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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 gravesb ( 967413 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:03AM (#22749916) Homepage
    This sounds like an area where American metal working could enjoy some sort of renaissance. I wonder what the start-up costs for such an endeavor are, what the future growth and profit margins are, and where such competency could be applied outside of reactors and and swords. But, with low skill metal working being outsourced, such specialized skills might be a place for America to specialize, especially as the dollar continues to fall.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:14AM (#22750046)
    I would think that, although not as time consuming to build as a factory for say microchips, building a high quality factory that can produce high grade components generally takes a lot of time (especially if you have to design it from scratch). When those metal components need to be the size of houses, it takes even more time.

    For comparison the new British Airways terminal in London took 20 years from planning to completion.

    Sure it's "just a time game", but so is the need for alternative power sources.
  • Candu (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:16AM (#22750068)
    As I understand it CANDU reactors don't even use a pressure vessel as such, but instead uses an assembly of pressurized tubes. One for each fuel bundle. This design was chosen precisely because it eliminated the need for this type of technological bottleneck and it is still in use today. I think tfa neglects to mention that there are several reactor designs that aren't dependent on this particular company.
  • Re:4 per year (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Foolicious ( 895952 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:19AM (#22750096)

    However, the problem is China and its vast natural resources.
    I honestly don't know about China's natural resources, but they seem to be consuming so much that they need to import steel and metals in scrap form from the US like gangbusters. I think this is because it's currently cheaper to refine it from scrap than mine it, but at this point China's resources, whether vast or otherwise, aren't as big of a sticking point as some people would think. Of course, their labor -- now that's definitely a cheaper pasture!
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:23AM (#22750134)
    I am puzzled. In last thirty years, our country in the heart of Europe has independently manufactured about twenty five complete reactor units. And we're not exactly the pinnacle of the world's engineering, even though compared to our neighbours, we might be pretty good. I would expect USA and other western countries having much more resources than us to be more independent in this respect. Now it may be that the qualiry criteria have been tightened up a little, but still, USA, for example, is a huge country. Don't tell me that a country capable of delivering people to Moon and space probes to the outer Solar system can't manufacture even a single bloody reactor vessel.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:33AM (#22750246)
    They might be busy: []

    (and I did hesitate to link to Popular Mechanics, as they are a bit rah rah patriotic for this here, but I doubt very much that they are outright lying)
  • Change the design (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @09:35AM (#22750280) Homepage
    I work reasonably closely with manufacturers of all sorts of marine equipment. Lifeboat davits, cranes, winches, diesel engines, etc. The most common thing they do when they can't source a part is change the design. This encourages innovation, and usually the new design is safer than the old one anyway. If you're waiting on a part for 2+ years for a crane, are you going to wait and see if someone else starts manufacturing them? No. You're going to change that design (maybe 6 months, probably less) and build it.

    Nuclear engineering may be a lot different since everyone wants to stick with what has worked in the past, but can't getting the parts to build something usually results in a new design in my experience.
  • Re:4 per year (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PONA-Boy ( 159659 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:03AM (#22750542)

    If they are genuine samurai swords, they can't be exported
    That is incorrect. Nihonto, swords MADE in Japan can be exported following specific procedures as outlined HERE []. It is more difficult, I've found, to IMPORT a sword into Japan. This is especially true if you are importing Nihonto.

    The "practically worthless" swords, from a Japanese perspective, would be anything NOT made in Japan. Most of the cheap wallhangers that you see out there in the marketplace are from China, believe it or not.

  • Doesn't add up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:04AM (#22750550)
    If it takes three weeks to forge one vessel, why can they only produce four vessels per year?

    Also, the forging is described as a cylinder, which leaves the top and bottom of the pressure vessel. How do you weld 30 cm thick steel? ISTR reading about submarine construction (which use a pressure hull maybe a few cm thick) where welding the hull sections had to take place at night because daytime operations would overload the local power grid. These vessels would be even more difficult to weld correctly.
  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:06AM (#22750568) Homepage
    , they are relatively "clean", and employ lots of white collar/upper middle class workers. Most communities were glad to have them built nearby. Especially, when they were helping "beat those commies to the moon".

