Netherlands nuclear researchers enter thorium energy race
The Netherlands has put Europe in the thorium energy race, with the world’s first thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR) experiment in over 45 years underway by the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) in Petten.
While the Netherlands only has one nuclear power plant used for creating electricity, the Petten facilities provide valuable international nuclear research. The TMSR research aligns with the country’s push towards cleaner energy. Sander de Groot of NRG says that that the interest for MSRs originated while working on programmes dedicated to the transmutation of long-living radioactive waste.
TMSRs are significantly safer than present reactors in terms of safety and nuclear weapons proliferation risk as well as much simpler in design, making them faster to construct and therefore cheaper. The technology generates only a fraction of the waste of a conventional reactor with none of the persistent radioactive substances. Conveniently, TMSRs can also operate around the clock and fuelling can be done continuously.
Sander de Groot says: “This is a technology with much potential for large scale energy production. It offers the perspective of a technology suitable for a responsible energy system that is clean, affordable, reliable and safe. It is in principle the safest and most resource efficient solution in nuclear energy. The Netherlands is well positioned to contribute to international R&D towards the realization of the MSR.”
Indeed, there are only a few places in the world where these tests can be done. The Netherlands benefits from the right infrastructure, including a materials test reactor able to handle experimental nuclear fuels in its high flux reactor (HFR), alongside an innovation-friendly regulator.
The SALt Irradiation ExperimeNT, or SALIENT, is taking place in cooperation with the European Commission Laboratory Joint Research Center-ITU, Karlsruhe. The first phase will focus on creating cleaner reactor fuel by removing the noble metals from the thorium fuel as it transmutes to uranium and undergoes fission. In the second phase, researchers hope to test the resilience of materials for reactor construction.
The last research into TMSRs was carried out in the 1960s at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States. Presently, only China, India and Indonesia are working on variations of TMSRs. NRG’s venture with SALIENT has also been seen as a way of increasing competition in the international system to be the first to bring a commercial thorium-fueled reactor online.
Featured image: Thorum Energy World
Published Date: 18/07/2018