The 3D printed channel fasteners were installed during a planned fuel outage at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Athens, Alabama. (Image Credit: Framatome)
This prompts a serious thought – would you trust a 3D printed part in a mission-critical application? Have you ever used a 3D printed part in a product design?
During a planned refueling outage, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) installed four 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets, now in routine operation, at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Athens, Alabama. These brackets, developed at the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), are expected to stay in the reactor for six years, with regular inspections.
"Deploying 3D-printed components in a reactor application is a great milestone," said ORNL's Ben Betzler, TCR program director. "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 the non-symmetric channel fasteners and four brackets with a straightforward style and manufactured them using stainless steel on a GE additive/Concept Laser M2 Cusing system with a laser bed fusion. Each part was printed following reactor safety regulations for installation in the reactor during a maintenance outage in April 2021. The team also provided 3D digital data captured during the fabrication process, detailing every layer of the print. That data can certify the brackets' quality.
ORNL 3D printed the components in collaboration with TVA and Framatome as part of the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) program. The program introduces new manufacturing methods to industry partners to speed up nuclear system installations. This project was also implemented in an attempt to extend the nuclear power plant's life.
"Collaborating with TVA and ORNL allows us to deploy innovative technologies and explore emerging 3D printing markets that will benefit the nuclear energy industry," said John Strumpell, manager of North America Fuel R&D at Framatome. "This project provides the foundation for designing and manufacturing a variety of 3D-printed parts that will contribute to creating a clean energy future."
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