Forging Investments Coincide with Plans for Nuclear Power Generating Capacity

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Although the forging presses to make parts for nuclear reactors can and do cater to other industries, the requirements for nuclear are not only unusual in terms of size but also in terms of the highest most exacting quality standards. Consequently the number of forging plants that currently carry the ASME N stamp accreditation are limited although as interest in nuclear power plants has grown, particularly in Asia, the number of plants with the capability is also growing. This will be good news not just for the nuclear industry which has inevitably been held hostage to the few suppliers with the relevant capability but it also has benefits for the turbine, pressure vessel, and oil and gas markets which occasionally have the need for such large forgings.

So what are the requirements for forging presses to be suitable for this kind of work, apart from stringent quality standards?

Westinghouse says that the minimum requirement for making the largest AP1000 reactor components is a 15,000 ton press taking 350 ton ingots. Westinghouse prefers to build the pressure vessel closure head and three turbine parts as integral single products, in which case steel ingots of 500-600 tons may be required. But it is possible to use split forgings which are welded together, although these welds then need checking throughout the life of the plant. Presently, Westinghouse only has Japan Steel Works approved to make these parts, and JSW claim to have 80% of the world market for large nuclear forgings. Other Japanese corporations are investing heavily in new capabilities. Both Mitsubishi and IHI Corporation with cross shareholdings in Toshiba and Westinghouse are likely to be significant players by the early part of the next decade.

Traditionally the mill capabilities and exacting standards have meant this market has been dominated by major Japanese, French and UK forge masters. The US capability has shrunk from some 440 facilities with the requisite approval in the 1980’s to half that now but a new $100m facility is due to come on stream next year in Louisiana to make nuclear forgings, but is not likely to be able to make the largest forgings. France’s Areva has partnered with Northrop Grumman in setting up a $360m facility to make components both for naval nuclear applications and to ease Areva’s Chalon-St Marcel plant in France.

The real news for the next decade and beyond will be the capabilities added in China, India and Russia. As we covered in a previous post all of these markets have ambitious domestic nuclear power production plans and are investing heavily in the equipment to make the capital equipment necessary to realize them. China First Heavy Industries (CFHI) claims to have the largest forging press at 15,000 tons commissioned in 2006 and is investing a further $337m to raise production to 240,000 tons per year. Both CFHI and Harbin Boiler Co have extensive experience domestically and the required international approvals to start bidding for work under license from Westinghouse and Mitsubishi.

India Larsen & Toubro is investing heavily in production facilities in collaboration with France’s Areva and holds the required international accreditation to manufacture large forgings for both the domestic and international markets.

Working with Europe’s largest installed facilities Russia’s main reactor component supplier, OMZ’s Komplekt-Atom-Izhora, is doubling the production of large forgings so as to be able to manufacture three or four pressure vessels per year from 2011.

As befits their status as first world producers of a wide range of heavy engineering products, the Koreans are now making a bid to develop the world’s largest forging press. Doosan Heavy Industries is currently undertaking a major investment in casting and forging capacity, including a 17,000 ton forging press which will come on line in about 2010. Doosan has received about $700 million worth of contracts from Westinghouse since May 2008 for nuclear reactors and other equipment.  It also has an agreement with IHI which is related to expanding production of heavy components for applications in the Chinese market.  It expects to win a record $9.4 billion of orders in 2008, with about 60% coming from overseas.

So it would seem that though nuclear power only rarely appears on the radar screens of the general public, the industries supplying are making massive investments to meet current and forecast demand. It will be interesting to see to what extent a new US administration supports the growth of such capability in the home market.

–Stuart Burns

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