Government advisors urge investment in advanced nuclear technologies

The UK government’s nuclear innovation advisors are recommending a £1 billion, five-year investment in advanced nuclear technologies to help meet the country’s clean energy commitments.

The recommendation comes in an annual report from the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (Nirab), its first since being reconvened in 2018.  Nirab brings together around 40 leading nuclear professionals from industry and academia to advise government on publicly-funded research, and is chaired by fomer Nuclear AMRC chief executive Mike Tynan.

To meet the requirements of the UK’s 2017 Clean Energy Strategy, the report urges government to work with industry to define a roadmap for future nuclear new build. A sustained cost-competitive programme of new reactors – including current Gen III+ designs as well as new kinds of advanced modular reactor (AMR) and small modular reactor (SMR) – is needed to meet legal targets for decarbonisation, and early involvement will create significant opportunities for job creation and economic growth for the UK.

Government support for demonstrating advanced reactors is essential for attracting and enabling the necessary level of private investment, the report notes, and government should invest alongside industry to facilitate an advanced nuclear technologies build programme capable of delivering an operational reactor by 2030.

The government is currently investing in new nuclear technologies through the Nuclear Innovation Programme, with £180 million committed from 2016–21. The report highlights some case studies from the current phase of the Nuclear Innovation Programme, including the Simple and Inform projects led by the Nuclear AMRC.

Over the following five years, Nirab recommends that the government invest around £1 billion in key programmes: around £600 million in advanced nuclear technology demonstration; £300 million in research to develop key UK capabilities and align the supply chain to market opportunities; and £100 million in critical infrastructure to support prototyping and demonstration of new reactor concepts.

International collaboration is vital for the UK to play a significant role in commercialising advanced nuclear technologies, the report notes. Nirab recommends that the government establishes an effective international strategy, and reviews the impact of Brexit on UK nuclear programmes once the new arrangements become clear.

To share the latest results and projects from the Nuclear Innovation Programme, the Nuclear AMRC and NNL are hosting a major two-day conference in the summer. Nuclear Innovation UK takes place on 2–3 July in Sheffield, and will feature presentations on current projects as well as discussions on future opportunities.

New robot cell focuses on innovative welding

Nuclear AMRC welding engineers are using a new robotic welding cell to investigate an arc technique which promises to cut cycle time while reducing the risk of distortion.

Cold metal transfer is a new kind of gas metal arc welding (GMAW) which can join and clad with much lower heat input than conventional methods. Standard MAG techniques usually require a continuous feed of wire into the weld pool, creating a continuous arc which rapidly builds up heat.

The trick lies in the welding head, developed by Fronius, which moves the wire backwards and forwards several times a second, breaking the arc as soon as it forms. Allowing the weld to cool between each drop reduces the risk of component distortion. The technique can also eliminate spatter, reducing the need for post-weld clean-up or providing a high-quality clad finish.

“CMT offers low dilution and a high deposition rate – compared to laser or TIG welding, it’s more efficient and economic, and can easily be automated,” says Xiaoying Honey, Nuclear AMRC welding engineer.

The CMT process was initially developed for welding thin sheets in the automotive industry, but is now finding new applications. It is ideal for steels, including stainless, as well as aluminium and galvanised sheets, and offers travel speeds of 400–500mm/min, compared with 100mm/min for TIG.

The Nuclear AMRC cell combines a Fronius TPS 400i welding system with CMT capabilities with an ABB six-axis robot arm and two-axis workpiece positioner.

The team have now completed initial cladding trials using CMT, and are now working on capability development projects alongside commercial research projects for nuclear and oil & gas applications.

The researchers will use the cell to develop automated welding techniques for high-volume products such as decommissioning waste containers. Other welding technologies, including plasma and keyhole TIG, will be added to the cell to provide a comprehensive suite of automated arc capabilities.

“This will be a multi-arc function cell,” Honey says. “We already have TIG and plasma on a column and boom for large components, but if you want to do smaller trials then you want them on the robot cell.”

The team will also develop tools for real-time weld process monitoring, including laser seam tracking, to improve weld quality, and investigate arc-based additive manufacturing techniques.

Nuclear New Build 2019

11–12 June, London.

The Nuclear Industry Association hosts the UK’s leading new build conference and exhibition.

The UK is leading the way in creating the landscape for nuclear new build, and this conference will demonstrate and celebrate progress made, building confidence in successful delivery of new nuclear build projects in the UK.

The biennial conference is set to attract delegates from across the nuclear sector from both home and abroad, and this year will have a special focus on the international market.

NNB2019 will provide a forum to hear from developers and the supply chain, establish links across the industry and unrivalled networking opportunities.

The event includes a panel discussion on the nuclear sector deal and what it means for industry, featuring Nuclear AMRC chief executive Andrew Storer.

For full details and registration, go to: