Research & Applications

Radiant horizons: Fission surface power on the moon, Mars, and beyond

April 12, 2024, 7:02AMNuclear NewsLindsay Kaldon
A concept image of NASA’s Fission Surface Power Project. (Image: NASA)

Imagine what our world would be like today without the benefits of electric energy. Think of the inventions and technologies that never would have been. Think of a world without power grids and the electricity that makes them run. Without this power, we’d find it difficult to maintain our industrial and manufacturing bases or enable advancements in the fields of medicine, communications, and computing.

Now consider the moon, our closest celestial neighbor about which we still know so little, waiting for modern-day explorers in spacesuits to unveil its secrets. Lunar exploration and a future lunar economy require reliable, long-lasting, clean sources of power. Nuclear fission answers that call. When assessing the application of nuclear power in space, three Ps should be considered: the present, the potential, and the partnerships.

PPPL’s new tabletop stellarator uses off-the-shelf magnets

April 11, 2024, 12:08PMNuclear News
MUSE, the first stellarator to use permanent magnets. (Photo: Michael Livingston/PPPL Communications)

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory are using a stellarator they designed and built using permanent rare-earth magnets and a 3D-printed shell to help test new fusion power concepts. MUSE—the first stellarator built at PPPL in 50 years—took one year to construct and generated its first plasma in February 2023. The work that went into its design has already inspired a stellarator power plant concept being developed by a commercial spin-off, Thea Energy.

Commercial nuclear innovation "new space" age

April 10, 2024, 10:16AMNuclear NewsAlex Gilbert, Harsh S. Desai, and Jake Matthews
Astronaut Alan Bean prepares fueling of a Pu-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator during the Apollo 12 mission to the lunar surface. (Photo: NASA)

In early 2006, a start-up company launched a small rocket from a tiny island in the Pacific. It exploded, showering the island with debris. A year later, a second launch attempt sent a rocket to space but failed to make orbit, burning up in the atmosphere. Another year brought a third attempt—and a third failure. The following month, in September 2008, the company used the last of its funds to launch a fourth rocket. It reached orbit, making history as the first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to do so.

Curaçao receives IAEA support for legacy sources management

April 9, 2024, 12:01PMNuclear News
In Curaçao, IAEA experts built national capacity through demonstrations, including practicing removing the Ra-226 source from the container, characterizing it, and placing it into a stainless-steel capsule. (Photo: IAEA)

Once used for applications in medicine, industry, and research, many countries now have legacy radium-226 sources, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. With the support of the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, these disused sealed radioactive sources are being recovered, and countries are improving national capacities for their long-term management, including their potential reuse and recycling.

AI and data center growth equal power demand

April 3, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear NewsKen Petersen

Ken Petersen

Nuclear has been on a good roll lately and it is getting better. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides a nuclear power production tax credit. This has stopped the early retirement of deregulated units. The IRA also provides a benefit for the clean production of hydrogen. Many utilities have committed to a net-zero goal by 2050. Duke and other utilities have plans to transition coal plants to nuclear with small modular reactors.

And now, nuclear has a new supporter—tech companies.

The big U.S. utility companies (like Exelon, Duke, Dominion, Southern, and Entergy) are all projecting growth in electricity demand—primarily in the commercial sector but some residential growth is also expected. Commercial growth is being driven by new factories (thank you, IRA and CHIPS, that is, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act). It is also being driven by data centers.

Electron-Ion Collider coming to Brookhaven gets substantial U.K. investment

April 1, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News
John Hill, deputy director for science and technology at BNL, with Ruqaiyah Patel, deputy director of UKRI North America, at a recent reception held by UKRI's North America office to mark the funding of the EIC. (Photo: BNL)

The U.S. Department of Energy is constructing the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory to explore the boundaries of nuclear physics—both for the sake of science and to support diverse applications, including in nuclear medicine, radiation safety, and nuclear energy. The project, already supported by international collaborators in 40 countries, just secured a significant commitment from the United Kingdom.

From South Korea to Belgium: Testing a high-density research reactor fuel

March 28, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
Irradiation of test fuel at SCK-CEN's BR2 reactor in Belgium. (Photos: KAERI)

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute has developed a high-density uranium silicide fuel designed to replace high-enriched uranium in research reactors. Recent irradiation tests appear to be successful, KAERI reports, which means the fuel could be commercialized to continue a key global nuclear nonproliferation effort—converting research reactors to run on low-enriched uranium fuel.

