Using molten salt as the coolant solves some of these problems. The salt, which is mixed in with the fuel, has a boiling point significantly higher than the temperature of the fuel. The reactor has a built-in thermostat—if it starts to heat up, the salt expands, spreading out the fuel and slowing the reactions. That gives the mixture a chance to cool off. In the event of a power outage, a stopper at the bottom of the reactor melts and the fuel and salt flow into a holding tank, where the fuel spreads out enough for the reactions to stop. The salt then cools and solidifies, encapsulating the radioactive materials. “It’s walk-away safe,” says Dewan, the company’s chief science officer. “If you lose electricity, even if there are no operators on site to pull levers, it will coast to a stop.”Read the whole thing
The new design improves on the original molten-salt reactor by changing the internal geometry and using different materials. Transatomic is keeping many of the design details to itself, but one change involves eliminating the graphite that made up 90 percent of the volume of the Oak Ridge reactor. The company has also modified conditions in the reactor to produce faster neutrons, which makes it possible to burn most of the material that is ordinarily discarded as waste. A conventional reactor produces about 20 metric tons of high-level waste a year, and that material needs to be stored for 100,000 years. The 500-megawatt Transatomic reactor will produce only four kilograms of such waste a year, along with 250 kilograms of waste that has to be stored for a few hundred years.
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