Demand Increases for Nuclear Metal Tubing as Higher Energy Consumption Leads to Plans for New Reactors Worldwide14 January 2021
Energy consumption from fossil fuels is expected to decrease due to a stated commitment to lower carbon dioxide emissions and address climate change. This reduction will inevitably increase demand for other energy sources, including nuclear – currently the fastest growing source of energy worldwide. Many countries have stated plans to build new nuclear reactors to cope with demand, including China, India, Russia, UK, and the USA. Others are investing heavily in upgrading existing facilities, including Canada and France.
These predictions and trends are driving a global focus on strengthening the presence of nuclear reactors with plant upgrades and new-build projects currently underway. Long-term suppliers to the nuclear industry of critical components for such power plants are seeing an increased demand for their products. This includes demand for high-performance tubing products, which is rising due to safety concerns and high maintenance costs in nuclear plants, requiring top level components across all areas of operations. Many power plants are being refurbished and improved to ensure they keep up with these essential safety requirements. Quality tubing products help in that effort by enhancing safety, reducing maintenance and delivering cost-efficiencies across the entire facility.
There has also been a significant amount of development in small modular reactors (SMRs), which generally produce between 300 MW and 700 MW. The SMRs provide additional flexibility due to the smaller size and compact footprint with lower up-front capital costs and enhanced safety features. Several of these SMRs being developed would also use the waste from larger reactors to create energy. Many countries around the world are developing SMRs along with upgraded larger reactors to combat climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.
Fine Tubes, a UK manufacturer of precision metal tubes and a key player in the nuclear industry for more than 75 years, is one such supplier of quality metal tubing for the nuclear industry. The company has seen orders for its safety-critical nuclear tubes increase in number across the international nuclear sector. Customers in the EU, US, Canada, India, and China are seeking high quality, precision products that have been engineered to improve the performance of nuclear power plants while delivering tangible cost efficiencies for both new-builds and maintenance projects.
Along with its US-based partner, Superior Tube, Fine Tubes has supplied tubing for many of the world’s most significant energy projects, from the Manhattan Project in 1940 - which saw mankind discover how to control the atom for the first time - to supplying cooling tubes for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2008 as well as the Gemasolar thermosolar plant in Spain.
Fine Tubes and Superior Tube are highly integrated tube mills that process a range of specialty alloys. These include high-performance stainless steel, titanium, zirconium, and nickel alloys with the properties to withstand extreme heat, pressure, and corrosion resistance. These properties are ideal for critical nuclear fuel tubes in nuclear power plants in which the tubes operate in temperatures of 650°C (1020°F) without fail, for five years, non-stop. The safety-critical tubes are custom-engineered down to sizes as small as 0.15mm (0.006”) outer diameter to meet exacting customer specifications.
Precision, integrity and 100% reliability are paramount in critical nuclear applications. Fine Tubes has the expertise to make quality assured tubing complaint with exacting Nadcap and RCC-M accreditation criteria, based on ASME III requirements for the most demanding of nuclear programs.
The nuclear teams at Fine Tubes and Superior Tube have joined forces to create a unified group with a common focus on the growing nuclear sector. Together, they keep a close eye on emerging and mature markets, building relationships with governments and key players in countries where nuclear power continues to gather pace. Both companies are part of AMETEK Specialty Metal Products (SMP), a division with five manufacturing sites in the USA and UK that all specialize in custom-made, high-performance metals.
According to Kevin Heaphy, Director Defense and Nuclear Products at AMETEK Specialty Metal Products, it is this partnership and joint vision that is helping both companies stay at the forefront of nuclear development around the world.
“The philosophy that both Fine Tubes and Superior Tube have when it comes to their work in the nuclear sector is not based on the pursuit of short-term transactional relationships, but on shared experience and long-term partnerships and co-operation,” Heaphy said. “Our metallurgical expertise and nuclear pedigree are both very well-proven, with our precision tubing operating in major reactors across the globe.”
He continued: “As the world wakes up more and more to the crucial importance of preserving fossil fuels and finding new and sustainable ways to provide the energy demanded by a growing global population, nuclear power is rapidly taking centre stage. We are proud that our talented engineering and manufacturing teams are well-equipped and passionately driven to help fulfil this demand in the nuclear sector with our precision-engineered, specialty alloy metal tubes.”
Fine Tubes’ tubing products are used in several critical nuclear power plant applications, including: primary and field instrumentation, cladding tubes, fuel cans, control rod drive mechanisms, and grid sleeves. They are also critical to flux thimble guide tubes, flux detectors, and other fuel assembly components.
Additionally, precision metal strip and foil products manufactured by Fine Tubes’ fellow AMETEK SMP business units, AMETEK Wallingford and Hamilton Precision Metals, are also used in the nuclear sector. Applications include stainless steel braising foils in the fuel bundle assembly of CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactors and zirconium strip used in pressurized water reactors in the fuel assembly.
AMETEK SMP’s atomized metal powder and clad plate facility in Pennsylvania, USA, supplies the nuclear sector with roll bonded clad plate. Clad plate is produced in corrosion resistant stainless steel and nickel-based alloys, in thicknesses up to one inch (25.4mm) and widths up to 96 inches (2438.4mm).
Fine Tubes’ tubular products are proving just as indispensable in other renewable energy sectors. In the thermal power arena, Fine Tubes supplies hollow conductors and cooling tubes for water-cooled or helium/hydrogen-cooled turbine generators used in 660 MW or above supercritical thermal power plants, as well as 1,000 MW or above ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants.
The solar power sector also relies on Fine Tubes for tubing solutions for use in Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology inside solar tower as well as solar thermal power plants. Solar power applications also include control and instrumentation, heat collectors, heat exchanger, super heaters, and condensers, making them a ubiquitous presence in this exciting and demanding sector.
As the demand for nuclear-grade metal tubing increases, Fine Tubes is perfectly placed to match these growing requirements with its proven nuclear engineering expertise and close working relationships with the world’s major nuclear reactor suppliers.