Small nuclear reactors using molten uranium salt for fuel may provide America with affordable, safe, environmentally friendly energy, National Geographic reports. The story offers a powerful personal interest story in the form of 31-year-old female nuclear engineer Leslie Dewan. Co-founder of Boston-based Transatomic Power, Dewan is an environmentalist and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who says, “I think I can save the world with nuclear power.”
Molten salt reactors are fueled by uranium dissolved in liquid salt, as opposed to solid uranium fuel rods cooled by water in conventional nuclear reactors. Unlike conventional reactors that can suffer a meltdown if an accident interrupts the flow of cooling water, molten uranium fuel exists in liquid form and therefore cannot experience a water-deprivation meltdown.
The molten salt reactors operate at lower pressure than conventional reactors. The lower pressure means there would be no or minimal dispersion of radioactive materials in the event of any accident. Moreover, Transatomic has designed an escape tank that would capture and freeze any radioactive materials in the unlikely event of an accident.
Another key advantage of molten salt reactors is they can use spent nuclear fuel rods (i.e., nuclear waste) from conventional reactors as fuel. According to National Geographic, the world’s inventory of spent nuclear fuel rods would fill a football field two meters deep. Dewan says the accumulated spent nuclear fuel rods would by themselves “produce enough nuclear energy to power the world for decades.”
According to an article in Forbes.com, government regulatory lethargy is a large obstacle impeding molten salt reactors. Testing and building molten salt reactors would require government approval, oversight, and regulation, yet the federal government is largely ignoring the technology. Dewan and Transatomic Power hope they will be able to change that very soon.
Nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, making it a powerful option for people concerned about global warming. Nuclear power that essentially eliminates environmental and safety concerns would provide environment- and climate-friendly energy that would be much more affordable and reliable than wind and solar power. This is something liberals and conservatives alike should look forward to with optimism.