Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nuclear supply chain trade group works fabrication issues

Getting stuff out the door to build new reactors takes innovation as well as hard work

supplychainNote to readers The Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC) will be holding a two-day meeting in Cleveland Sept 20-21.

Keynote speakers for the event are Dr. Patrick Moore, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition and a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, and Karen Alderman Harbert, President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

FCW_logo_smallI will be covering the conference for Fuel Cycle Week. On this blog today is an edited version of my coverage in last week’s issue of the Consortium's work on welding, nuclear fuel bundle cladding and more information about the conference.

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Parts make the sum of the whole

NFC logoThe April 2010 issue of Nuclear News published by the American Nuclear Society listed over 900 firms that manufacture components for nuclear reactors. Vendors make everything from nuts and bolts to valves and sensors to complete steam supply systems. About two dozen of these firms, including some of the industry's giants, have formed the Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC).

Nate Ames, Technical Director of the organization based in Columbus, OH, told FCW in a telephone interview NFC was established to independently develop fabrication approaches and data that support the establishment of a vibrant US nuclear industry.

"Our goal is for the American nuclear supply chain to compete successfully on the global stage by enabling more cost-effective and reliable nuclear power in a carbon constrained environment."

"Our members include the most influential OEMs, suppliers, and innovators in the nuclear industry."

According to the NFC's web site, members include Areva, B&W, Nucor, and Westinghouse; as well as 16 others.

Ames said the group has identified over 200 key issues that need to be resolved to open up the industry to innovation and making the manufacturing of reactor components more competitive relative to global costs. They've got their work cut out for them with other countries with lower labor costs also seeking to enter the global nuclear market, particularly in Asia.

Ames pointed out several issues the organization would like to address. Early on the group felt that ASME code for manufacturing components could be made more accessible with better organization.

Improving welding processes

welding A key process for the group is welding. Ames said that innovative welding techniques already embedded in the codes and standards for other industries need to be accepted by the nuclear industry. For example, adoption of welding methods from the ship building industry adopted "to make big round things like containment structures" will save 10,000 work hours making one.

The primary focus is thick section welding. Many nuclear facility components are large and have heavy section thicknesses. Even when forgings are used, numerous thick section welds are required. By further developing and validating technologies that other industries are using (such as laser welding, Laser-Gas Metal Arc Hybrid Welding, Tandem Gas Metal Arc Welding, and inertia-based welding processes), production costs could be reduced while improving quality and lowering the residual welding stress.

NFC has been working the Washington wire. In 2009 NFC and the Edison Welding Institute secured $2 million in federal funding to advance this agenda. The funds are targeted at being used for fabrication process and equipment development; material evaluation and testing; standards development; supply chain development; fabrication data management technology development; and sponsoring education in nuclear fabrication technologies.

Fuel bundle cladding materials

Silicon-carbide-3D-ballsA longer-term welding initiative is to find a way to use silicon carbide as cladding for nuclear fuel bundles. The advantage Ames says is that "you can't get 'core on the floor' with this type of material because unlike zirconium alloys, it won't melt.

The problem is that it is very difficult to join two pieces of the material. Testing is underway at the Idaho National Laboratory and may produce results within the next year. The goal is to develop a cladding material that won't fail under high neutron flux, increases fuel burn up, and enhances safety under accident conditions. Regulatory approval is still a long way off, but so is construction of a lot of reactors.

Separately, a consortium composed of MIT, EPRI, ORNL, and several specialty ceramics manufacturers hope to have test assemblies in nuclear reactors in the next few years. The consortium said in an article published Sept 3:

“An improved cladding material could thus offer better safety margins and reduced maintenance, while also allowing a greater portion of the uranium fuel to be burned safely – a move that could reduce waste.”

NRC ruling making

acceptance testingIn Spring 2011 the NRC will being work on a rulemaking for performance-based cladding acceptance criteria. Tara Inverso, the NRC project manager, told FCW the purpose of the rule will be to move from prescriptive to performance based criteria for fuel cladding materials.

"Extensive acceptance testing would still be required for new materials," she said.

Among other things, the rulemaking will govern the evaluation of ceramic cladding and require suppliers to demonstrate the safety of the material under a variety of normal and off-normal conditions

The NRC Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published on August 13, 2009 (PDF file)

Supply chain firms to hold conference in Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio will host "The Future of Nuclear Technology in the U.S." in partnership with the Nuclear Fabrication Consortium and the Greater Cleveland Partnership September 21, 2010 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. (map)

The event will be an educational forum on the future of nuclear power in the U.S. Discussions will include current realities of nuclear technology, common misperceptions about nuclear power, global investments in nuclear energy, and future needs of the domestic nuclear energy industry.

mooreThe forum will include subject-matter experts speaking on technology, the environment, economic impact on U.S. manufacturing, and public policy. Keynote speakers for the event are Dr. Patrick Moore, (right) co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition and a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, and Karen Alderman Harbert, President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The CASEnergy Coalition is a national grassroots coalition of nearly 2,500 members which strives to bring facts rather than emotional hyperbole to the discussion, by promoting the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear expansion as part of a diverse clean energy portfolio.

The event's goal is to share fact-based information about nuclear energy to begin the process of breaking down misperceptions about the country's largest base load clean energy source and enable the industry, decision makers, and the general public to make informed decisions about the future of nuclear power in the U.S.

Businesses involved in advanced energy, consumers, and policymakers with an interest in nuclear energy are encouraged to attend the forum. For more information, or to register, visit http://www.nuclearforumcleveland.com/.

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