In a world where clean energy is more than just a luxury, the issue of nuclear energy reappears in international debates.
We are talking about clean energy, yes, but with risks that can have devastating effects, for that reason the clean should be put in quotes. The fact is that it has not yet been completely desired, and there are teams that are investigating how 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence could bring the sector back to life.
Now it is Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Transformational Challenge Reactor Program that hopes to bring nuclear power into the 21st century by deploying 3D printing and AI to design and produce core technology for reactors.
They comment on power-technology.com:
Nuclear power is in the middle of a crisis. In 20 years, only one nuclear plant has been built in the United States and Western Europe. Countries are phasing out technology entirely or commissioned projects are experiencing rising costs and endless days. Furthermore, the shift from large-scale base power to intermittent renewables raises questions about the relevance of nuclear powers in the future.
Kurt Terrani, a senior scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, says that humans have lost the will or the knowledge of how to design, build and deploy nuclear systems as was done in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; We have not built an advanced reactor without water cooling in about 40 years. He believes that with 3D printing, artificial intelligence and big data, it is possible to advance in the design of a new, better and more secure system.
One of the problems is the enormous cost of nuclear power. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in the UK, for example, is expected to cost £ 22 billion… there are much cheaper options for power.
To address the cost issue, researchers at Oak Ridge, the largest national energy and science laboratory in the Department of Energy’s system, are refining their design of a 3D-printed gas piping to the reactor core that can utilize the Expanded additive manufacturing for construction. The prototype is a three megawatt micro reactor.
Using a 3D printing methodology, developed during a previous program, it can be printed using silicon carbide, which is a refractory material, resistant to high temperatures and radiation.
In this way, they achieve high design complexity for cooling channels, using some high-performance materials, which was not possible before.
On the other hand, 3D printing allows hybrid structures to be used. This means that instead of using a piece of a single material, such as steel, researchers can embed and incorporate other components into the material, such as sensors, for example.
At the moment they are doing 3D printing in small volumes, and they manage to collect information as they do it, they record with cameras, use sensors and use data with different variables. They are collecting hundreds of gigabytes that will be analyzed with artificial intelligence to look for critical performance parameters.
Is all this enough to resurrect a technology that many people do not want to see even in paint?