Engineers and designers at BWX Technologies have developed new additive manufacturing technologies for the design and manufacture of nuclear reactor components made from high-temperature alloys and refractory metals. BWX developed this technology in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is an American government technology development site located in Tennessee.
Additive manufacturing technologies have the potential to transform the nuclear industry because AM processes can create hitherto-unheard-of shapes. Verifying the ability to additively manufacture high-temperature superalloys and refractory metals further enable designs that possess improved thermal energy management, increased safety margins and accident-tolerant characteristics.
AM’s contribution to advanced nuclear reactor technology is in the field of advanced alloy technology because AM can produce stronger components faster than traditional manufacturing methods. BWXT has demonstrated the ability to additively manufacture nickel-based superalloys and refractory-metal-based alloys for use in nuclear components. The company also accomplished component-level qualification, leading to a more efficient certification of nuclear materials configured in complex geometries. BWXT validated this technology during the successful execution of an advanced nuclear technology development cost-share program awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2018.
With refractory metal alloy-based core components, it is conceivable that an advanced reactor can reach core exit temperatures of 2,700°F and overall plant efficiencies of approximately 50%.
Additionally, these material developments could have an immediate impact on the current commercial reactor fleet and the goal of achieving an accident tolerant fuel design.
BWXT plans to use its unique design expertise and advanced manufacturing capability to reduce the costs of advanced nuclear energy systems. Specifically, BWXT’s designs and manufacturing methods will enhance the power output and longevity of a reactor while maintaining affordable costs to manufacture.
BWXT expects to reduce manufacturing risk over time as outlined in its recent proposal to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Development Program (ARDP). According to the Department of Energy, ARDP “will speed the demonstration of advanced reactors through cost-shared partnerships with U.S. industry. By rapidly developing these advanced reactors that hold so much promise, we can expand access to clean energy and take advantage of market opportunities before key infrastructure and supply chain capabilities are lost.”