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Power Technology

Samurai-Sword Maker May Cool Nuclear Revival 317

NobleSavage sends a story from Bloomberg about Japan Steel Works Ltd., a company that still makes Samurai swords, and how it may control the fate of the global nuclear-energy renaissance. "There stands the only plant in the world, a survivor of Allied bombing in World War II, capable of producing the central part of a nuclear reactor's containment vessel in a single piece, reducing the risk of a radiation leak. Utilities that won't need the equipment for years are making $100 million down payments now on components Japan Steel makes from 600-ton ingots. Each year the Tokyo-based company can turn out just four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor. Even after it doubles capacity in the next two years, there won't be enough production to meet building plans."
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Samurai-Sword Maker May Cool Nuclear Revival

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  • by rjamestaylor ( 117847 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:03AM (#22749922) Journal
    These story elements (Japan, WWII, Allied bombing and nuclear technology) usually have a different theme than protecting the world from the hazards of nuclear fission gone awry.

    +1 Ironic
  • by Tom90deg ( 1190691 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:04AM (#22749924) Homepage
    But can't you make more places to build them? I realize that you may need specific hardware to forge this stuff out of one piece of steel, but seems to me that if you really needed them, you could make more than one factory.
  • Re:4 per year (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BosstonesOwn ( 794949 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:20AM (#22750106)
    Major questions , with the track record as of late from China would you trust a major piece of a nuclear puzzle to them ? I mean it really. And with Korea , I don't know if I would trust them as well.

    The Japanese firms for steel have a really good reputation for forging some of the best parts in the world. Even the Spaniards and Americans can not produce such quality steel.

    I don't think I would want to be near a Chinese forged reactor core any time in my life. QC does not seem to be their strong point.
  • by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:25AM (#22750162)
    There weren't any factories that built Apollo's when we decided to go to the moon but somehow we managed.

    I think someone will be on top of this problem when the money is there.
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:32AM (#22750230) Homepage

    Nuclear fission is a poor solution anyway. Inherent safety problems, limited fuel supply (on the order of a century or two at most, perhaps much less), security concerns (both weapons technology proliferation and terrorist targeting concerns), unsolved waste disposal problems - the only reason this gets the support it does is because the military-industrial complex loves nuclear technologies, and some technical types who grew up on science fiction have a romantic attachment to Harassing the Power of the Atom.

    We should be devoting our resources to efficiency, renewables (including orbital photovoltaic), accelerator-based thorium reactors [], and fusion. Building new fission reactors is a distraction from the real solutions.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:32AM (#22750236) Journal
    If there are multiple companies putting up $100M a pop for future production, I'd say there ought to be a solid business model in there somewhere.
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:50AM (#22750424) Homepage

    This sounds like an area where American metal working could enjoy some sort of renaissance.

    How? We have no industrial base anymore. It's the "information age", we're a "service economy", remember? Actually making steel is, like, so 1970s.

    U.S. Steel [] now makes about as much steel now as it did in 1902. The once-mighty Bethlehem Steel []? Gone. National Steel []? Kaput.

    We traded our ability to make stuff, for our ability to by cheap imports at Wal*Mart.

  • And if it takes a century to develop the replacement technology, do we freeze in the meantime?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:59AM (#22750514)
    I see a market need for the "service" of turning iron ore into 600-ton ingots.
  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:15AM (#22750674)
    Check out your neighbors' back yards. Based on even that superficial check, how many of them would you trust to maintain a small nuclear power plant?
  • by QuantumPion ( 805098 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:20AM (#22750726)
    New nuclear building will not grind to a halt, but it may be slowed/delayed a few years until more of these factories come online. And when the decision makers are trying to decide what kind of power plant to build to meet energy needs, a 2 year delay for the queue to get your pressure vessel because China has dibs on the next 40 may lead you to conventional sources (gas/coal/etc).
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:55AM (#22751042)
    On the other hand, the steel that U.S. Steel makes now is high quality, special purpose alloys, and Alcoa is refining quite a bit more aluminum than they were in 1902 and Caterpillar is doing 'OK' globally. No one scoffs at Intel chips, and they are among the most intensely manufactured objects in existence.

