The advanced nuclear reactor design from Transatomic Power (TAP) has been given a technical endorsement from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which called the company’s innovative fuel concept a promising rarity among the industry’s next generation of plants.
Twenty percent of the nation’s electricity comes from 99 currently operating light water reactors that use a solid form of uranium fuel. TAP’s design is a molten salt reactor that burns uranium dissolved into the molten fluoride salts. Two of the advantages of this technology is the ability for a power plant to operate for decades using 5 percent low-enriched uranium that is currently available in the uranium supply chain. The other advantages are that it leaves less toxic waste behind.
“It can operate in such a way that it can break down long-lived radioactive byproducts known as actinides,” the industry trade group Nuclear Energy Institute explained.
Also, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the reactor design has passive safety features that make the reactor impossible to suffer a meltdown. This is possible because the plant operates at atmospheric pressures and does not need external power to shut down and cool the fuel safely.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s endorsement solid enough to sound good in a commercial. TAP’s design “generates clean, passively safe and low-cost nuclear power from the existing low-enriched uranium supply chain, something that few, if any, other advanced nuclear designs can claim,” said the National Laboratory in a technical white paper titled, “Two-Dimensional Neutronic and Fuel Cycle Analysis of the Transatomic Power Molten Salt Reactor.”
The white paper was released in late January as part of a Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program that was launched in January 2018. TAP was one of the first recipients of a $200,000 GAIN “voucher” designed to kick-start public-private partnerships between the national lab and private companies.
The white paper agreed that TAP’s reactor design “can operate for decades” using low-enriched uranium. Such approval represents “an important milestone for the nascent advanced nuclear industry and helps position advanced nuclear technology as a key player in the country’s future energy mix,” TAP said in a statement.
The company, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., is engaged in an all-out race for development of small nuclear power reactors that are factory built and moved into the location. Using passive safety features that make meltdowns impossible. Nuclear giant, Westinghouse, and Washington-based NuScale are also in the hunt for small reactors development that has been potentially viable for decades – small reactors, after all, power aircraft carriers, ice-breakers, and submarines – but have never been used for commercial electricity generation.
Companies envision reactors with construction streamlined at factories. Future units will then be shipped to the customer and installed, sometimes with up to 12 small reactors operating side by side. The smallest designs include the concept of replacing the entire reactor when the fuel burns out, rather than shutting it down for refueling in place.