New ‘Super Hot’ Nuclear Facility at OSU: Testing Safer, More Efficient Technology

Photo courtesy of Oregon State University

OSU recently began construction on a $4.8 million test facility for a new “super hot” nuclear reactor that could provide cheaper, safer, and more efficient energy than traditional designs. The new type of reactor would also produce only about half of the nuclear waste generated by standard reactors, and by design it’s unable to melt down.

“Something that works at a very high temperature might sound more risky, but in fact this type of nuclear reactor technology would be the safest of all,” Brian Woods, an associate professor of nuclear engineering, told OSU. “Everything in the system is designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, and in the event of any system failure, it would simply shut off and slowly cool down.”

The reactor is designed to withstand extreme temperatures, and will run at upwards of 2,000 degrees, around three times hotter than current models. The new “super hot” design will allow reactors to play incredibly versatile roles—generating electricity with more efficiency than existing methods, potentially desalinating seawater, generating steam for heating, and even producing hydrogen to power vehicles.

The new testing facility, which is 6 feet wide and 18 feet tall, will be constructed in the OSU Radiation Center and is supported by grants from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Testing is scheduled to begin this coming April, and researchers hope to market the reactor within the next two to three decades.

“Like any new technology, it will take some time for this to gain acceptance,” Woods told OSU, “but by the middle of this century I could easily see high-temperature nuclear reactors becoming a major player in energy production around the world.”

by Genevieve Weber