nuclear milestone graphic
Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) recently licensed a new method developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to 3D print refractory materials, which are highly resistant to extreme heat and degradation. The new technique will allow the company to significantly speed up its timeline to develop and deploy its advanced microreactor design.

Printing Complex Components

ORNL’s novel method additively manufactures refractive materials using a combination of binder jet printing and a ceramic production process called chemical vapor infiltration. The new approach was developed through the Transformational Challenge Reactor program funded by the Office of Nuclear Energy.

Traditional methods used to machine the company’s silicon carbide material are currently too time-intensive and cost-prohibitive. Incorporating this new process allows USNC to make complex shapes, such as fluid channels in a heat exchanger, much more efficiently.

“This is the holy grail of additive, that you can do things faster, that are in geometries that were previously very difficult or impossible with conventional manufacturing methods,” said Kurt Terrani, USNC executive vice-president.

“It’s rewarding to see the transition from basic concept to a more mature technology that is actively being developed and deployed by our industry partners,” said Jeremy Busby, director of ORNL’s Nuclear Energy and Fuel Cycle division. “This is exactly the sort of impact that ORNL strives to make for our energy portfolio.”

Micro-Modular Energy System

USNC started its licensing process for its high-temperature gas-cooled Micro Modular Reactor (MMR). The company plans to demonstrate the 15-megawatt microreactor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. The university initiated the first step of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s two-step licensing process by submitting a letter of intent to construct the MMR on campus.

What’s Next

USNC plans to locate a pilot fuel manufacturing facility near ORNL to have easy access to the lab’s world-class scientists and facilities. The company is also scaling-up the production of specialty components for nuclear and industrial applications.

The Transformational Challenge Reactor program leverages the latest advancements in manufacturing, materials, and computing to speed up the deployment of nuclear technologies.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science—the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S. The Office of Nuclear Energy works to support the existing nuclear fleet, enable the deployment of advanced reactors, and to develop solutions to manage the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.

Explore more recent successes by the Office of Nuclear Energy.