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Thomas Jam Pedersen of Copenhagen Atomics delivered an inspiring presentation about the future of nuclear energy at the Palo Alto nuclear convention in June 2015. His main focus was on the benefits of nuclear in particular and how to change the paradigms in energy generation and its benefits for humanity.
Copenhagen Atomics is designing what they call an “Atomic Waste Burner”. The basis for this design is a Molten Salt Reactor with breeding capabilities. The purpose of this reactor is to generate electricity. In order to achieve this, nuclear waste and thorium are being bred and fissioned to generate heat. Pedersen stresses that we have to give a credible solution to our current waste issues. Copenhagen Atomics has chosen to walk the path of the waste burner, which greatly diminishes the amount of long lived nuclear waste.
“The Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner Reactor will be a molten salt reactor fuelled by plutonium from stockpiled nuclear waste, mixed with thorium, small amounts of uranium, and various minor actinides. The primary purpose of the reactor will be to destroy plutonium and minor actinides from nuclear waste through transmutation and fission.” (source : Copenhagen Atomics Whitepaper)
We can derive from this idea is that the reactor is specifically designed to burn nuclear waste products and bomb material like plutonium. This is a great advantage because these elements are readily available and need not be mined. A simple yet effective info-graphic is available on the website of Copenhagen Atomics.
“We think it’s essential that if we want a new nuclear era in this world it’s essential that we demonstrate to the public that it’s possible to handle the nuclear waste from both from the old type of reactors but also for any new reactor we’re going to build.”
“We have to demonstrate that it is do-able.”
Source : www.copenhagenatomics.com
The design of Copenhagen Atomics is very interesting, it is incredibly versatile and scalable. They work with a “container module design” in which each container has its own designation. They use special containers that are air tight and reinforced. There’s the reactor unit, a processing unit, a utility unit and a dump unit. Their system will be build encased in several meters of concrete below the ground and can be chained with other units to create higher generation capacities per site. Copenhagen Atomics proposes initial installation at current nuclear sites so that the nuclear waste from these contemporary reactors doesn’t need to be transported but remains onsite.
Source : Copenhagen Atomics presentation by Thomas Jam Pedersen.
A safety feature specific for the Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner is the overflow bucket in addition to the common freeze-plug.
More information about their design can be found in their whitepaper available at their website :
I am particularly interested in the modularity of their design, the ability to mass manufacture it and the versatility with which it can be deployed. This is something Copenhagen Atomics is envisioning, they want to create a power plant that can be mass manufactured and easily deployed so that we can effectively change the paradigms of the energy industry.
One could see these units as additions to contemporary nuclear reactors active and inactive. These are literally waste burners, making sure that the amount of long lived waste gets reduced significantly while creating valuable isotopes for the medical world for instance, something which a current commercial nuclear reactor doesn’t do.
“it will be up to us”
Pedersen explained that Copenhagen Atomics works with an open philosophy, they actively seek teams to connect with and make progress through collaboration. They acknowledge that joining with people and organizations from different disciplines and additional expertise is essential. An example of this is the collaboration with the nuclear and chemical “REZ research center” in the Czech Republic. Pedersen continues in pointing out that through collaboration progress can be accelerated and that there’s a great potential for joint efforts around the Atlantic. A great host of countries is already engaged in MSR [related] technological research and combining forces could be a force multiplier for our movement.
The five small stories presented by Pedersen :
- There is a strong correlation between the availability of energy and prosperity. The more energy that is available to a population the more prosperous and stable and peaceful it will probably be.
- Energy is an agent of change. When you have an excess of energy, you can get and create anything you want : potable water, fuels and materials.
- Nuclear is safe, it has the best “death-print” of all the energy sources on the world. Molten Salt Reactors will make it even safer. We need a plan to help the people to internalize these ideas.
- Molten Salt Reactors will be able to change a lot of paradigms, paradigms in terms of the transmutation of nuclear waste, the improved efficiency, the ability to mass manufacture these.
- What will it cost to get there? Pedersen actively Invites people with expertise from the audience to join a committee in order to give it a kick-start in the research required to form a clear picture regarding the costs of the proposed MSR’s. He suggests the formation of a committee of approximately ten people that will build a report about capital costs, fuel costs, the bill of materials required to build an MSR, a chapter about the R&D in order to achieve mass production of MSR’s, a chapter about licensing costs and regulatory pathways.
Quantifying these potential costs is very important since it will give a more tangible picture rather than an abstract with some ugly and monstrous sidekicks. This report could also be used in winning some people over.
I am quite convinced that we can merit the quest for MSR’s on mathematical probability only, however law makers and elected representatives wouldn’t touch such a controversial subject as long as its unpopular amongst the constituents. “Pedersen’s” report could help raise the MSR out of obscurity and help it gain some momentum amongst the people. A clear picture is needed, one that addresses the total costs, waste issues, safety issues and the overall benefits.
Pedersen concludes his presentation with a passionate speech and a picture of a boy with a jet-pack on his back, labeled : “dreamers”.
“it started five hundred thousand years ago when the great apes figured out how to control fire and how to cook food and when they did that they were able to get more energy out of the food and then they had bigger brains. That’s essentially when the humans arrived on this planet in history. and then fast forward the next five hundred thousand years there wasn’t any break step changes but then suddenly some people invented the steam engine and the diesel engine and we all know how that changed everything in the society and how it created the modern industrialized society. because suddenly we don’t have to spend the whole day in the field doing human labor and we didn’t need working horse, then we got the energy from fossil fuels and I believe that the next step change we will see on this planet, the next major step change, will be when we get enough energy you know plentiful of energy, hopefully from Thorium, then the cost of energy will come down to almost nothing.
And when you’re in a situation where you have lots of energy and it costs almost nothing its going change everything it means to be human. It is going to affect every system and every culture we have on this planet, and I think it’s going to happen in my lifetime and that that excites me a lot and it makes me breathless. What’s even more great is that that we have a chance to be part this group of people who are going to make it happen. I think that is awesome, thank you”
I share Pedersen’s sentiment, we can make a profound difference. The Molten Salt Reactor movement is the one movement that can change the world for good. A healthy future of stability and plenty awaits us, we need to keep pushing on, learn more and share what we learn with the public in order for this prosperous future to become a reality.
“there’s no one else to clear these roadblocks but here in this room, well there are a few watching at home as well”