Company says goal is to have demonstration prototype ready by the early 2030s Federico Carminati: ‘We have all the essential elements to build a new type of reactor’. Courtesy Transmutex. A Swiss company pioneering “an entirely new type of nuclear energy” in the form of a thorium-fuelled reactor that can reuse existing nuclear waste is hoping to reach a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for the technology of less than $70/MWh – similar to that of large-scale commercial nuclear power plants.

Transmutex, a startup founded in 2019 by nuclear scientist Federico Carminati, former-CERN scientist Jean-Pierre Revol and entrepreneur Franklin Servan-Schreiber, said a review of data demonstrated that when comparing GW-scale nuclear power plants and the company’s planned Generation IV TMX-Start nuclear plant, the LCOE is “of the same order of magnitude” even with appropriate uncertainties at this stage of the project.

The company, whose goal is to have a demonstration prototype of its thorium plant ready by the early 2030s, said the result took into account a series of assumptions including equipment procurement costs and operation and maintenance cost which are uncertain for any Generation IV project because little to no experience feedback is available.

The International Energy Agency has put the LCOE for advanced nuclear power plants at $63/MWh.

LCOE captures both capital and operating costs that need to be covered. It is essentially the long-term price at which the electricity produced by a power plant will have to be sold at for the investor to cover all their costs.

Transmutex is leading a global coalition of first-rate research institutions and industrial companies to design, test, and implement the TMX-Start.

The key element of the technology is the use of a proton accelerator to generate a high-intensity neutron source that induces the transmutation of thorium into the uranium isotope U233. This produces energy as it breaks up, leaving only an infinitesimal amount of long-lived radioactive waste in the process.

There are many advantages to a thorium reactor with a particle accelerator, according to Mr Carminati. The radioactive decay time of thorium by-products is much shorter than that of uranium – 300 years instead of 300,000. The amount of hazardous waste would also be significantly reduced. “We are talking about a few kilogrammes instead of tonnes,” he said.

The thorium cycle would also have the advantage of preventing nuclear proliferation. The IAEA says the thorium fuel cycle is intrinsically proliferation resistant and using its by-products to make a nuclear bomb is “impractical”.

The Transmutex plant could also be powered by nuclear waste from existing nuclear power plants. The company said the flow of ultra-fast particles makes it possible to efficiently burn the waste and produce energy. In addition, in what is technically known as “transmutation”, some of the short-lived radioactive waste could be transformed into stable elements. “This could solve the problem of the accumulation and storage of highly radioactive waste,” Mr Carminati said.

Transmutex has already attracted international partners. Russia’s AKME Engineering, a subsidiary of state nuclear corporation Rosatom, is in discussions with Transmutex. Argonne National Laboratory, one of the most important nuclear research laboratories in the US, is collaborating on the thorium fuel cycle, and the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland is helping to develop a new generation of powerful cyclotrons.

“We have all the essential elements to build a new type of reactor, and all that remains is to assemble them,” Mr Carminati said.

Date: Thursday, 10 February 2022
Original article: