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Netherlands Lab Tests Molten Salt Nuclear Fuel

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

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Earlier this month, the Netherlands’ Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) announced that it had reached a milestone in nuclear testing: The Group had completed an irradiation test of molten nuclear fuel salts, a first in testing since the 1960s.

The testing was carried out at the High Flux Reactor in Petten, north of Amsterdam. The last time this kind of testing was conducted was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, after molten salt reactor technology was first developed.

Molten Nuclear Fuel Salts Testing

According to New Atlas, MSRs differ from light-water nuclear reactors in a handful of important ways, one of which is a difference in engineering design. When it comes to the more conventional light-water reactor, nuclear fuel is placed in zirconium-alloy-clad rods that are put in water. The water cools and moderates the reactor. A neutron striking an atom of uranium or plutonium results in a kicking off a chain reaction of sorts, with the water slowing the neutrons down. If the water is replaced with salt, however, new opportunities open up.

Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group

Earlier this month, the Netherlands’ Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) announced that it had reached a milestone in nuclear testing: The Group had completed an irradiation test of molten nuclear fuel salts, a first in testing since the 1960s.

In the other option, salt mixed with the fuel surrounds the fuel rods, and the mixture has to be heated up to the point where it acts like a liquid. Graphite rods replace fuel rods, and the graphite itself acts as a moderator for the reaction. One of the advantages to this kind of reactor is that it can be fueled by more elements, including thorium. Waste products can also be reduced to safe radioactive levels more quickly.

One of the notable disadvantages of an MSR is how corrosive the salt becomes. The salt is also in contact with pumping equipment, resulting in the chance of corrosion and embrittlement. The NRG conducted testing in order to evaluate how a nuclear environment impacted molten salt nuclear fuels.

NRG began testing with SALIENT-01 in 2015, as part of a concept for a thorium reactor. The research team is also evaluating construction materials, as well as processing molten salt and resulting products.

“Completing our work inside the reactor means we can now examine the irradiated salt more closely in the NRG labs," said researcher Ralph Hania, of NRG. "This means we’ll really be able to see how the salt responds to irradiation in the reactor.”

Moving forward, additional testing will include further irradiation tests and evaluating how nuclear fuel salts behave if they cool down to room temperature. Next year, corrosion testing of certain reactor alloys, intended for use in construction, will be carried out in the High Flux Reactor.

   

Tagged categories: EU; Europe; Nuclear Power Plants; Project Management; Quality Control; Research and development

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