Westinghouse invests in zirconium tube plant

09 January 2008

Westinghouse is to invest nearly $13 million in improvements at a plant that makes zirconium alloy tubes for nuclear fuel in readiness for the worldwide nuclear renaissance.


The company has announced that its Specialty Metals Plant in Pennsylvania will be fitted with new equipment to accommodate its projects in China as well as pending projects in the USA. "The investments we are making to expand our manufacturing capabilities will position Westinghouse for continued success in the worldwide nuclear renaissance," said Aris Candris, senior vice president of Westinghouse's Nuclear Fuel business unit. Construction work is due to start in March on the first of four Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to be built in China, and applications for construction and operating licences for two two-unit AP1000 power plants have recently been submitted in the USA.


The bulk of Westinghouse's investment - over $11 million - will be spent on two high-speed pilgers used in the manufacturing process to produce seamless zirconium alloy tubing. The other major equipment purchase will be a vacuum annealing furnace worth some $1.75 million, which Westinghouse says will support the anticipated growth of the next generation of zirconium alloys providing enhanced performance. The new equipment is expected to be commissioned in early 2009.


Zirconium alloy tubes manufactured at the Specialty Metals Plant are used to encase pellets of uranium dioxide to make nuclear fuel rods. The rods, which are typically around 4 m long, are arranged in fuel assemblies for loading into a reactor. The fuel for the AP1000 is based on a 17x17 design that has already been used in pressurized water reactors in the US and Europe.


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