French-Japanese Flawed Steel In
Reactors Dooms The Nuclear Industry
|A murky web of international supply chains is being exposed in the flawed-steel
parts scandal rocking the French and Japanese nuclear industries. “Serious
anomalies” have been discovered in key steel components for the European
Pressurized Water Reactor (E-PWR) being constructed at Flamanville, France,
on the English Channel. The recent exposure of brittle steel has led to
a sullen admission by nuclear-tech supplier AREVA of metallurgical defects
in at least 400 different types of reactor parts produced by its subsidiary
Le Creusot Forge since 1964.
Oddly, nearly identical inconsistencies in steel alloys were found in parts imported from Japan for the Flamanville project. Dozens of steel items, which have also been supplied to nuclear plants worldwide, were produced by the Japan Casting and Forging Company (JCFC), a joint venture of three of that nation’s biggest defense contractors, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals. Its industrial base in Kitakyushu on the southern island of Kyushu was a major hub of weapons production by Yawata, the forerunner of Nippon Steel, which supplied the Imperial Navy, including the armor for the super-battleship Yamato, and Mitsubishi Aircraft, which built the Zero attack plane.
The list of defective steel parts reveals how the allied French and Japanese nuclear industries are now joined at the hip like mutant twins. Mitsubishi and AREVA are partnered in the ATMEA third-generation PWR design program. AREVA is a shareholder in Japan Steel Works, based in northern Hokkaido, a producer of 6-ton single-cast reactor vessels. TEPCO has been allied with AREVA for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. These interlocking relationships hidden under global marketing campaigns make it difficult to tell where key components are actually sourced.
How did Le Creusot Forge evade detection of its defective components for more than two decades? What accounts for the chronic failure of the French and European nuclear-regulatory agencies, along with the UN watchdog IAEA, to properly inspect key parts for the world’s biggest nuclear reactors? Did defective steel have a role in innumerable accidents and leaks at nuclear plants in Japan, Britain, France and the United States? Is endemic bribery of high-ranking politicians and state bureaucrats by the energy industry at the root of a blanket cover-up of radioactive releases and equipment breakdowns at nuclear stations worldwide?
While the quick answers are obvious to anyone who’s not a nuclear apologist on the secret payroll, further exposure of the ugly details is important toward breaking the code of silence that grips the nuclear sector and large utility companies along with their political flunkies, who together comprise a nuclear mafia that operates exactly like an organized crime family.
Meltdowns in the Works
It’s important to remember that AREVA and Mitsubishi represent the “creme de la creme” of the global nuclear industry as producers of third-generation PWRS and advanced pressurized water reactors (APWRs). Other major players are still stuck with antiquated systems such as boiling water reactors (BWRs), including Hitachi-GE, Toshiba-Westinghouse, and their Russian and Chinese competitors. These nuclear players, beset with the wreckage at Fukushima, still try to redeem their horrid performance record with slick graphics and fast talk, as if those meltdowns in Japan never happened. If the undisputed technology leaders are covering up hundreds of defective components, then the rest of the pack must be over their heads in production problems and technical failures.
The global scale of Areva and Mitsubishi’s debacle is just one indicator of a grossly inefficient and incompetent global nuclear technology industry. Among the nuclear facilities stuck with shoddy components from Creusot, JCFC and Mitsubishi:
Reactor vessel cover heads (RVCH, sealing below and on top of the cylindrical reactor vessel):
- 15 reactor closure units in the United States;
- 3 units in Sweden
- 1 in Brazil
- in planning, Hinkley Point in Britain, the Sinop plant in Turkey, a project in Jordan, proposed plant in Indonesia, and 10 planned reactors in Vietnam.
Steam Generators (SG), a high-pressure chamber that powers the electricity turbines:
- 15 units in France;
- 10 units in Belgium, now under guard due to terrorist threats;
- 6 units in Mexico
JCFC channel heads, which move coolant water into the steam-pressure unit:
- 18 reactor vessels at 9 nuclear plants in France;
- 13 reactor vesselss at 6 nuclear plants in Japan, including two restarted Mitsubishi reactors at Kyushu Electric’s restarted and operational Satsuma-Sendai plant, located near several faults.
JCFC also produces 5-ton reactor vessels, which are cast as single block and not welded as in the more vulnerable Chinese and Russian designs. The durability of these PWR vessels, which operate under high temperature and pressure, has been fundamentally challenged by the rapid breech of the much heavier and thicker-walled boiling waters reactors at Fukushima.
Mitsubishi had planned to install neutron reflectors to raise efficiency while limiting high-speed particle damage to APWR reactor vessels, but has so far failed to admit how these reflectors can act like beryllium mirrors that intensify chain reactions inside nuclear bombs. Notably, the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its participation in Mitsubishi APWR development immediately after the Fukushima reactor meltdowns, which proved that nuclear reactors are bombs waiting to be detonated.
Zones of Weakness
Suspecting quality-control problems at the Flamandville project, l’Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN), or French nuclear safety authority, in 2014 ordered AREVA to conduct material tests on its steel components. That occurred seven years after the E-PWR project was started at the existing nuclear plant site in view of Jersey and Guernsey islands and located on the same peninsula as Calais.
