One of the public’s concerns for the expansion of nuclear energy as a clean, non-CO2 source of power is the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel waste. This waste is highly radioactive and must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years from the environment. Trivially small by volume, nuclear waste from power plants is nonetheless a real concern for everyone. And rightly so. Enter new thinking by today’s grad students to tackle such a thorny issue that the U.S. Government has yet to solve.
Transatomic Power, a new company founded by MIT PhDs , Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, and Russ Wilcox is tackling the spent nuclear fuel issue head on! Their reactor design, a molten salt liquid fuel design, is able to burn up existing spent nuclear fuel turning it into electricity. But more importantly, it reduces the ultimate spent fuel radioactivity to a level requiring about 300 years isolation from hundreds of thousands of years isolation and the volume to 1/20 of what it was before it was turned into electricity. And by the way, there is no proliferation risk introduced in the process, either. The company is seed financed by me and others.
Recognized by Time, Forbes, MIT Tech Review, and many other national publications, Dr. Dewan and Mr. Massie were featured in a TEDx New England Nov. 1, 2011. This short 19 minute video is worth watching if you want to witness what new, fresh thinking can do, and want to see what innovation is all about.
The company has produced a white paper describing their technology. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll recognize that TAP is built on the shoulders of other giants, namely the work done at Oakridge National Laboratory in the 1960s with their graphic moderated molten salt reactors. By the way, those reactors worked nicely back then.
What are the next steps? Like all new technologies, this one needs to be tested. And to do that, the company needs to take their designs to an engineering level that could be built. And then, in cooperation with the United States Department of Energy (perhaps), the nuclear utility industry, and others, it needs to build a demonstration plant. This is not a billion dollar project — it is on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars and nicely fits in the national strategy for spent nuclear waste. By the way, the country has already put aside $30 billion against the goal of dealing with spent nuclear fuel. TAP and other ideas make sense to try.