Plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK present significant opportunities for manufacturers, says Tim Chapman of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
He discusses here how these opportunities extend to foundries which can provide critical components to the highest quality standards.
Building the proposed 16GWe of new capacity will require some £40 billion investment over a decade or more. Research by the Nuclear Industry Association shows that, from top-tier suppliers to specialist SMEs, UK companies can supply 70-80% of the plant and equipment required.
The new-build programme presents particular opportunities for the metals industries. A typical nuclear power station contains many tens of thousands of tonnes of steel in various forms, from the extremely large castings and forgings used in reactor pressure vessels and turbine rotors, through construction steels in the containment structure, to precision-engineered components such as high-pressure seals, pumps and valves.
Key cast components include valve and pump bodies and their component parts, plus associated flanges and pipework. Manufacturing processes are similar to the demands of high pressure components for the oil and gas supply chain, largely using 304 type stainless steel, alloy steel, and a limited amount of high-nickel alloys.
But it is not an easy market for new entrants to break into. The quality standards for key nuclear systems are extremely high, and suppliers need to show that they meet high standards in every area of their business operations. Foundries with qualifications and experience in other highly regulated sectors such as aerospace or oil and gas are well placed to make the move into nuclear.
New reactors after Fukushima
Two reactor designs are being considered for the UK: Areva's EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) and Westinghouse's AP1000. Both the EPR and AP1000 are pressurised water reactors (PWRs) of an advanced design (dubbed Generation III+), and offer a range of safety, economic and operational improvements over previous designs. The EPR has a net electrical output of 1600MWe, while the AP1000 has net output of 1150MWe.
Both reactors are the subject of a generic design assessment (GDA) by the Health & Safety Executive. This assessment is intended to support the construction of a number of new nuclear power stations, by approving a standard reactor design which can be built in different locations by different developers. Each build will still require a site-specific license.
The GDA is due to complete in June 2011, but final conclusions will not be made until after the publication of a report on the implications of the Fukushima incident for the UK nuclear industry. The report, by chief inspector of nuclear installations Mike Weightman, is due in September. An interim report published in May concluded that there is no need to curtail the operations of UK nuclear plant, but that lessons should be learnt from the events in Japan to further improve safety.
The ongoing crisis at Fukushima has inevitably raised new questions about the viability and desirability of new nuclear power stations. The EPR and AP1000 are of a much later design than the 40-year-old Fukushima reactors, and include passive safety features which would have avoided the problems caused by the failure of back-up power systems. None of the UK sites are as vulnerable to earthquakes and tidal waves as the Japanese sites. However, the crisis may affect new build programmes in the UK and elsewhere because of political and economic factors.
Three development groups have announced plans to develop new nuclear plant in the UK. All are operated by established energy groups from the UK and mainland Europe. These three groups will act as the Licensees for nuclear new-build, with responsibility for arranging the financing, planning and regulatory approval for new plant.
The UK government is taking a market-led approach to nuclear new-build: all new plant will be wholly financed and constructed by the private sector, with no direct subsidy. This means that each group’s decision to invest will ultimately depend on economic conditions and financial factors such as capital costs.
The furthest advanced of the three developers is a joint venture between EDF Energy and Centrica, called Nuclear New Build Generation Ltd (NNB Gen Co). The venture is proposing to build four Areva EPR reactors: two at Hinkley Point, Somerset, followed by another two at Sizewell, Suffolk.
The first reactor at Hinkley Point is set to be the first new nuclear plant in the UK since Sizewell B in the mid-1990s. Preliminary work is already underway. Peak construction activity is expected around 2014-16, for completion in 2018. The second reactor is expected to complete around two years later.
The second developer is Horizon Nuclear Power, a 50/50 joint venture between E.ON UK and RWE npower. It has acquired land and agreed connections for Wylfa, Anglesey, and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, and is planning to build around 3GWe of new capacity at each site.
Horizon has not yet made a decision on whether it will buy Areva or Westinghouse reactors, but has contracted preliminary work from both vendors. It is likely to make a technology decision following the completion of the generic design assessment, and a final investment decision in 2013.
If all decisions are positive, construction is likely to start at Wylfa in 2013, for completion by late 2019 or early 2020. Development at Oldbury is projected to start in 2019.
