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.