Jan 14, 2016 | By Alec

3D printed lower tube socket of CAP1400 nuclear fuel assembly

Over the past few years metal 3D printing has been growing into a huge hit in high quality industries such as the aerospace sector, but Chinese specialists have now found another industry that can definitely benefit from the technology’s quick and cost-saving production methods: nuclear energy. As the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) just revealed, they have successfully 3D printed a lower tube socket of CAP1400 nuclear fuel assembly, which is the first time 3D printing has been used to construct nuclear fuel elements in China.

This is a very significant breakthrough, as nuclear energy is growing in importance in numerous regions in the world. While still very expensive, this 3D printing breakthrough could do wonders for mass-producing nuclear elements which would save manpower, lower costs and improve the overall quality of the fuel elements. As the CNNC revealed, these CAP1400 assemblies are the country’s most exported nuclear technology. These Nuclear fuel elements are independent fuel cell structures in a nuclear reactor that feature a single cylindrical rod and lots of complex metal parts. They play the crucial roles of providing energy to the reactors, while forming the first barrier that keeps them safe. The actual energy is generated in those reactors through nuclear fission.

sample of nuclear fuel assembly

Obviously the parts used in these elements require very high-precision manufacturing to realize those complex structures, something that has traditionally made it a very expensive sector. However, the CNNC has now found that 3D printing technology can do wonders in realizing these parts directly through 3D modeling tools – greatly shortening the product development cycle, improving productivity and reducing costs significantly. To manufacture these breakthrough parts, the corporation has been using the SLM-S300 Selective Laser Melting system. The 3D printed part is currently in the pre-acceptance phase and will undergo extensive testing. If successful, the company will further use additive manufacturing technique to make the spider mounting, grid and application of altimeter parts, as well as other complex parts.

This SLM-S300 Selective Laser Melting 3D printer they are using has been developed and produced by Bright Laser Technologies from Xi'an city. CNNC has also signed a cooperation agreement with NanFang Additive Manufacturing Technology, setting up a collaboration with the CNNC subsidiaries China Nuclear Power Institute and the China Nuclear Power Engineering Co., Ltd for the further development of top level heavy metal 3D printing technologies. The two sides will also further agree to cooperate in research and development, as well as on issues surrounding sample designs, sample trials, product identification, standard preparation and licensing issues from national nuclear safety authorities.

CNNC has further said that, over the coming years, they will increase the use of 3D printing technology with an eye on manufacturing key parts for small reactors, such as pressure vessels and main steam pipes. Research taken place over the last two years by the Nuclear Power Institute of China and the China Nuclear Power Engineering has suggested that this breakthrough could make a genuine impact on production times, but also improve the quality of the equipment and security levels. “Compared to the traditional technologies that have taken design and manufacturing equipment from big to small, 3D printing technology is, in turn, starting from powder processing,” a nuclear engineer was quoted, adding that this makes the equipment more reliable.

CNNC Assistant General Manager Li Xiaoming further said that this metal 3D printing application could truly revolutionize nuclear power equipment design and manufacturing. However, several experts have added that it could take up to ten years before the technology is widely used in the nuclear sector.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Jon Warren Lentz wrote at 1/20/2016 6:23:17 PM:

--> John Allison Apparently this is being considered & even patented. I Googled your phrase, "burying Nuke waste in the descending tectonic plate at a subduction zone" & got plenty of results. Not a bad idea. The costs of doing something smart soon, vs the expense to generations is I justified. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=burying+Nuke+waste+in+the+descending+tectonic+plate+at+a+subduction+zone&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

John Allison. wrote at 1/16/2016 1:20:33 PM:

Has anyone done any research into burying Nuke waste in the descending tectonic plate at a subduction zone. Not a cheap solution but possibly a safe long term one.

Jon Warren Lentz wrote at 1/15/2016 8:46:36 PM:

- Not sane: repeating the same behavior, expecting different results is the textbook definition of insanity; and we still know it's about weapons. - Not safe: that part about weapons (above), plus Santa Susana, TMI, Chernobyl, Fuku. All insurance policies exclude nuclear accidents and the federal government enables the nuke industry by limiting their liability. Take that away and the industry would fold. GE refused a nuke deal with India because they could not negotiate away all liability. - Not clean: there is no safe dose of radiation. The incubation for the initial appearance of radiation induced leukemias is at least 5 years, 10 for cancers. - Not green: when total cost accounting is applied to all phases of nuclear power, it consumes more energy than it produces.

Jon Warren Lentz wrote at 1/15/2016 8:41:47 PM:

Chinese Invention. Regardless who invented the technology, international priorities need to change. The waste issue is a world problem.

zag wrote at 1/15/2016 9:20:48 AM:

Russian invention

Jon Warren Lentz wrote at 1/15/2016 5:00:48 AM:

Nuclear Power is Neither Sane nor Safe & Clean. It is certainly not green. This piece assumes that nukes are a done deal. I would prefer no more nukes. Period. "IF" there will be continued nuke behavior, I would prefer that all possible funding first be directed to our best possible permanent waste storage solution (ie: well engineered, not on a lake shore or over an aquifer, well above anticipated 1,000 year sea level) ... before nuke behavior continues. This is like telling the kids to clean up their room before they can watch TV. Surely it is not too much to expect the nuke "industry" to follow the same rules that we use to guide children. That said, how about 3D printing a solution? We need a permanent solution for mountains of nuclear waste. Until that is done, we don't need more or better ways to generate more waste.

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