Molten Salt Reactor Diagram
Molten Salt Reactor Diagram

Concerns over nuclear energy are at an all-time high, but the TransAtomic molten-salt nuclear reactor design could be safer, as well as cheaper.

In the 1960’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL] tested molten-salt nuclear reactors, but the technology was never commercialized. TransAtomic is reopening the books on the technology.

Since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi two years ago, the safety of nuclear power is again being called into question. TransAtomic, an MIT spinoff company, believes that they can make molten-salt nuclear reactors smaller and safer than typical water-cooled reactors. For one, instead of being built onsite, they could be assembled in factories under better-controlled conditions, making it cheaper as well.

The molten salt has a much higher boiling point than the fuel, and so can be put directly in the fuel to regulate fission. When the fuel gets too hot, the salt expands and pushes the fuel apart, slowing the reaction.

If the system does overheat, the melt-bolt dissolves and the salt expands fully, pushing apart the fuel until it stops reacting and eventually cools off, encasing the fuel. This is especially encouraging, since a power outage is what caused Fukushima Daiichi to fail, because they couldn’t pump water in fast enough to cool the reactors.

Molten-salt reactors also emit less waste, a few hundred pounds a year instead of a few thousand tons, burning most of its own waste in the reactor. The TransAtomic molten-salt nuclear reactor could be fool-proof, but we’ll take that with a grain of, well, salt. “There’s no such thing as a fool-proof system. Someone will make a better fool tomorrow.”

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