Tag Archives: molten salt reactor


Innovations we Need – Now, and for Generations

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

In case you missed this in the early January darkness: A Canadian team based at Vancouver-area TRIUMF has demonstrated a practical answer to the impending shortage of medical isotopes.

Technetium-99m (TC-99m), a commonly used isotope for medical imaging and diagnosis, has until now mainly been derived from molybdenum-99 from the NRU research reactor in Ontario. But the NRU is scheduled to end molybdenum production in 2016.

Industry experts were warning that this would leave global supplies of TC-99m very tight and vulnerable to shortages. But Canada’s nuclear science and technology know-how, with support from the federal government, has been working on answers. The team uses a common brand of medical cyclotron – developed and manufactured in Canada – to make TC-99m without a reactor.

Yanick Lee (right) and Ran Klein (centre) show off the Ottawa Hospital’s cyclotron.
The cyclotron at the Ottawa Hospital produces isotopes used for PET scans, which allow cardiac and cancer patients to receive precisely targeted treatments.

Nuclear technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s an integral part of our health care system, helping Canadian doctors to help their patients faster, better, and less intrusively. Not to mention an integral part of our materials science, which supports our whole manufacturing and engineering capability. Not to mention an integral part of our low-carbon, low-cost electric power supply.

Nuclear technology solves real-world problems that affect our quality of life: How long we live. How well our cars run. How safely our planes land. How affordable energy is.

As we noted in our last post, timely solutions like the isotope breakthrough may only be the tip of the iceberg compared to what nuclear innovation could bring humanity in coming decades. The world’s demand for low-carbon energy and clean air is probably the biggest single challenge we face as a species.  And it is increasingly clear that nuclear is the only minimal-carbon energy that can be there on the scale we need, when we need it.

Many reactor designs can be part of that solution, which will be global in scale. Here are some examples of CNA member organizations working in science and technology partnerships right now to make it happen:

  • Burnaby, BC-based General Fusion, which has a prototype fusion reactor, has a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is putting them in place with the Lawrence Berkeley National and Princeton Plasma Physics labs.
Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR80.
  • Mississauga, ON-based Terrestrial Energy, which is developing integral molten salt reactors, recently announced an initial collaboration with USDOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the home of the original working MSR design.
  • CNA members GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GHNE) and Westinghouse Electric, plus Areva Federal Services, have joined with USDOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in a partnership on next-generation reactors.

National laboratories don’t form these partnerships just to make headlines. They’re looking to solve big problems. Canada and CNA members are going to be part of those answers.


Technologies Take a While to Turn the World Around

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Asked in the 1970s about the influence of the French Revolution on western civilization, Chou En Lai is said to have paused and replied: It’s too soon to tell.

You might say the same thing about nuclear technology’s impact on the world.  Sure, we’ve had it for about 70 years. But is that long enough for a fair test?

The Newcommen steam pump, circa 1710.

Practical steam engines were in use for a century before they really changed most people’s worlds.

Steam engines were first commercialized around the year 1700 to pump water out of mineshafts (which they did better than humans), and shortly thereafter to drive textile mills (which they did better than waterwheels).

They weren’t successfully applied to transportation (steamboats and locomotives) until just after 1800. Before they could operate on these mobile platforms, steam engines had to get smaller, lighter, safer, more applicable, and far more efficient.

When they did this, steam engines dramatically reduced transport costs. That made the world a very different place in the nineteenth century – and in many ways, and for many people, a much better one.

The Trevithick locomotive, circa 1803.

A recent announcement by Mississauga-based Terrestrial Energy Inc. (TEI) reminds us again that we’ve probably not even glimpsed where revolutionary reactor designs might take society in a carbon-constrained world.

Remember, we’ve come less than six decades from the opening of the first utility-scale nuclear generating station – which operated successfully in Pennsylvania from 1957 until 1982.

Reactor technology has spent those decades generating cleaner and cheaper electricity than nearly any other source, and probably doing it more safely than any other source. But that’s not the end of the story.

Because reactor technology has also spent those decades getting better and better.

A number of CNA member companies have designs that reflect this progress, and that could change our children’s and grandchildren’s world in very positive ways. Terrestrial’s is just one example of this.

The Shippingport atomic power station.

On January 7, Terrestrial Energy announced a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to advance the design of its concept for an integral molten salt reactor (IMSR). Oak Ridge is where early molten salt reactors were proven, decades ago.

Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR80.

More recent Molten Salt Reactor technology could represent a revolution in nuclear safety, waste and proliferation resistance, and in energy cost-competitiveness. Terrestrial’s is a small modular design, with models ranging from as small as 80 MWth – about one-tenth of the typical utility-scale reactor installed today.

The company wants to start commercial deployment of IMSRs by early next decade. Edge-of-grid and off-grid locations in Canada, many of them currently using dirty, expensive diesel generators, could benefit dramatically from these or other advanced and smaller reactor designs.

Think nuclear had its heyday in the 1960s? Sure. And the piston engine was just a better way to get water out of coal mines.