The nuclear reactor of the future is small – and may run on molten salt

The nuclear reactor of the future is small – and may run on molten salt

In the future, nuclear power comes from small units that must be far safer than the old ones. They can even use radioactive waste to generate new energy.

Melted salt is just what it sounds like: Fluoride salt heated to 500 degrees where it melts.

Professor: Wind is cheaper than nuclear

According to Lazard's latest annual analysis, the cost of a megawatt-hour (MWh) from an onshore wind turbine is between $ 28 and $ 54, taking into account all expenses over the life of a wind turbine.
According to LCOE 13.0, similar costs to current nuclear power are at $ 118-192 per head

According to Seaborg , waste from their nuclear reactor must be stored for 300 years. Some of today's nuclear waste must be stored for hundreds of thousands of years to avoid harmful radioactivity.

In the future, nuclear power comes from small units that must be far safer than the old ones. They can even use radioactive waste to generate new energy. Danish Seaborg is on the rise.

If you remember the accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plants, it might turn in you at the thought that nuclear power can spread over the planet for many years.

After all, radioactivity can trigger cancer cases and kill them. Nuclear technology has been used in war. And at the top of the hat, the big power plants are producing toxic waste that we will have to deal with over the next several centuries.

But before you write off the idea of ​​nuclear power based on your knowledge of history, you should know just about the whole new generation of nuclear power plants that are being developed that, according to researchers, compared to previous power plants:

  • Is far safer
  • Leaves far less waste
  • Can use already used nuclear material (waste) as fuel
  • Is far smaller
  • Is cheaper
  • Unable to melt or explode
  • Cannot be developed for nuclear weapons
  • Emits 0 greenhouse gases while producing energy – a lot of energy

In particular, the latter point appears to be extremely important at a time when CO 2 emissions, the temperature of the globe, and the number of people on Earth are increasing.

‘Sun and wind can’t solve the problems alone’

A key solution to the climate problems that come with it is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO 2 as quickly as possible.

“I think a lot of people underestimate how much effort needs to be done to get rid of coal, oil, natural gas, and biomass entirely so that we can become genuinely CO 2 neutral. We have a huge problem, and if you think you can solve it with the sun and wind alone, you have not understood the scope. If we don’t do something noticeable, we’re all on the skier. “

The words come from Troels Schönfeldt.

He once studied nuclear physics at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and DTU.

Today, well over five years later, he is in charge of 30 employees, including 12 PhDs from 5 continents.

They are in the process of developing a nuclear reactor that will not run using uranium or plutonium in solid form, as the old nuclear power plants did. Instead, the radioactive material is dissolved in molten salt.

We have reversed Seaborg’s bid for the nuclear power of the future with three Danish scientists, every leader in their field with shared opinions on the new technology that is on the drawing board.

But first, you need to know a little more about the plans for the so-called molten salt reactor.

5 advantages of an upcoming molten salt reactor

Bent Lauritzen is considered to be Denmark’s leading university expert in nuclear energy. He is researching just melted salt reactors at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

Bent Lauritzen has a good knowledge of the work in Seaborg, for he helped train Troels Schönfeldt in nuclear physics, and his group works with Seaborg to develop and test molten salt reactor software.

Molten salt has a wealth of benefits according to Bent Lauritzen: 

  1. Molten salt with dissolved uranium is a liquid fuel

It is easy to clean, and in a molten salt reactor, you can run with the same fuel for much longer than you can with the old uranium reactors. In other words, the energy from uranium is used far more efficiently and also leaves far less waste.

  1. A molten salt reactor runs at low pressure

This means that the risk of spreading radioactive material by, for example, an explosion is very small. Low pressure also gives less need to shield the reactor from the surroundings. It makes it cheaper to build.

  1. The radioactive material is bound in the salt

The salt reacts with the radioactive substances, which become new salts. Should the accident occur, the molten salt with uranium will be collected in a container where it will be cooled. It prevents radioactivity from being transmitted around the world with the wind, as happened after the Chernobyl accident.

  1. A molten salt reactor can run at a higher temperature than the old reactors

It may sound dangerous, but in reality, it means that you get more power from the same fuel. It even makes it possible for the reactor to supply district heating to homes or heat to the industry in addition to fossil fuels.

