The nuclear industry is changing, both within the United States and internationally. There have been rapid developments in nuclear technology over the past several years, many of which show promise for solving two of the biggest problems facing the nuclear industry: safety and waste disposal.
Nuclear waste production is an especially large obstacle to the widespread acceptance of nuclear power. Each commercial nuclear power plant produces about 20 metric tons of high level nuclear waste each year. This means that there are about 2000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste produced domestically each year, and about 9000 metric tons produced worldwide each year.
Mark and I have invented a new type of nuclear reactor, the Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, that can help solve the nuclear waste problem. The WAMSR consumes nuclear waste as it turns it into electricity, reducing the mass of the high-level actinide waste by up to 98%. Furthermore, it produces an enormous amount of electricity. If the 270,000 metric tons of existing high-level nuclear waste were put into our reactors, they could produce enough electricity to power the entire world for 72 years, even taking into account projected increases in worldwide energy demand. The reactor is also what's called "walk-away safe". Conventional nuclear reactors require a continuous supply of external electric power so that they can continually pump water over their core, to keep it from heating up catastrophically. In our reactor, however, the inherent physics of our design causes the plant to safely and automatically shut down in an accident scenario, even in the complete absence of electric power or operator action.
Leslie Dewan is the co-founder and CEO of Transatomic Power, a nuclear reactor design company. She graduated from MIT in 2007 with S.B. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering. After undergrad, she worked for a robotics company in Cambridge, MA, where she designed search-and-rescue robots and equipment for in-field identification of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, where she works on computational modeling of nuclear materials. Leslie is a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellow and an MIT Presidential Fellow.
Mark Massie is the co-founder and CTO of Transatomic Power, a nuclear reactor design company. Mark has an S.M. degree in nuclear science and engineering from MIT, and an S.B. degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee. He has worked at TerraPower in Bellevue, WA, where he developed and implemented a method for calculating high-fidelity fuel compositions in travelling wave reactors. He has also worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he developed code for analyzing sodium fast reactors. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, specializing in nuclear reactor core design. Mark is a Department of Energy Nuclear Engineering University Program Fellow and a Department of Energy Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative Fellow.