Increasing demand for action on climate change has made clean energy a top priority worldwide. And as the call for renewables like solar and wind energy increases, interest in nuclear power has likewise emerged as part of the solution. Nuclear power plants—traditionally designed to offer 25 to 40 years of service life—account for about 10% of global electricity. Recently, the design and technologies for new reactors have begun to simplify nuclear power generation with smaller units and lower costs.
This article will discuss the future of nuclear power and recent advances in reactor technologies. We’ll also consider how automated welding technologies like orbital welding can benefit upcoming nuclear power projects.
How New Developments Help To Answer, What Is the Future of Nuclear Power?
New and advanced reactor technologies aim to increase global nuclear power usage while making it safer and more accessible. Demand for small and medium nuclear reactors is growing—including thorium-fueled reactors that bring greater efficiency to the power-generation process.
Small Modular Reactor
Small modular reactors (SMR) are typically designed to produce an electrical power output of up to 300MWe. These modular reactors are conveniently designed and fabricated on the factory floor and later installed onsite. Compared to the design and construction of conventional fission reactors, SMR construction offers a more economical and efficient alternative.
Additionally, their smaller size and capacity provide these reactors with another advantage. In case of malfunction, passive safety systems can be engaged to control the event without manual intervention. These design and functionality features enable countries with less nuclear power experience to focus on smaller grids while maintaining the fabrication quality obtained through modularity.
Current SMR designs include a variety of molten salt reactors or thorium-fueled reactors.
Molten Salt Reactor
The molten salt reactor (MSR) typically uses a molten fluoride salt mixture as the primary coolant in the nuclear reactor. These reactors offer enhanced safety and convenience compared to conventional reactors.
- Unlike fuel rod tubes to contain the gases emitted during fission, MSRs redirect the gases to be absorbed into the molten salt.
- In the case of an emergency, fuel can be drained from the core to prevent hazardous explosions.
Because these reactors do not require fuel rods and can operate at high temperatures, power generation efficiency can be maintained by dialing down the size and expenses incurred during the fabrication of the reactor.
However, such operating conditions also create challenges during processes like welding, where the fabricated component may be prone to high-temperature or pressure-induced failure. Similarly, potential corrosion risks arise due to the chemical composition of the hot salts that can undergo nuclear transmutation from neutron radiation damaging the reactor’s components.
The thorium-fueled reactor has also become a point of interest because of its advantages over conventional uranium-fueled reactors. As a breeder reactor using a widely available nuclear fuel, this reactor type has been seen as an effective alternative capable of producing less nuclear waste for long-term energy production. While the thorium fuel cycle can be implemented in a range of reactor types—including MSRs, boiling water reactors (BWRs), fast neutron reactor (FNRs), or pressurized water reactors (PWRs)—the process can be slow and the extensive fabrication and reprocessing may increase the cost of the operation.
Embracing Automated Welding to Develop Modern Nuclear Reactors
While the global response to the question, “What is the future of nuclear power?” seems to look favorably on building and deploying these new nuclear reactor types, concern remains focused on quality and safety assurance. Although strict standards are in place, meeting them can be difficult during fabrication phases like welding. To make sure welds meet the extreme temperature and pressure requirements while ensuring safety and cost-efficiency, the nuclear industry can leverage the benefits of automated welding systems such as orbital welding.
Nuclear welding involves the fabrication of components that include pressure vessels, pipes, steam generators, storage tanks, and more. Along with the chosen material, nuclear reactor type and welding practice will significantly influence the mechanical strength of the weld joint. Additional challenges like corrosion and embrittlement resulting from chemical reactions or incompatible welding also persist. Automated orbital welding can play a critical role in addressing these challenges. Orbital welding facilitates:
- Welding of materials including stainless steel or titanium that are widely used in nuclear plant components.
- Control and optimization of weld parameters to ensure high-spec welding with remote weld monitoring capability.
- Safety and protection of operators from harmful radiation.
- Elimination of weld errors that can result in defects like cracking, corrosion, or embrittlement in critical joints.
AMI provides a wide range of nuclear welding and monitoring options, including custom weld heads such as Model 34, to improve weld control and precision for nuclear welding applications through orbital welding. With heightened speed, precision, and control, automated welding processes can help us achieve a safe and cost-effective future for nuclear power.
Arc Machines, Inc., an industry leader in high-tech nuclear welding solutions, provides advanced orbital weld heads and welding machines to help you achieve high-quality results for your nuclear welding application. For inquiries regarding products, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For service inquiries, contact email@example.com. Arc Machines welcomes the opportunity to discuss your specific needs. Contact us to arrange a meeting.