Sheffield Forgemasters in biggest ever research project - a £10.5m nuclear research drive

Forgemasters is spending £10.5m on new manufacturing techniques in civil nuclear, its biggest ever research project.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 5:14 pm

The Brightside steelmaker will explore industrialisation of ‘electron beam welding’ in making small, modular nuclear reactors.

Boss David Bond believes SMRs could hit a ‘sweet-spot’ at the firm which already has expertise in casting reactor vessels for nuclear subs.

The company will install an electron beam welder which offers “vast” reductions in manufacturing time and cost. It will then make a full-size small modular reactor pressure vessel, standing 14ft and measuring 10ft across.

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The head of a small modular reactor pressure vessel at Forgemasters.

SMRs are a fraction of the cost of a traditional nuclear power station.Jesus Talamantes-Silva, research, design and technology director, said: “This is a highly advanced manufacturing process which has not yet been brought to industrialisation in this sector.“Using electron beam welding over traditional techniques, welding of pressure vessels can be reduced from 150 days to 10 days.

“Through the science that we have already refined, we will be able to produce safer, stronger components for the next generation of nuclear power, with lower costs and vastly reduced production times.”

Forgemasters is to lead a consortium of partners on the project. It has been awarded £8 million from the Government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the largest single grant under its £20 million Nuclear Innovation Programme.

Mr Talamantes-Silva added: “This is a landmark project for the UK, building on three years of work in partnership with Innovate UK (the UK's innovation agency), to refine the basic science of electron beam welding in nuclear applications.”

Forgemasters will collaborate with partners from CVE, TWI, Arc Energy, the Nuclear AMRC, The University of Manchester and Cambridge University.

It will also work with a steering committee of Rolls-Royce Civil Nuclear, Rolls-Royce (Submarines) Cavendish Nuclear, the MOD and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

The 700-strong firm makes reactor components for Royal Navy nuclear subs and sells castings to the US Navy. It also has a ‘brains trust’ of more than 100 scientists and engineers, as well as 60 apprentices, and forging, foundry, machining and testing services, giving it total control over manufacturing and high levels of security.