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Copenhagen Atomics co-founder Thomas Jam Pedersen spoke recently at the Asia Nuclear Business Platform in Shanghai about their business concept, the need for an energy solution and...
Copenhagen Atomics was set up four years ago with a dream or a vision that they wanted to build a 40-foot shipping container that contained a thorium molten salt reactor, and we wanted to be able to configure this molten salt reactor in a way where it can also burn spent nuclear fuel.
“One of the products we’re developing for the molten salt industry is called LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy). It's a technology where you can measure the different isotopes or all the different elements in the salt, and you really need that because when you're running a reactor you want to know what's going on inside the reactor. This LIBS technology allows you to do measurements in real time without having to take samples out. This is useful for R&D, for running the real reactor but it's also helpful for authorities.”
One of the other technologies that Copenhagen Atomics is developing is salt cleanup. In order to have a really efficient reactor and in order to be able to burn spent nuclear fuel, one needs to get really good neutron economy. In order to achieve that, one needs to remove the fission products. Now, Copenhagen Atomics has found a way where one can do this simply by evaporating all the volatile fission products out of the salt while it's circulating. "We're doing all this stuff with the non-radioactive elements and in salt loops but we would like to make agreements with countries that have real salt loops where they're circulating real salt with fission going on inside of it so we can test that this is actually working in the real world."
Copenhagen Atomics is a company that is really keen on openness and transparency and collaboration - both collaboration across borders but also collaboration between companies, between academia and companies. That's why they have decided to make some of their software tools open source, making it available online and they also have several data libraries that are available online
What if we wanted to provide 4TW of energy from Thorium MSR by 2040? What are the potential roadblocks?
Can we mine enough thorium? "Of course we can easily mine 5,000 tons of thorium every year. It's not a problem at all, it's just a matter of somebody making a decision."
Can we produce all those pipes and valves and vessels that we would need for all those reactors? "In my opinion yes. If we can produce 200,000 cars every day, we can produce the parts that are needed. And by the way, this molten salt
reactor that we are proposing - the number of items that go into it is lower than for a high-end car."
Is there enough fissile fuel on this planet to start that many reactors? "There's debate here. I think as an industry or as scientists this is something we need to discuss and if we cannot even agree on that, it is of course clear that the politicians and the public don't know what to believe in. In my opinion, I think it's only possible to start or make this amount of energy if you have a breeder reactor. But that's my opinion."
How to have the quality assurance and the approval to make sure that this is not dangerous? "I think you all know that nuclear power is already today proven to be one of the safest energy technologies to produce electricity for the population. So my question is, if we were to make the approval process 10 or 20 times lighter than what it is today - easier, less costly -how would that change the safety?"
What about public acceptance? "Whenever I meet people the worry they have is not so much about the everyday working of the reactor, what they're afraid off is really bad accidents or bad people, like if this technology gets in the hands of bad people. What can we do about that? I think it has a lot to do with how the fuel is moved around."