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Brown Talks 3D-Printed Reactor Cores for Wired

Nicholas Brown.Associate Professor Nick Brown is part of a team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who have designed components for a gas-cooled nuclear reactor called the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) that is set to come online in 2023.

Remarkably, it’s also the first nuclear reactor in the world that will have a 3D-printed core, marking a unique potential for the industry. Brown spoke with Wired about what this milestone advancement means.

Because of the small size and complexity of the design of the TCR core, it is not practical to make with conventional machining techniques. This is the advantage of a 3D printer, which can build the core layer by layer by fusing silicon carbide together in a design that was previously impossible to construct.

Brown says that 3D printing will also help streamline the process for getting reactor parts passed through the inspection and qualification process.

“One of the most expensive and time-consuming steps for a new structural component in a nuclear reactor core is the cost to qualify the component,” he said. “Typically, this process can take decades and millions or billions of dollars.”