Posts Tagged Transatomic Power

Transatomic Power publishes details of MSR concept

Posted by David Martin on May 20th, 2014

Transatomic Power

Back in 2012, we blogged about Transatomic Power (TAP), a Boston-based start-up aiming to design what they call a Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor (WAMSR). TAP have now released a technical white paper which provides greater detail about their reactor concept.

The paper reveals that their 520MWe MSR concept makes use of a zirconium hydride moderator combined with a lithium fluoride fuel salt. This innovative combination would enable the reactor to run on spent nuclear fuel, or fresh low-enriched uranium, thus providing both a high level of proliferation resistance and an efficient way of consuming existing nuclear waste. TAP also suggest that the use of hydrogen-dense zirconium hydride as moderator, instead of graphite, will reduce the size and cost of the reactor vessel.

Like all MSR concepts, TAP’s reactor offers very high fuel burn-up, up to 96%, and a range of passive safety features. TAP believe that their reactor could be constructed for just $2 billion per plant, with a 3-year build time.

This is just one of many exciting MSR concepts being developed around the world. As others have reported, start ups are now home to some of the boldest innovations in nuclear energy. For more information on other MSR projects worldwide, see our world map.

We’ll be following TAP’s progress with great interest. Check out the technical white paper here.

Transatomic co-founders Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan are MIT PhD students who can readily seek   insight from an expanding advisory board of nuclear veterans.

Transatomic Power, the youthful molten salt reactor company based in Cambridge, Mass., has added four nuclear industry veterans to its technical advisory board,  a move that could help it bring the alternative nuclear technology to market.

The appointments include retired Westinghouse Electric chief technology officer Regis Matztie, who is also the leading commercial adviser to the molten salt nuclear collaboration between China and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also named to the board were Todd Allen, Deputy Director at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL); Ken Czerwinski, Director of the University of Las Vegas (UNLV) Radiochemistry Program; and Michael Corradini, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the current president of the American Nuclear Society.

Transatomic, as we noted in September, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-connected startup co-founded by MIT PhD students Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, and by CEO Russell Wilcox, who is the former CEO of information technology company E-Ink.

“Atomic energy is an abundant and reliable power source and Transatomic Power has a better way to harness it,” Wilcox said in a press release. “We’re very excited to welcome these four luminaries to our advisory board, and look forward to their contributions as we work to bring this important new technology to market.”

“This is a chance to help the young people in our industry to re-imagine and re-invent the field,” INL’s Allen said in the release. “In this team I see the spirit of innovation that helped give birth to the industry at its start.”

WASTELAND

Transatomic is developing a molten salt nuclear reactor that it calls a Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor (WAMSR). The name reflects Transatomic’s intentions to use existing nuclear waste as fuel, a feature that could help win over nuclear opponents who object to waste legacy.

The company is designing the WAMSR to run on liquid – molten salt – fuel. Transatomic has previously claimed to be “fuel agnostic” towards either thorium or uranium (as has Ottawa-based MSR developer Terrestrial Energy, headed by David LeBlanc), although it mentions only uranium in this week’s statement announcing the board additions (among which there is a fair amount of uranium experience).

Some MSR proponents, like Kirk Sorensen, president of Huntsville, Ala.-based Flibe Energy, believe that thorium fuel best optimizes MSR’s advantages over conventional solid fuel reactors.

Like other MSR companies, Transatomic promotes the technology for being safer than conventional solid-fuel reactors, for producing less waste and for cost advantages.

MSR proponents say they are meltdown proof because in the event of a malfunction the fuel drains harmlessly into a tank, stopping the nuclear reaction and removing decay heat. In conventional nuclear, although control rods can stop fission reactions, decay heat can build into a meltdown if cooling systems fail, as happened at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011. MSRs also operate at higher temperatures, thus making more efficient use of fuel. And they function at normal atmospheric pressure, rather than at the high pressure of many conventional reactors.

MSRs could also be manufactured in small “modular” sizes that would permit manufacturing economies of scale and that would allow utilities and other end users to purchase smaller amounts of nuclear generation capacity – in the tens or hundreds of megawatts – compared to today’s behemoths typically rated at well over 1,000 megawatts. Transatomic is targeting 500 megawatts.

A COOL VARIATION

In a variation on the MSR theme, the U.S. and China are collaborating on a high temperature reactor that uses a molten salt coolant (coolants absorb heat from nuclear reactions and transfer that heat to a turbine) but a solid fuel. Full MSRs use molten salts as both their coolant and fuel, mixing uranium or thorium into the molten salt fuel.

The U.S.- China partnership could also lead to joint work on an MSR (China has a separate MSR initiative), or could help inform separate MSR development. Westinghouse Electric, known for its conventional reactors, serves as the collaboration’s commercial adviser, with Matzie as the head of the commercial advisory panel.

Transatomic’s press release makes no mention of the U.S-China molten salt collaboration or of Matzie’s role in it.

Matzie and the three other new appointees join experienced nuclear experts already on Transatomic’s advisory team: Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, where he is also the “Japan Steel Industry Professor”; Jess Gehin, Oak Ridge National laboratory senior program manager in nuclear technology; and Benoit Forget, an MIT assistant professor.

In another MIT connection, Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s department of nuclear science and engineering, leads a DOE-funded set of three universities that are developing a molten salt cooled high temperature reactor related to the Chinese collaboration The three are MIT, ithe University of California Berkekely, and the University of Wisconsin.

