Who would have ever expected a relatively new technique such as 3D printing to enter the dangerous world of nuclear energy? In Northern England’s region Cumbria, Europe’s largest nuclear plant site is located: Sellafield. Despite of being Europe’s largest, spanning over 6 kilometers, the plant is having problems with its outdated equipment, which is over-expensive to replicate. And that’s exactly where 3D printing enters the game.
Sellafield Ltd is the company behind this large nuclear site. Nuclear energy is meant to save money for countries, but due to the outdated equipment this company saw its costs rise massively. The total costs of replacing all outdated machines were even estimated at 70 billion pounds. The reason for this is that many of the objects used in the 68-year-old plant were created 50 years ago and were just one-off designs. Reproducing them in a traditional way would be costing British taxpayers relatively much.
But using 3D printing and scanning methods could notably drop the costs. The company has already used the technique of additive manufacturing to reproduce a new lid for a 40 tone Solid Waste Export Flask, and the financial results are immense. Normally, reproducing this rare lid would have costed about 25,000 pounds, but using 3D scanning techniques dropped the costs to a total price of 3,000 pounds. In a statement, Sellafield’s head of metrology Allistar Norwood states: “We’re seeing huge numbers of possibilities where we don’t have to redesign work, don’t have to take the plant down and find alternatives.”
There has been a lot of pressure on Sellafield Ltd recently, due to the rising costs of its outdated nuclear site. Britain’s National Audit Office as well as its Public Accounts Committee in Britain have criticized the company for their inability to drop its costs. However, Nuclear Management Partners, the party that owns Sellafield Ltd, was last year granted for extension of its contract for another term of five years.
NMP now changes its consortium from being costly to being the first party to use 3D printing techniques for a nuclear site. Norwood thinks the technique could potentially save millions of pounds. If this turns out to become the success he’s talking about, then it would be very likely for other nuclear plants to follow Sellafield Ltd’s example.
Image credits: Chris Eaton.