Small, safer pressurized water thorium nuclear reactor design

A team at the University of Cambridge and Georgia Institute of Technology are exploring whether the element thorium could help to meet the new design’s fuel needs. As well as being three to four times more abundant than uranium, thorium could potentially produce electricity more fuel efficiently and therefore more cheaply.

The aim of the overall project, initiated by the US Department of Energy, is to design a power plant whose size would be reduced and safety enhanced by breaking with convention and integrating the main heat exchangers inside the secure pressure vessel where the nuclear reactions take place. This innovation gives the design its name: Integral Inherently Safe Light Water Reactor (I2S-LWR).

If all goes to plan, construction of the first I2S-LWRs could begin in around 10 years, making deployment of nuclear power more practical, more cost-effective and more publicly acceptable worldwide.”

The I2S-LWR, which could also be constructed off-site, module by module, and then quickly assembled on site, would be suitable for deployment worldwide.

They used 3D printing to explore a model of the reactor design.

The I2S-LWR would be a type of pressurised water reactor (PWR), a technology well-established around the world. Examples include Sizewell-B power station on the Suffolk coast.

In a PWR, heat is taken away from the nuclear core by a primary coolant and then transferred to a secondary coolant which is raised to steam. This steam is then used to drive turbines and generate electricity.

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