Although to most the term ‘fission reactor’ brings to mind something close to the commonly operated light-water reactors (LWRs) which operate using plain water (H2O) as coolant and with sluggish, thermal neutrons, there are a dizzying number of other designs possible. Some of these have been in use for decades, like Canada’s heavy water (D2O) reactors (CANDU), while others are only now beginning to take their first step towards commercialization.
These include helium-cooled, high-temperature reactors like China’s HTR-PM, but also a relatively uncommon type developed by Terrestrial Energy, called the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). This Canadian company recently passed phase 2 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) pre-licensing vendor review. What makes the IMSR so interesting is that as the name suggests, it uses molten salts: both for coolant and the low-enriched uranium fuel, while also breeding fuel from fertile isotopes that would leave an LWR as part of its spent fuel.
So why would you want your fuel to be fluid rather than a solid pellet like in most reactors today?