The clean energy prospects of nuclear power are earning the industry a closer look in the fight against global warming.
The cooperative agreement to design, construct and operate what the parties are describing as the “world's first critical fast-spectrum salt reactor” could lead to a breakthrough. The experiment will provide crucial operational data for fast-spectrum salt reactors. The data will highlight a uniquely flexible advanced reactor technology that will offer a viable carbon-free, or “net-zero,” source of fuel for generating electricity, which its proponents champion as a plentiful complement to other types of clean energy such as solar and wind. The technology can also contribute to clean energy in other ways. It has the potential to provide carbon-free, high-grade process heat and thermal storage for difficult-to-decarbonize industrial markets and ocean transportation sectors.
The Molten Chloride Fast Reactor is designed by TerraPower, Bellevue, Wash. It relies on hot, liquified salt, or molten salt (such as chlorine, fluorine or lithium), that possesses the unique properties of acting as both the fuel and the coolant in the reactor core. The technology is not new. It was first tried in the 1950s and has seen renewed interest in recent years.
This type of reactor considered safer and more efficient than reactors that use light water, the traditional coolant used in reactors, and uranium fuel. It supports a fast-spectrum chain reaction that allows the reactor to power itself at a high rate of speed and for longer periods of time. It can also operate at a much higher temperature and lower pressure than traditional light-water reactors, enabling more efficient energy production.
Selected for funding under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, the project will be the world's first fast-spectrum, salt-fueled nuclear fission reactor. It is targeted for operation at Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, which has been the home of 52 reactor demonstration projects over the past 71 years.