During a planned outage earlier this year, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Athens, Alabama became the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. to have 3D-printed parts installed inside; and now, the printed parts are in routine operation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the providers of the parts, stated in a press release.
Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, has quickly moved from laboratory testing to prototypes and items of routine use. While earlier printing processes needed specialized inks, recent printing exploits have dealt with more common materials like concrete and steel. Last month, the city administration of Amsterdam opened a 3D-printed pedestrian bridge in steel for regular use.
Since Siemens used a 3D-printed impeller at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant in Slovenia in 2017, applications of this technology in nuclear reactors have attracted some special attention. The University of Pittsburg, for example, received a one million dollars grant from the Department of Energy to improve the manufacturing of components for nuclear power plants in 2018.
The Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant is maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The 3D printing was part of the attempt to increase the life of the nuclear power plants and was conducted in collaboration with Framatome, the fuel supplier for the nuclear plant.
"Deploying 3D-printed components in a reactor application is a great milestone,” said Ben Betzler, program director at ORNL. “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.”
ORNL designed channel fasteners and four brackets that were non-symmetric with a straightforward style and then printed them using stainless steel on a GE Additive/Concept Laser M2 Cusing system using laser bed fusion. The data from every layer of the printing process was captured to ensure that the components were printed in accordance with the highest standards and then installed in the power plant along with other items during a scheduled maintenance outage in April 2021.
The power plant has resumed operations since and the parts that are routinely monitored are expected to remain in service for the next six years.