ORNL and partners additively manufacture nuclear reactor components

August 10, 2021

ORNL utilised novel Additive Manufacturing techniques to produce channel fasteners for Framatome’s boiling water reactor fuel assembly (Courtesy Framatome/ORNL)

A collaboration between the US-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) & the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and France’s Framatome, has produced four additively manufactured 316 stainless steel fuel assembly brackets which have been installed and are now under routine operating conditions at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Athens, Alabama, USA.

The components were developed at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL as part of the DoE Office of Nuclear Energy-funded Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR), programme. The TCR aims to further mature and demonstrate industry-ready technology informed by advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, integrated sensing and deployment of a digital platform for informed certification of components.

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

The channel fasteners’ straightforward, though non-symmetric, geometry was said to be a good match for a ‘first ever’ Additive Manufacturing application for use in a nuclear reactor. The components were additively manufactured using Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) on GE Additive’s Concept Laser M2 AM machine.

ORNL’s broad nuclear research and development activities are directed toward providing science and technology breakthroughs to extend the viability and operations of the nation’s nuclear power plant fleet, while also accelerating the deployment of new, advanced nuclear power technologies.

John Strumpell, manager of North America Fuel R&D at Framatome, added, “Collaborating with TVA and ORNL allows us to deploy innovative technologies and explore emerging 3D printing markets that will benefit the nuclear energy industry. This project provides the foundation for designing and manufacturing a variety of 3D-printed parts that will contribute to creating a clean energy future.”

Dan Stout, TVA’s director of Nuclear Technology Innovation, said, “TVA is actively engaged in developing new nuclear technology for tomorrow. Partnering with ORNL and Framatome in this innovative manufacturing approach could pave the path for use across the existing nuclear fleet and also in advanced reactors and small modular reactors.”

Operations at Browns Ferry resumed on April 22, 2021, after a planned outage to replace a variety of components for continued safe, reliable operation and delivery of carbon-free electricity. The additively manufactured brackets are expected to remain in the reactor for six years with regular inspections during that period.




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