    It really doesn't matter where cheap steel is coming from; it isn't particularly profitable to make, and it is the easiest capacity to add, so why should anybody be surprised that American companies aren't trying to compete with cheaper foreign labor for the title of biggest steel company?
  • by ShinmaWa ( 449201 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:57AM (#22751062)
    To call Japan Steel Works [] a "sword maker" is like referring to Microsoft as "that company that makes Minesweeper". Japan Steel Works is a very large steel company that makes a very wide variety of products (of which swords are a very, very small part) and did $2 billion worth of sales in 2007 alone.

    I mean seriously, Slashdot, isn't this story cool enough without adding misleading sensationalist crap onto it?
  • by es330td ( 964170 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @11:11AM (#22751210)

    The certification process probably makes the design safer, but it also disincentives innovation in ways that would horrify someone used to the rapid pace of consumer electronics
    This is a HUGE problem we have in General Aviation. A plane like a Cessna 310 twin engine airplane first flew in 1953 with engines that are extremely inefficient and underpowered relative to today's engines. Everybody (pilot, owner, passengers, world) would be better served by replacing the original engines with some that are of newer design that are safer, more powerful and burn less fuel, but since the plane was certified by the FAA in a particular configuration that is how it has to stay. Newer models can be produced but retrofitting is not looked upon kindly by the people who get to say whether or not a plane may leave the ground.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @11:28AM (#22751440) Journal

    Until you actually read the article and see that your cheap foreign labour is in Japan? Japan hasn't been cheap in decades.

    Oh and where are those Intel chips actually produced?

    Read up on Henry Ford and exactly why he allowed his factory workers special loans to buy the cars they produced. If a rabid capatalist understood, why don't you?

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @11:49AM (#22751688)
    Understand what? That we haven't lost our industrial base? That we have a huge export economy?

    (and Alcoa and Intel make stuff all over the world; this doesn't change the fact that they have significant production operations in the United States)

    I'm wasn't responding to the lamentation that the U.S. is apparently incapable of producing one of these giant forgings, I was responding to the ridiculous idea that all the economic activity of whatever golden age of American industry up and disappeared. It didn't disappear, it shifted to other activity, and when you count things up, there is more industry here than there was 25 or 50 years ago. So yes, as a percentage of our overall economy, heavy industry has dropped, but the economy has grown so much that the actual amount of heavy industry has increased, and instead of just paying people to work in steel mills, we can pay them to do silly things like program computers.

    And the U.S. is actually a pretty popular place to do heavy industry. We are politically stable, have cheap, available energy(Coal!) and a good portion of the workforce is highly skilled. We certainly don't have a monopoly on any of those things, but it's hard to argue that we should.
  • Re:Hm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by keineobachtubersie ( 1244154 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @12:38PM (#22752214)
    "The evidence suggests you're just being an arrogant idiot. Slinging insults is for the weak minded..."

    Thanks, I enjoyed that.
  • by GiMP ( 10923 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @02:16PM (#22753238)
    There isn't a market in the USA for nuclear reactors, the last one was built in the 1970's, our labor is too expensive, and from what I understand, our steel industry is suffering. Being from Pennsylvania, I personally know people who were laid-off from steel mills. No, I'm really not surprised that we're not masters of manufacturing.

    As others have said, the USA is a place of ideas. Intellectual property and services are our business. It is just a shame that it won't last forever. We are now in a global market place where services and IP can be created and hosted anywhere in the world, for anyone in the world. I fear that the countries with less restrictive laws will become data havens and will overtake the USA in these markets. When that happens, we won't have manufacturing, IP, or services... I guess there is always litigation, time to buy stock in SCO!

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan