ZIRCONIUM CLADDING IS THE REACTOR’S PRIMARY SAFETY BARRIER
AREVA has renowned experience in the fabrication of zirconium and zirconium alloys, and supplies most of the world’s major nuclear operators. Thus, AREVA is the world leader in the zirconium production for the nuclear applications, with 30% of market shares for thimble tubes and 35% for the zirconium sponges.
Zirconium is the leading material for nuclear fuel assemblies used in light water reactors (PWRs and BWRs) because it is transparent to neutrons, it has good temperature performance, and it withstands corrosion. Zirconium alloys are used for the main mechanical components of nuclear fuel assemblies. An assembly consists of fuel rods consisting of metal cladding in zirconium alloy and containing nuclear fuel pellets. The rods themselves are held in place in a metal structure composed of grids and guide tubes made out of zirconium alloy.
Plants specialized in zirconium metallurgy
AREVA controls every aspect of zirconium metallurgy, from ore extraction to the manufacturing of zirconium alloy components, including flat products, bars and tubes used in the fabrication of nuclear fuel. Its industrial activities are distributed on five production sites in France, Jarrie (Isère), Ugine (Savoy), Montreuil-Juigné (Maine-et-Loire), Paimboeuf (Loire-Atlantique) and Rugles (Eure) as well as the joint ventures in China en Japan.
This activity draws on vast expertise in chemical and metallurgical processes:
- Processes chemical extraction and pyrométallurgie,
- Arc welding, extrusion, forging, and lamination,
- Heat treatment,
- Non-destructive testing.
Each plant is specialized in one aspect of the metallurgy or zirconium shaping:
Zirconium sponge and semi-finished products
- The plant in Jarrie (Isère) products zirconium sponges through chemical operations and extractible metallurgical processes.
- The plant in Ugine (Savoie) manufactures zirconium alloys from sponges coming from Jarrie, recycled zirconium products and added elements. These material are then melted, forged then shaped into flat products called largets, bars, cladding sketches.
The semi-finished products are then delivered to other facilities to be processed into tubing, slab and flat band. Ugine is also the site of The Research Center of the Zirconium division , renowned for its research and development activities in alloys.
- The plant in Rugles (Eure) uses zirconium slabs delivered by Ugine. Slabs are rolled into coils and strips, through a hot and cold rolling process.
These flat products are used for manufacturing fuel assembly components, for PWR and BWR reactors.
Fuel cladding and structural tubes
- The plant in Montreuil-Juigné (Maine-et-Loire) produces, through rolling processes, cladding and structural tubes intended to tubes manufacturers.
The plant in Paimbœuf (Loire-Atlantique), from Montreuil-Juigné cladding tubes, produces structural tubes for PWR and BWR reactors worldwide.
Paimboeuf plant also rolls zirconium bars intended for end caps, in order to make the fuel rod watertight.
AN INTERNATIONAL FOOTPRINT
To meet growing worldwide demand, the Zirconium Division created two joint ventures.
On November 2, 2010, AREVA and CNNC created CNNC AREVA Shanghai Tubing Co Ltd (CAST).
CAST manufactures and markets zirconium tubes used in the fabrication of fuel assemblies for Chinese utilities. This partnership is born of a shared commitment by AREVA and CNNC to long-term industrial cooperation.
For CNNC, the major interest of this joint venture lies in the security of zirconium tube supply to its two nuclear fuel fabrication plants. For AREVA’s Zirconium division, already the leading manufacturer of zirconium components, the prime objective is to be as close as possible to its customers.
AREVA signed an agreement to acquire an interest in ZircoProducts, the largest Japanese manufacturer of zirconium cladding tubes for nuclear fuel.
A joint venture of Sumitomo Metal Industries and Kobe Special Tube, ZircoProducts wishes to secure regular supplies of zirconium cladding tubes to its customers to further strengthen its development in Japan, accelerate its growth, and lay the groundwork for its global expansion.
Thanks to this partnership, AREVA increases its cladding tube production capacity.