components to one another and allows for an efficiency of 95%, deep penetration, and a high depth-to-width ratio.

The upshot is that Sheffield Forgemasters was able to complete a vessel three meters (10 ft) in diameter with 200-mm (8-in) thick walls with what is claimed to be zero defects and at lower costs. In addition, the welding machine can handle innovative sloping-in and sloping-out techniques to start and finish the weld.

This demonstration, a world first, is a significant milestone for the British nuclear sector, which has been moribund for decades with advances only in reactors for nuclear submarines, a couple of showcase power plants, and nuclear fuel processing. Now, the UK government is looking toward a nuclear renaissance, with new plants planned – including 15 modular reactors to be constructed by Rolls-Royce.

"The implication of this technology within the nuclear industry is monumental, potentially taking high-cost welding processes out of the equation," said Michael Blackmore, Senior Development Engineer and Project lead. "Not only does this reduce the need for weld-inspections, because the weld-join replicates the parent material, but it could also dramatically speed up the roll-out of SMR reactors across the UK and beyond, that’s how disruptive the LEBW breakthrough is."

Source: Sheffield Forgemasters

Charles Yeomans
Wow this should be main stream news, it is fantastic and great to see this is from Sheffield bringing work to the north.
As/previous and on a theme by PagaKlerky:

So, we are to get one of these in every locale of demand , . . .......
With note to their big brothers of present, even in little ole UK we have large gentlemen with bang-sticks and dogs same wondering about the site perimeters in order to stop chance strolling on their grass within.
If this not done to their proposed little brothers future, then the really naughty boys WILL take an interest.
Alternatively in these times of austerity, might I suggest an alternative course:
Following on from our farmers success with rural crime ; they painted double yellow lines around their tractors - result 24hr attention from ye authorities . . . ......

Yours, making a saving,
This looks like a great export market, worldwide. Weld done, the UK! LOL
spent fuel halftime amd safety feels like the challenge
This makes it simpler and cheaper to produce small nuclear generators. Fantastic news for fans of SMR tech! Hope this company makes tons of money!
At 440MW, it is not a SMR/small modular reactor.
Smaller maybe, the size they were before they thought making them larger would work, didn't turn out that way.
We need true small 1-200MW SMR inherently safe even a fool can run nukes like Pebble Bed gas cooled. No water cooled reactors can ever be safe, cost effective.
To lower cost it needs to be walk away safe.
foxpup on a calm dark night, unlike solar and wind :-)
...much less obtuse than solar and wind.
...smaller environmental impact too. No dead birds or fields of shattered panels after a hail storm. No windmills to climb and die on.
Jim B
This is also good news for gas cooled SMRs, which also need high pressures and thick walled reactor vessels.

Paticularly interesting would be a pebble bed reactor using heavy nitrogen as a coolant rather than helium:
Jim B
Note that this is just welding the pressure vessel components together in a day rather than a year. Production time of the pressure vessel components has not been reduced.
Also just occurred to me - Can the same kind of electron guns be used for slicing thick metal? Eventually these containers need to be recycled...
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