A team of engineers and nuclear physicists has an unusual plan to revolutionize the nuclear energy industry: they want to 3D print a functional reactor in their lab.
While tinkering around with tried-and-true methods for building a nuclear power plant is sure to raise an eyebrow, the team from the Oak Ridge National Lab told Wired that they see 3D printing as a way to drag the nuclear energy industry — kicking and screaming — into the 21st century.
Developing a new part for a nuclear reactor is an expensive and time-consuming process. Engineers need to build the part, stick it in a test reactor, and evaluate whether or not it worked.
By instead 3D printing the parts, the Oak Ridge team says they could test new components — especially those too complex and intricate to build in a machine shop — far faster.
“We know all these concepts work,” Oak Ridge researcher Kurt Terrani told Wired. “The problem is we can’t build them fast and cheap enough.”
The team plans to 3D print one of those advanced core designs for a small nuclear reactor they plan to bring online in 2023.
The core, Wired reports, only comes up to a person’s knees, and the entire reactor is about the size of a beer keg — just enough to power about 1,000 homes.
READ MORE: Coming Soon: A Nuclear Reactor—With a 3D Printed Core [Wired]
More on nuclear energy: Here’s How To Build Your Own Nuclear Power Plant