Photo is a screen grab from a TED conference YouTube video on Transatomic’s website.

Note: This post corrects an earlier version that stated fission continues after an emergency in conventional reactors. In conventional reactors, control rods stop fission, but decay heat continues to build if  the reactor is not properly cooled. Thank you to readers James Arathoon and David LeBlanc for pointing out the error. Corrected around 1:10 p.m. GMT March 2.

Two kids and and an adult. Transatomic co-founders Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, both phD students, share the stage with advisor Richard Lester, head of MIT’s nuclear science and engineering, at a lively     TED conference.

There’s a new kid on the thorium block.

Meet Transatomic Power, an MIT-connected fledgling that’s designing a thorium molten salt reactor by combining nuclear expertise with Silicon Valley style start-up panache.

Unlike the conventional solid-fuel reactors used in almost all of the world’s commercial nuclear power plants, molten salt reactors deploy a liquid fuel, auguring a wealth of safety and operating improvements.

Transatomic is the latest company to publicize its MSR intentions. Richard Martin introduced Transatomic to the world yesterday in a Forbes website article. As many Weinberg followers will know, Rick is the author of the thorium homage SuperFuel.

First, to set the record straight: Transatomic is indeed working with thorium schemes. But as Martin notes, the company is “fuel-agnostic,” and is also making room for uranium. It reminds me a bit of Ottawa Valley Research, David LeBlanc’s Canadian project that is developing an MSR with either fuel in mind.

Now, let’s get on to something less on the technical side, and more with a marketing slant. Transatomic is slapping a stellar name onto its reactor, calling it the “Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor.” That’s a WAMSR to you fans of acronyms.  Not bad – it has a certain punch as far as acronyms go.

WHAT A WASTE

But more importantly, the WAMSR is intended to do as it says on the tin – get rid of nuclear waste by burning it in a power generating reaction. One of the top public objections to nuclear power is, to quote the masses, “yeah, but what do you do with the waste?” Transatomic provides a ready made, in your face answer with its product moniker.

The tiny company is by no means the first to propose using spent fuel from other reactors as fuel, but putting the idea right there on the label is a stroke of enlightened branding. Granted, some people might run from the scary word “annihilating.” But most won’t. Technology like this could one day make the U.S. forget it ever bitterly debated whether to use Yucca Mountain as a waste repository.

This sort of user friendliness, if I can call it that, reflects a youthful business acumen at Transatomic that is as much Google as it is Oak Ridge. (Disclaimer: I say this without having actually met the company. But I like what I see so far).

Transatomic is in part the brainchild of a couple of youngsters – MIT PhD students Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie. The kids themselves bring a refreshing accessibility to the technology. Watch Dewan in action at a TED conference late last year in a video on Transatomic’s website, (she’s about 6 minutes in) and you might think you were witnessing a lively presentation for a popular mobile phone app. About 13 minutes into the same clip, Massie looks and speaks as if he just invented Twitter – while conveying the usefulness of nuclear waste.

THE ADULTS ARE HERE TOO

Like Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google who eventually brought in technology industry veteran Eric Schmidt to run the shop, Dewan and Massie have hooked up with a seasoned business person. Co-founder and CEO Russell Wilcox is the former CEO of E Ink, the company that helped commercialize electronic displays used in e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, according to Transatomic’s website.

The company’s advisory board includes Dr. Richard Lester (he’s the grey hair in the video), head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, where he is also the “Japan Steel Industry Professor.”  A tangential observation, but I like the implied connection to steel – it makes me imagine one of these waste annihilators forcing heat into a blast furnace, replacing the CO2 belching processes used today.

Other experienced advisors: MSR veteran and Oak Ridge National laboratory senior program manager in nuclear technology Dr. Jess Gehin; and MIT assistant professor Dr. Benoit Forget.

Transatomic hopes to build a prototype reactor in five years and to have live, commercial WAMSRs operating by 2030 via licensing agreements to nuclear plant operators, Martin reports. The company’s website says it is planning a small, or “modular” 200 megawatt size for electricity production.

TALKING THE TALK

The new technology could help enliven a nuclear industry that is still recovering following the Fukushima meltdowns last year. Not only could the WAMSR burn waste, but like other molten salt reactors it could potentially operate more safely than conventional designs, in part by allowing its liquid fuel to drain harmlessly into a tub in the event of an emergency. MSRs can also operate at normal atmospheric pressure rather than under potentially dangerous high pressure.

Transatomic’s website also points to reduced levels of radioactive waste, and to operating effiencies that are much higher than conventional solid fuel, water cooled reactors.

“The nuclear industry knows it’s in trouble, it’s not quite sure what to do, and it’s just trying to survive for the moment, “ Wilcox tells Martin.  “It’s a fabulous time to do a leapfrog move.”

That’s the sort of inspired rhetoric that has played out successfully in the transformed information technology world. It’s refreshing to hear Transatomic talk the talk in the nuclear industry.  Now let’s see if it can walk the walk.

Photo: Screen grab from TED video on Transatomic website.

Note: This version updates an earlier one, adding Jess Gehin and Benoit Forget as advisors.

MIT students leap-frog nuclear technology

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on September 27th, 2012

Richard Martin introduces Transatomic Power – US start-up with mission to transform the nuclear power industry through thorium- fuelled molten salt technology

http://www.forbes.com/sites/pikeresearch/2012/09/27/a-pair-of-mit-scientists-try-to-transform-nuclear-power/

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