Transatomic Power is the name of the company and its contribution to the energy sector is a newly designed nuclear reactor that will be half the cost of competing technologies. It’s not a new idea. It was first proposed and tested for six years in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But for some reason the technology was never fully developed.
What type of reactor is it? Fission using molten salt. Transatomic has created a specification for a 500-Megawatt reactor and has raised its first million in seed capital as well as attracted a strong technical team with nuclear pedigree.
Unlike conventional nuclear plants which are continuously cooled by water whether in operation or not (remember Fukushima was not operational when the major explosions occurred largely because the water pumps failed) the Transatomic design uses molten salt mixed with the fuel. The molten salt’s boiling point is significantly higher than temperature of the reactor fuel and acts like a built-in thermostat. As the reactor heats up the molten salt expands causing the fuel to spread and the nuclear reaction to slow down. Should the reactor shut down a stopper at the bottom of the the fuel-molten salt containment vessel opens up and the slurry drains out to a holding tank where it solidifies encapsulating the radioactive material. It literally coasts to a stop and is described as “walk away safe.”
The Transatomic design is improved over the original Oak Ridge tested technology. It eliminates the use of graphite. It burns what other reactors would consider waste. As a result a 500-Megawatt reactor would leave 4 kilograms of nuclear waste a year compared to current reactors which produce 20 metric tons of the stuff annually.
The company is currently trying to raise an additional $5 million to do further design testing. If all goes well in eight years the company will have its first prototype. Total cost $200 million.
I’ve previously written about molten salt reactors on this blog site so Transtomic is not alone in the field. In fact there’s pretty heavy competition coming from China with that country on a fast track to develop a thorium molten-salt 2-Megawatt prototype by 2020.