Additive manufacturing is making inroads in the nuclear power sector. As part of the Transformational Challenge Reactor Demonstration Program, the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has developed a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core prototype.

The initiative is expected to lower the costs and expedite the construction of new nuclear power plants with high-temperature 3D printing, combined with advanced materials and reactor designs to shorten deployment timelines for new nuclear technologies. Faster commissioning will enable cost-effective replacement of aging nuclear power stations slated for retirement in the near term. A three-month “sprint” has already demonstrated the agility of this approach in producing a prototype reactor core.

The researchers are now refining the design of the prototype using continual monitoring and artificial intelligence during manufacture to assess the materials and performance. A digital platform is also under development to streamline transfer of the technology to the nuclear power sector.

Operation of an advanced, full-sized, 3D-printed reactor with integrated sensors and controls is planned for 2023.

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