Molten salt reactor concept has new Transatomic Power lift

Molten salt reactor concept has new Transatomic Power lift
Rendering (produced in conjunction with Burns & Roe) of the TAP reactor, showing the reactor vessel, primary loop, intermediate loop, and drain tanks. Credit: Transatomic Power

Transatomic Power has been in the news this month in its ambition to build a better reactor. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Transatomic Power has proposed a safer reactor that "eats nuclear waste," as put it. The company sees potential in an innovative nuclear reactor that can turn nuclear waste into a safe, clean, and scalable source of electricity. A detailed report on their company goals in IEEE Spectrum described how cofounders Leslie Dewan, now Chief Science Officer, and Mark Massie, Chief Technology Officer, thought of the idea in 2010, while working on their PhDs in nuclear engineering at MIT; namely, they were thinking of a better reactor addressing the nuclear industry's big headaches, waste and safety.

Dewan and Massie met Russ Wilcox, now CEO, and the company Transatomic Power became a reality in 2011.Transatomic Power has focused on an innovative reactor, which, they said, can safely burn to deliver affordable clean energy. Molten salt reactors are not a new discovery. They were originally developed and tested at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In a white paper prepared in March this year, the team discussed the story of molten salt reactors, also noting that advocates of thorium and increasing demand for small modular reactors drove renewed examination of molten salt in the 1990s. In 2002, the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) reviewed about100 of the latest reactor concepts and chose molten salt reactors as one of the six advanced reactor types most likely to shape the future of nuclear energy, "due to advances in sustainability, economics, safety, reliability and proliferation-resistance."

What's new here? They said Transatomic Power improved the molten salt concept, while retaining its safety benefits.

"The main technical change we make is to change the moderator and fuel salt used in previous molten salt reactors to a zirconium hydride moderator, with a LiF-based fuel salt. During operation the fuel in the salt is primarily uranium. Together, these components generate a neutron spectrum that allows the reactor to run using fresh uranium fuel with enrichment levels as low as 1.8% U-235, or using the entire actinide component of spent nuclear fuel (SNF). Previous molten salt reactors such as the ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) relied on high-enriched uranium, with 33% U-235. Enrichments that high would raise proliferation concerns if used in commercial nuclear power plants."

Dewan said their reactor would be "walk-away safe," according to IEEE Spectrum. "If you don't have electric power, or if you don't have any operators on site, the reactor will just coast to a stop, and the salt will freeze solid in the course of a few hours," she said. Eric Roston, sustainability editor for, discussed more advantages. "Molten salt reactors can tap more energy in fuel and use it for decades, compared with four or five years in reactors today. That means they need less enriched uranium, reducing the risk of fuel being stolen to make bombs. Transatomic's reactor would cost half as much per gigawatt of electricity as conventional reactors, Dewan says."

Overall, according to the company, "Transatomic Power's advanced molten salt … solves four of the most pressing problems facing the nuclear industry: ecological stewardship, public safety, non-proliferation, and cost-efficiency."

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User comments

Jun 21, 2014
Progressivism is the political bowel movement
Which has what, exactly, to do with the article?
inflicting the unintended consequences on others.
Unlike those responsible oil and chemical companies, and coal-burning power plants, that don't externalize their risks while privatizing the profits? The difference being, I suppose, that they do this knowingly and deliberately.

Jun 21, 2014
Developments like this cannot a moment too soon! Here's hoping that that it does not take 20 years to build the first plant due to regulations and paperwork. It solves our energy problems on so many levels.

Jun 21, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 21, 2014
Lithium, fluorine, uranium and the entire actinide series beggars 'safety' as Monju demonstrated. Plan for a worst case double-ended break as B/PWR must. Progressivism is the political bowel movement (necessary, certain, universal) to make-things-better inflicting the unintended consequences on others. Modern B/PWR are safe as demonstrated by TMI and NNPP. Beware The Black Swan lurking in induction.

For 1000 days the farmer fed the turkey, each day a datum in its blissful inductive Utopia. On the 1001 day the turkey met the farmer's axe, it's Black Swan.
Nice poetry doug. You guys seem to think poetry signifies superior reasoning skills, like carrying cardboard coffins at anti-nuke rallies.

