MIT has been awarded $7.5 million as part of a new initiative by the Department of Energy (DoE) to support research and development on the next generation of nuclear technologies. Funded through the DoE’s Nuclear Energy University Projects (NEUP), the Integrated Research Projects (IRPs) were established to help ensure that the country maintains a leading role in nuclear energy research.
The Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the MIT Reactor Lab will work together with their partners at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) on the project over the next three years to develop the path forward to a test reactor and ultimately a commercial high-temperature salt-cooled reactor, also called a Fluoride-salt High-Temperature Reactor (FHR).
The FHR is a new reactor concept — about a decade old. It combines high-temperature graphite-matrix coated particle fuel developed for high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (fuel failure temperature greater than 1600°C), liquid salt developed for the molten salt reactors (boiling point greater than 1400°C), and safety systems originate from sodium fast reactors.
This new combination of existing technologies creates the possibility of a large power reactor where catastrophic accidents would not be credible. The Three Mile Island and the more recent Fukushima accident resulted from radioactive decay heat generated after the reactors were shut down that overheated and destroyed fuel. The FHR fuel and coolant combination may allow decay heat to conduct to the environment without massive fuel failure even with large-scale structural and system failures.