May 12, 2014

Image: Macalister, T., Guardian

When people think of Sellafield they probably think about decommissioning and knocking things down, but not directly related to 3D printing. But now Sellafield's owners are hoping the new technology could help them decommission some of the most potentially hazardous plants in the world and provide cost and schedule savings.

Sellafield is one of the largest and most complex nuclear sites in the United Kingdom, storing and treating nuclear waste from both the UK's military and civil nuclear programs. Some of the Sellafield's sites are currently undergoing decommissioning and dismantling, and all the cost of decommissioning, around £70 bn, will be borne by UK taxpayers. Sellafield Ltd, the company that carries out the clean-up work at the Sellafield sites, has faced growing criticism from the public accounts committee and National Audit Office for soaring decommissioning costs.

Sellafield holds a variety of leftovers from 50 years ago. Some of its problems date back to the original nuclear weapons programme at Sellafield, when plants were constructed at very fast speed, and safe disposal was not a priority. Many parts and components were one-off designs. So the best way to replace these parts is to use innovative technologies. 3D printing can be used to make custom and complex parts in a matter of hours, and the cost would be a fraction of what a traditional molding company might charge.

Lead Mechanical Engineer, Eduard Bordas and the container lid

For example, Sellafield recently designed a lid for a 40 ton solid-waste export flask, which is used to transport radioactive waste from one Sellafield site to another for treatment. It cost them £3,000 to get the part scanned instead of the estimated £25,000 cost of using a metrology rig. It was also carried out in a fraction of the normal 6 months taken to manufacture such a component using traditional tooling.

Lead Mechanical Engineer, Eduard Bordas, said: "I was tasked with the job to re-use an existing container and to get a new lid designed with a filling port to allow the sludge to be metered into drums. We recognised early on that is was paramount that the new lid will fit the old body first time. None of the traditional metrology methods available gave us the same confidence that 3D scanning did. 3D scanning was simpler, cheaper and more accurate – basically it provided fit-for-purpose technology that we're adapting for the nuclear industry at Sellafield."

"We're seeing huge numbers of possibilities where we don't have to redesign work, don't have to take the plant down and find alternatives," says Alistair Norwood, head of metrology at Sellafield Ltd. Redesigning a plant or part of it can cost up to £2m, Norwood explains, and 3D printing is believed to be able to save hundred thousand pounds for Sellafield. The company will commission Central Scanning Ltd to scan these parts, and they will then work with the West Berkshire-based 3D printing expert 3T RPD, to rapid manufacture parts with materials ranging from titanium to plastics. Without the tool cost, the actual parts cost 60% or less than when produced using the traditional method.

3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, but until the early 2010s the printers became widely available. Advances in the technology – along with reduced costs, have made the printers more practical for industry use. Companies like GE, BAE Systems and Siemens are using 3D printing in production. Sellafield is believed to be one of the first nuclear sites to use 3D printing to manufacture parts.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive