Thorium-based fuel, the basis for a new wave of nuclear energy

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For decades, nuclear engineers have dreamed of new formulas, shapes and sizes for the radioactive fuel that powers the reactors of nuclear power plants in the world – the largest source of zero-carbon electricity.

Currently, most of what is used for reactor fuel is enriched uranium. In the future, fuel compositions could move to the very promising element, thorium.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Texas Center for Nuclear Engineering and Science A&M have partnered with Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) to manufacture a new type of nuclear fuel, called “Nuclear Energy advanced for enriched life ”, or ANEEL.

With a proprietary combination of thorium (Th) and uranium (U), especially “High Assay Low Enriched Uranium” (HALEU), ANEEL fuel can address several issues that have affected nuclear energy – costs, proliferation and waste.

Green energy is not for everyone: this is where ANEEL comes in

In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among climate scientists that nuclear energy is essential for mitigating the worst effects of global warming.

Nations and states are moving from renewable energy mandates to technology-neutral clean energy standards, which include nuclear energy.

But in developing countries, the need is urgent. Most do not have the infrastructure to install natural gas, wind or solar. So the coal or nuclear option remains. And a little care for the environment would indicate that a better variety is nuclear energy.

Therefore, the development of new technologies, especially advanced fuels, is completely essential. ANEEL fuel can be used in traditional boiling water and pressurized water reactors. More importantly, it can be developed and implemented fairly quickly.

CCTE intends to enter the market with this technology by 2024.

“Today, emerging countries and their citizens, always hungry for the power to drive the engines of progress and prosperity, need an abundant and uninterrupted source of clean, basic power and sustainability,” said Mehul Shah, CEO and founder of CCTE. .

“The urgency of achieving such a vision becomes even more important as time is lost in the face of an accelerated climate crisis.”

What’s interesting about thorium

Like most even-numbered heavy isotopes, Th-232 does not fission easily.

Dr. Sean McDeavitt, a professor of nuclear engineering and director of the Center for Nuclear Engineering and Science at the University of Texas A&M, notes: “I have been actively working on the behavior and applications of nuclear fuel for over 25 years. The ANEEL fuel concept integrated with the existing technology of the CANDU / PHWR reactor takes advantage of the superior properties, performance and abundance of the torus to generate clean basic electricity, with low impact on the environment ”.

Texas A&M will manufacture ANEEL fuel pellets at the Center for Nuclear Engineering and Science and deliver them to INL. INL will perform high-combustion irradiation tests of ANEEL fuel pellets (up to 70,000 MWd / T) in the accelerated test plant of the test reactor.

This will be followed by post-irradiation examination and fuel rating, all in accordance with strict DOE guidelines and quality assurance requirements.

“We look forward to supporting these efforts to develop advanced nuclear fuels. As the national center for nuclear energy research and development, INL supports the needs of the industry with unique facilities, capabilities and expertise, ”said Jess Gehin, a scientist at INL.

There is more than twice as much thorium on earth as uranium. India, in particular, has more thorium than uranium, as monazitic sands – from which thorium is extracted – are widespread, which is why they have been pursuing the use of thorium in nuclear reactors for decades.

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