China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said on 18 January that its specialists have 3D printed a lower tube socket for the fuel assembly of the CAP1400 pressurised water reactor (an enlarged version of the Westinghouse AP1000), marking the first use of 3D printing to construct nuclear fuel elements in China.
Components of the assembly require high-precision manufacturing, which is costly. However, CNNC can now mass produce these parts using 3D-moulding tools based on 3D printing. This significantly the product development cycle, improving productivity and reducing costs.
CNNC said the use of 3D-printed parts is in the pre-acceptance phase and the parts will undergo extensive testing. If successful, the company will use 3D-manufacturing techniques to produce other parts with a complicated geography. The aim is to increase the use of 3D-printing technology with a view to manufacturing key components for small reactors such as reactor pressure vessels and main steam pipes. The 3D printer was developed and produced by Bright Laser Technologies of Xian city, the capital of Shaanxi province.
CNNC has also established collaboration for the development of 3D printing technologies between its subsidiaries - China Nuclear Power Institute and China Nuclear Power Engineering Company -and NanFang Additive Manufacturing Technology Company.
3D technology was introduced to the nuclear sector in 2014 by Sellafield Ltd, the first nuclear company to experiment with innovative uses for 3D scanning and printing. Sellafield hopes to combine metal and plastic 3D scanning and printing to help it decommission some potentially hazardous plants. It had earlier used 3D blue-LED scanning technology to design a new lid for a 40t solid waste export flask.