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3D-printed nuclear reactor promises faster, more economical path to nuclear energy via Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Jason K Ellis

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 11, 2020 — Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are refining their design of a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core, scaling up the additive manufacturing process necessary to build it, and developing methods to confirm the consistency and reliability of its printed components.

The Transformational Challenge Reactor Demonstration Program’sunprecedented approach to nuclear energy leverages advances from ORNL in manufacturing, materials, nuclear science, nuclear engineering, high-performance computing, data analytics and related fields. 

The lab aims to turn on the first-of-its-kind reactor by 2023. The program has maintained its aggressive timeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, using remote work to continue design and analysis efforts. [TCR video]

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As part of deploying a 3D-printed nuclear reactor, the program will also create a digital platform that will help in handing off the technology to industry for rapid adoption of additively manufactured nuclear energy technology.  

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Through the TCR program, ORNL is seeking a solution to a troubling trend. Although nuclear power plants provide nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity, more than half of U.S. reactors will be retired within 20 years, based on current license expiration dates.

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The Transformational Challenge Reactor builds on ORNL’s 77-year history of international leadership in nuclear science and technology development. The lab began as home to the world’s first continuously operating reactor, and its scientists and engineers pioneered technology and expertise in the first decades of the Atomic Age. 

Today, the lab operates the High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science user facility that provides a world-leading source of neutrons for a variety of research and produces isotopes for medicine, industry, and space exploration. TCR will be the 14th reactor built and operated by ORNL.

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    The Transformational Challenge Reactor builds on ORNL’s 77-year history of international leadership in nuclear science and technology development. The lab began as home to the



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