Sheffield Forgemasters has completed a full-sized Small Modular Reactor (SMR) nuclear vessel demonstrator assembly, using Local Electron-Beam Welding.

According to the UK-based engineering specialists, the team used the pioneering Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW) and it took less than 24 hours to complete four, thick, nuclear-grade welds, typically requiring a year of work to complete.

The vessel had a diameter of three meters and a wall thickness of 200mm. The construction of the vessel therefore showcases the capabilities of LEBW and sets a new standard for weld-joining thick-walled components.

Professor Jesus Talamantes-Silva, research, design and technology director at Sheffield Forgemasters, commented in a statement: “We are delighted to have reached a significant milestone in assembling a nuclear vessel demonstrator, using electron beam welding for the first time at this scale, with 100% success and no defects.”

Sheffield Forgemasters deployed specially developed parameters, fine-tuned during the welding development stage, including innovative sloping-in and sloping-out techniques to start and finish the weld, ensuring a clean and complete weld-join.

Dr 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.

“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.”

The demonstration of LEBW technology’s potential opens new horizons for more efficient, low cost and less time-heavy nuclear assemblies and also has implications for other projects which require thick-walled welded assemblies.

Dr Jacob Pope, development engineer and LEBW machine tool installation lead, added: “We thank the Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for enabling the project through its Nuclear Innovation Program. We also thank our esteemed partner, Cambridge Vacuum Engineering, for their invaluable support throughout this endeavor. Their remote and on-site assistance played an instrumental role in the success of this milestone, highlighting the collaborative spirit that drives us forward.”

Sheffield Forgemasters will work on an upcoming joint industrial project supported by participants from the USA and UK. The objective is to initiate a code case or multiple cases to facilitate the deployment of this technology.

Originally published by Pamela Largue in Power Engineering International.

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