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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Material, Design & Manufacturing Eng


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.