Look up nuclear bottleneck in the dictionary….

…. and you’ll see a picture of Japan Steel Works Ltd — “the only plant in the world … capable of producing the central part of a nuclear reactor’s containment vessel in a single piece, reducing the risk of a radiation leak.


The bottleneck: In a single year, they can currently only make “four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor.” They may double capacity over the next two years, but that won’t allow the huge ramp up in nuclear power that some are projecting for the industry.

Given Japan Steel’s limited capacity, the math just doesn’t work, said Mycle Schneider, an independent nuclear industry consultant near Paris. Japan Steel caters to all nuclear reactor makers except in Russia, which makes its own heavy forgings.

“I find it just amazing that so many people jumped on the bandwagon of this renaissance without ever looking at the industrial side of it,” Schneider said.

At the same time, that capacity increase represents a gamble that the nuclear renaissance is here to stay, even in the face of a US recession, safety concerns, and a historically volatile industry.

Bloomberg has a very thorough article on the company, its potential competition, and “the precision and patience required to fashion a 600-ton steel ingot into a tube with walls 30 centimeters (12 inches) thick”:

To make the 600-ton ingot, workers heat steel scrap in an electric furnace to as high as 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,600 degrees Fahrenheit). Then they fill each of five giant ladles with 120 tons of the orange-hot molten metal. Argon gas is injected to eliminate impurities, and manganese, chromium and nickel are added to make the steel harder.

The mixture is poured into a blackened casing to form ingots 4.2 meters wide in the rough shape of a cylinder. Five times over three weeks, the ingots are pressed, reheated and re-pressed under 15,000 tons applied by a machine that rotates them gradually, making the floor tremble as it works.

The heavy forging is needed to make the steel uniformly strong by aligning the crystal lattices of atoms that make up the metal, known as the grain. In a casting, they would be jumbled.

What they do is an art more than a science, and that’s why they’re the critical path,” said Steven Hucik, senior vice president for nuclear plant projects at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Just for the record, to even be 10% of the solution to global warming would require about 25 nukes built a year for the next 40 years.

Interesting side note, JSW also makes wind turbines! Looks like they are trying to corner the zero-carbon electricity business.

14 Responses to Look up nuclear bottleneck in the dictionary….

  1. Paul K says:

    The extremely long term nuclear waste management problems are an even greater barrier to a nuclear solution. But where will we get our energy in 2050?

  2. Jay Alt says:

    Few, if any, US reactors have single-piece pressure vessels.

    They are welded together from individual forgings – ( e.g. welds @ N1, N2, N3, N4, N5 )

    Volume III of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code states the requirements to forge, weld, inspect and otherwise process nuclear grade components.

    A single piece vessel bottom is better, with uniform corrosion resistance and impact resistance after irradiation. And those qualities have been very carefully controlled in weld joints. One piece construction is not a necessity, but I’m sure it makes a good selling point. There aren’t very many US firms who could even make the smaller subcomponent forgings.

    Turbine rotor forgings are also critical. They have a long lead-time and are another potential bottle-neck.

  3. The extremely long term nuclear waste management problems are an even greater barrier to a nuclear solution. But where will we get our energy in 2050?

    Thorium–the solution to both questions.

    The liquid-fluoride thorium reactor operates at ambient pressure and doesn’t need any of these high-pressure forgings, plus it is much smaller than a typical light-water reactor.

  4. Paul K says:

    Kirk Sorensen.
    Are there any liquid-fluoride thorium reactors currently in operation?

  5. Are there any liquid-fluoride thorium reactors currently in operation?

    No, today’s nuclear reactors are the descendants of naval reactors that were not built for safety or efficiency, but for expediency. The present nuclear industry grew out of the naval reactor suppliers, who were convinced/bullied into building “civilian” versions of the same thing.

    The inventor of the light-water reactor, Alvin Weinberg, tried to convince the Navy not to push the light-water reactor for civilian deployment, but they ignored him. Instead, Weinberg was developing the fluoride reactor, which was an improvement on all counts except the one that really mattered to the Atomic Energy Commission: the ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

    This the fluoride reactor couldn’t do, so the AEC undermined its development at every step and finally killed it in favor of a reactor that could do what they really wanted, while ostensibly fulfilling a civilian power mission: the liquid-metal fast breeder reactor.

    Charles Barton has an excellent series of posts on the historical background of this sorry era of nuclear development here:

  6. Pitt says:

    Just a note: it’s misleading to say the company caters to “all nuclear reactor makers”, as plenty of reactor types – such as CANDU reactors – don’t even use that sort of high-pressure containment vessel.

  7. kanagata says:

    In Japan,Hitachi Metals die steel”SLD MAGIC” becomes popular now.Hitachi won the BEST 10 New Prodacts Japan Brand. Prize of The Nikkan sinbunn in 2006 because of developed steel.Winning simultaneously was toyota Lexus LS460.
    The toughness ,wear-resistance,anti-distortion at heat treatment,machinability,weldabily of this steel is superior to other conventional die steel like a AISI D2.Hitachi developed this steel by using ultra mlti system alloy design.

  8. engineer400 says:

    Engineer Live – European and Woldwide Magazines for: Design, Process, Electronics, Chemical, Asia-Pacific, Oil & Gas, Power, Energy and Hydrographic & Seismic Engineer

  9. Pan Jang Zheng says:

    Oh I hear that SLD-MAGIC is the first high carbon alloy with applying both of preciptation of intermetallic conpound and self-lubrication mechanian in the world Metallurgy.
    This steel becomes popular in the field of cold press stamping die of high tensile strength steel plate in Asia.

  10. James says:

    In the viewpoint of metallurgy,this steel was also the revolutionary next generation one.

  11. Nagata says:

    It is called Kunichika steel in Japan.
    Kunichika is a inventers name.So because name of a human lived now in the world very few. it is used now.

  12. ToolSteelBuyer says:

     Is it one of YSS brand steels?
    They are famous specialty steels in Japan.

  13. Lee says:

    I know this steel.Galling resistance without any surface treatment is very beautiful in my works.But I cant get raw material of this steel in United States.

  14. Peg says:

    I hear new alloy of hitachi is called “Samurai Steel”.
    One of revolutional property of this steel is keeping high-accuaracy of dimension at the heat treatment. Very wonderful.