I asked Russell Wilcox of Transatomic Power to fill us in a little more about the WAMSR (Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor.)
The history of missed opportunity regarding advances embraced by France has left the US behind in the area of reprocessing. It started back when it was made illegal to recycle used fuel in the US. Many people don’t realize that law was reversed but the stigma attributed to nuclear waste and what to do with it has left a vacuum of unrealized potential.
This proposed new reactor had it’s beginnings at MIT with two of the co-founders of Transatomic Power Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, both MIT PhD students.
The Massachussets based company is getting attention and advice from a team of experienced nuclear engineers as well as solid business leadership from Russell Wilcox also Transatomic’s CEO and former CEO of E-Ink which we all know as the paper-like e-reader technology.
From the beginning Richard Lester, Jess Gehin, Charles Forsberg and Benoit Forget have been a part of the team. Recent additional advisers include former Westinghouse Electric Chief Technology Officer Regis Matztie, Todd Allen, Ken Czerwinski and Michael Corradini, some of whom are also assisting China’s recent MSR research.
Transatomic is targeting 500 megawatts.
Here are the Questions and Answers
Q1. You have named your reactor a WAMSR. Waste Annihilating Molten Salt
Reactor. (Do you say Wamser?) ANSWER: Yes we say Whamser.
Part A: How is the WAMSR different than Alvin Weinberg’s projects of the 50s, 60s
and 70s (the short answer)?
ANSWER 1A: WAMSR is similar in many ways but a factor 20 smaller due to changes in
materials, geometry and spectrum. (Which for commercial reasons we do not
discuss in public at this time).
Part B: Are you using Thorium as part of the plan?
ANSWER 1B: The technical approach we are using will work for uranium or thorium. The
first product is the simpler case, which is for burning uranium, either
fresh, low-enriched uranium or in the form of spent fuel. A future version
could use Thorium.
Q2. We have names for reactors like Thermal Reactor and Fast Reactor. Does
your proposed reactor match one of these and which one?
ANSWER2: For commercial reasons we do not specify at this time.
Q3. What fuels will you be using? Is it the Thorium Cycle (redundant maybe)?
ANSWER3: (Best explained in part B above)
Q4. What kind of fuel preparation does your reactor require?
ANSWER4: If using fresh fuel, we are likely to receive UF6 gas. If using spent fuel,
we would have a mechanical process to remove casings but otherwise dissolve
the entire spent fuel uranium oxide directly into the salt.
Q5. What temperatures do you hope to achieve?
ANSWER5: We look at 700C.
Q6. Do you have a target date for a prototype?
ANSWER6: There is no specific date for this. We can imagine 2 years to run benchtop
experiments to prove and calibrate the CAD models, followed by 5-8 years to
design, license, build and operate a prototype, somewhat depending on size.
Q7. Do you envision this reactor will be able to assist the decommissioning
of sites like Hanford and Sellafield?
ANSWER7: While technically feasible for the WAMSR to burn some of these wastes,
including some high-enrichment wastes, there likely would be specific
regulation required to qualify the reactor to deal with these unique and
diverse range of fuels, so it is not clear this would make sense.
Q8. Kirk Sorensen did a blog post http://energyfromthorium.com/2010/03/29/
that explains how LFTRs could also use fuel created from molten salt
Chloride fast reactors. Are you perhaps using the Chloride approach?
ANSWER8: We are unlikely to use chloride salts.
Q9. Do your plans include generating power for electricity. If so at what
ANSWER9: Yes we are certainly interested in this market. The world spending on
nuclear power for electricity production is $100 billion per year and
Q10. Does you proposed reactor burn up all transuranics?
ANSWER10: No there is still some long-life waste, even with our approach. However, we
can reduce the amount of long-life waste from a nuclear power plant from a
typical annual rate of 20 tons to just a few kilograms, so it greatly solves
the waste storage problem. If the starting fuel is waste from other
reactors then we can greatly reduce the amount of waste in the world.
Recent articles by Mark Halper about Transatomic
1. DOE Energy Innovation Award
2. Transatomic’s MSR Uranium Now – Thorium Later – Investors in between