Denmark’s Seaborg Technologies, a start-up named for Danish-American chemist Glenn Seaborg who helped discover ten radioactive elements, is planning to make not just a new kind of nuclear power plant but also to deliver it in a whole new way.
The company has designed nuclear plants the size of a shipping container and will float them on the ocean.
Seaborg’s reactor design mixes nuclear fuel with molten salt. The salted fuel slurry flows through the reactor instead of sitting in one place in rods or pellets, as in conventional nuke plants.
The salt also cools the nuclear material. As a result, the new reactor can operate close to normal air pressures instead of maintaining high-pressure water baths to siphon heat from conventional nuclear fuel cores.
If temperatures start to climb out of control, a special fuel plug at the bottom of the reactor is the first thing that will melt, draining the fuel into cooling tanks underneath.
If the salted fuel is exposed to air, the salt turns to rock, imprisoning the radioactive material instead of letting it drift as a lethal cloud in the air.
Molten salt reactors were designed in the 1950s as the original nuclear power plants until the U.S. defense department decided that nuclear reactors could do double duty producing payloads for nuclear bombs. (In December 2012, we issued a special report on molten salt reactors fueled with thorium.)
Seaborg’s new version of the old idea will be capable of producing up to 600 megawatts, enough electricity to power as many as 100,000 homes, the company says.
Even more novel, Seaborg plans to mass-produce the reactors in shipyards, mount them on barges, then sail them to customers. The reactors can be moored offshore, docked to islands, or anchored in a river.
The power plants are self-contained and easily wired into an existing power grid or high-demand site, such as an automobile factory or military base, Seaborg says.
The company is working with regulators and plans a working prototype for an island in southeast Asia by 2025, regulatory approval in 2026, and commercial production in 2027.
TRENDPOST: Even as the world looks for an exit from fossil fuels, nuclear power remains a toxic idea for a large section of the planet’s inhabitants.
However, “nuclear power” doesn’t have to mean meltdowns and radioactive waste dumps that remain lethal for ten thousand years.
As we noted in our 2012 report, “The Thorium Alternative,” and 8 December 2014 article “New Age for New Energy,” molten salt reactors using radioactive thorium as fuel would be safer and produce far less waste that neutralizes in a fraction of the time.
India is one of several countries considering or already planning a network of thorium-fueled molten salt reactors.
In a world growing its power demands exponentially, nuclear power is an option that will not be ignored. However, its best future lies in miniature reactors and molten-salt systems.
Seaborg Technologies’ floating nuclear power plants.
Credit: Seaborg Technologies