A Breakthrough Technology for a Successful Future of Nuclear
Based on current planning nuclear has to play its role in a future UK net-zero society. However, current reactors and their related fuel cycles suffer from high cost, a lack of long-term sustainability, and a waste problem due to the absence of recycling. Thus, new, improved technologies will be required to overcome these problems to create attractive future international market opportunities for the UK. iMAGINE is designed to deliver in a disruptive way on: reducing environmental damage (no mining), significantly improved fuel use (up to a factor 100 more energy per gram U), solving the long-term waste issue (delivering a new basis for waste handling); while drastically reducing the cost of the whole nuclear system (through avoiding cost intensive steps like fuel production and reprocessing).
The applied molten salt technologies support a cyclic economy for waste reduction and improved resource usage. iMAGINE offers a breakthrough for most efficient fuel use, by operating on existing stockpiles (spent nuclear fuel, separated plutonium, and tailings from enrichment) currently considered as waste in the UK (costly burden) while turning them into a highly valuable long-term asset. The new technology leverages existing stockpiles in a proliferation safe manner reducing/eliminating nuclear security and safeguarding concerns.
To progress this innovation, already recognized by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the International Atomic Energy Agency, a streamlined process has been developed (see Fig. 1 below) to assure a smooth, de-risked development, reducing the financial as well as the delivery risk by developing the required skills base in the UK. The aim of the process, which has already been taken up by ROSATOM for their new program, is to achieve a highly innovative, industrially demonstrated, market ready product with acceptably low risk in 2050; the outcome expected for the BEIS nuclear innovation program: creating attractive market opportunities for UK plc applying a world leading innovative technology. The opportunities of iMAGINE, the attractiveness of the approach and the vision is evidenced by the rapid take-up through the major industrial molten salt reactor developers, including ROSATOM, Terrestrial Energy, Terrapower, Elysium Industries.
The above described process clearly indicates the time demand for a stepwise, risk reduced approach to a new technology development while creating the required capacities and capabilities for a successful nuclear program. Due to the time demand, it is indicated to act now to deliver a zero power facility in the next 3 to 5 years (expected cost <£50m), a demonstrator Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) by the early 2030s (expected design and delivery cost <£1bn) – and a full scale industrial demonstration of this new technology until 2050. Expected overall cost for the program, ~ £10bn, is based on experiences from the Russian and Indian programs. A world leading high reward project like iMAGINE has the potential to attract up to 80% of the financing from industry, see e. g. the historic BWR program in US. The development will be based on the existing UK strength in nuclear chemistry and related process engineering while growing the required reactor design and development skills and experience. The essential first step in the process, the zero-power experimental facility to research the game-changing technology in a safe setting, is the key to advertise the technology to attract investors and demonstrate leadership. This effort is supported by the academic advisory group on molten salt technologies, recently established by BEIS, to link the experts from various disciplines.
Known Advantages of Nuclear Energy
Low operational expenses
High energy density
Risk Reduction in iMAGINE
Financial – stepwise approach to reduce development risk and develop experts
Proliferation – eliminating enrichment & separation of fissile material
Safety – a low pressure system, significantly reduced accident risks, early safety demonstrations
What do we need to do?
1. A zero power experimental facility for quicker and cheaper learning and delivery, as already applied by others, first step into a new technology, fuel production and regulation
2. A small demonstrator AMR operating in 10 years for £1Bn.