A Hartsville nuclear plant will be the first in the country to use a laser for a new form of underwater welding. The process at Robinson Nuclear Generating Station will use the laser to melt small sections of metal in order to create the weld.
Nuclear energy supplier Westinghouse announced last week it had been awarded a contract from Progress Energy to use the Underwater Laser Beam Welding process at the Robinson plant in fall 2013. The work will be mostly preventative maintenance, according to Westinghouse’s laser technology project head David Moore.
The process has been used before in Japan, but never on an American reactor. Nuclear reactor vessels use water as a coolant. Normally the reactor would be shut down and the water drained for these kinds of repairs, but Moore said the ULBW would save time by keeping the water in the tank.
“Using a laser in this really cuts that time about in half,” Moore said, “(Progress) can save quite a bit of money there and get the plant back operating sooner.”
Moore said it would also be beneficial for the plant’s employees. When the water is drained, workers doing the welds are exposed to (small) amounts of radiation. Moore said, while the exposure is limited to a safe level, “If a plant can avoid that altogether, that’s even better.”
The work will be done on Robinson Unit 2 during its scheduled outage in Fall 2013.
Laser welding itself is relatively common in the United States. It is often used by automotive and aviation manufacturers that do large amounts of welding on assembly lines.