Engineers and designers at US-based BWX Technologies (BWXT), teamed with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have developed new additive manufacturing technologies (3D printing) for the design and manufacture of reactor components made from high-temperature alloys and refractory metals.

Specifically, BWXT has demonstrated the ability to additively manufacture nickel-based super alloys and refractory-metal-based alloys for use in nuclear components. The company also accomplished component-level qualification, leading to a more efficient certification of nuclear materials configured in complex geometries.

BWXT validated this technology during successful execution of an advanced nuclear technology development cost-share programme awarded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in 2018.

Additive manufacturing technologies will be transformational for the nuclear industry because they enable the creation of shapes not possible with conventional manufacturing techniques, BWXT said. Additionally, verifying the ability to additively manufacture high-temperature super alloys and refractory metals enables designs that possess improved thermal energy management, increased safety margins and accident-tolerant characteristics.

With refractory metal alloy-based core components, it is conceivable that an advanced reactor can reach core exit temperatures of 2700°F and overall plant efficiencies of around 50%. Additionally, these material developments could have an immediate impact on the current commercial reactor fleet and the goal of achieving an accident tolerant fuel design.

BWXT plans to use its unique design expertise and advanced manufacturing capability to reduce the costs of advanced nuclear energy systems. BWXT said its designs and manufacturing methods will enhance the power output and longevity of a reactor while maintaining affordable costs to manufacture.

BWXT expects to reduce manufacturing risk over time as outlined in its recent proposal to DOE’s Advanced Reactor Development Programme (ARDP). According to DOE, ARDP “will speed the demonstration of advanced reactors through cost-shared partnerships with US industry. By rapidly developing these advanced reactors that hold so much promise, we can expand access to clean energy and take advantage of market opportunities before key infrastructure and supply chain capabilities are lost.”