Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is completing design of a prototype core for a new nuclear reactor. It is created as part of the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) program and differs primarily in the way it is made. For the first time in history, most of the reactor units are going to be grown using 3D printing.
In the United States, a dead-end situation has developed with the renewal of nuclear power plants - more than half of the 98 operating units will have reached their end of life by the end of this decade. At the same time, over the past 20 years, only one new reactor has been built, and the technologies and procedures for receiving and starting up are hopelessly outdated. Suffice it to say that earlier each unit was built according to an individual project, using many expensive disposable structures, and the entire path from the beginning of the robot to the first profit from the power unit took ten years.
Today's reality requires a different, faster pace of work, so the choice fell on 3D printing. On the one hand, 3D printing with new materials makes it possible to create the same core, with all integrated systems and sensors, in about three months. On the other hand, the industry needs new reactors, and the Oak Ridge laboratory is just busy developing systems that were originally intended to be built using three-dimensional printing.
Development is in full swing, the demonstration of the prototype of the TCR reactor is scheduled only in 2023. Now the most difficult part is being designed - the core, which is exposed to maximum loads. The design of its prototype is constantly being improved, and this month, artificial intelligence was brought to work to quickly virtual test new nodes. If the technology pays off, it will revolutionize nuclear power.