Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists have utilized additive manufacturing technologies to 3D print a prototype nuclear reactor.
Part of a Department of Energy (DOE) innovative micro-reactor program called Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR), ORNL and fellow collaborators Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), are working to turn on this first-of-its-kind reactor by 2023.
“The nuclear industry is still constrained in thinking about the way we design, build and deploy nuclear energy technology,” says ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia
“DOE launched this program to seek a new approach to rapidly and economically develop transformational energy solutions that deliver reliable, clean energy.”
Reactor development and deployment have traditionally relied on materials, fuels and technology pioneered in the 1950s and ’60s.
Moreover, high costs and decades-long construction times have limited the U.S. to building only one new nuclear power plant in the last 20 years.
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.
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 collaborators 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 will also conduct extensive post-build testing to assess component performance and establish links between the behavior of each unique part and its live manufacturing data.
The TCR program is further aiming to create a digital platform that could help hand off the technology to industry for rapid adoption of additively manufactured nuclear energy technology.
Image and content: Brittany Cramer/ORNL