Updated: May 18, 2020
A nuclear reactor core is one of the most extreme human-made environments on the planet. These scientists just figured out how to print one.
The team plans to 3D print one of those advanced core designs for a small nuclear reactor they plan to bring online in 2023.
A team of engineers and nuclear physicists has an unusual plan to revolutionize the nuclear energy industry: they want to 3D print a functional reactor in their lab.
While tinkering around with tried-and-true methods for building a nuclear power plant is sure to raise an eyebrow, the team from the Oak Ridge National Lab told Wired that they see 3D printing as a way to drag the nuclear energy industry — kicking and screaming — into the 21st century.
3D printing will also help nuclear engineers get a better picture of what is happening inside a core once the reactor is up and running. In a conventional reactor, a core’s behavior has to be monitored from the outside. But the new designs enabled by 3D printing will allow for embedded sensors that will provide data directly from the core. Furthermore, 3D printing also gives nuclear engineers more control over the manufacturing process. Individual parts of the TCR core take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours to print and Terrani says the entire core can be printed in a few weeks. During a print, a machine vision algorithm is sucking in data from infrared cameras and other sensors that help it determine if any defects occur during printing
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