Podowski said nuclear power should likely gain traction and become more widespread in the coming decades, as nations seek ways to fulfill their growing energy needs without increasing their greenhouse emissions. Nuclear reactors produce no carbon dioxide, Podowski said, which gives this energy source an advantage over coal and other fossil fuels for large-scale electricity production.
The main challenge of nuclear power plants, he said, is that they produce radioactive waste as a byproduct of energy production. But several governments around the world, including the United States, are working tirelessly with universities, research consortia, and the private sector to design and develop new, so-called fourth generation nuclear reactors that are safer and produce less waste. These reactors will be necessary in the coming decades as nuclear reactors currently in use reach the end of their life cycle and are gradually decommissioned.
The type of reactor that Podowskis team will be modeling, a sodium-cooled fast reactor, or SFR, is among the most promising of these next-generation designs. The primary advantage of the SFR is its ability to burn highly radioactive nuclear materials, which todays reactors cannot do, Podowski said.
Whereas current reactors source their power from uranium, SFRs can also source their power from fuel that is a mixture of uranium and plutonium. In particular, SFRs will be able to burn both weapons-grade plutonium and pre-existing nuclear waste, Podowski said. Thanks to their high temperatures, SFRs will also produce electricity at higher efficiency than current nuclear reactors.
So along with producing less toxic waste, SFRs should be able to actively help reduce the amount of existing radioactive materials by burning already-spent nuclear waste, he said. SFRs also
|Contact: Michael Mullaney|
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute