Research Being Done on Custom Alloys to Improve Safety of Nuclear Reactors

When an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, causing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to experience full meltdowns at three reactors, the first concern, of course, was the health and safety of those impacted by the disaster. Now, companies like Sophisticated Alloys are helping to improve materials used in nuclear reactors. This should improve the performance of the reactors and limit the fallout of  incidents such as the one experienced in Japan.

The purity of steels used in applications such as nuclear reactors has a huge impact in the safety of plant operations, and Sophisticated Alloys has worked with a number of customers over the years to develop high purity steels. One of the problems with impurities in steels used in nuclear reactors is that the steel itself can become radioactive when exposed to the environment of the reactor.

Our work is aimed at removing such impurities that normally exist in steels.  Raw material selection is key in making the materials we provide for this research. We select only the highest purity of each of the steel components and then analyze these materials to verify their purity. Glow Discharge Mass Spectrometry (GDMS) is used to analyze all trace and ultra-trace elemental constituents in the finished steel to be sure it meets specifications before it will be certified.

Another way impurities can be introduced into the steel is through incidental contact during processing.  That’s why the cleanliness of our vessels is imperative and is stressed in all of our processes.

In addition, we’re also helping government labs develop different materials to coat the nuclear fuel rods in the reactors. Radioactive emissions result from the explosions of hydrogen gas that build up inside the reactors. The hydrogen buildup is the result of hot steam coming in contact with overheated rods. The new rod coatings are intended to protect nuclear fuel while reducing the risk of hydrogen production.

We pride ourselves on the high purity of our materials, and we realize safety is of utmost importance for every industry. But, knowing the custom alloys we are helping to develop can be a part of something that can make an impact on thousands, if not millions, of lives, makes this work very rewarding.

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