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3D Printed Parts Were Deployed in a Reactor Core of Nuclear Plant in Alabama

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Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Alabama deploys a fuel assembly with 3D printed fastening elements that were made by the experts of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Seen in the pictures, 3D printed parts are used for fuel assembly guide channels of a boiling water reactor. The latter is built by General Electric and uses fuel made by a French-German company called Framatome. Four 3D printed elements, as well as the assembly itself, will work for six years, after which they will be sent back to ORNL for further research.

To inspect the deviation levels from the original 3D model, researchers could use industrial metrology-grade 3D scanning solutions such as the KSCAN Magic II. For digital archiving less precise, but more affordable solutions could be used, including the Einscan 3D scanners.

This experiment is a part of an extensive research program called Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR), Its goal is to modernize existing nuclear energy solutions and develop new ones. The reactor was relaunched with new elements and metal 3D printed parts in April 2021 after being temporarily shut down for routine repair and scheduled maintenance.

“Deploying 3D printed components in a reactor application is a great milestone. It shows that it is possible to deliver qualified components in a highly regulated environment. This program bridges basic and applied science and technology to deliver tangible solutions that show how advanced manufacturing can transform reactor technology and components,” said Benjamin Betzler, TCR Program Director at ORNL.

Based on the video below, the parts were made using fifth generation M2 3D printers by Concept Laser, now a part of General Electric. These additive manufacturing systems use the selective laser sintering (SLS) technology. 

Westinghouse Electric was the first company to deploy 3D printed parts in a reactor core. In spring 2020, a fuel assembly with a 3D printed gasket (seen in the picture above)  was loaded into the reactor of Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1 in Illinois.

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