Stainless Steel’s Role In The Future Of Nuclear Energy

In a post-Fukushima world, everyone in the nuclear industry is searching for ways to make their processes safer. Stainless steel is set to play a critical role in achieving this goal.

A typical nuclear power plant uses stainless steel extensively throughout for both its applications and operations. Austenitic stainless steel (mainly 304L and 316L grades) is preferred as it works best in hot environments where corrosion is standard. Although both austenitic and ferritic stainless steel can be found in a typical reactor, austenitic grades offer significant advantages, including:

  • High corrosion resistance to oxidising media
  • Relatively easy to decontaminate
  • Excellent impact resistance, even in sub-zero temperatures
  • Readily available
  • Easy to weld and fabricate

304L stainless steel is commonly used for process-related applications, while 316L is more suitable for fission storage.

Stainless steel is found in almost every part of a nuclear power station. Pressure tubes, for example, which circulate coolant around the reactor core, are critical components vital to the safe functioning of the plant. They are almost always made from stainless steel. Containment vessels, the largest stainless steel structures in a nuclear plant, have a vital, dual function – they protect the reactor from outside intrusions and, more importantly, protect workers from radiation.

Steeling Ourselves For The Future

Although austenitic stainless steel performs well under extreme temperatures (a fourth-generation nuclear reactor can reach temperatures of up to 1000° Celsius) it can be compromised under sustained neutron attack. Even the “super-alloys” can form helium bubbles and weaken over time under constant exposure to corrosion and neutrons.

The stainless steel industry is rising to the challenge of helping to make nuclear power safer. A new class of ferritic-martensitic stainless steels steel shows encouraging promise against extreme nuclear temperatures, corrosion, and other testing factors.

With the majority of nuclear scientists agreeing that there will be a continuing growth in the demand for clean nuclear energy, stainless steel manufacturers will continue to create new alloys to meet the ever-increasing demand for stronger, more resistant and higher-performing products.

Steelmor has been a leading stockist and manufacturer of stainless steel products in South Africa for over 40 years, and we are well-positioned to continue to do so well into the future. Contact us to see how we can help you with your next project.