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The future of nuclear energy: discover the reactors of tomorrow

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In this specific sector, there is an area called advanced nuclear /em>. A very general term, with semantic boundaries which still remain a little vague. It actually refers to anything other than commercial nuclear reactors, which generally follow a standard design. So-called advanced nuclear reactors are exploring other approaches: type of cooling and fuel, size or modularity. We can consider them today as an open window on what nuclear energy will be like tomorrow.

A technological renewal inspired by yesteryear

Currently, there are 70 companieswho are working on new reactor designs in the United States. Of these, six or seven are already far enough along in their plans to collaborate with government agencies responsible for regulating nuclear safety. An observation established by Jessica Lovering, co-founder and co-executive director of the Good Energy Collective. In this area, the main regulator across the Atlantic is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Some of the new technologies being explored today were already known there at 50 years old. Today, a renewed interest takes place and restarts the machine a little. These new ways of designing reactors aim to improve their safety, but also their efficiency while lowering operational costs.

Conventional reactors are cooled with pressurized water (REP) or boiling water (REB), but other solutions exist. Among these innovations, we can cite the use of molten salt as a cooling solution. The MSRE (Molten-salt Reactor Experiment) in the United States was operated in the 1960s and operated with this technology. Several companies are once again interested in this design, such as Kairos Power, Terrestrial Energy or Moltex.

Liquid metals, such as sodium or lead, are also considered viable alternatives to traditional cooling systems. Russia is at the forefront of this research; colossal sums of money have been invested by the country in lead-cooled reactors to determine whether this design can be more efficient than conventional reactors.

New fuels and l& #8217;expansion of small modular reactors

In addition to the cooling systems, the fuels used to cause the Nuclear fission are also the subject of research into alternatives. Most commercial reactors use uranium-235, uranium-238, plutonium-239 or thorium-232; it all depends on the type of reactor.

Today, another nuclear fuel technology is currently being researched: tri-structural isotropic fuel particles, or TRISO (acronym for Tristructural Isotropic). These particles contain uranium and are encapsulated in layers of ceramic and carbon. Their big advantage: they are very resistant to melting and corrosion. The Kairos and X-energy companies use them in some of their power plants.

In other reactors, it is low enriched uranium at high concentration (HALEU for High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium) which serves as fuel. It contains between 5 and 20% uranium-235 and is extremely effective in allowing reactors to produce higher power in a constrained space. It is also less dangerous to handle than basic uranium-235.

In addition to fuels, it is a completely new type of reactor that could change the nuclear landscape in the future: small modular reactors (SMR for Small Modular Reactors). As their name suggests, they are smaller than conventional reactors and can be designed in a factory in prefabricated form. Today, they are considered one of the best alternatives to conventional reactors.

Easier to finance, more adaptable, their small size also makes them more secure. The American company NuScale is a leader in the field of SMRs, but China is also a very serious player.

The sector is today at the dawn of a radical transformation. After decades of developing power plants following more or less the same model, current research proves that alternatives are entirely possible.

  • The nuclear sector is the subject of research that promises to make it safer and more efficient.
  • News fuels and cooling systems are being studied.
  • SMRs are also shaping up to be a key technology of the future sector.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116