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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.”