For decades, nuclear engineers have dreamt up brand-new formulas, shapes and sizes for the radioactive fuel that powers the reactors of the world’s nuclear power plants (our greatest source of zer0-carbon electrical power). Today most of what’s used for reactor fuel is enriched uranium. In the future, fuel structures could shift towards the really promising aspect thorium.
A capacity breakthrough: The United States Department of Energy (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Nuclear Engineering & Science Center at Texas A&M have partnered with Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) to fabricate a new type of nuclear fuel, called “Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life”, or ANEEL.
With a proprietary combination of thorium (Th) and uranium (U), particularly “High Assay Low Enriched Uranium” (HALEU), ANEEL fuel can address several concerns that have plagued nuclear power – expense, expansion and waste. Plus, this fuel, being made-in-America, positions it as a prime prospect for export to emerging nuclear markets.
Over the last numerous years, there has actually been a growing consensus amongst environment scientists that nuclear energy is critical for mitigating the worst effects of global warming. Nations and states are moving from Eco-friendly Energy Mandates to technology-neutral Tidy Energy Standards that consist of nuclear energy.
But in developing nations, the requirement is urgent. Many do not have the infrastructure to set up natural gas, wind or solar. In addition, lots of do not have sufficient topography and river flow for hydro. So it’s either coal or nuclear. If you care at all about the environment, then it better be nuclear.
So developing new innovations, especially advanced fuels, is critical for this implementation. The ANEEL fuel can be used in conventional boiling water and pressurized water reactors, however it actually shines when used in heavy water reactors, like the CANDU and the PHWR. More notably, it can be developed and released rather quickly.
CCTE plans to go-to-market with this innovation by 2024.
“Today, emerging countries and their residents, ever starving for the power needed to drive the engines of development and success, need an abundant and uninterruptible source of clean base-load power. This solution should address multiple key barriers, including cost, performance, and sustainability,” says Mehul Shah, CEO and Creator of CCTE. “The seriousness of realizing such a vision becomes even more important as time is lost in the face of an accelerating climate crisis.”
The CANDU A nd PHWR R eactors
The CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactor was established in the 1950 s in Canada, and more just recently in India as the PHWR (Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor). These reactors are heavy water cooled and moderated pressurized water reactors.
PHWRs/CANDUs are well developed little and medium reactors (see figure above). All of Canada’s 20 nuclear reactors are of the CANDU style. Other nations with CANDU reactors include Argentina, China, India, South Korea, Pakistan, and Romania. India has 18 PHWRs that are based on the CANDU style. The almost 50 CANDU and PHWR reactors comprise roughly 10% of reactors worldwide.
On the other hand, there are 30 nations considering, preparation or beginning nuclear programs, and an extra 20 nations, most of which are in establishing countries, that have revealed an interest in launching a nuclear program in the future (see figure listed below). The CANDU/PHWR is an optimal reactor option for establishing countries, when equipped with the right fuel.
CANDU/PHWRs normally use natural uranium (0.7% U-235) oxide as fuel, so they need a more efficient moderator (the product that slows or moderates the speed of the neutron so it strikes the next nucleus at the right speed to split, or fission, it). In this case, these reactors usage heavy water (D2O). Deuterium is hydrogen with one neutron in its nucleus.
Additionally, thorium has a higher melting point and lower operating temperature which makes it naturally safer than straight U and more resistant to core meltdowns.
The ANEEL fuel has a very high fuel burn-up rate of about 55,000 MWd/T (megawatt-day per load of fuel) as compared to natural uranium fuel used in presently operating PHWRs/CANDUs with a burn-up of around 7,000 MWd/T. This is important in a few methods.
Higher burn-up suggests the fuel remains in the reactor longer and gets more energy out of the same amount of fuel. Likewise, more neutron poisons breed in over the fuel’s use, including Pu-240,241,242 making the invested fuel excessively difficult to make into a weapon.
Also, a greater fuel burn-up of ANEEL fuel will minimizes the waste by over 80% and ends up with much less plutonium (Pu) due to the fact that more of the Pu is burned to make energy while making the invested fuel proliferation resistant. Less invested fuel indicates less refueling, less cost, less fuel handling and less volume to dispose.
