The “Transformation Challenge Reactor Project” of Oak Ridge National Laboratory hopes to bring nuclear power into the 21st century by deploying 3D printing and AI to design and produce core reactor technologies. We discover more.
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Nuclear power is in crisis. In 20 years, only one nuclear power plant has been built in the United States and Western Europe. Countries have either completely eliminated the technology, or commissioned projects have experienced rising costs and long days. In addition, the transition from large-scale basic energy to intermittent renewable energy is causing people to question the relevance of nuclear power in the future.
“We have lost our will or do not know how to design, build and deploy nuclear systems, as we did before the 50s, 60s, and 70s – we have not built non-water-cooled advanced reactors in about ten years 40 years.” said Kurt Terrani, a senior researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
An ongoing research project in the laboratory is called the “Transformation Challenge Reactor Project,” with Terrani serving as the technical director, aiming to change this frustrating fact. It is collaborating with materials, computing and manufacturing science as well as 3D printing, artificial intelligence and big data to advance reactor core design.
Terrani said: “We hope to use these technological advances and the best new materials to prove that we can provide better, safer, and faster deployment systems.”
He further explained the necessity of innovation in the nuclear industry: “I very much doubt nuclear engineers because they have not provided any new products in the past 40 years, but if you are concerned about natural gas technology, these guys innovate.
“If you are the CFO of a utility, it would be madness to move on and bet on nuclear energy, while the capital cost of natural gas is very low. We need more efficient and better systems. Our dream is to break against this country ( United States) The abstinence of building advanced reactors.”
Solve the cost problem
Perhaps the most worrying is how the cost of nuclear energy soars. For example, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom is expected to cost a staggering £22 billion.
To solve the cost issue, researchers at Oak Ridge, the largest national laboratory for science and energy in the U.S. Department of Energy, are improving the design of their 3D printed gas pipeline to the reactor core, which can be used for scale-up additive manufacturing. The prototype is a “mini” three-megawatt reactor.
Using the 3D printing method developed in the past plan, it can use silicon carbide (a refractory material) for printing, which is a high temperature and radiation-resistant material.
“3D printing allows us to use certain high-performance materials to achieve a high degree of design complexity, such as cooling channels, which was impossible before. For example, using materials such as silicon carbide, we can significantly improve performance and Security.” Terrani explained.
Ensure quality assurance
In addition, 3D printing facilitates construction in small volumes and “hybrid” structures. This means that researchers can embed and incorporate other components (especially sensors) into the material instead of using a single piece of material such as steel.
“By integrating and embedding sensing and sensors into the structure, we can extract more information from the system, such as health monitoring. This allows us to obtain more data from the entire system, which is very important for reducing operating costs because it Created a more reliable system with better monitoring information, which means more processes can be automated.” Terrani explained.
The ability to review the manufacturing methods of materials and whether the materials meet performance standards can also improve technical qualifications and quality assurance.
“Qualification usually takes a lot of time and requires a lot of people, and if you put a nuclear label on the part, the cost will be even higher. But because we are 3D printing in small batches, we can collect information while collecting Information can be recorded with a camera, sensor technology and other methods can be used to collect information on many different parameters.
Researchers are collecting “hundreds of gigabytes” of data sets that are used with artificial intelligence to search for key performance parameters. This information will then be used to determine whether the parts meet the necessary quality standards after manufacturing, which is a large cost component for nuclear systems.
The researchers also plan to create a digital platform to help the industry adopt nuclear energy technologies for additive manufacturing.
Secure the future of nuclear energy
Terrani said that designing a reactor in this way is different from what he called a “paper reactor that works on a computer but no one can actually build it.”
“We are trying a flexible, iterative and dynamic approach to make it suitable for multidisciplinary projects. Instead of designing for months or years, we need days or weeks to design and then 3D print. “Then, starting from the prototype, we can measure attributes and performance parameters and feed them directly into the design.”
The deployment of advanced technologies such as AI and 3D printing may also attract a new generation of nuclear engineers.
Terrani said: “Of course, possessing these advanced technologies is a carrot for the younger generation, but we also attract computer scientists, materials scientists and manufacturing experts.”
Oak Ridge Laboratory’s goal is to commission the first such reactor by 2023. Currently, its focus is to improve the selected design and process to ensure the best and reliable energy system.
Ultimately, Terrani hopes that the project will provide another “tool” for the developer’s “toolbox”.
Terrani concluded: “The essence of the plan is to manufacture better nuclear reactors with lower costs and higher safety, and to build them at the same time.”
“I am personally frustrated and tired because all other industries are using advanced technologies, and in the field of nuclear energy, we are not good at using these technologies. We hope we can open the door.”