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By Andrew Follett

Engineers installed the world’s first three-dimensional, printed nuclear power plant part in a facility in Slovenia Friday.

The part is a metallic impeller for a fire protection pump in the Krško nuclear reactor in Slovenia. The original part was produced by a manufacturer which went out of business and was thus unable to be replaced by conventional means.

Three-dimensional printing can be used to replicate very old or obsolete parts, the designs of which are virtually impossible to obtain. This makes it incredibly useful for nuclear power, since many reactors are very old and have antiquated features.

“We continue to push forward our investments and cutting-edge advancements in additive manufacturing and 3D printing,” Tim Holt, CEO of Siemens power generation company, which printed the part, told Power Engineering. “This achievement at the Krško nuclear power plant is another example of how the digital transformation and the data-driven capabilities we have are impacting the energy industry in ways that really matter.”

Siemens is continuing research and development in three-dimensional printing parts to be put in older nuclear reactors and expects the market to grow. Most nuclear power plants are designed to operate for 25 to 40 years, but their lives are frequently extended to operate longer, which requires replacing some parts

In the U.S., over 75 reactors have had their licenses extended from 40 to 60 years, according to the World Nuclear Association.  Extending these licences requires significant financial expenditures to replace worn equipment and outdated control systems, and three-dimensional printing may be able to bring those costs down.

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