Monthly Archives: June 2015

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Terrestrial Energy Says Molten Salt is the Future of SMR Technology

IMSR core sizes
IMSR core sizes.

Terrestrial Energy is on the path to commercializing its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), which it says holds the greatest promise as an alternative to conventional energy sources.

“We believe we have a technology that is ideal for the small modular reactor market,” said Simon Irish, chief executive of Terrestrial Energy, based in Toronto. “We believe our technology will provide industry with a small modular reactor that provides power which is simply more convenient and more cost competitive than using coal.”

Global energy demand will grow substantially over the next generation, driven primarily by population growth and industrialization in Asia. Many countries seek secure, cost-competitive energy sources that avoid the climate-changing greenhouse gases generated by coal, natural gas and oil.

IMSR plant
IMSR plant.

“The need for game-changing innovation is far, far stronger this decade than decades before,” said Irish. “We face many problems identifying secure, safe and economically competitive energy supplies over the next two decades. Solving that problem with existing approaches is probably not practical.”

The molten-salt reactor system differs fundamentally from today’s water-cooled commercial reactors. Instead of using solid uranium as fuel, it dissolves the uranium in liquid salt mix. Irish said the technique gives the molten-salt reactor a unique safety profile.

“You can’t lose primary coolant because your fuel and your coolant are one and the same,” Irish explained, “and they are not under pressure as they are in traditional solid-fuel reactors.  The IMSR system is passively safe – meaning safety is assured even in the absence of backup power.”

IMSR section view
IMSR section view.

Although the molten-salt reactor is not yet commercially available, it uses a recognized, proven nuclear technology demonstrated in the late 1950s to the 1970s by the illustrious Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The trick is to change a working laboratory reactor into a reactor suitable for industry – and that’s where Innovation comes in.

Building on the Oak Ridge demonstrations, Terrestrial Energy has developed a reactor system that appears simple, safe to operate, convenient and highly cost effective for industry.  It could enter service early next decade.

“The first step on our path to commercialization involves the manufacturing and construction of our first commercial reactor at a site in Canada, and obtaining a license to operate it from the CNSC,” explains Irish. “We intend to have it up and running and connected to the grid by early next decade.”

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CNL Invests in Hydrogen to Power the Future

Hydrogen laboratory at CNL
Hydrogen laboratory at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).

Imagine a world where driving to work is no more harmful to the environment than walking or cycling. Where the burning of fossil fuels is a distant memory of a bygone era, long before advances in alternative energy sources for transportation were developed and commercially viable.

The promising science behind hydrogen as an energy source to power our everyday lives is a prospect that has captured the imagination of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) researchers, and prompted CNL to open a new lab at its site in Chalk River, Ontario.

Hydrogen laboratory at CNLCNL’s advantage in exploring future hydrogen applications stems from its six decades of experience with hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium. (Deuterium is the heavy hydrogen in the water used to cool fissioning uranium in CANDU nuclear reactors. It’s exactly like the regular hydrogen that bonds with oxygen to produce water, except it has a neutron – the extra weight that makes the water “heavy.” Likewise, radioactive tritium has two neutrons.)

Hydrogen laboratory at CNLCNL’s depth of experience is now being applied to exploring large-scale production of hydrogen using technology that can be integrated with nuclear energy. Essentially, this technology would use surplus electricity – either nuclear or renewable – as the clean form of energy needed to produce this resource.

Where could it lead? The “hydrogen economy,” perhaps.  Hydrogen is a low-carbon energy source that someday could replace gasoline for transportation or natural gas for heating. Hydrogen is attractive because the only by-product from its use is water – the regular kind. The bottom line: no harmful emissions to the environment whatsoever.

Hydrogen laboratory at CNLIn opening his company’s $55 million lab in January 2015, CNL President & CEO Dr. Robert Walker said, “This new laboratory will enable state-of-the-art research to ensure a clean and healthy environment for Canadians through the development and use of clean energy technologies.”

“The work that will be carried out within these walls builds on CNL’s global leadership position in hydrogen technologies. It enables us to develop safe and secure options for Canada’s future energy needs. And it gives us the foundation to leverage and direct our capabilities into other industry sectors and international markets.”

Hydrogen laboratory at CNLThe new lab’s equipment comes from other innovative Canadian nuclear companies such as Kinectrics, TurnKey Modular Systems, Tyne Engineeringand Angstrom Engineering. Each piece of equipment enables an experimental process to measure the performance of a chemical or physical transformation involving hydrogen. For example, one of the rigs measures the rate at which hydrogen reacts with oxygen at various conditions using different catalytic materials.

CNL’s hydrogen lab is an excellent example of Canadian strength in science and technology, and a product of Canada’s work to explore civilian applications for nuclear technology.