With recent success in lowering the UK’s damaging carbon emissions, many equate improvements to the development of new nuclear power stations. Institutes like ‘Engineering the Future’ and ‘The Welding Institute’ aim to learn from previous nuclear construction projects to provide guidance surrounding the dynamic requirements of the nuclear sector. With the aim to improve current welding practices within the nuclear construction industry, the main recommendations suggest a need for improvements in the knowledge sharing processes, especially calling for a ‘top-down’ solution to improve practices regarding adopting new welding technology, improving current welding techniques and maintaining welding quality.
This article will discuss the issues raised in the ‘Nuclear Construction Lessons Learned’ report and the solutions proposed to improve welding within nuclear construction projects.
The largest issue raised in the report was the need for improvement in welding quality assurance, especially important as welding is an essential process in the construction and safe operation of nuclear power plants. With a need for both onsite and offsite fabrications, nuclear construction projects have a range of welding requirements including pressure vessels, liners, cable trays and pipework. For example, a recent nuclear construction project with approximately 200km of pipework required 30,00 welds in the nuclear island alone. With new nuclear constructions expected to have a build life of at least 60 years, welders need to be confident in the quality and integrity of welds.
As quality assurance checks are only performed at the end of projects, this can result in expensive and time–consuming repair tasks. To avoid this, a UK tiered welding quality management system had been suggested which adapts current standards like ASME and RCC-M from other industries and creates a nuclear construction welding equivalent. The ISO 9000 family of standards were created to implement a consensus for good quality management practices; ISO 3834 framework has supported these standards to fill in gaps surrounding welding quality.
To provide high-quality welds and safe operation for nuclear construction projects, it is important that welding skills requirements are met and personnel is trained and competent at all stages of the supply chain. In recent years, there has been a significant decrease in the number of high integrity welders working in the nuclear industry; this has been equated to both retirement and movement to competing sectors. In order to reverse this skills deficit, specialised training programmes have been developed by The Welding Institute for the nuclear construction sector. An initiative has also been created to encourage apprenticeships for trainee welders, helping to balance those workers lost through retirement. It is also vital to create a skills requirements portfolio for nuclear welders which is used throughout the industry; this will help to identify training courses and certifications needed to be competent within nuclear welding roles.
Welding equipment and processes are being continuously changed and improved to incorporate the latest innovation. However, misunderstanding surrounding new welding technology can result in additional inspection and repair work. Incorporating new welding technology can help improve quality and reliability of welding joints, improved productivity and efficiency and an overall reduction in costs. Improving communications throughout the site can help educate on the best practices to aid technology adoption. In an effort to meet tight deadlines, the process of reviewing and incorporating new techniques in often overlooked, meaning technology is not adopted equally across the nuclear sector. Successful deployment of new welding technologies has resulted in an increase in right-first-time manufacturing for nuclear build projects.
Orbital Fabrications continues to deliver high-quality specialist welding services including orbital welding, TIG welding and micro TIG welding. Based in Cambridge, its team of experts provide fabrication engineering solutions to a range of clients from the pharmaceutical, nuclear and medical sectors. With over 25 years’ of experience, Orbital Fabrication provides turnkey design, helium leak testing and a range of machining services.
Showing continuous investment in the latest welding innovation and staff training, Orbital Fabrications has become an established welding specialist, adhering to the latest industry standards. Orbital Fabrications has recently expanded its St. Ives facilities, growing its cleanroom services to include four Class 6 cleanroom workstations and an additional workstation specified to Class 5 cleanroom standards.
To speak to a member of the Orbital Fabrication’s team about their welding services, call on 01480 464 066 or contact us here.