Engineers develop small, safe nuclear reactor that uses molten salts instead of fuel rods

A nuclear power plant is good for the environment and generates 8,000 times more energy than fossil fuels, but when accidents occur they can have serious consequences, as in the case of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In in the years that followed, radiation sickness took the lives of nearly 100 people.

However, a micro molten salt nuclear reactor, developed by Brigham Young University (BYU) professor and nuclear engineer Matthew Memmott, and his colleagues, could provide safer nuclear power generation.

(Photo: Brooklyn Jarvis Kelson/BYU Photo)

dissolved salt

The light water reactor is the type of nuclear reactor generally used in America. When uranium atoms are split to produce energy, the by-products emit an enormous amount of heat.

To keep everything cool enough, water is pumped through rods of solid fuel where they are held. The bars can overheat if the flow of cooling water is insufficient, putting the entire installation at risk of nuclear meltdown.

Memmott suggests storing these radioactive materials in molten salt rather than using fuel rods, according to a press release from BYU.

Memmott said nuclear power could be “extremely safe” and affordable if done right. Thus, its new reactor consists of dissolving radioactive by-products (generated during and after the nuclear reaction) into molten salt.

It should be noted that nuclear waste is extremely harmful because nuclear material can continue to give off heat or radiation for tens of thousands of years as it gradually cools.

However, the melting point of salt, which is 550°C, is so high that it doesn’t take long for the temperature of these elements in the salt to drop below, according to BYU’s press release.

The risk of nuclear meltdown in a power plant is then eliminated after the crystallization of the salt since the radiated heat will be absorbed by the salt, which does not remelt.

The ability to dispose of hazardous nuclear waste is another advantage of the molten salt nuclear reactor design. There is no need to store the reaction by-products elsewhere because they are securely confined in the salt.

More importantly, the molten salts used in the procedure are fully recyclable. Memmott’s team discovered that they could also remove oxygen and hydrogen while extracting valuable elements.

“Through this process, we can make the salt completely clean and reuse it. We can recycle the salt indefinitely.”

Read also: The American nuclear regulator approves the design of the “first nuclear reactor of generation IV”!

Micro-reactor

The core of a normal nuclear power plant is usually built in an exclusion zone of just over a square mile and measures about 30 feet by 30 feet to reduce the risk of radiation exposure.

The micro molten salt nuclear reactor built by the BYU scientist would measure 4 feet by 7 feet. Also, there is no requirement for a large exclusion zone as there is no chance of collapse, according to the research team.

Additionally, they claimed that their micro-reactor could generate enough power to run 1,000 typical American homes.

Memmott explained that for the past 60 years, people have had the irrational belief that nuclear power is “evil, great, and dangerous.”

“These perceptions are based on potential problems for the first generation, but having the molten salt reactor is like having a silicon chip. [in computing]. We can have smaller, safer, cheaper reactors and get rid of these problems.”

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This article belongs to Tech Times

Written by Joaquin Victor Tacla

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