The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been awarded
$7.5 million as part of a new initiative by the Department of Energy (DOE) to
support research and development on the next generation of nuclear
technologies. Funded through the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Projects
(NEUP), the Integrated Research Projects (IRPs) were established to help ensure
that the country maintains a leading role in nuclear energy research.
The Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the MIT
Reactor Lab will work together with their partners at the University of
California at Berkeley (UCB) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) on
the project over the next three years to develop the path forward to a test
reactor and ultimately a commercial high-temperature salt-cooled reactor (also
called a Fluoride-salt High-Temperature Reactor [FHR]).
The FHR is a new reactor concept—about a decade old. It combines
high-temperature graphite-matrix coated particle fuel developed for
high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (fuel failure temperature greater than 1,600
C), liquid salt developed for the molten salt reactors (boiling point greater
than 1,400 C), and safety systems originate from sodium fast reactors.
This new combination of existing technologies creates the
possibility of a large power reactor where catastrophic accidents would not be
credible. The Three Mile Island and the more recent Fukushima accident resulted from radioactive
decay heat generated after the reactors were shut down that overheated and
destroyed fuel. The FHR fuel and coolant combination may allow decay heat to
conduct to the environment without massive fuel failure even with large-scale
structural and system failures.
“The long-term goal is an economic high-temperature reactor for
more efficient electricity production and liquid fuels production that can’t have
a large-scale accident,” says Charles Forsberg, PhD, Senior Research Scientist
at the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the lead PI on the MIT
project. “Our research goal (with our partners at UCB and UW) is to develop the
concept sufficiently that a decision can be made to proceed to the next step—a
MIT leads the project and will irradiate materials in liquid salts
at prototypic conditions in the MIT reactor and conduct other experiments to
validate reactor models and viability. The University
of California at Berkeley
will conduct thermohydraulic experiments using stimulants to predict heat
transfer and accident behavior, and the University
of Wisconsin at Madison will undertake corrosion experiments
on candidate materials of construction. MIT and UCB will be developing
pre-conceptual designs of a test and commercial power reactor.
“These projects are critical to research aimed at advancing our
domestic nuclear industry and maintaining global leadership in the field,” says
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a press release. “Through these investments
we are also training and educating the next generation of leaders in the U.S.
nuclear industry to help build a strong new energy economy.”