Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Refueling the Reactor

A bath of crystal-clear molten salt helps produce strategic nuclear materials and effectively transforms nuclear power into a safe, renewable energy source.
January 1, 2020
An open furnace containing molten salt

An open furnace containing molten salt: a clear, watery liquid at 800 degrees Celsius.

When very little fuel is wasted, very little fuel is needed.

The United States currently gets about 20 percent of its electricity from 97 nuclear reactors with an average age of nearly 40 years. All of them run on enriched solid fuel, none breeds its own fuel, and none is anywhere near as safe, efficient, or environmentally friendly as a molten-salt reactor. If it sounds like the time is right for a nuclear renaissance, the experts agree.

Los Alamos scientists Matt Jackson and Marisa Monreal originally built and tested an electrochemical cell for plutonium reduction and purification purposes; now it is available as a testbed for other experiments—in particular, for research that might facilitate the adoption of molten-salt reactors. Ultimate success would offer effectively inexhaustible, inherently safe, low-waste, no-carbon, enrichment-free, ample power on demand, whether it’s sunny or windy or neither. And it’s realistic.

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