A team from Brigham Young University in Utah has developed a molten salt nuclear reactor (MSR) that it claims can fit securely on the bed of a 40-foot truck, as the US Department of Energy (DoE) continues to seek methods to improve MSRs. …
According to the university, Professor Matthew Memmott and his team will construct a molten salt micro-nuclear reactor that has a chamber that is only four by seven feet (1.2 x 2.1 meters) in size, has no meltdown risk, and can generate enough energy to power 1,000 homes. Separately, Prof. Memmott informed The Register that the reactor’s output should be close to 10MWe.
People have had the innate belief that nuclear power is evil, large, and hazardous for the past 60 years, the professor claimed. “Those opinions are predicated on anticipated problems with generation 1, yet having a molten salt reactor is like having a silicon chip. We can solve those issues by using reactors that are smaller, safer, and more affordable.”
MSRs dissolve fissile material into a molten salt that also serves as the reactor’s main coolant, in contrast to conventional light-water reactors that normally store uranium fuel in solid rods that must be maintained cool with liquid water to prevent a meltdown.
One safety benefit of MSRs is that they treat the fuel and primary coolant as one and do not rely on water coolant to remain flowing and below boiling point.
In a typical MSR, the primary fuel salt moves through the reactor and transfers heat to non-radioactive secondary coolant salt, which can then transfer that heat to other things, like conventional steam turbine-driven electricity generators. This primary fuel salt has a high melting point of 1022°F (550°C).
Prof. Memmott claims that nuclear energy, and molten salt, in particular, is the perfect solution to the world’s current energy crisis because it is secure and reliable, the core reaction doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, and it produces valuable byproducts that can be processed again after the reaction is finished.
His institution claims that corporations could extract Molybdenum-99, a pricey element used in medical imaging, Cobalt-60, gold, platinum, neodymium, and other elements that could be sold for other applications from the waste produced by an MSR reactor.
Prof. Memmott added that his team was also successful in extracting oxygen and hydrogen from the salts. “We are able to completely clean the salt once more and utilize it through this procedure. The salt may be recycled endlessly “explained he.
Due to their purportedly lower size and enhanced safety, molten salt reactors were developed in the 1950s and 1960s and promoted as an alternative to light-water reactors. In the end, the designs from the time proved unsuitable for their intended uses. Los Alamos National Laboratory is leading a $9.25 million study that was recently funded by the Department of Energy to solve MSR’s inadequacies and identify what is required to make them feasible.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered that fluoride salts were extremely corrosive to metals and other materials used to build reactors during the MSR experiments carried out in the previous century, even for a particular alloy developed in the facility to minimize corrosion at high temperatures.
Prof. Memmott stated that his team and Alpha Tech Research Corp, the commercializing partner for the BYU MSR, of which Memmott is director and senior technical advisor, believe they have found a solution by removing water and oxygen from the salt, significantly reducing the corrosion issue. However, the DoE is still looking into ways to get around these show-stopping corrosion issues.
In addition, the Department of Energy awarded about $800,000 in funding to Prof. Memmott and two other Brigham Young University (BYU) engineering professors in 2019 to study the physical characteristics of molten salt.
The Nuclear Energy University Program of the DoE provided funding for that particular study. The research team studied the molten salt’s density, viscosity, heat capacity, thermal conductivity, and other physical characteristics. They also examined how fission and corrosive byproducts are created inside MSRs.
Memmott noted that although the small BYU reactor is currently under construction, testing won’t begin using it until the following year. However, because the micro design does not require salt to flow through the reactor, it eliminates parts like pumps and valves and addresses operational issues like the need for precise flow and temperature control.
This naturally presupposes that everything goes as planned when the reactor is actually tested the following year, but the delay isn’t deterring Prof. Memmott or Alpha Tech from looking for new applications for the technology they created, particularly their molten salt.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Alpha Tech has teamed up with the San Rafael Energy Research Center in Orangeville, Utah, to transform a closed warehouse for coal mining equipment into a facility for salt refinement for MSR usage.
MIT, which intends to utilize it as an encasing material for its hot nuclear fusion reactor, is one of the research institutes and firms that will purchase refined salts from Alpha Tech, according to Prof. Memmott, who spoke to the newspaper.