Introduction: While it will take decades and a great deal of change for the world to move away from dependence on fossil fuels, such a shift is underway, and nuclear energy is among the alternative energy sources available.
However, significant advances in nuclear technology are urgently needed to facilitate the more widespread use of fission energy. That’s why Ultra Security Nuclear has cut the ribbon on its Pilot Fuel Fabrication (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to manufacture fuel for use in the Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) energy system.
Ultra Security’s pilot fuel fabrication facility
On August 23, 2022, the Seattle-based company held a grand opening ceremony for its new facility in the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), which was designed and built in just 12 months. In attendance were Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Congressman Chuck Fleischman (TN-03), Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathleen Huff, and representatives from the offices of Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty. To date, the initiative has created more than 40 technology jobs.
Dr. Kurt Terrani, executive vice president of Ultra Secure Nuclear, said, “It is a pleasure to get PFM up and running at Oak Ridge, which has a unique community of qualified nuclear energy operators and contractors. We specifically chose this location and the support we received to build this first-of-its-kind facility with this level of quality and care, within an aggressive schedule and budget, is truly remarkable.”
Desktop Metal’s adhesive jet 3D printing is key to the company’s nuclear fuel. Using technology licensed from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ultra Secure Nuclear 3D prints radiation- and heat-resistant silicon carbide shells for its nuclear fuel, consisting of TRi-structural ISOtropic (TRISO)-coated fuel pellets. This fully ceramic microencapsulated (FCM) fuel, combined with helium cooling, is designed to maximize the safe use of nuclear energy sites. FM uses the same production-scale modules to make TRISO and FCM fuel that will go into ultra-safe nuclear’s future commercial fuel manufacturing facility. The radioactive site is capable of producing multi-kilogram masses of FCM for testing and qualification. In the process, PFM will freshen up the manufacturing modules for its future commercial fuel fabrication facility.
3D Printing in the Age of Peak Oil
We are now in an era of widespread use of new technologies to squeeze energy out of the remaining available fossil fuel supply. As MattKremenetsky points out, this means that additive manufacturing (AM) will be the primary technology to achieve the efficiencies needed for such a squeeze.
Meanwhile, nuclear and other energy sources are stepping in, with additive manufacturing playing a role in their development. in 2017, Siemens installed a 3D-printed part in a nuclear reactor, which pushed Westinghouse to take a similar initiative. In Russia, RusAT, a subsidiary of Rosatom, is exploring the use of 3D printing for nuclear power components. And, ORNL has partnered with French nuclear company Framatome to demonstrate the ability to 3D print nuclear reactor components.
UltraSafe Nuclear expects its first demonstration units to begin supplying power in 2024, starting at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s Chalk River Laboratory campus in Ontario, Canada. with 5-10 megawatts of electricity and 15-30 megawatts of thermal energy, MMRs are thought to be capable of being linked together as a series of reactors for primary energy production or as a renewable energy backup for deployment.
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