Why don't you just try logic instead? Are you afraid your logic can't stand up to reasoned discourse? Logic is so unfair. Rather wear your wraith costume in public then?

Jun 21, 2014
Yeah, sounds like a good idea, but good luck getting approval from any level of government to build a new design like this in any kind of reasonable time period. People are scared of this stuff, rightfully so.

Jun 21, 2014
"This, your exemplar of reasoned discourse?"

-There was no 'reasoned discourse' in your post. It was an appeal to emotion. I responded in kind.

"I directed Rx plant testing operations for twenty years and am not interested in bald opinionated trollery."

-But that's all your post was. I would have expected more from a plant tester of some sort.

"I expressed my opinion of the hypothetical technology, the article and, now, of Otto, the inflatable dummy-pilot blah"

-And what do black swans and bowel movements have to do with hypothetical tech doug? Were you attempting a parable of some sort?

Jun 21, 2014
People are scared of this stuff, rightfully so....but they aren't scared of coal power even though they can actually see the damage it causes? People are scared of things that they don't understand, and mistrustful of companies that lie to them, and they believe all the hype in between.

Jun 21, 2014
"People are scared of this stuff, rightfully so"

If people were not kept ignorant by the media and the politicians that control it, they would scared out of their minds by the new coal regulations. If next winter is like the last in the US there WILL be blackouts if any power plants are forced to shut. As I understand it, we were just one or two plants away from blackouts last year.

Jun 21, 2014
Seems like no one has ever heard of a CANDU reactor before. Canada has been turning weapons grade elements and waste into safer entities for nearly 60 years. And the CANDU is way safer and more efficient than any breeder reactor. The only problem with a CANDU is that it is incapable of producing products for nuclear weapons.


Jun 22, 2014
Not the only nuclear waste 'eating' concept. Accelerator driven sub-critical reactors are far further along in terms of actual prototype testing:

Jun 22, 2014
Thorium reactors http://www.psr.or...uel.html for contemporary world - actually the main problems aren't technical, but less-than-ideal nature of people. If all people would be good responsible guys, then even the classical nuclear reactors could be much more widespread.

Debunked here: http://energyfrom...ebuttal/


Jun 22, 2014
No one smart enough on this planet to get us out of this stupid nuclear bomb hot water tanks. We can't keep going this way. This is not a safe route and never will be.

Jun 22, 2014
If next winter is like the last in the US there WILL be blackouts if any power plants are forced to shut.

Please elaborate. Peak electrical demand is in the summer, not the winter.

Jun 22, 2014
Winter time shortage


Jun 22, 2014
"Good, acute and interesting point. Cooling is powered by electricity, while heating only needs thermal power."

-Where'd you learn this doug? Thermal energy is routinely used for cooling.

Jun 22, 2014
Well Doug you must know that nuke plants are a very_very small percentage of all the structures which require cooling. Perhaps you misunderstood the context of the discussion? Doug?

Jun 22, 2014
Also there are a lot of private homes and condos that have electric heat and or electric heat pumps. Portable electric room heaters are quite common also.

Jun 22, 2014
The Wigner/Weinberg Thorium Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Technologies designed
and configured to extract CO2 free thermal and electrical power while consuming
270,000 tons of Nuclear weapons and LWR spent fuel. Power for all 9B people
for 50 years plus allowing Earth's Humans to rehab the delicate natural life support
systems stressed by human greed.

All of the anti-nuclear reasons not to explore these reactors are more valid
reasons to pursue and accelerate the R&D as China is doing. All high tech gizmos
including most renewable solar and wind systems require REEs. REEs are
buried in Radioactive Isotopes of Uranium and Thorium. What isn't mentioned
often enough because these nuclear reactors have enough fuel without any more
mining due to ample storage of Thorium. Also, there is Thorium in coal ash. However,
the requirements of REEs for the above mentioned renewables will require further
mining with the hazardous radioactive isotope management.

Jun 23, 2014
Da key word here is 'WALK AWAY SAFE!!!!' Dat means it can be double car garage small and power small cities for DECADES! Just like the 'gas plants' of the 1890's that generated acetylene from CaC deposits co-mined with coal.

Jun 24, 2014
I read somewhere that the thorium salt reactor can be made to work at any scale. That means that domestic ones could also become available, when this technologht finally takes off!

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