Improving nuclear reactors: A new composite ceramic material?

Silicon carbide (SiC) monocrystal from the LMGP (Minatec) lab in Grenoble, France by David Monniaux / wikimedia *

Silicon carbide (SiC) monocrystal from the LMGP (Minatec) lab in Grenoble, France by David Monniaux / wikimedia

  • can sustain over 2,000 degrees Centigrade without showing any effect of strain
  • can withstand the intense neutron environment in a nuclear reactor
  • can reduce the price of electricity by 40% relative to current reactors
  • 80% less nuclear waste (1)

***

New Ceramic Material for a Qualitative Improvement of Nuclear Reactors

LPAC
September 21, 2013

In an article carried by many websites, John Parmentola, a senior vice president of the San Diego-based General Atomics, described a composite ceramic material, silicon carbide, which can sustain over 2,000 degrees Centigrade without showing any effect of strain or fatigue, as opposed to the metals that show fatigue at 700 degrees C.

Besides the high heat it can withstand, silicon carbide composite material can also withstand the intense neutron environment in a nuclear reactor over long periods of time. One such location of this material will be surrounding the nuclear fuel bundle in a light water reactor. Since the fuel contained by the silicon carbide tubing can stay in the reactor for longer periods of time (nearly seven separate fuel loadings of current reactors), there is much less waste; in fact, 80% less waste. And because of the fuel and silicon, Parmentola pointed out, “We can reduce the price of electricity by 40% relative to current reactors. This puts the price of nuclear-generated electricity within the energy mix in the United States. It also makes such reactors much more competitive in international markets.

Because of this development, Parmentola said General Atomics is working to develop a new nuclear reactor concept with potentially far-reaching performance advantages. This reactor, Energy Multiplier Module (EM squared), is the smallest-size, highest-efficiency, and highest-power small modular reactor in the world. It relies on a high operating temperature of 850 degrees Centigrade to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and even to use nuclear waste as fuel. It is designed to work for 30 years without refueling, relying on a silicon carbide fiber ceramic that will hold the fuel pellets.

This innovation comes at a time when nuclear energy has reached a crossroads. So we have a choice: Embrace new technology, as we have in the past, to improve performance, or continue to look in the rear-view mirror with ideas that just hold back human progress,” Parmentola noted.

***

Energy Multiplier Module

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2)

The Energy Multiplier Module (EM2 or EM squared) is a nuclear fission power reactor under development by General Atomics.[1] It is a modified version of the Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) and is capable of converting spent nuclear fuel into electricity and industrial process heat, without separative or conventional nuclear reprocessing.[2]
Schematic of a high temperature gas cooled reactor - U.S. Department of Energy / wikipedia *

Schematic of a high temperature gas cooled reactor – U.S. Department of Energy / wikipedia *

  • operates at high temperatures yielding approximately 50 percent greater efficiency and a corresponding one-third reduction in materials requirements than that of current nuclear reactors.[5]
  • The EM2 utilizes used nuclear fuel, also referred to as “spent fuel” from light water reactors.
  • By using spent nuclear waste and depleted uranium stockpiles as its fuel source, a large-scale deployment of the EM2 is expected to reduce the long-term need for uranium enrichment and eliminate conventional nuclear reprocessing.[7]
  • EM2 technology is designed to be inherently safe and to automatically shut down using the natural laws of physics.

Sources:
(1) http://larouchepac.com/node/28227
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Multiplier_Module

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