Nuclear AMRC teams up with K-TIG for waste containers

20 September 2021

Australian welding technology specialist K-TIG has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UK's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to develop innovative automated fabrication techniques for decommissioning waste containers. Under the MoU, K-TIG will work with the Nuclear AMRC to design, develop and supply the robotic welding cell to be used in the fabrication of the 3-cubic-metre stainless steel boxes to be used to safely store the UK's decommissioning waste.

A concept for the technology demonstration facility (Image: Nuclear AMRC)

The Nuclear AMRC is developing a new technology demonstration facility at its Rotherham research factory which will integrate a range of state-of-the-art fabrication, monitoring and inspection techniques for waste container production. The heart of the facility will be a robotic welding cell, which could be instrumental in the decommissioning of the UK's legacy nuclear power sites. The centre will have the fabrication capability for the steel boxes to be used to safely store waste from the UK's 17 nuclear power sites. That waste primarily comes from the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo, Pile Fuel Cladding Silo and First Generation Magnox Storage Pond which are legacy nuclear waste storage facilities being decommissioned as part of the "Retrievals" stream at the Sellafield site.

K-TIG - which joined the Nuclear AMRC as a member in December 2019 to collaborate on high-performance fabrication techniques for waste containers and other nuclear applications - has developed a patented keyhole welding technology which can produce welds 10-100 times quicker than conventional tungsten gas arc welding, joining metals up to 16mm thick in a single pass. The company has now been selected as the preferred welding technology for demonstrating welding techniques for the Tranche 2 containers scheduled to be procured from 2024/25.

The non-binding MoU provides an agreement on the scope of activities to be undertaken by K-TIG and the commercial arrangements, including intellectual property rights, that will be captured in a formal contract anticipated to be executed late next month, with commencement of the project anticipated to occur in the month thereafter.

The scope of the welding cell to be provided includes: the integrated welding automation, container manipulator, robotic welding arm and K-TIG welding systems, as well as the automated pre- and post-weld inspection systems deployed for real-time quality checking. K-TIG will also work with industry partners to integrate commercially-available welding manipulators and robots, as well as ultrasonic, visual and acoustic sensor systems into the K-TIG controller to provide a turnkey welding cell for the fabrication of Tranche 2 containers.

K-TIG will fund the development of the welding cell for the Nuclear AMRC's demonstration facility. It will maintain all commercialisation rights to the robotic welding cell, and make it available to the global nuclear waste containment fabrication industry.

"The Nuclear AMRC and K-TIG will work together to further develop highly advanced methods to manufacture a range of products, including containers for the safe and secure storage of radioactive waste from the nuclear sector," said Sean Murphy, strategic relationship manager at the Nuclear AMRC. "A successful conclusion to the collaboration would be to provide UK manufacturers with a turnkey solution for the fabrication of the products. This will help to ensure a strong supply chain, maintaining safe, repeatable quality and delivery."

K-TIG said it expects some 15,000 nuclear waste containers to be fabricated and procured by Sellafield as part of its GBP1.5 billion (USD2.0 billion) Tranche 2 procurement plan, currently scheduled to commence in 2023/24.

"Our intention is to participate in the fabrication of the second tranche 3-cubic-metre waste containers, not only as a technology and welding cell supplier to the fabricators producing the container boxes, but also as one of the fabricators constructing the boxes in our own right," said K-TIG Managing Director Adrian Smith. "As a fabricator, as well as the OEM for the fabrication technology, we believe that we have a compelling offer for Sellafield Limited that drives technological advancement and long-term cost reductions over the multidecade lifecycle of their box procurements."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News