engineering careers  Thorium-Salt Reactor Fired Up for the First Time in Four Decades
engineering careers  Thorium-Salt Reactor Fired Up for the First Time in Four Decades

Molten salt nuclear reactor that eats radioactive waste has fired up for the first time in over four decades.

Thorium-Salt Reactors might just put us on the road to cleaner, meltdown-proof nuclear power. Today that dream has taken a big step forward as researchers at NRG, a Dutch nuclear materials firm, begin the first tests of nuclear fission using thorium salts since the end of experiments in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory back in the early 1970s.

These types of Thorium reactors have several advantages over uranium, the fuel that powers most nuclear reactors in service today.

This is a technology with much perspective for large scale energy production. We want to have a head-start once the technology will break through.Sander de Groot, NRG

First off, the resulting waste products are much harder to weaponize and secondarily most designs use liquid form so are, essentially, self-regulating and fail-safe.

The NRG team of engineers will be testing several reactor designs on a small scale at first.

The first experiment will look at a setup called a ‘molten salt fast reactor’. This burns thorium salt and will be able to consume spent nuclear fuel from typical uranium fission reactions.

These new tests come amid renewed global interest in thorium. Updated models of uranium-fueled power plants are struggling to gain international traction.

China, in particular, is charging ahead with big plans for its nuclear industry. These include betting heavily on the viability of thorium-based reactors and China hopes to have the first such power plants hooked up to the grid within the next 15 years.

If China is able to successfully pull of a pull it off a Thorium reactor revolution, it might just help usher in a safer future for nuclear power.