Could Next-Gen Reactors Spark Revival In Nuclear Power?

Leslie Dewan is a nuclear scientist who helped to co-create a new molten salt reactor, an important breakthrough in nuclear energy. Working with sponsorship from the US government, she aims to combat climate change. Dewan believes that nuclear power is the best way to produce large amounts of carbon free energy. The world needs nuclear to cut heat trapping emissions.

However, nuclear power is a dividing topic among environmentalists. The risk of nuclear power includes radioactive waste, accidents, and nuclear meltdown, such as the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. Many argue that it is simply too risky and dangerous for society.

 Many climate scientists call for a fresh approach to nuclear power because they believe it is the best solution. They are researching new designs that promise to be safer, cheaper, and more energy efficient.

Some startups are small modular reactors that could be portable and prefabricated. Some boldly use nuclear fusion, long considered the holy grail for pollution-free energy. Others try innovative fuels and alternative coolants.

Dewan has assisted in building the Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor. The design, a modern-day variant of a tested but unused reactor developed half a century ago in a national laboratory, can run on nuclear waste. They estimate that if 270,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste went into their reactors, they could produce enough electricity to power the world for 72 years, even when including projected increases in global energy demand.

This is possible because conventional reactors use only 3-4% of uranium’s energy so the waste remains radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years. But Dewan’s reactor uses almost 96% ofthe energy because the uranium is in liquid form. If a reactor loses its power, the fuel will drain into a tank and freeze solid to prevent meltdown.

The only problem? Building and maintaining nuclear power plants is costly. Next gen nuclear energy is doable, but it will take almost 20-25 years to bring them to market.

 

Read more at NationalGeographic.com

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