France’s Framatome recently manufactured the world’s first uranium-molybdenum and uranium-silicon objects using 3D-printed technology at its CERCA Research and Innovation Lab (CRIL).
The milestone advances the development and production of metallic uranium fuel plates for research reactors, and irradiation targets for medical isotopes widely used by hospitals for the diagnosis of cancer.
"Framatome is confident in the future of the 3D-printing process," said Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president of the Fuel Business Unit at Framatome. “This breakthrough technology demonstrates technical and economic value and complements our production processes, which greatly supports the supply to both our research reactor’s and medical sources’ customers. It is our ambition to make CERCA the benchmark for prototype development and research, and development work related to metallic uranium fuels and irradiation targets for medical use.”
The uranium-molybdenum and uranium-silicon objects were 3D-printed, layer by layer, using laser beam melting equipment. This equipment is nuclear compliant and operates in a glove box under an inert argon gas atmosphere. The manufacturing project was developed by Framatome R&D experts working in close collaboration with the University of Technology of Belfort Montbéliard in France.
Framatome said it will continue to advance 3D-printing technology for the production of irradiation targets and other components such as fuel plates for research reactors. Research efforts at CRIL can also be applied to prototyping or to small series production of innovative fuels for fourth generation advanced reactors.
Framatome is also collaborating with the US Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, the US Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the development of 3D printed components for nuclear power plants. Earlier in December, TVA announced that it will load four new 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets at its Browns Ferry nuclear plant in spring 2021. The components were manufactured at ORNL as part of the lab’s Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) programme.
Photo: 3D printing operations (Credit: Framatome)