Additive Manufacturing Nuclear Fuel on the Horizon

Idaho National Lab researchers are working with industry partners on an innovative method of producing advanced nuclear fuels that improve the attractiveness of new nuclear plants as reliable, emission-free baseload energy.

As part of a DOE accelerated technology commercialization project, INL’s Dr. Isabella Van Rooyen and Dr. Clemente Parga worked with Westinghouse’s Ed Lahoda to develop an innovative process for producing uranium silicide (U3Si2) fuel for advanced reactors.

Their process was dubbed AMAFT – short for Additive Manufacturing as an Alternative Fabrication Technique – for nuclear fuel. Although the process was designed around U3Si2 fuel, it can be applied to other fuels. U3Si2 fuels hold potential as an improved advanced fuel with greater safety benefits due to its greater density and improved thermal conductivity when compared with traditional uranium dioxide (UO2)-based fuels used in most current nuclear power plants. Both of these characteristics can help improve fuel cycle economics and greater safety margin in off-normal situations.

Additive manufacturing processes, more commonly known as 3-D printing, are used to form objects by adding layer upon layer of a feedstock material. Such processes involve less waste material and can be faster than traditional fabrication techniques in which objects are formed by removing material from a larger piece of feedstock material.

“AMAFT technology uses a novel hybrid additive manufacturing process, which means we combine some traditional and some additive manufacturing processes to reduce the number of steps – and therefore the time and cost – involved in producing fuel for power reactors,” said Isabella Van Rooyen, a distinguished staff scientist in INL’s Fuel Design & Development department.

In the AMAFT process, a novel hybrid laser engineering shaping technique is used in a series of processes to create a small localized melt pool from multiple powder sources, allowing the direct formation of a pellet of dense U3Si2 fuel.

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