Fast Reactors are the Future of Nuclear Power (and They are Already Here)

Nuclear reactors. In a time when the safety image of the nuclear industry is still recovering from the events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan this past Spring, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just released a huge manual of information which should help disseminate information and encourage yet another type of power reactor. But this, to steal a phrase from home economic guru Martha Stewart, “is a good thing.”

The reactors that experienced problems in Japan were quite frankly old. They were still using old, what is known as “light water” technology. What the IAEA has just released is a compilation of information on “fast neutron reactors.” Fast reactors use what’s termed “liquid metal” as a coolant. The most popular of the “metals” right now is sodium, but lead bismuth, having been successfully utilized in Russian nuclear submarines, is also gaining momentum. 

An advantage of “fast reactors” is that they can reduce the total radiotoxicity of nuclear waste and dramatically reduce the waste’s lifetime. They can also be designed to utilize the useful fuel in nuclear waste. This of course, would cut down on the need to mine uranium.

Fast reactors can also run longer than light water reactors without refueling. This cuts down the amount of risk associated with refueling that occurs every 18 to 24 months for light water reactors.

The new manual from the IAEA compiles a lot of information and covers a lot of ground that nuclear power researchers and engineers will need to further develop fast reactors. What’s been holding back the development and further use of this technology is the lack of information available for sharing within the nuclear industry. A comprehensive report on fast reactors – now that’s a good thing

To access the report, “Status and Trends of Nuclear Fuels Technology for Sodium Cooled Fast Reactors,” go to: http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/8333/Status-and-Trends-of-Nuclear-Fuels-Technology-for-Sodium-Cooled-Fast-Reactors

Deborah Deal-Blackwell