In addition, PHWR/CANDU reactors don’t have to be shut down to refuel, and can be refueled at complete power. The Kaiga Unit-1 Indian PHWR, and Darlington Unit 1 in Canada, hold the world records for continuous operation at 962 days and 963 days of continuous operation, respectively.
In an existing CANDU/PHWR using natural uranium, each fuel package weighs approximately 15 kg. After the first 150 days of operation, an average of eight such packages would requirement to be changed day-to-day for the rest of the reactor’s operating life of 60 years.
With the ANEEL fuel, each fuel bundle weighs roughly 10.65 kg. After the first 1,400 days of operation, an average of only one such bundle would need be replaced day-to-day for the remainder of the reactor’s operating life, leading to substantially less waste.
The Interesting Thing About Thorium
Like most even-numbered heavy isotopes, Th-232 doesn’t fission quickly. But like non-fissile U-238 forming Pu-239 through neuron sorption which then fissions to produce energy, Th-232 likewise absorbs a neutron, then rapidly double-beta decays to U-233 which then fissions to produce energy.
Dr. Sean McDeavitt, Nuclear Engineering Professor and Director of the Nuclear Engineering & Science Center at Texas A&M University, notes, “I’ve been actively working on and around nuclear fuel behavior and applications for over 25 years. The ANEEL fuel principle integrated with the existing CANDU/PHWR reactor innovation takes benefit of thorium’s remarkable residential or commercial properties, efficiency, and abundance to create tidy base-load electrical power with reduced ecological impact.”
Texas A&M will make the ANEEL fuel pellets at their Nuclear Engineering and Science Center and provide them to INL. INL will conduct high burn-up irradiation screening of the ANEEL fuel pellets (up to 70,000 MWd/T) in INL’s accelerated test rig at their Advanced Test Reactor. This will be followed by post irradiation assessment and fuel certification, all under the stringent standards and quality assurance requirements of the DOE and the NRC.
“We appearance forward to supporting these efforts to establish sophisticated nuclear fuels. As the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and advancement, INL supports industry needs with distinct facilities, capabilities and proficiency.” – Jess Gehin, Ph.D., INL chief researcher.
There is well over two times as much Th on earth than U. And like U, it can be drawn out from seawater, making nuclear totally renewable, as eco-friendly as the wind. India itself has more Th than U, especially as monazite sands, a reason they have actually been pursuing Th in nuclear reactors for years.
The GeoPolitical Ramifications
The advantages of the ANEEL fuel fit several aspects in the United States Department of Energy’s just recently launched Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Energy Benefit which says nuclear power is fundamentally tied to nationwide security.
Whenever the United States is included in another country’s nuclear program, that country signs different agreements associated to security, weapons nonproliferation and nuclear products, including nuclear fuel.
Agreements like a 1-2-3 Contract, and other contracts like those committing the country to forgo domestic uranium enrichment and recycling of spent fuel are put in location, as well as signing the International Atomic Energy Firm‘s Additional Procedure, which institutes more rigid inspection routines.
To date, the U.S. has entered into approximately twenty-three 1 -2 -3 Agreements with 48 nations, consisting of the Ukraine, Morocco, Egypt and Taiwan.
But the United States’ nuclear program has atrophied over the last few years. At the same time, other countries have enhanced, particularly Russia and China, both of whom have state-owned business and are less than caring about security and environmental concerns, as well as others like South Korea whose market is government-supported in ways that simply can’t happen in the United States.
So having a brand-new fuel made in America that can be utilized in reactors in other countries brings the United States back into play in the nuclear supply chain, and enables us to reach more of the countries around the world.
With present bilateral acknowledgment in the United States that nuclear is essential for clean base-load energy, CCTE’s ANEEL fueled PHWR/CANDU reactors could be deployed to more emerging nations faster by alleviating issues of proliferation and waste management.
And maybe we can actually decrease the amount of coal burned.