New 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets to load at Browns Ferry next spring

December 15, 2020, 7:00AMNuclear News

Additively manufactured channel fastener. Source: ORNL

The Tennessee Valley Authority will load four new 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets next spring at its Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, in Athens, Alabama. The brackets will be the first of their kind loaded into a commercial reactor, according to the Department of Energy.

The components, also called channel fasteners, were manufactured at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, in a joint project with TVA and its fuel supplier, Framatome, as part of the lab’s Transformational Challenge Reactor program. The program is designed to introduce new manufacturing techniques and approaches to industry partners in order to speed up the deployment of nuclear systems.

First-of-a-kind print: ORNL additively manufactured the channel fasteners for Framatome’s boiling water reactor fuel assembly using a micro-welding process. The ORNL team created a 3D-printed part compliant with reactor safety regulations for deployment in a commercial reactor. The lab is also providing all of the 3D digital data captured during the manufacturing process that details each layer of the print, which can then be used to certify the quality of the bracket.

“This is one of the first steps in ORNL’s coordinated efforts with the NRC’s Office of Regulatory Research and the nuclear vendors to prove that a new and greatly accelerated approach for qualified part fabrication is possible,” said Kurt Terrani, TCR director.

Easy to make: The channel fasteners perform an essential function in the fuel assembly and are easy to fabricate using the new manufacturing techniques, according to the DOE. This combination made it an ideal part to print and use for the demonstration. It could also open the door to manufacturing more complex parts moving forward.

“Partnering with ORNL and TVA to pioneer additive manufacturing for the nuclear industry is a step change in the way we think and how we will design our components in the future,” said John Strumpell, Framatome’s Research and Development manager for the U.S. Fuel Business Unit.

Bracket life: The new brackets will be loaded into Unit 2 at Browns Ferry in March 2021 during a scheduled refueling outage. They will remain in the reactor for six years, with inspections planned during outages and after use.

“Being the first to use these additively manufactured components supports an innovative manufacturing approach that could pave the path for use across the existing nuclear fleet and in advanced reactors and small modular reactors,”said Dan Stout, TVA’s director of Nuclear Technology Innovation.

The TCR program is funded by the Office of Nuclear Energy within the DOE.

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