An international collaboration between the Nuclear AMRC (part of High Value Manufacturing Catapult), US-based non-profit EPRI (Electricity Power Research Institute) and the US Department of Energy has demonstrated how the process of electron beam welding can reduce production time and cost of reactor pressure vessels for a new generation of small modular reactor.
This intercontinental partnership discovered new manufacturing and fabrication methods which could accelerate efficiency and cost reductions for pressure vessels and other large nuclear components. If successful, the project will aim to demonstrate that small modular reactor (SMR) pressure vessels can be manufactured in under 12 months, slashing current production time by more than 200%.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) offer the opportunity for a clean reliable source of electricity at a manageable cost, reducing on-site construction and staffing, whilst increasing containment efficiency and safety. At present, traditional SMR production methodologies create bottlenecks due to the labour-intensive and time-consuming processes involved. Electronic beam welding could prove essential to efficiency boosts in the manufacturing process, replacing multiple arc welded passes with single deep-penetration weld. This methodology provides the opportunity for costs to be cut by 40%, when compared to conventional technologies. Similarly, the electronic beam welding methodology would also reduce manufacturing time considerably without compromising on quality.
The Nuclear AMRC team carried out extensive tests and trials in their giant Pro-Beam K2000 chamber. Believed to be the largest electron beam chamber available for collaborative R&D anywhere in the world, the K2000 boasts a range of advanced features for joining and additive manufacturing. The project successfully demonstrated that electron beam welding can be applied to thick section circumferential welds, joining two shells in just one hour as opposed to 40 hours using traditional methods.
Funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), this collaboration sees industrial partners from both sides of the Atlantic including heavy engineering firm and founding member of the Nuclear AMRC, Sheffield Forgemasters. In June 2021, the DOE awarded an additional $3.4m funding to further support the collaboration for another two years.
“The Nuclear AMRC continues to provide tremendous innovation for this game-changing technology, leading the development and demonstration of electron beam welding for nuclear applications.” says Marc Albert, Senior Technical Leader at EPRI.
“Collaborating with UK manufacturers on the project means that the domestic supply chain will be in a strong position to win work internationally as SMRs move into commercial production.” says Dr Will Kyffin, Head of Welding and Materials at Nuclear AMRC.
This international partnership may support the revolution of SMR manufacturing by proving the efficiency (both time and cost advantages) of non-conventional methodologies. Findings from the project so far are promising, and initial results were shared with more than 150 manufacturers at a webinar in July 2021.