    A heavy steel forging operation, OTOH, would face opposition because of the smokestack emissions, and the ingrained idea that we don't need workers who actually MAKE anything anymore, when we can base our entire economy on shuffling money around and suing each other.
  • by discogravy ( 455376 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:24AM (#22750766) Homepage
    this is ha-ha-only-serious in a way; the godzilla movies serve as a kind of metric for japanese societal attitudes towards nuclear power. immediately post-war, gojira is a monster created by radiation that comes and terrorizes tokyo but within 20 years or so, he's japan's protector from outside alien monsters (mothra, gamera, etc) and is japan's big scaly mascot (with annoying "go-get-'em-pop!" godzilla-baby, godzuki.)
  • Re:Candu (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cecil ( 37810 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:40AM (#22750902) Homepage
    Partially, I think the idea was that they could sell this reactor to other countries without the risk of nuclear proliferation associated with enriched uranium, although the relatively difficulty of attaining enriched uranium was also a factor I think it had more to do with the proliferation risks than the actual sourcing of the material. This was unfortunately justified when India used their Canadian/US-built CIRUS research reactor to create enough plutonium for their first nuclear bomb []. Being strongly against nuclear weapons in any form, Canadians generally felt pretty betrayed by this, and the concept behind the CANDU reactor was cemented.
  • Re:4 per year (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:50AM (#22750990)
    It is cheaper for now. China's got problems, possibly big problems. They got huge pollution problems, and they've got run away inflation, plus the standard of living is rising in the cities. Effectively the cost advantage of "Made in China" is rapidly eroding. Some of the cheap manufacturers are now looking to relocate to different Asian countries where the labour costs are now lower than China.
  • Re:Hm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rcw-home ( 122017 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:51AM (#22751004)
    If you really need a heavy sword, use a little Tungsten filler. It's 19.25 g/cc, has a high tensile strength, and makes steel stronger as an alloy. It lost out to DU because it typically has to be imported from China (and the US wanted to use the DU, not store it indefinately). DU is also pyrophoric.
  • Background info (Score:3, Interesting)

    by doctor_no ( 214917 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @10:53AM (#22751030)
    They have tours of Japan Steel Work's sword factories, following link has some pictures: []

    An older example of the swords they make (from the Russo-Japanese war): []

    The company also uses sword-making as a source of research that they apply to other field's of forging []
  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @11:22AM (#22751356) Journal
    Actually, there might be a few plants not in commission but that have never been destroyed that could ease the cost of going this route. And a couple of billion dollars isn't all that much to the type of people who wold fund something like this. It would probably a couple investment groups and so on. Keep in mind, the 100 million is only a down payment. The final product will costs more. But EPA regulations and unions wold probably still make it a non-starter in the US.
  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @12:33PM (#22752150)
    Just a note: But you did realize that the natural background radiation in that part of the world is in some places several times over the safe legal limit in all contries that have such a law. If fact one of the hotest places is in nothrern Iraq/ Iran.
  • by doom ( 14564 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2008 @03:58PM (#22754258) Homepage Journal

    Doing this in a way that's no weaker than the surrounding material is hard.

    If I may pick a nit here, if I understand this right, on average a weld will be stronger than the surrounding metal, the difficulty lies in being certain that that's the case for all of your welds. The problem isn't getting the strength up, but getting the variation down -- and as you point out earlier, non-destructive inspection of welds is a tough problem.

    This is the reason that aircraft are still assembled using bolts and rivets -- in theory you could make a lighter aircraft using welds, but there isn't any way to be certain that any particular weld was done right, so we usually stick with a slightly inferior, but more dependable way of doing it.

    (Or at least that was the case some years back... it would seem like there must be some way of cracking this problem.)

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman