Here’s an unusual application for 3D printing—printing a nuclear reactor core. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are working on a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core.
The approach to the Transformational Challenge Reactor Demonstration Program’s leverages advances from ORNL in manufacturing, materials, nuclear science, nuclear engineering, high-performance computing, data analytics and related fields.
The lab plans to turn on this first-of-its-kind reactor by 2023.
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. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy
“The nuclear industry is still constrained in thinking about the way we design, build and deploy nuclear energy technology,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. “DOE launched this program to seek a new approach to rapidly and economically develop transformational energy solutions that deliver reliable, clean energy.”
The Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) will introduce new materials and use integrated sensors and controls to produce an efficient system that reduces cost. It will rely on scientific advances with the 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.
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.
“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,” said 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.”
As part of deploying a 3D-printed nuclear reactor, the program will also create a digital platform that will help in handing off the technology to industry for rapid adoption of additively manufactured nuclear energy technology.
“The entire TCR concept is made possible because of the significant advances in additive manufacturing process technology,” Terrani said. “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 TCR program will provide a new model for accelerated deployment of advanced nuclear energy systems,” Zacharia said. “If cost and construction times are not addressed in the very near future, the United States will eventually lose its single largest source of emissions-free power.”
ORNL is partnering with Argonne and Idaho national laboratories and engaging with industry to enable rapid adoption for commercial use. TCR is supported by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://energy.gov/science.