Despite its incredible potential, advanced nuclear technology hasn’t been adopted as quickly as many would like. Advanced reactors, such as Westinghouse’s AP1000, have required more funding and time to complete than originally predicted.
However, as environmentalists and world leaders across the globe search for ways to fight climate change, momentum is building around next generation reactors that produce emissions-free energy with far less nuclear waste. A major announcement from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) last month proves that progress is picking up.
Scientists at the Tennessee-based laboratory independently verified the Transatomic Power Corporation’s molten salt reactor design as safe, efficient and successful at reducing waste.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “the ORNL report verifies that the firm’s technology ‘can operate for decades’ using commercially available 5 percent-enriched uranium. Additionally, the results demonstrate that the design will burn fuel much more efficiently than present-day light water reactor designs while significantly reducing the buildup of radioactive waste byproducts.”
This is a major milestone for the company, which expects to create a demo version of their reactor by the mid-2020s.
How it works
As we’ve explained before, Transatomic Power’s molten salt reactor has the potential to revolutionize the nuclear industry. Unlike traditional reactors, which place uranium oxide inside a metal frame and then into water to generate steam, molten salt reactors dissolve uranium directly in liquid salt.
Without the metal containers, the molten salt reactor is able to continuously filter out byproducts that would otherwise limit energy creation. Additionally, liquid fuel is far less prone to structural damage—in other words, it cannot melt down—and the same fuel can be used to generate power for decades. In short, this advanced technology is more efficient, much safer and far less wasteful than traditional water-based models.
A successful partnership
ORNL’s seal of approval came just over a year after the launch of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative, which encourages partnerships between private technology firms and national laboratories. As part of the program, Transatomic Power was awarded $200,000 to use toward research and development projects in collaboration with a national lab.
In a press release following the verification announcement, Transatomic CEO and co-founder Dr. Leslie Dewan discussed the initiative, saying:
“This is just the first step in what we hope will be a long, productive engagement with the national lab system. The labs possess capabilities that are critical to helping small businesses develop state-of-the-art technologies, and GAIN is key to unlocking the potential that these technologies present.”
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Banner image (aerial view of Oak Ridge National Lab) by Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, U.S. Department of Energy via Wikimedia Commons