US to help China develop new kind of cheaper, safer nuclear reactor

The US and China have teamed up to develop a new kind of nuclear reactor that would be cheaper and safer than current designs.

Representatives from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) met at ORNL to discuss plans for building a salt-cooled test reactor.

Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) have agreed to work together to advance salt-cooled nuclear reactor technologies that operate at low pressures and with passive safety systems that don’t require human intervention.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences already has plans to build a prototype of a fluoride high-temperature reactor (FHR) and hopes to learn from Oak Ridge’s experience of building and running the world’s only molten salt reactor in the 1960s.

FHRs are an emerging class of salt-cooled reactors that feature low-pressure liquid fluoride salt cooling and solid coated particle fuel. The design provides a high-temperature power cycle that improves efficiency and a passive safety system designed to handle potential accident conditions without human intervention.

China is particularly interested in the FHR design because its high thermal efficiency means it would require much less cooling water than conventional reactors, making it particularly suitable for power generation in regions where water is scarce.

The US hopes its collaboration in the $5m-a-year project, which is entirely funded by China, will help give its nuclear manufacturing companies greater opportunities to operate in a future salt-cooled reactor market – as well as giving researchers access to the information and expertise created by China’s programme.

Oak Ridge will provide expertise in fuels, materials, instrumentation and controls, design concepts, and modelling and simulation for advanced reactors, as well as the lab’s experience with molten salt reactors, which are very different to FHRs but use some similar technologies.

Thorium reactors, based on technology abandoned around the time of the Cold War, could provide an alternative to large nuclear reactors fuelled by solid uranium. Click here to read more.