  1. The high heat makes it easier to make hydrogen

Hydrogen can potentially push out fossil fuels. In this way, a molten salt reactor opens up new technological possibilities.

Professor: 4th generation nuclear power is far from Chernobyl

Bent Lauritzen emphasizes that there is the tremendous technological distance from the Chernobyl reactors to the plans for the new reactors in what is known as the fourth generation, which includes the molten salt reactor.

According to Bent Lauritzen, safety is so much higher in the new types that it eventually annoys the DTU researcher when Chernobyl arrives on the field as an argument against nuclear power.

“Nobody would build a Chernobyl reactor today, and I don’t like the comparison. You might as well compare apples to bananas. It is simply misinforming. I always say nuclear power is safe today, “says Bent Lauritzen of the Center for Nuclear Technologies at DTU.

Seaborg: Far fewer waste issues

According to Troels Schönfeldt of Seaborg, the waste generated by the new nuclear reactors in the fourth generation of nuclear power will fill up quite a bit, because the fuel is better utilized than in the previous generations.

The waste from all of Denmark’s consumption of electricity for a year can be stored away in as little as three moving boxes, the company manager declares.

“And it won’t take more than a room the size of a meeting room to store it safely afterward,” it reads.

Finally, Troels Schönfeldt notes that in addition to safety being far better and the waste taking up much less, Seaborg’s reactor will not be used to make weapons.

It’s basically about choosing fuel and reactor design, says Seaborg’s CEO (CEO), without going into detail about the prototype the company is working on developing and creating a business.

“The shortest, and somewhat simplified, explanation is that there are no materials in our reactor at all times that can be used for α-weapons, that is, no high-enriched uranium or plutonium grade weapons,” says Troels Schönfeldt.

Seaborg reactor is not yet complete. 

Climate Professor: Crucial to being able to reject accidents

The messages from Bent Lauritzen and Seaborg to Videnskap.dk immediately welcome Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a climate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s section of Ice, Climate, and Geophysics.

Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen is a climate scientist and a long-time member of the UN Climate Panel, IPCC.

He believes, first and foremost, that it is crucial to reduce precisely the risk of accidents, the risk of abuse to war or terror, and the problems of radioactive waste.

And just as important: You have to tell the world if you succeed.

»Atomic power is viewed from two sides today. One is the peaceful exploitation; the other is destruction, because images of accidents and mushroom clouds from WWII are what many people have on the retina. “

“It is essential that the right people behind making sure the two sides are disconnected if nuclear power is to be introduced again. From a scientific point of view, the last story must be completely objectionable. You have to accept that as a condition, “Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen tells Videnskap.dk.

Energy Professor: Nuclear power is not needed

At Aalborg University, Brian Vad Mathiesen is researching a green transition.

He knows about the work in Seaborg, for which he “has great sympathy”. But he immediately finds it very difficult to see that the new type of nuclear power is needed to solve the world’s problems.

Current renewable energy sources could do it alone, says Brian Vad Mathiesen to Videnskap.dk.

“It sounds easy as if we have a ‘silver bullet’ in nuclear power that can fix the world’s problems, but I highly doubt that.”

“Renewable energy in the form of wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels. I find it very difficult to see that nuclear power should be better or can compete with what we have already developed and which we will produce even more with smart energy systems until 2050, “says Brian Vad Mathiesen, professor of renewable energy systems at Aalborg University.

Green conversion is more difficult without nuclear power

Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen cannot assess the powerful technology behind a nuclear reactor, but he is, in his own words, “aware” that nuclear safety has already improved far since Chernobyl. And that the actual energy from nuclear power plants is devoid of CO 2 emissions and therefore climate-friendly.

In a time when significant reductions in CO 2 emissions are by far the most important climate action, energy from both solar, wind, water, and nuclear power is therefore needed, says Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen.

“But keep in mind that there are international and there are national agendas.” 

“In Denmark, we have long since decided that we do not want nuclear energy in our energy portfolio. Other countries are also winding down. It makes it more difficult to make a global green transition, ”notes Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen.

The third generation is a further development that has been used since the 1990s.

The 4th generation refers to nuclear reactor types that have not yet been developed or in full use.

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