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Electron Beam Welding Could Cut Reactor Build Costs By 85%

Engineering specialists Sheffield Forgemasters is leading a consortium of partners to explore the industrialization of Electron Beam Welding (EBW) in nuclear applications.

The company, based in the UK, says integrating EBW into the manufacturing process not only improves material strength and safety but also offers significant reductions in manufacturing costs of more than 85%.

The UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded 8 million pounds ($10.5 million) of funding for the initiative – the largest grant in its Nuclear Innovation Programme.

Jesus Talamantes-Silva, Research, Design and Technology Director at Sheffield Forgemasters, said this is a landmark project to refine the basic science of EBW in nuclear applications.

“Electron beam welding is used in both the automotive and aerospace industries in the manufacture of engine components,” Talamantes-Silva told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“Whilst EBW has been used on components with nuclear applications, such as welding the closures on spent fuel casks, it is envisaged that the technology can be utilized on components of greater size and section thicknesses. Sheffield Forgemasters want to use EBW to join primary vessel forgings, such as those used in steam generators, pressurizers and/or reactor pressure vessels.”

Talamantes-Silva says costs of the EBW system will vary depending upon the power requirement but would be a minimum of 3 million pounds ($3.9 million) for the main welder. Sheffield Forgemasters is aiming to implement this technology within two years.

“In two years the technology will be mature and developed enough for Sheffield Forgemasters to offer it to the nuclear industry,” he says.

“EBW has been accepted as a suitable manufacturing method by certain reactor vendors as well as nuclear codes and standards bodies. More work is needed to build on the very encouraging preliminary results.”

The company will install an EBW capable of welding 3m diameter cylinders under localised vacuum. It will then manufacture a 4.3m high and 3m diameter SMR pressure vessel.

Talamantes-Silva says using EBW, circumferential welding of pressure vessels can be reduced from around 150 days to 10 days.