Fast-spectrum salt reactor to be built at INL

19 November 2021

Southern Company and the US Department of Energy (DOE) have signed an agreement to design, construct and operate the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) - a proof-of-concept critical fast-spectrum salt reactor. Southern will lead a collaborative effort to build the MCRE - which it says will be the world's first fast-spectrum salt reactor to achieve criticality - at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

An rendering of the MCRE (Image: Southern Company)

Collaborators in the MCRE project are TerraPower, INL, Core Power, Orano Federal Services, the Electric Power Research Institute and 3M Company. The project is supported through the DOE's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) under a five-year, USD170 million cost-shared funding agreement. It will provide crucial operational data to support the future development of TerraPower's Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR), informing the design, licensing and operation of a demonstration reactor.

Mark Berry, Southern Company's vice president of R&D described the MCRE as "groundbreaking". Advancing next-generation nuclear is part of Southern's comprehensive strategy to deliver clean, safe, reliable, affordable energy, he said, adding: "The Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment will support the commercialisation of a revolutionary technology on a timescale that addresses climate change benchmarks and delivers on Southern Company's goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

TerraPower's MCFR technology uses molten chloride salt as both reactor coolant and fuel, allowing for so-called fast spectrum operation which the company says makes the fission reaction more efficient. It operates at higher temperatures than conventional reactors, generating electricity more efficiently, and also offers potential for process heat applications and thermal storage. An iteration of the MCFR - known as the m-MSR - intended for marine use is being developed.

Southern Company and TerraPower were in 2015 awarded some USD40 million of DOE funding to build integrated infrastructure necessary to support early development of MCFR technology. The MCRE will continue this momentum toward commercialisation of the MCFR, the partners said today.

"Our past work with Southern Company has led to important experimental milestones and to the establishment of unique test facilities necessary to validate molten salt reactor technology," said TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque, adding that Southern Company's leadership and experience in reactor licensing and operation had been essential. "The Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment will continue this important work in a critical reactor experiment, leading to the successful development of low-cost, clean energy for the future," he said.

TerraPower is also developing Natrium technology - featuring a sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system - a demonstration plant for which is to be built at Kemmerer in Wyoming.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News