There stands the only plant in the world, a survivor of Allied bombing in World War II, capable of producing the central part of a nuclear reactor's containment vessel in a single piece, reducing the risk of a radiation leak.
Utilities that won't need the equipment for years are making $100 million down payments now on components Japan Steel makes from 600-ton ingots. Each year the Tokyo-based company can turn out just four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor. Even after it doubles capacity in the next two years, there won't be enough production to meet building plans.
``If there are 50 to 100 reactors or more to be built, there will be a real shortage and real delays in deliveries, so it's a good hedge to get in line now,'' said Ron Pitts, senior vice president for nuclear operations at the construction and engineering company Fluor Corp. in Irving, Texas.
Pitts estimated the cost of heavy forgings, including reactor containment vessels, steam generators and pressurizers, at $300 million to $350 million for each generating unit. Japan Steel wouldn't comment on the size of the down payment, which Pitts estimated at $100 million.