Forgemasters to pump up capabilities?

03 September 2008

Britain's Sheffield Forgemasters has won a contract to produce nuclear-grade steel components for Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. The company is considering adding a press that would allow it to make the largest reactor pressure vessels.


Sheffield Forgemasters will produce 18 of the 16-tonne pump casings under a contract from Curtiss Wright, which itself was contracted by Westinghouse to produce a total of 24 reactor coolant pumps in May. The eventual pumps will be installed in Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs), with the first few - from Sheffield Forgemasters - already earmarked for the rapidly advancing Sanmen project in China.


PWRs employ water as both a moderator to facilitate the nuclear reactions that release energy, and also as coolant to transport heat from the reactor to generate electricity. The water is kept under high pressure to prevent it boiling at temperatures of up to 330°C, and components in the plant's primary coolant loop must be made to the highest standard to ensure safety.


The international standard for such application is the so-called 'N-stamp' issued by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Sheffield Forgemasters has held the right to put the N-stamp on its products for many years - the company produces major components for the UK military's Astute class nuclear-powered submarines and has produced civil nuclear components in the past. It had a role in producing heavy forgings for Sizewell B, the UK's only PWR.


Currently Sheffield Forgemasters is considering the addition of a 15,000 tonne press, which would allow it to accept 500 tonne ingots. The machine, 50% more powerful than its largest existing press, would allow it to make reactor pressure vessels for reactors up to and including Areva's 1650 MWe EPR, the largest PWR currently on the market.


A spokesman told World Nuclear News the prospect was under serious active consideration, and that managers are currently evaluating financing options for the investment. One option would be to directly fund the additional press, although managers see the extra debt as unwelcome just three years after a managment buyout. Other options are available, however, some including government support.


Given a press capable of dealing with 500 tonne ingots, Sheffield Forgemasters could join the club of large reactor pressure vessel salesmen in just three years. This timing would enable the company to take part in the UK's new-build program which could see up to eight new nuclear power units built, the first operating in 2017.


Currently, Japan Steel Works is seen as the leader in large forgings, but it is far from the only company to offer them. Korea's Doosan Heavy Industries and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries can also produce the items. Mitsubishi are doubling their capacity.


The OMZ Izhora facility will make all the large forgings for Russia's nuclear build plans. It too is doubling capacity. France's Areva is installing larger forging capacity at Le Creusot.


Chinese firms Harbin Boiler Works, Dongfang Boiler Group and Shanghai Electric Group are preparing to enter the very large forgings market, while Larsen & Toubro in India are hoping to be allowed to export their forgings.