Attempting to bring the nuclear power industry back to life, the U.S. Energy Department’s “Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program” has chosen two novel designs to receive up to $1.6 billion in funding to put them into operation by 2028.
Terrapower, a U.S. company, has partnered with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to build its “Natrium” reactor, which replaces water with molten sodium as a coolant.
Molten sodium has a much higher boiling point than water, slashing the chance of a meltdown. The design separates the nuclear side of the reactor from the electricity-generating side, enabling the plant to be built with as much as 80 percent less nuclear-grade concrete for construction that conventional nukes.
The plant also will produce hydrogen to create an additional revenue stream.
The Maryland-based X-energy will collaborate with Burns & McDonnel and Energy Northwest to construct its Xe-100 reactor, which features two innovations.
The first is uranium fuel encased in ceramic pebbles – 220,000 of them – instead of in solid rods. The pebbles are fed gradually through the reactor’s core and, when their fuel is spent, the used pebbles are collected at the bottom of the reactor and removed. The ceramic casings should prevent meltdowns.
Second, the design uses high-pressure helium, not water, to cool the fuel and heat water to turn turbines and generate power. The gas will generate power more efficiently than a conventional plant’s boiling water does, the designers say.
Both plants use uranium enriched to 20-percent uranium-235 instead of the 3.5 percent used by conventional designs. The more highly enriched fuel will enable the plants to operate longer between shutdowns to refuel.
The energy department plans to make another five to seven grants this year to nurture other nuclear plant designs that are even more exotic.
 TRENDPOST: Out of the public eye for decades, nuclear power has been reinventing itself and will reprise its role in the U.S. energy mix starting in the 2030s.

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