Molten salt reactors were developed in the 1950s as an alternative to water reactors, and Seaborg Technologies, a Danish company, has updated this technology. To do this, at near atmospheric pressure, it uses a fluoride salt that is in a solid state until it reaches 500°C and then melts, allowing it to flow into the reactor, mixing with the uranium and causing it to cool. If the fuel is exposed to air, the salt solidifies with the nuclear fuel inside and forms a rock that is poorly soluble in water, which is a key safety feature.
On the other hand, if the temperature begins to rise uncontrollably, there is a salt plug at the bottom that immediately melts causing the reactor core to empty and the contents to fall into a series of refrigerated drain tanks below.
There are many reasons that led Seaborg to the development of this technology, for example:
- It can operate for 12 years without refueling.
- It could work with waste from other reactors and could therefore be a solution for their management, as it would reduce the volume of these materials.
- It has low costs.
- It is small and compact enough to be moved to any place with water because they go inside a boat, which reduces costs by not having to buy the land to build the nuclear power plants, since they can be located anywhere on the planet that has access to the sea or a navigable river.
- It can be very easily connected to the mains so that power is immediately available anywhere.
Seaborg states that they are not going to reduce the probability of an accident to zero because it is impossible, but they can reduce the consequences. He proposes various sizes ranging from 200 MWe to 800 MWe and it only takes 3 years from the time they receive an order until the reactor is ready to be connected to the grid.
In the immediate future, they are going to use Korean shipyards, thus taking advantage of their supply chains and huge production capacity, making it easier to mass-produce this type of ship without losing quality.
With this working method, they could deploy reactors that reach 95% of the world's production, and especially in island regions such as Southeast Asia, which is where the first order has come from, and where there are almost 1 billion people who will need coal and gas energy comparable to what is being released in the world today. So even if the other half of the planet is decarbonized, they will produce the same amount of electricity if there are no alternatives.
The next steps are to have the prototype ready for operation in Southeast Asia by 2025, get regulatory approval for its design by 2026 and start series production by 2027.
However, this path is not free of obstacles:
- The technology itself. Salt is a corrosive material that affects the reactor's durability on the inside, and since these ships are intended for the sea, it will wear on the outside as well. Seaborg is working on this and is counting on lessons learned from the 1950s.
- The technical problems inherent in starting up any new technology. Practical experience is important and they have to be welded, tested, inspected and maintained.
- Regulation. This is the biggest obstacle because nuclear regulation is very strict and these floating nuclear power plants can open the door to a new regulatory scenario based fundamentally on safety, but adapted to new nuclear technologies instead of relying on existing ones.
- Public opinion. Since the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, the popularity of this type of energy source has plummeted. According to a compilation of studies by ourworldindata.com, nuclear energy causes 99.7% fewer deaths than coal, 99.6% fewer than oil and 97.5% fewer than gas. It is also one of the lowest CO2 emitters, even below renewables such as hydropower.
Fuente: Seaborg Technologies