In April 2015, the ASN announced: “The results of these tests revealed the presence of a zone in which there was a high carbon concentration, leading to lower than expected mechanical toughness values. Initial measurements confirmed the presence of this anomaly in the reactor vessel head and reactor vessel bottom head of the Flamanville European Pressurized Reactor (EPR).”
That is bad news indeed, since it was the top head that got blown off at the Fukushima Dai-ichi No.3 reactor on March 15, 2011, sending a mushroom cloud into the jet stream moving toward North America while showering cascades of metallic micro-pellets containing radioactive isotopes over northern Japan.
The bottom head plates of all three melted-down reactors at Fukushima were breached, allowing molten uranium and plutonium to flow like lava into the soil below the plant and subsequently releasing an unstoppable stream of radioactive isotopes into the Pacific Ocean to cause the greatest extinction event in human history.
Even though nuclear engineers predict most criticality “events” in civilian reactors to be less damaging than the Fukushima catastrophe,, the vulnerability of the vessel heads is a serious threat that can wipe out all of France’s agricultural and livestock production overnight, as well as pose a lasting threat to public health across Europe. Chernobyl is proof of that.
Not Quite Carbon Copies
The mechanical lab tests on the Creusot heads showed 0.22 percent of carbon content in the steel alloy, significantly higher than the 0.16 limit. While a variance of 0.06 percent may not seem like much, it could mean the difference between a near-accident and a reactor breach that ends in a total meltdown.
Carbon is the prevalent alloy in the steel-making process. A higher carbon content forms stronger bonds with steel atoms by creating a cubic cage-like structure. As shown in carbon-steel knives, however, an increasing amount of carbon makes hardened steel more brittle. In contrast, low carbon steel is softer but also more ductile. Malleability or “toughness” (as in resilience) is desirable in pots, kettles and nuclear reactors, since these vessels must expand when heated and shrink while cooled, without breakage or fracturing after repeated use.
Pressurized water reactors operate at temperatures of more than 300 Celsius and internal pressures of about one metric ton per square inch. In event of an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, however, both temperature and pressure can rise rapidly. There can also be an additional threat from the Wigner effect of neutron bombardment, which blows apart iron atoms in the crystal matrix of steel. Inside pockmarked steel, radioactive releases hasten a reactor breach.
Under sufficient heat and cooling, steel anneals, or rebuilds its crystal structure. But that will not happen during a meltdown due to rising internal temperatures, as shown at Fukushima, ad water-cooling becomes a futile gesture once a reactor is holed.
A folk saying often wrongly attributed to King Richard III goes: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost” . . . and so on to the loss of a kingdom. The global nuclear industry is now suffering an avalanche of losses due to a minuscule surplus of 0.06 percent of carbon in steel, sparking a change of events that threatens the future of nuclear power.
The only publicly stated recommendation from the French nuclear authority was to install a mechanical analysis laboratory inside the Creusot Forge facility in the Saone-et-Loire district. A modern engineering facility like Creusot already has equipment with computer controls and monitoring systems, which have failed to solve the carbon anomalies. Technology may have reached the limits of materials science, and the brittleness program may not be fixable.
Omitted from the ASN safety review, AREVA, Le Creusot Forge, JCFC or Mitsubishi is any mention of the underlying cause of the potentially dangerous “anomaly” in the carbon content of steel components. Exactly where and when in the production process does the metallurgical ratio structure of steel become inconsistent?
For people unfamiliar with steel-making, a basic perception problem is rooted in the assumption that steel is impermeable. At the nano-level, however, the lattice of iron is a sponge-like material, which allows passage of gases like oxygen (the cause of rust) and carbon monoxide (which depletes rust). Despite its limitations, no other metal can match the strength and cost-effectiveness of steel.
In the steel-making process, carbon is released inside a blast furnace by burning coke, a porous form of coal after its impurities have been removed by intense heat. The burning coke melts the pellets of ion ore. Carbon monoxide gas from coke combustion is reductive(removes oxygen) and restores iron oxide (rust) back into pig iron. Then oxygen is introduced to bond with the carbon monoxide to form carbon dioxide, which is then removed from the blast furnace. In the next phase, oxygen lowers carbon levels inside the steel, emitting more carbon dioxide, leaving the end product of low-carbon steel with fairly uniform consistency.
It is not possible to maintain uniformity of carbon content through many rounds of reheating. The steel block is repeatedly heated for hot forging, which involves heavy-duty hammering of the metal after it becomes ductile in a gas-fired oven. The forging required for curved reactor vessel covers and channel heads likely puts sufficient stress on the steel to displace carbon atoms. The final results can be affected by the uneven contours of the object and differing densities of the metal, especially where it has been heavily forged, potentially causing displacement of carbon into denser clusters.
