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A new type of nuclear power station that is safer, more cost-effective, compact, quicker and less disruptive to build than any previously constructed is in the theoretical development stage.

One of the ideas behind the new type of nuke is a change in fuel, where they would use thorium instead of uranium, said researchers at the University of Cambridge.

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As well as being three to four times more abundant than uranium, thorium could potentially produce electricity more fuel efficiently – and cheaply.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the RCUK Energy Programme, the project started with the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and led by Georgia Institute of Technology. The objective is to design a power plant whose size would be smaller and safety enhanced by breaking with convention and integrating the main heat exchangers inside the secure pressure vessel where the nuclear reactions take place. This innovation gives the design its name: Integral Inherently Safe Light Water Reactor (I2S-LWR).

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“If all goes to plan, construction of the first I2S-LWRs could begin in around 10 years, making deployment of nuclear power more practical, more cost-effective and more publicly acceptable worldwide,” said Dr. Geoff Parks, who is leading the Cambridge team.

The I2S-LWR, which could also undergo construction off-site, module by module, and then assembled on site, would be suitable for deployment worldwide. In the UK it could contribute to a new era of nuclear power that helps the country meet its carbon reduction targets and energy security objectives; no new nuclear power station started up in the country since Sizewell B began generating in 1995.

With a power rating of around 1GW, the output from the I2S-LWR would be comparable with Sizewell B’s 1.2GW rating, but the station should be less costly in real terms.

The Cambridge team will focus on how thorium, which can convert into the isotope uranium-233, could end up used alongside uranium silicide to fuel the I2S-LWR.

The team will assess the question not just from the perspective of fundamental nuclear reactor physics but also in terms of the scope to achieve high fuel-to-power conversion efficiency and to recycle spent nuclear fuel – key issues impacting the cost-effectiveness of the thorium fuel option.

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