more powerful and more efficient than their cousins.
Wilson's fission reactor operates at 600 to 700 degrees Celsius. And because the laws of thermodynamics say that high temperatures lead to high efficiencies, this reactor is 45 to 50 percent efficient.
Traditional steam turbine systems are only 30 to 35 percent efficient because their reactors run at low temperatures of about 200 to 300 degrees Celsius.
And Wilson's reactor isn't just hot, it's also powerful. Despite its small size, the reactor generates between 50 and 100 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 homes, according to Wilson.
Okay, that’s the hot and powerful part.
And unlike traditional nuclear power plants, Wilson's miniature power plants would be buried below ground, making them a boon for security advocates.
According to Wilson, his reactor only needs to be refueled every 30 years, compared to the 18-month fuel cycle of most power plants. This means they can be sealed up underground for a long time, decreasing the risk of proliferation.
And that’s the small reactor part. Listening to Wilson at the TED conference and reading the details of his idea, I expected to find – more – that is, where this idea departs from earlier ideations of small, molten salt reactors.
Enter Transatomic’s molten salt reactor (MSR). …
The safety advantages of this project are mostly features of molten salt reactors in general. Using high boiling-point coolants like fluoride or chloride salts in place of light or heavy water negates the need to pressurize the system and instantly reduces the dangers associated with super-heated, pressurized liquids.
And the article from ExtremeTech points out that molten salt reactors have been contemplated since the 60s.
Researchers have actually had working models of the MSRs since the ’60s [even the 1950s – see here], but they’ve never been used for commercial purposes. One reason is that much of nuclear’s research capital comes from the military, and bulky MSR technology has traditionally been less desirable for submarines and aircraft carriers than their relatively slim light-water cousins. Another is that the plants require a separate facility to filter their core mixture.
So we can allow that Wilson may have some new ideas about the molten salt reactor – how to make it workable at a smaller size, maybe - but it’s hard at present to pin down what they are. Or what would cause the technology to gain traction at this particular time – which I imagine Transatomic would like to do, too.
But none of this is to say that the idea shouldn’t gain traction, or that Taylor has simply reinvented the molten wheel, or that Transtomic and Taylor shouldn’t pursue their ideas – well, to the extent that patents don’t play a role. Right now, it’s all just a curiosity. And that is the point of TED, right?