SA welding tech to keep a lid on UK nuclear waste

Hi-tech welding developer K-TIG will design a system to manufacture more than 15,000 storage containers to help clean up nuclear waste in the United Kingdom leftover from the Cold War arms race.

Sep 20, 2021, updated Sep 20, 2021
K-TIG's turnkey robotic welding cell will be used to fabricate nuclear waste containers in the UK.

K-TIG's turnkey robotic welding cell will be used to fabricate nuclear waste containers in the UK.

The Mile End South company will partner with the UK’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) to design, develop and supply a turnkey robotic welding cell to fabricate nuclear waste containers.

The containers are critical to the successful and safe decommissioning of the Sellafield site on the coast of Cumbria, England, which was built in the 1940s to provide nuclear material for weapons during the Cold War arms race.

Automated robotic fabrication utilising K-TIG’s welding technology is seen to meet the exact quality standards required.

K-TIG’s high-speed precision technology, originally developed by the CSIRO, welds up to 100 times faster than traditional TIG welding, achieving full penetration in a single pass in materials up to 16mm in thickness and typically operates at twice the speed of plasma welding.

The company recently announced a UK expansion and a distribution deal with British automated welding and robotics manufacturer Key Plant Automation.

Its latest announcement this week is also an important step in K-TIG’s strategy to play an integral role in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities worldwide.

Managing director Adrian Smith said the MOU with Nuclear AMRC was further global recognition that K-TIG’s homegrown technology was industry-leading and widely trusted.

“This is an important milestone in K-TIG’s plans to help countries across the globe decommission nuclear power facilities,” he said.

“We are demonstrating our sovereign expertise in nuclear waste storage. We are an Australian company that has developed cutting-edge technology in South Australia that is part of the solution to a problem many countries face.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the cleaning up of and the waste management from 17 of the UK’s earliest nuclear sites.

The facilities include research sites used during the development of the nuclear industry; facilities that once produced nuclear materials for weapons; the UK’s first generation of nuclear power stations; and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities and fuel fabrication plants.

About 15,000 stainless steel boxes, three metres per side,  are expected to be needed by Sellafield as part of its $2.8 billion (£1.5 Billion) procurement plan currently scheduled to commence in 2023 or 2024.

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K-TIG will fund the development of the welding cell and make it available to the Nuclear AMRC for its demonstration facility.

The company will maintain all commercialisation rights to the cell and make it available to the global nuclear waste containment fabrication industry.

K-TIG will also become a direct player in the fabrication of nuclear waste containers in its own right, either through joint venture initiatives or suitable value-accretive acquisition.

“Storing nuclear waste requires containers which must maintain integrity for a minimum of 150 years whilst aiming for 500 years integrity,” Smith said.

“K-TIG technology will provide that through consistently repeatable high-quality welds and integration of cutting-edge real-time quality inspection capabilities, such as ultrasonic and acoustic sensors.

“We have the skills and capabilities in Australia to provide a solution to this global issue.

According to the International Energy Agency, about 200 commercial reactors are to be shut down between 2020 and 2040.  Across the globe, nuclear facilities are ageing with two-thirds of reactors 30 years or older.

“Numerous European firms have been looking to enter the nuclear waste storage solution market,” Smith said.

“However, in this highly competitive and regulated sector, K-TIG leads the competition with exacting quality standards and integration of innovative technology to provide the optimal solution.”

The publicly-listed company also expanded into the US last year.

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