Science

Oak Ridge developing 3D-printed nuclear reactor core

Oak Ridge developing 3D-printe...
3D-printed components for the prototype reactor
3D-printed components for the prototype reactor
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3D-printed components for the prototype reactor
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3D-printed components for the prototype reactor
The prototype reactor core was made using high-temperature 3D printing
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The prototype reactor core was made using high-temperature 3D printing
Animation of the 3D printing process involving the direct deposition of stainless steel
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Animation of the 3D printing process involving the direct deposition of stainless steel
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The US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has developed a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core prototype, with the ultimate goal of the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) Demonstration Program being to create an advanced, full-sized, 3D-printed reactor with integrated sensors and controls from fewer components by 2023.

According to the World Nuclear Energy Association, the United States has 98 nuclear reactors operating in 30 states providing 20 percent of the nation's energy supply without generating carbon emissions. Unfortunately, most of the reactors are based on half-century-old technology with only one new reactor being built in the last 20 years and many facing retirement in the next two decades as their licenses expire.

Replacing these reactors will be extremely difficult and expensive for a number of reasons, but the biggest is that American commercial reactors have traditionally been large civil engineering projects that use one-off designs that take decades to design, develop, build, demonstrate, test, gain official approval, and bring online.

Animation of the 3D printing process involving the direct deposition of stainless steel
Animation of the 3D printing process involving the direct deposition of stainless steel

The TCR Demonstration Program is tasked with speeding up this process while cutting costs dramatically by bringing the advantages of high-temperature 3D additive printing, combined with advanced materials and 21st-century reactor design, to bear on the problem. According to ORNL, this has already resulted in a three-month "sprint" to produce a prototype reactor core.

"We have been aggressively developing the capability to make this program a reality over the last several months, and our effort has proven that this technology is ready to demonstrate a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core," says Kurt Terrani, the TCR technical director. “The current situation for nuclear is dire. This is a foundational effort that can open the floodgates to rapid innovation for the nuclear community.

"The entire TCR concept is made possible because of the significant advances in additive manufacturing process technology. By using 3D printing, we can use technology and materials that the nuclear community has been unable to capitalize on in the last several decades. This includes sensors for near-autonomous control and a library of data and a new and accelerated approach to qualification that will benefit the entire nuclear community."

The program is currently refining the design of the prototype using continual monitoring and artificial intelligence during manufacture to assess the materials and performance. If the technology pans out, ORNL says that it could rapidly change the nuclear energy industry.

The video below shows the reactor core prototype being printed.

3D Reactor

Source: ORNL

View gallery - 3 images
7 comments
Wolf0579
Until the waste problem is solved, and I don't see any way any emerging tech is going to help deal with a 250,000 year storage issue, Nuclear should be off limits. it's very close to being a one percent wealth seizure scam with all the profits taken up front, by the builder/operator, and a million years poisonous time bomb left behind, for generations and generations of locals to sicken and die from.

Nuclear power is mass murder on a vastly unimaginable time scale.
Username
All developments should concentrate on thorium
Kpar
If only we could get past the Luddites and their inordinate fear of nuclear technology. There are several approaches to the disposal problem, but they are not being pursued.
Ryan Gibbons
If they can get the waste to only be radioactive for a couple hundred years and get small efficient MSRs out the door am all in.
Wolf0579
"Kpar" I'm far from a Luddite. I taught myself to read with Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov, Frank Herbert and others too numerous to mention. It's just that most Americans are science illiterate, and making decisions about things they know nothing of, let alone being capable of real understanding of what a half-life of 250,000 years really entails.
1stClassOPP
This may be simplistic, but sometimes answers to complex problems have simple solutions. Why not store the spent nuclear waste back into the ground where it came from? There must be hundreds,if not thousands of miles of redundant mines around the US, as well as Canada, miles deep. Envelope that waste in a concrete slurry, and forget about it. I think nuclear energy is great. Smaller units would present smaller is something goes wrong , so each community could have its own independent nuclear generator. For the fear mongers, just check out nuclear powered ships, subs etc. How much problem have they presented? Let’s move on!
Jim Hopf
Thinking that nuclear waste is unique with respect to long-term environmental hazard is scientifically illiterate. The notion being that all non-nuclear waste streams magically become harmless after some short period of time? The fact is that the long-term risks associated with nuclear waste are far *lower* than those of most other energy sources' waste streams.

Non-nuclear (e.g., fossil) waste streams are vastly larger in volume, contain toxic elements that last *longer* than nuclear waste (i.e., forever), are in a much harder to contain physical/chemical form, and are disposed of with infinitely less care. While fossil fuel wastes/pollution kill millions every year, and cause global warming, nuclear power wastes have never harmed anyone. And they almost certainly never will, nuclear being the only industry that is required to contain its wastes and rigorously show that they will remain contained for as long as they remain hazardous.

Suggesting that we stop nuclear and instead stick with infinitely more harmful fossil fuels, over the (phony, puny) "waste issue" is indefensible.