That at least is a plausible explanation for the carbon anomalies as opposed to the closed-mouth silence from the nuclear industry, which has been totally unable to explain why it produces hundreds of types of products with metallurgical flaws. There are possible industrial design solutions to this morass of failed production techniques, but that’s none of my business. Then again, there may be no solution to the fundamental problem of carbon drift in steel-making, at least nothing that is within reasonable cost to a nuclear industry already beset by 300-percent contact overruns at Flamanville.
Qualifications at Question
Who am I to impudently challenge the entire nuclear establishment over issues of quality-control that are heading toward another Fukushima-scale disaster? One does not have to be a genius to figure out what’s wrong with the nuclear industry. My blue-collar competence comes from being a former licensed welder and a millwright (an equipment fixer) at U.S. Steel Southworks in Chicago and also in the seamless tube mill at Republic Steel in Gary, Indiana, where products of large dimension on a massive scale were produced from molten steel to build oil tankers and the Alaska pipeline.
Working in the industry can inspire cynicism about corporate assurances of product quality. Once on the midnight shift at the 92-inch plate mill, I witnessed an entire train of defective inch-thick steel clanking back to the steelworks. Instead of lining a super-tanker, the vast stacks of brittle metal was left to rust in a huge pile of scrap. Inspection reports were routinely fudged or completely faked to placate the corporate bosses, who’d do anything to fill an order to earn revenues for the near-bankrupt facility. On the other hand, there were outstanding moral examples of otherwise unheralded team leaders and champions of workers’ rights, but that’s another story, which the latecomer to Southside Chicago named Barack Obama knows nothing about.
The nearly century-old mill, a vast maze of wreckage on the shore of Lake Michigan where long ore ships from open-pit mines in Minnesota docked, was littered with giant ingots glowing red as they set to cool, the only trustworthy source of heat against the icy winter gusts. Despite the constant risks of injuries and accidental death, metalwork was still practiced as an art by older workers at the fire-spewing ovens, as they judged the readiness of steel in its stages by noticing subtle changes in its glowing hue, faint differences in the smell of its fumes, and the onset of scintillating sparks.
My knowledge of steel actually began before then as a weekend blacksmith during university days, when I helped my welding instructor set up forges in an old barn near the rocky site of the fateful war dance of The Prophet Tenskwatawa who emboldened Chief Tecumsah’s Shawnee warriors against the encroaching 4th U.S. Infantry in the Indiana territory during the year prior to the War of 1812. Blood and steel on the land that was once the world’s greatest stand of hardwood forest, since decimated down to flat fields of gene-modified corn and soybeans.
Although a power hammer was installed in the beamed barn with hard effort, the dull mechanical beast was rarely used since nothing could match the ring of a hammer dropping in rhythmic cadence onto red-hot metal over an anvil. At the forge, my hand turned the rotary bellows to raise blue flames out of the self-made coke, while my eyes stared into that fiery cradle of every civilization that has ever risen and fallen since the start of the Iron Age, from the Hittites and the Mycenaeans of Homer, the Aryan realm of Zoroaster to the Mauryan Empire of the Buddhist king Asoka, to ancient China, Rome, the Arab world and Europe, and culminating in the Industrial Revolution, on down to that very hour when B-52s were mercilessly pummeling Vietnam with tons of ordnance. Steel holds the power over life and death, crafted into swords or ploughshares, and therefore must be imbued with virtue and justice, as pledged by every master swordmaker and authentic gunsmith.
Only in our time has a crazed pseudo-scientific priesthood willfully and foolishly violated the sacred union of fire and metal, so that their abominable faith in atom-splitting can be “proven” in a false cosmology disguised as scientific theory, while bringing devastation upon humanity, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Chernobyl and Fukushima, and on until their abuse of technology ends with the total extinction of life on this planet.
The demented cult of nuclear believers have since thrown their support behind Shinzo Abe, a minion of the apocalyptic guru of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and his predecessor, the founder of Sukyo Mahikari, Yoshikazu Okada. In an exhortation that resonates in today’s defect-ridden global nuclear industry, the militarist Okada urged his followers to “plant nuclear bombs everywhere, and to occasionally detonate an atomic explosion” to keep lesser peoples in fear and servitude. Every reactor is a time bomb ticking down to zero hour.
That heinous injunction, which explains the murderous secrecy of Japan’s nuclear industry, and for that matter of the entire global nuclear sector, is the only explanation for the installation of defective reactors in more and more countries. Intentional or not, their common endgame is mass death through the spread of radioactivity, sending a plague of cancer everywhere and afterthe Fukushima meltdowns the start of a global extinction event. Theirs is the mad vision of the Final War preached by Shoko Asahara, now apparently pardoned of the death penalty for his role in the gassing 20,000 subway commuters at the morning rush hour in Tokyo, that opening act in this last harvest of souls.
Against grotesque lies of the deceivers, along with public indifference and mental servitude, rusted metal must be purged with fire. After iron is refined in smoke and purified in flames to become steel, and metal rod is hammered into blade, then as a thin blue wave ripples toward the tapered edge, ready for quenching with a thrust into cold water, the sword is tempered. Honest men will rise and step forward to their calling so that life might triumph over evil.
Yoichi Shimatsu is a forensic journalist and former steel worker.
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