The third developer is NuGeneration Ltd (NuGen), a joint venture between GDF Suez, Iberdrola and SSE. It has acquired land at Sellafield, Cumbria, and is intending to build up to 3.6GWe new capacity.
Like Horizon, NuGen is waiting for the results of the generic design assessment before selecting a reactor design. It expects to make a final investment decision around 2015, with a target of any new plant beginning generation around 2023.
Entering the nuclear supply chain
Both the reactor vendors, Areva and Westinghouse, and all three of the development consortia have said that they want to use UK suppliers for UK new build, and are inviting interested manufacturers to make contact. The two vendors have set up online portals for potential suppliers – see the 'Industry Intelligence' section of the Nuclear AMRC website (www.namrc.co.uk) for links to these and other resources.
Procurement for the EDF/Centrica programme is operated by EDF Procurement in France. Current requests are generally for large packages of work or the supply of specialised plant. Smaller suppliers are unlikely to prequalify on their own, and will need to form consortia or supply agreements with higher-tier suppliers.
Horizon Nuclear Power is intending to ask its chosen technology provider – either Areva or Westinghouse – to manage its supply chain, but is currently inviting suppliers to make contact via its website.
The third developer, NuGen has not yet released any information on procurement strategy, but says it is committed to maximising the use of UK-based suppliers and employees.
Top-tier suppliers are also developing their own supply chains for new nuclear. Rolls-Royce, which has signed supply agreements with both Areva and Westinghouse, is currently identifying potential suppliers for its civil nuclear business.
The prospect of entering these supply chains can be daunting. New entrants need to demonstrate the ability to produce specified components or systems to the highest quality standards, on schedule, at a competitive price. And because there's been no new nuclear power station built in the UK for almost a generation, the nuclear sector is terra incognita for most companies.
Quality and accreditation is a particularly confusing area for companies new to the sector. There are two codes governing the design and production of nuclear significant pressurised components: the US ASME code, and the French RCC-M code. The two codes are broadly similar in content, but do require separate accreditation. Areva works to RCC-M, while Westinghouse works to ASME. Generally, UK manufacturers have more experience with the US system than with the French.
These nuclear significant components comprise only a minority part of the complete power station, however. Components for the steam turbine island and all the surrounding systems and infrastructure don't require specific nuclear quality accreditations, but will often require additional standards on top of the appropriate EN codes.
Entering the nuclear supply chain is a significant strategic step. To help manufacturers make the decision and take the necessary steps, the Nuclear AMRC has developed a support programme in association with leading industrial partners. For companies which meet the standards, the Fit For Nuclear (F4N) programme can provide a direct route into the supply chains of the reactor providers and top-tier suppliers.
The F4N programme uses an online questionnaire covering key areas of business operation and performance, to measure company operations against the standards demanded by the industry. If the company is assessed at a high standard but needs to address some areas of its operations, the Nuclear AMRC can then provide tailored support to help fill those gaps.
For qualifying companies, the UK nuclear programme can provide a step up into the global markets. The new-build programme in the UK is relatively advanced compared to programmes in many other countries, so foundries which can meet requirements in the UK will be in a good position to supply new build programmes around the world.
Contact: Tim Chapman, The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC), email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Nuclear AMRC
The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) is a collaboration of academic and industrial partners from across the nuclear manufacturing supply chain. Its mission is to enhance the capabilities and competitiveness of the UK civil nuclear manufacturing industry, develop world-leading manufacturing processes and technologies, and help British manufacturing companies compete for nuclear contracts worldwide.
It is based at a dedicated research factory, currently under construction at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, South Yorkshire. Led by the University of Sheffield, the centre physically sits between the established aerospace-focused AMRC with Boeing and the research facilities of Castings Technology International (Cti). The Nuclear AMRC also has laboratory facilities within the University of Manchester, which focus on how materials perform in the nuclear environment.
The centre works in partnership with its member companies to develop new manufacturing technologies and processes, and help companies develop the technical capability to compete on cost, quality and time to delivery. Key research areas include high-performance machining and finishing of large castings, large-scale joining and cladding, and non-destructive evaluation.
The Nuclear AMRC is also developing a range of support programmes in quality and accreditation, and in skills and training, to help UK manufacturers compete for nuclear contracts.
Research and support activities are determined by a board of member companies. The Centre is still building its membership, but initial members include several companies active in castings. Many resources and services, including the Fit For Nuclear programme, are also open to companies which are not full members.