Description: The welding of aluminum-clad fuel plates into aluminum alloy 6061 side plate tubing is a unique design feature of the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) fuel assemblies as 101 full-penetration circumferential gas metal arc welds (GMAW) are required in the fabrication of each assembly. In a HFIR fuel assembly, 540 aluminum-clad fuel plates are assembled into two nested annular fuel elements 610 mm (24-inches) long. The welding process for the HFIR fuel elements was developed in the early 1960 s and about 450 HFIR fuel assemblies have been successfully welded using the GMAW process qualified in the 1960 s. In recent years because of the degradation of the electronic and mechanical components in the old HFIR welding system, reportable defects in plate attachment or adapter welds have been present in almost all completed fuel assemblies. In October 2008, a contract was awarded to AMET, Inc., of Rexburg, Idaho, to replace the old welding equipment with standard commercially available welding components to the maximum extent possible while maintaining the qualified HFIR welding process. The upgraded HFIR welding system represents a major improvement in the welding system used in welding HFIR fuel elements for the previous 40 years. In this upgrade, the new inner GMAW torch is a significant advancement over the original inner GMAW torch previously used. The innovative breakthrough in the new inner welding torch design is the way the direction of the cast in the 0.762 mm (0.030-inch) diameter aluminum weld wire is changed so that the weld wire emerging from the contact tip is straight in the plane perpendicular to the welding direction without creating any significant drag resistance in the feeding of the weld wire.
Date: February 1, 2010
Creator: Sease, John D.
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