Triso Fuel And The Rolls Royce Of Nuclear Reactors

Bangor University scientists think that the way to go big with nuclear power is to, in fact, go small. Their tiny nuclear fuel pellets called triso fuel are said to be the size of poppy seeds and are meant to power a reactor by Rolls Royce the size of a “small car.” We aren’t sure if that’s a small Rolls Royce or a small normal car.

The Welsh university thinks the reactor has applications for lunar bases, here on Earth, and even on rockets because the reactor is so small. We can’t tell if the fuel from Bangor is unique or if it is just the application and the matching reactor that is making the news. Triso fuel — short for tri-structural isotropic particle fuel — was developed in the 1960s, and there are multiple projects worldwide gearing up to use this sort of fuel.

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No-Melt Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ Might Win A Few Hearts And Minds

A nuclear power plant is large and complex, and one of the biggest reasons is safety. Splitting radioactive atoms is inherently dangerous, but the energy unleashed by the chain reaction that ensues is the entire point. It’s a delicate balance to stay in the sweet spot, and it requires constant attention to the core temperature, or else the reactor could go into meltdown.

Today, nuclear fission is largely produced with fuel rods, which are skinny zirconium tubes packed with uranium pellets. The fission rate is kept in check with control rods, which are made of various elements like boron and cadmium that can absorb a lot of excess neutrons. Control rods calm the furious fission boil down to a sensible simmer, and can be recycled until they either wear out mechanically or become saturated with neutrons.

Nuclear power plants tend to have large footprints because of all the safety measures that are designed to prevent meltdowns. If there was a fuel that could withstand enough heat to make meltdowns physically impossible, then there would be no need for reactors to be buffered by millions of dollars in containment equipment. Stripped of these redundant, space-hogging safety measures, the nuclear process could be shrunk down quite a bit. Continue reading “No-Melt Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ Might Win A Few Hearts And Minds”