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Slashing the Atom

If the nuclear power industry is headed into a renaissance, it’s going to need the help of a renowned Japanese samurai sword maker. It turns out Japan Steel Works Ltd., in addition to hand-forging swords, also has a near-total monopoly on the manufacture of the steel containment vessels for nuclear reactors.

But making the vessels is more of an art than a science, and Japan Steel’s production line currently tops off at four complete reactor vessels a year. With ten new nuke plants starting construction every year, that means the reactor vessels, which start as 600 tons of solid steel, are on back order until 2015.