Defining a Draft for a Zero Power Reactor Experiment for Molten Salt Reactors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Mech, Materials & Aerospace Engineering


The challenge for all future energy supply is given in UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In a more UK centric view, the Low Carbon Transition Plan - UK's plan for building a low carbon nation: cutting emissions, maintaining secure energy supplies, maximising economic opportunities and protecting the most vulnerable - highlighted the demand in 2009. Recently, the governmental decision "UK becomes first major economy to pass net-zero emissions law" has reinforced the urgency of action.
Nuclear technologies can deliver a promising solution for the share of required 24/7 reliable production which is essential for the stability of the national electricity supply. However, the current nuclear energy system is dominated by reactors which are not ideal for the required growth in energy production, since long-term operation of these reactors is not sustainable due to their limited use of the natural uranium. Their spent nuclear fuel contains still ~95% of its original energy content when it is unloaded from the reactor and considered as waste further on. Making use of this energy content still stored within the fuel can provide an almost unlimited energy resource. In addition, it can deliver a promising use for the Pu stockpile, an unused energetic asset leftover from the first attempt to close the fuel cycle. From economic and national security point of view the Pu stockpile currently has to be seen as a burden due to the requirement of safeguarded storage. This situation could be transformed by releasing its energetic and economic potential when used in a nuclear reactor.
Based on this cognition, we propose a game-changer technology to support a massive and secure low carbon electricity production while achieving an almost complete reuse of spent fuel avoiding the growth of the spent fuel stockpile and the related waste problem. We propose closing the fuel cycle within an integrated system to avoid transports and the separation of fissile material with all problems related to eventual proliferation and misuse of nuclear materials. This can be achieved with innovative, liquid fuelled reactors linked to an integrated cleaning system.
However, no real experiments are available for these kinds of highly innovative reactors. Following the process of establishing a new, innovative reactor system as recently developed by Merk et al., a zero-power reactor experiment would be the essential first step to accelerate the technological development. Thus, this proposal focusses on the aim to establish a zero-power experiment, to demonstrate UK's technological leadership in disruptive nuclear development to facilitate research in sustainable energy generation. This will be delivered to create evidence and support for a governmental investment decision by developing a draft core design for a multi-purpose facility as well as the correlated experimental programme by applying advanced modelling & simulation tools.
However, a pre-requisite for a robust modelling & simulation study will be the reliable measurement of thermo-physical material data on the envisaged fuel salt composition to provide sufficiently reliable input data for the study of the experimental reactor. These measurements will require to produce a sufficient amount of uranium-based salt by establishing a production route on laboratory scale.
All steps are designed to improve the UK skills base for a successful development of a game-changer technology. Special focus will be on modelling & simulation to re-establish the skill base in reactor physics and reactor physical experiments which is currently not sufficient for a start into new technologies.
To create final evidence for a future governmental investment decision the chances and risks of the upgrading of an existing facility which would transform a burden to be decommissioned into a world leading experimental facility will be evaluated.
Description Visit Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Title ZPR design data 
Description ZPR design data for requested fuel volumes, core control/shutdown, and reflector choice, raw data, evaluation and reference models. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The results have created a first level of design choices for a future zero power experiment. 
Description Interview for international news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Two day interview informing German national television about the Imagine project .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Solving the climate crisis and providing energy security: what role can new nuclear technologies play? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Clean Growth Leadership Network (CGLN) is an independent and not-for-profit organisation, building a world-class network of business leaders, scientists, academics and policymakers to collaborate and tackle the climate crisis. One of key streams of our activities is organisation of thematic events that help educate and bring clean growth ideas to the fore front of debate.
The CGLN are delighted to be partnering with Cleary Gottlieb to host a one-day conference event, entitled 'Solving the climate crisis and providing energy security: what role can new nuclear technologies play?'.
This hybrid event will take place on 6th September 2022 at Cleary's London office (2 London Wall, Barbican, London EC2Y 5AU), a day before the World Nuclear Symposium 2022. It will be an opportunity to bring together a range of stakeholders to discuss scientific, business and wider societal issues pertaining to new nuclear technology, including the role of small modular reactors, 4th generation power (including molten salt reactors), and nuclear fusion.
Given your expertise, we would like to invite you to participate as a panellist for our first session - 'Scientific Perspectives'. This session will focus on explaining different forms of nuclear technologies and the benefits / challenges that flow from them, in lay person's terms. We are keen for you to provide an overview into the science behind MSR.

The goal of the conference is to explore how the scientific, business and finance, and stakeholder communities can work together to speed up innovation and the scaling up of new nuclear technology. The world is looking for new technologies to generate energy for a rapidly growing population, while keeping climate change under control, and indeed reverse some of the damage done. Renewables and new nuclear should both be a core component of this strategy, but we need a concerted effort to bring these technologies to market within the short time frame that is left to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Student project with Life Sciences UTC 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Nuclear energy has the potential to become a reliable 24/7 available energy source for a future net-zero society and is a top ranked energy system for the future in the UK. However, the currently operating nuclear reactors use only about 1% of the energy potential available in the Uranium as mined which would be on the longer term a limiting factor in the case of a massive enlargement of the nuclear power production. Thus, the key for a future success would be to use the natural resource Uranium in a much more sustainable way to create a breakthrough into a sustainable future. Modelling & simulation tools play since decades a major role in any development of nuclear technologies, in particular in reactor physics due to the limitations of experiments. On the one hand there is the high cost and high complexity of experiments due to the high radiation level and the required protection of the people, on the other hand due to the large dimension and thus cost of the experimental facilities which are often required, e. g. for a simple reactor physics experiment. This has led nuclear to be one of the most advanced technologies in modelling & simulation at all. In current nuclear technologies, the uranium consumption and the possible breeding processes are a very well understood phenomena which can be investigated with modern modelling & simulation tools to a great accuracy and thus will allow to judge the sustainability on a first level. You will learn the basics of nuclear power production and reactor physic as much as require to be able to operate a modern, cutting-edge reactor physics modelling & simulation tool, to build reasonable small-scale models for different nuclear reactor types, and to interpret the results. You will apply the code, compare the results to get a deeper understanding of nuclear rector processes, in particular the burnup of nuclear fuel and the breeding processes to draw conclusions and discuss on the opportunities and sustainability indices of current and future reactor concepts. The intended purpose is to get A-level students engaged with university activity and nuclear technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022,2023