UVU develops innovative nuclear technology

UVU develops innovative nuclear technology

UVU’s office of Technology Commercialization is currently in the process of developing a unique model of a nuclear reactor known as the molten salt reactor, or MSR. MSRs have the ability to recycle the 270,000 metric tons of toxic waste generated from traditional light water reactors into a substantial power supply.

MSR development has received increased attention from countries such as China, India, Australia, and Japan due to the efficiency, safety and ‘eco-friendly’ features of the system.

MSR design innovators have boasted the potential to boost economies of third-world countries, recycle toxic waste to create energy, and generate a much larger amount of electricity without the tradeoff of constructing a larger-sized reactor.

“We are in the process of obtaining the necessary capital to develop prototypes to prove that our design works,” Kent Millington, technology commercialization director, said. “We know the concept of molten salt reactors works because they were efficient during testing in the 1960s, but the technology was mothballed because the product was not upgradeable to weapons-grade material.”

The idea was brought to UVU by inventor and entrepreneur Sheldon Hansen, creator of the Wolverine Dutch Oven. Technology commercialization offices at UVU and the University of Utah have joined forces to improve designs and functioning of the reactor.

“Working with the TCOs at UVU and the U of U has been great, for it’s truly a technological collaboration,” Hansen said in a press release. “I have been so impressed with UVU’s personal, aggressive approach in taking technologies from incubation to commercialization. It’s not just collaboration. It’s acceleration.”

In the past, there has been hesitancy to develop nuclear reactor technology due to public concerns with potential meltdowns and the projected cost of operating a nuclear reactor. However, MSRs are not susceptible to the tragic meltdowns as seen in Fukushima and Three Mile Island and are generally inexpensive to operate.

MSRs operate by dissolving a nuclear fuel—in this case, Thorium, an abundant substance as common as lead—into molten fluoride salt. Both Thorium and Uranium are dissolved into the molten salt, creating a reaction that can generate enough energy to provide enough electricity to supply an entire country using minute amounts of both elements.

“Although there are many competitors in the race to mass-produce these reactors, UVU’s design has some unique and important advantages over the rest of the competition,” Millington said.

Those advantages could revolutionize the way the world looks at energy production, if all goes as planned once the project achieves the desired funding. Though there are many types of molten salt reactors, UVU’s design offers a unique compatibility that may draw the attention of outside investors.

Millington estimates that five eight-foot-cubed MSRs could generate all of the electricity currently used by the state of Utah.

Molten salt reactors, like all sources of energy production, are subject to drawbacks. Possible metal buildup over time is a concern as well as managing the leftover recycled radioactive waste that is produced by the MSRs. Development of MSRs has also been halted, meaning there will be a lengthy testing phase before any can be produced.

While scholars continue to research efficient and eco-friendly alternatives to energy production, UVU has officially joined the race in developing this kind of revolutionary technology.

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10 Responses to "UVU develops innovative nuclear technology"

  1. Paul King   February 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    When something sounds to good to be true, it usually is. As someone living in the shadow of an old conventional nuclear plant, I hope this is true.

    Reply
  2. Leading Edge Boomer   February 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Both molten salt technology and thorium-based nuclear reactors are well-researched, but they are not tied to each other, and I’ll comment only on the latter. Thorium is the real deal. One can find extensive articles on the Web about the manifold advantages of thorium over uranium/plutonium reactors. The list is long.

    The primary “disadvantage” of using thorium is that nuclear weapons cannot be made from it. At the beginning of the nuclear age, the entire supply chain (mining, refining, milling, enrichment, etc.) was built around making as many nuclear and hydrogen bombs as possible; the whole “atoms for peace” meme was just a ruse. This supply chain would have to be replaced to take advantage of thorium’s potential.

    A little-recognized advantage of thorium is its natural occurrence with rare-earth metals, needed in almost every electronic component, that are now almost…

    Reply
  3. Bill Dempster   February 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Paul King –
    I can well understand your comment, but wish to reply that there is a substantial body of knowledge and many reputable scientists / engineers who agree that MSR technology is just what is described by this article. For further reading, I suggest article in American Scientist, v. 98, July / Aug 2010 by Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir titled Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. Also books : Superfuel by Richard Martin (very readable) and Thorium – Energy Cheaper Than Coal by Robert Hargraves (technical and more difficult). Both the Hargraves article and book are of the level and quality to address the important questions that may come from serious scientific and engineering inquiries, especially when coupled with the fact that an MSR successfully operated from 1965 – 1969 at Oak Ridge under direction of Alvin Weinberg.
    This all begs the question “if its so good, why isn’t it…

    Reply
  4. luigi tasselli   February 8, 2014 at 7:03 am

    I think that a major problem scientists will face will be the harsh environment in the facility where fission products will be continuosly separated. So I think a large use of automata will be necessary. Are times mature?

    Reply
  5. Robin Gould   February 10, 2014 at 5:07 am

    A far more important consideration than any debate about the adoption of MSR technology (or not), is our urgent need to start phasing out the reliance we have all had upon the burning of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial revolution. The evidence for action is the growing severity of exaggerated climate patterns and the need, is to help our planet recover from the countless tons of pollution we give it every minute of the day.

    MSR plant size does not have to be big to make a difference, as the Oak Ridge reactor only produced 8MW. Thousands of smaller plants powering airports, supermarkets, office blocks, universities, ships, towns and villages around the world will do the same job as a few 1000MW plants. The opportunity for the astute investor with a billion to spare is enormous – offers welcome.

    Reply
    • Brett Chandler   February 16, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      The problem here is that the carbon-based resource companies are pretty firmly entrenched, and would prefer to continue with current technology. I don’t know how much they can do to actually suppress the development of Thorium as a fuel, but I can’t see them welcoming it with open arms, either.

      Reply
      • Robin Gould   February 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm

        Brett,

        Experience dictates there are always people ready to condemn progress. When such a serious issue as climate change is in consideration, the priority is to ignore the doomsayers on behalf of everyone else. All we need is a billionaire with a bit of courage, to enable proper development to take pl;ace.

        Robin

        Reply
  6. Charles Hart   February 10, 2014 at 6:00 am

    For more info on this technology see:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/

    Reply
    • Robin Gould   February 11, 2014 at 6:10 am

      Dear Charles,

      Thanks for the link to the Ohio conference material, which adds more intelligence to the whole technology debate. Having encountered some of the material before I am still left wondering how it is that so much hot air does not produce more positive performance. To my mind there seems to be something serious missing from the whole equation, which could be a gross lack of courage to place theory into real live action.
      For my part I am more than ready to crank up a manufacturing plant to produce thousands of 500 – 5000 kw MSR electricity generating plants for worldwide sale. Who wants to join in ????????
      Robin

      Reply
  7. KitemanSA   February 11, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Nice Graphic!

    Reply

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