Home Applications & Case Studies Westinghouse improves nuclear reactors with 3D printing

Westinghouse improves nuclear reactors with 3D printing

Westinghouse Electric Company has become the first company in the industry to use additive manufacturing (AM) to produce bottom nozzles that improve debris removal and fuel durability in its fuel assemblies. The nozzles were integrated into four fuel assemblies that will be delivered to Alabama Power’s Joseph M. Farley nuclear power plant operated by Southern Nuclear in the first quarter of 2024.

Abrasion from dirt particles on the fuel rod cladding – known as dirt fretting – is the main cause of leaks in pressurized water reactor (PWR) fuel assemblies. Additive manufacturing offers significant improvements in debris filtering thanks to the increased design freedom that reduces the diameter of debris particles that can enter the reactor. In tests, the additively manufactured components showed a 30% improvement in dirt resistance.

“Over the past decade, Southern Nuclear has led the industry in the development and implementation of new technologies that improve fuel resiliency,” said Southern Nuclear President Pete Sena. “The existing nuclear power fleet is the backbone of our country’s clean energy supply, and we are innovating nuclear fuel today to be more robust in order to deliver safer, more affordable and more reliable carbon-free clean nuclear power for decades to come.”

This milestone underscores Westinghouse’s leadership in the nuclear industry in developing advanced solutions using additive manufacturing techniques. Back in 2015, the company conducted the first material irradiation study of additively manufactured nuclear components. In 2020, Westinghouse installed the first safety-relevant additively manufactured component, a thimble plugging device, in a commercial reactor. And in 2024, Westinghouse produced its 1,000th additively manufactured component for VVER-440 fuel.

“Our additive manufacturing technology is allowing us to achieve breakthrough performance with an immediate positive impact for our customers,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel. “This significant technology innovation for PWR reactors mitigates the risk of leakage in the fuel rods due to the accumulation of debris, strengthening the safety and efficiency of our customers’ operations.”

The application of additive manufacturing in nuclear engineering clearly demonstrates the potential of this technology to increase the safety and efficiency of nuclear power plants while reducing operating costs. This could lead to wider acceptance and application of additive manufacturing across the nuclear power industry in the future.

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