Last month, Framatome, a subsidiary of global energy giant Électricité de France S.A. (EDF), announced that the company successfully installed the first 3D printed fuel component at Sweden’s Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant. Forsmark is operated by Vattenfall, a Swedish power multinational, which, like EDF, is largely government-owned.
Framatome installed upper tie plate grids on its ATRIUM 11 boiling water reactor (BWR), Forsmark Unit 3. Upper tie plate grids are located at the top of the ATRIUM 11’s fuel assembly — the structure at a nuclear reactor’s core containing the uranium pellets that power the fission process. Upper tie plate grids keep fuel rods in place, while also preventing the entrance of larger debris into the fuel assembly’s top.
Although it’s not clear precisely what hardware was used to print the upper tie grids, Framatome also produced four stainless steel fuel assembly brackets using additive manufacturing (AM) about a year ago, in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). According to the press release for that project, the brackets were produced using laser powder bed fusion (PBF) AM.
Framatome’s development of AM applications started in 2015, at the company’s prototyping laboratory in Germany. Although Framatome utilizes AM for a wide range of purposes, the use of AM for parts on an operational reactor is an especially significant milestone. In the long run, an increase of 3D printed parts for reactors, themselves, should greatly enhance the responsiveness of plant operators to nuclear maintenance and repair issues.
Interest in nuclear power has had a major resurgence over the last year, owing to a number of macroeconomic developments that have been faced by virtually all sectors. However, in contrast to all of the rest of those sectors, increased nuclear capacity has a legitimately realistic chance of making a significant dent in skyrocketing global energy costs. This is of course especially crucial in Europe, where tightness of supply has had a disproportionately detrimental effect on general industry.
Moreover, France derives a higher percentage of its electricity from nuclear power than any other country in the world (a little over 70 percent). As such, the nation, in general — and Framatome’s parent, EDF, in particular — is a source not just of electricity, but of nuclear expertise, for the world, as a whole. Thus, the company’s embrace of AM strongly suggests that there will continue to be a starkly rising interest in the technology from the entire nuclear sector.
Images courtesy of Framatome
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