The Politically Correct Atomic Reactor

With energy emerging as an issue of domestic and international importance, the Nuclear Engineering Department at MIT has been quietly working on a technology that it hopes will meet the challenge of providing a clean, safe, and reliable source of electricity. What started in January 1998 as an Independent Activities Period (IAP) project, has blossomed into a full design effort whose goal is to build a nuclear plant that can compete with natural gas, be meltdown proof, and have a waste form that can be disposed of without reprocessing.

The technology chosen was a high temperature, helium cooled, gas turbine powered, modular pebble bed reactor which was originally developed in Germany in the late 70’s and 80’s. The MIT design team is taking a fresh look at all aspects of the technology, from factory manufacture and site assembly to advanced fuel designs, safety analyses, modularity features that allow the entire plant to be shipped by truck, and advanced instrumentation and control systems. This technology was mentioned in the current Bush national energy plan as an example of the type of fresh thinking that is needed.

The colloquium will describe the technology and identify opportunities for other departments to contribute to the design of this plant, which might actually be built as a consortium product in collaboration with other universities, national laboratories and industry.

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