MIT Considers IMSR Demonstration Project

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are proposing a new system construction of a small, molten-salt-cooled reactor that would be a substitute for a standalone prototype or at least provide critical data that could advance small reactor development.

IMSRA full-scale, standalone molten-salt-cooled reactor as a prototype could be prohibitively costly and time consuming to build, says Lin-wen Hu, the principal research scientist at MIT's six megawatt light water cooled reactor, reported James Temple, MIT Technology Review energy editor.

Hu's team proposes borrowing the fission process from the existing reactor to simulate the environment of a high-temperature molten-salt-cooled reactor. The demonstration model “would be about half the size of a typical demonstration reactor and would depend on neutrons generated by the main reactor to instigate the fission chain reaction in its fuel,” Temple explained.

The demonstration model would be a “subcritical” facility, that may or may not satisfy the demands of U.S. regulators who need to clear the new designs for commercial applications.

Another nuclear research scientist, David Petti, of the Idaho National Laboratory, is doubtful that MIT's demonstration model would appease the requirement for a standalone prototype, but said it could be a useful stepping stone that would pave the way towards or encourage construction of a prototype.

Similar proposals have been discussed at other research laboratories, but MIT's reactor is high on the list of possible sites for one, because there is room at the facility there, which would make it cheaper and easier to build, according to the report.

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