The Next Generation of Nuclear Reactors

By the latter part of this century, other types of fission reactors may also find widespread deployment. The U.S. Department of Energy in cooperation with similar organizations in other countries is funding research into a number of alternative reactor concepts called Generation IV. Current reactors are considered to be mostly Generation 3 with the newer reactor designs discussed earlier referred to as Generation 3+. The newer developmental reactors include very high temperature gas cooled reactors, molten salt reactors, liquid metal reactors, and super critical water-cooled reactors [28]. They all employ the uranium fuel cycle, but have distinct advantages over the existing reactor technology including improved proliferation resistance, increased safety, higher efficiencies, and a reduction in the high-level waste produced as well as the radiotoxicity of the waste.

Another novel concept under consideration is the use of an accelerator driven reactor. Current generation reactors require sufficient uranium 235 or plutonium 239 so that at least one neutron from each fission goes on to produce a fission. Accelerator driven reactors do not; instead sufficient neutrons are produced outside the reactor by the accelerator, enabling the reactor to operate. The advantage to this type of system is that it is easily shutdown and is not prone to some of the accidents that can occur in conventional reactors. Because the energy of the neutrons is kept relatively high, the reactor is also able to consume some of the heavier longer-lived radioactive material produced by the fission process. This reduces the amount and radiotoxicity of the waste and can use thorium as a fuel more easily than in a conventional reactor [29].

It is likely that nuclear energy will continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions avoidance for the foreseeable future and has the potential to play a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from the power generation sector.

9 ITER was originally an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. But, the name was dropped due to the bad connotations of the "thermonuclear" in conjunction with "experimental".

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