April 02, 2012

Transatomic Power's Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor

Transatomic Power's Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor -- WAMSR -- can convert the high-level nuclear waste produced by conventional nuclear reactors each year into $7.1 trillion of electricity. At full deployment, our reactors can use existing stockpiles of nuclear waste to satisfy the world’s electricity needs through 2083.

The design is a compact modular 200 MWe molten salt reactor can be manufactured economically at a central location and transported by rail to the reactor site.

Bostinno - Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, both nuclear engineering PhD students at MIT, started working on Transatomic Power, a nuclear reactor design startup, back in 2010, and incorporated it last year. The business model is to license the design of reactors, not to build plants, which is an absurdly capital intensive endeavor. So a company like Transatomic can stay relatively lean.


WAMSR can be powered by nuclear waste because it uses radically different technology from conventional plants. Instead of using solid fuel pins, we dissolve the nuclear waste into a molten salt. Suspending the fuel in a liquid allows us to keep it in the reactor longer, and therefore capture more of its energy. Conventional nuclear reactors can utilize only about 3% of the potential fission energy in a given amount of uranium before it has to be removed from the reactor. Our design captures 98% of this remaining energy.

Right now in the world there are about 270,000 metric tons of high level waste that exists. We can take that waste, put it into our reactors and produce enough electricity to power the entire world for 72 years. And that is even taking into account increasing demand.




As with any startup, one of the biggest challenges Transatomic will face as it tries to grow will be hiring. But the crunch for nuclear engineers makes hiring a Ruby developer look easy. Most of the nuclear engineering talent is locked up in academia and labs, and the demographics of the industry skew older, a legacy Dewan attributes to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island that is only recently starting to change.

Dewan admits that a startup in the nuclear industry faces extra challenges, but believes that the market is ripe for disruption.



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