Molten salt reactors (MSRs) are often advocated as a radical but worthwhile alternative to traditional reactor concepts based on solid fuels. In a paper published in the Annals of Nuclear Energy in January 2015, Ali Ahmad, Edward McClamrock and Alexander Glaser study the resource requirements and proliferation-risk attributes of denatured molten salt reactors.
The analysis presented in the paper confirms that MSRs could offer significant advantages with regard to resource efficiency compared to conventional thermal reactors based on light-water reactor technology. Depending on specific design choices, even fully denatured reactors could reduce uranium and enrichment requirements by approximately a factor of 3–4, even when operated on an open fuel cycle. As for the implications associated with proliferation risk, fully denatured single-fluid reactors using low-enriched make-up fuel appear as the most promising candidate technology minimizing overall proliferation risks and should, in our view, therefore receive particular attention despite being less attractive from the perspective of resource utilization.
Alex Glaser was one of the keynote speakers at the 2012 International Energy Workshop held at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His talk reviewed the international responses to the Fukushima Accidents and assessed the potential impact on deployment trajectories for nuclear power, noting that many energy scenarios still envision an early and large expansion of nuclear power on a global scale. Partly as a result of the Fukushima accidents from March 2011, many of these growth projections have become increasingly unrealistic.
The talk also examined the prospects of small modular reactors, which have begun to attract significant attention as an alternative to standard gigawatt-scale plants. Taken together, these recent developments suggest that nuclear power may play a more limited role in a future low-carbon energy system than previously anticipated. The slides of the talk are available here.
Nuclear proliferation risks from magnetic fusion energy associated with access to weapon-usable materials can be divided into three main categories: (1) clandestine production of weapon-usable material in an undeclared facility, (2) covert production of such material in a declared facility and (3) use of a declared facility in a breakout scenario, in which a state begins production of fissile material without concealing the effort.
In a recent paper published in Nuclear Fusion, A. Glaser and R. J. Goldston address each of these categories of risks from fusion. For each case, they find that the proliferation risk from fusion systems can be much lower than the equivalent risk from fission systems, if (and only if) fusion systems are designed to accommodate appropriate safeguards. At the next INMM Meeting in July 2012, Goldston and Glaser will have a follow-on paper that focuses more explicitly on some of the safeguards requirements for fusion reactors.
David is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering working on Raman-amplified ultra-intense lasers, one application of which is for fast ignition inertial confinement fusion. As part of this 2-year PEI-STEP environmental policy fellowship, he will examine nuclear weapons proliferation risks associated with fusion-fission hybrid power plant schemes. Computer simulations of the proposed reactors will help to quantify some of the proliferation-relevant parameters and how they vary with the specific details of a given design. The LIFE proposal involving a laser fusion driver, as well as proposals to use hybrid “burners” to incinerate nuclear waste from existing and future fission power plants, are of particular interest. The project will also include an economic analysis of the hybrid plants as compared to other nuclear fusion and fission reactors.
by Robert H. Socolow and Alexander Glaser
Nuclear power could make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. To do so, however, nuclear power must be deployed extensively, including in the developing world. A “one-tier” world will be required–that is, a world with an agreed set of rules to govern nuclear power that are the same in all countries.
In this article, we argue that the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Nuclear-energy use today relies on technologies and a system of national governance of the nuclear fuel cycle that carry substantial risks of nuclear weapons proliferation. The risks that a global expansion of nuclear power will facilitate nuclear proliferation and incidents of nuclear terrorism, or even lead to regional nuclear war, are significant. Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change.