Sheffield Forgemasters: Revolutionizing Nuclear Power With SMR

The reactor vessel welded by the new method

Image source:  Sheffield Forgemasters.

The UK company Sheffield Forgemasters developed an innovative technique to produce components for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Hence, the construction only takes under 24 hours instead of the usual 12 months and can be mass-produced. This could be a complete revolution for the nuclear power sector.

While conventional techniques may exceed a year of construction, Sheffield Forgemasters significantly reduced the needed time using Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW) in order to achieve four thick nuclear-grade welds. This method is used to weld two metal pieces together using a high-energy density fusion process on a high-powered electron gun that is operating in a vacuum. Hence, the achieved efficiency is 95%, alongside a high depth-to-width ratio.

The completed vessel is 3 m (10 ft) in diameter with 200 mm (8 in) of wall thickness, produced with zero defects and lower costs. The company said that “With a diameter of three meters and a wall thickness of 200mm, construction of the vessel showcases the reliability and capabilities of LEBW, setting a dramatic new standard for weld-joining thick-walled components, previously untrialled in a demonstrator model,

Michael Blackmore, Senior Development Engineer, and Project lead said, “The implication of this technology within the nuclear industry is monumental, potentially taking high-cost welding processes out of the equation,”, adding that “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.

As the world transitions toward clean energy sources, such game-changing technologies may have a huge impact when they develop and mature. The UK government is also planning new plants, which also include 15 modular reactors to be built by Rolls-Royce.

Ashton Henning

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