- The printing process took three months, which is considered super speed.
- The project was completed in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
- It is a game changer for the future of nuclear reactor production.
The Oak Ridge Laboratory announced a revolutionary project that includes using 3D printing technology to produce a state of the art nuclear reactor. The prototype of its core was printed in just three months. According to the standards of the nuclear industry, this is a super pace. The hexagonal structure took close to 40 hours to build, with temperatures reaching over 1,400 degrees Celsius around the melt pool where a laser heats and melts while adding a new layer.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is an American multiprogram science and technology national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered, managed, and operated by UT–Battelle as a federally funded research and development center under a contract with the DOE. The Laboratory has been established in the 1943 and located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The work is carried out within the framework of the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) program, which can be translated as “transformative challenge Reactor”. Its goal is to radically update the methods of building nuclear plants, which are still based on the technology of the 1960s.
Nuclear energy provides nearly 20% of America’s electricity supply. But by 2055, all current nuclear reactors based on light water technology will likely retire due to expiring licenses. As far as advanced reactors go, currently there are none in operation, and it has been 40 years since the US built and operated one.
To combat this, Oak Ridge National Laboratory launched the Transformational Challenge Reactor Program. The goal is simple: build an additively manufactured microreactor using the latest scientific innovation and allow nuclear industry to adopt the technology approach developed by TCR. The TCR program has completed several foundational experiments including selection of a core design, and a three-month “sprint” that demonstrated the agility of the additive manufacturing technology to quickly produce a prototype reactor core.
The developers have significantly updated the entire structure, as well as used the latest materials. But the main innovation is the construction of a reactor using a 3D printer.
TCR will introduce new, advanced materials and use integrated sensors and controls, providing a highly optimized, efficient system that reduces cost, relying on scientific advances with potential to shape a new path in reactor design, manufacturing, licensing and operation.
Researchers will now focus on refining the selected design and the processes that will ensure an optimal and reliable energy system. Monitoring technologies continually assess the manufacturing process, providing live data streams that enable real-time qualification of the printed material and performance analysis through artificial intelligence. The team also conducts extensive post-build testing to assess component performance and establish links between the behavior of each unique part and its live manufacturing data.
Now engineers are testing different design options and checking the reliability of printed components.
It is planned that the new reactor will be launched in 2023. It will contain built-in measuring instruments and control systems and consist of fewer parts than traditional counterparts. This is an exciting accomplishment.