UK capabilities

The UK has a strong track record in nuclear engineering, but much of its capability has declined over the past two decades. With a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK and worldwide, there are significant opportunities for UK companies to take advantage of this new market.

Even though the new generation of reactors are being provided by overseas providers (Areva, Westinghouse, Hitachi-GE and CGN), the UK supply chain can capture a significant market share in areas where it has existing capabilities or can rapidly develop new capabilities.

Manufacturing capabilities

A new nuclear power plant requires a wide range of plant and equipment. Components range from specialised equipment such as stainless steel pump casings for the reactor, to conventional items such as tankage and pipework.

UK companies have significant capabilities in nuclear engineering, manufacturing and site installation and, with selected investment in facilities and skills, could provide an estimated 70 per cent of the plant and equipment required for a new site.

Many UK companies are market leaders in their field. Key areas include:

  • High quality forgings.
  • Precision material components and assemblies, including valves and pumps.
  • Plant instrumentation and control for reactor, generating plant and ancillary equipment.
  • Specialised equipment and services including high integrity pipework; core component handling equipment; primary circuit auxiliary systems; craneage and fuel handling machines; specialist radiation retaining doors; radiation detection and monitoring products.
  • Accumulators, tanks and heat removal systems.
  • Fuel transfer tubes and key interlock systems.
  • Validation of advanced NDT, inspection and materials.
  • Waste measurement instrumentation.
  • Radioactive waste management systems.
  • HVAC systems.

For background information on the capabilities of the UK supply chain to deliver a new nuclear programme, see the NIA capability report (2012) and UK Nuclear: powering the future (2010).

Manufacturing the largest reactor components requires very heavy engineering plants. Producing a pressure vessel for the largest current reactor designs requires a forging press of 14,000-15,000 tonne capacity with the capability of accepting hot steel ingots of 500-600 tonnes. According to Westinghouse, the largest AP1000 components require a 15,000 tonne press capable of taking 350 tonne ingots. There are no such presses in the UK.

The heaviest nuclear forging capability in the UK belongs to Sheffield Forgemasters International, with a 10,000 tonne press capable of handling 300 tonne ingots. Sheffield Forgemasters has ASME N-stamp certification and produces components such as high pressure reactor coolant pump casings for the Westinghouse AP1000 and Korea’s APR-1400 reactor.

For more information on heavy engineering for the nuclear industry, see the World Nuclear Association’s paper on Heavy manufacturing of power plants.

Materials capabilities

Materials for the civil engineering and structural construction of a new nuclear power station can be sourced within the UK. Each new plant will require an estimated 50,000 tonnes of structural steel.

Each new power station will also require around 60,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement bar for concrete. This represents around nine per cent of annual UK production of reinforcement bar.

There is also a high requirement for specialist alloys. For example, reactor pressure vessels are fabricated from ferritic steel forgings (low alloy Mn-Mo-Ni steel) and clad internally with stainless steel weld metal for corrosion resistance.

UK supply of some alloys, such as the seamless Inconel 690 tubing used extensively in steam generators, is limited.

For detailed background information, see The mapping of materials supply chains in the UK’s power generation sector (pdf, 2008).

R&D capabilities

The UK supply chain has established R&D experience and capabilities in many areas which will allow companies to capture significant market share.

These R&D areas include:

  • Manufacture of components and sub-assemblies.
  • Assessment of alternative components in the event of supply restrictions.
  • Development of advanced construction techniques.
  • Advanced modelling to improve operational efficiency, reliability and safety.
  • Non-destructive evaluation (NDE) of components and structures.
  • Improved understanding of materials degradation mechanisms.
  • Production and recycling of advanced fuels.

UK companies can support and improve the operational performance of the new generation of reactors. The vendors will address many issues in-house, but UK companies have a strong opportunity to carry out R&D in areas such as:

  • Fuel manufacture.
  • Component fabrication and joining (including weld simulation).
  • Modular construction.
  • Waste and effluent treatment.
  • Inspection and monitoring.
  • Prediction and assessment of materials degradation.
  • Safety case development.

A re-energised R&D programme that successfully supports UK new build should provide a base for the UK supply chain to sell services and goods worldwide. Companies which can successfully participate in the licensing, build and operation of new reactors in the UK will be able to win work in other countries which are contemplating new build.

For detailed background information, see A review of the UK’s nuclear R&D capability (pdf, 2010).