U.S. taps Czech Republic for next gen nuclear expertise

Department of Energy ships important material to Prague for testing in advanced reactor.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor
Prague Nuclear Spring. Just up the Vltava Rver from Prague (above), the Czech Nuclear Institute Rez has received a shipment of coolants from the U.S., to help develop a next generation reactor.


As the United States dabbles in research that could lead to new and safer forms of nuclear power, it has once again tapped into another country's expertise.

Last year, it entered a collaboration with China. This time, it has turned to the Czech Republic, as the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it has shipped important coolant materials to Prague that the Czech Nuclear Research Institute Rez will test for use in what's known as "high temperature reactors."

DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee sent 75 kilograms (165 pounds) of fluoride salts to the test facility with the help of the Czech Republic's Ministry of Industry and Trade, DOE announced in a press release. The Czech Republic has agreed to share test results with the U.S.

"The United States is committed to working closely with the Czech Republic to advance our shared energy goals and to support the development of safe and secure nuclear energy resources," Acting Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said.

The release further explained that "data resulting from the testing of this coolant material will be instrumental in advancing U.S. and Czech research and development on a new generation of more efficient, high temperature, and passively-safe reactors, such as liquid fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactors."

Curiously, the release did not mention the development of molten salt-fueled reactors (MSRs), which use molten salts both as coolants (coolants absorb a reactor's heat and use that heat to drive a turbine) and as fuel. In an MSR, uranium or thorium fuel mixes with liquid salts. Rez is conducting MSR research, and Oak Ridge built an MSR in the 1960s, eventually abandoning it for largely political reasons ordered by President Richard Nixon.

Likewise, in the China collaboration, the U.S. is focused on molten salt coolants rather than molten salt-fueled reactors. China is developing both.

High temperature reactors, as the name implies, operate at higher temperatures than conventional reactors. They offer more efficient electricity generation, and auger safety improvements. In solid fuel designs, they tend to use fuel in either pebble or brick form, over which a coolant runs. Supporters of liquid fuel high temperature reactors believe that MSRs portend even safer operations that also greatly reduce the risk of weapons proliferation. MSR developers include, among others, China, Canada's Terrestrial Energy, Japan's Thorium Tech Solution, and, in the U.S., Transatomic Power and Flibe Energy.

DOE is supporting high temperature projects at the University of California Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, and MIT.

Photo from Wikimedia

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