GAIN awards include plan to integrate fast reactor test vehicle in Oklo’s Aurora

March 21, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
The primary system of THETA at Argonne’s Mechanisms Engineering Test Loop Facility, where Oklo is conducting sodium thermal-hydraulic testing with support from a GAIN award announced in 2021. (Image: Argonne National Laboratory)

The Department of Energy and the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) on March 19 announced the second round of fiscal year 2024 voucher awards to three companies: Element Factory, Kanata America, and Oklo.

Plasma oscillation has fusion energy implications

March 20, 2024, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Researchers from the University of Rochester in New York and the University of California–San Diego have published a paper in Physical Review Letters describing a previously unknown class of plasma oscillations. In “Space-Time Structured Plasma Waves,” the researchers “demonstrate that electrostatic wave packets structured with space-time correlations can have properties that are independent of the plasma conditions,” such as “density, temperature, ionization state, or details of the distribution functions.” This finding is technologically relevant, the authors note, because “electrostatic waves play a critical role in nearly every branch of plasma physics from fusion to advanced accelerators, to astro, solar, and ionospheric physics.”

Penn State welcomes neutron scattering device—a first of a kind in the U.S.

March 19, 2024, 9:37AMNuclear News
The Penn State RSEC recently received a SANS device. (Photo: Poornima Tomy/Penn State)

Staff and researchers at Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) will work this year to install a small angle neutron scattering (SANS) device and become the first and only U.S. university research reactor to host SANS capability. The $9.8 million device, donated by Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) in Germany, will help researchers determine the structure of organic materials such as polymers, complex fluids, and biomolecules.

X-energy’s helium coolant and fuel handling test facility gets EA/FONSI

March 11, 2024, 12:00PMNuclear News
Concept art of the planned X-energy helium test facility. (Image: DOE OCED)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations issued a final environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact in February for a cost-shared X-energy project to construct and operate a helium test facility (HTF) in Oak Ridge, Tenn. According to the EA, construction would begin in early 2024 and take X-energy and its contracted partner, Kinectrics, about one year to complete. the facility would then operate for six years, with the possibility of extensions for up to an additional 20 years, to test equipment for a demonstration of X-energy’s high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor technology and also to “serve the reactor community at large as the technology continues to develop and is adopted around the world.”

AI can predict and prevent fusion plasma instabilities in milliseconds

March 4, 2024, 2:59PMNuclear News
The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. (Photo: PPPL)

A team of engineers, physicists, and data scientists from Princeton University and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have used artificial intelligence (AI) to predict—and then avoid—the formation of a specific type of plasma instability in magnetic confinement fusion tokamaks. The researchers built and trained a model using past experimental data from operations at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego, Calif., before proving through real-time experiments that their model could forecast so-called tearing mode instabilities up to 300 milliseconds in advance—enough time for an AI controller to adjust operating parameters and avoid a tear in the plasma that could potentially end the fusion reaction.

IAEA lab techniques can expose olive oil tampering

February 27, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News
An olive harvest. Europe produces 60 percent of the world's olive oil. (Photo: FAO)

The International Atomic Energy Agency is developing multiple methods to rapidly screen and authenticate the origin of foods like extra virgin olive oil. With recent heat waves and droughts affecting olive oil yields in Europe—which produces 60 percent of all olive oils—the European Commission has a problem: a growing black market in fake virgin and extra virgin olive oils. According to a 2022 EC report, olive oil is one of the most mislabeled food products in Europe.

Type One Energy wants to build a stellarator at retired coal plant

February 23, 2024, 6:59AMNuclear News
TVA's Bull Run fossil plant. (Photo: TVA)

Type One Energy Group announced plans on February 21 to relocate its headquarters from Madison, Wis., to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Bull Run fossil plant in Clinton, Tenn., where it will build a stellarator fusion prototype machine. According to the company, the construction of the stellarator—called Infinity One—could begin in 2025, if necessary environmental reviews, partnership agreements, permits, and operating licenses are all in hand.

Kairos Power, DOE agree on milestone approach to Hermes support

February 22, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear News

Kairos Power announced on February 21 that it has signed a technology investment agreement with the Department of Energy to implement the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) Risk Reduction funding that the company was awarded in December 2020. Under the agreement, the DOE will provide up to $303 million to Kairos Power using a performance-based, fixed-price milestone approach to support the design, construction, and commissioning of the Hermes demonstration reactor in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Fusion Science and Technology seeks editor-designate

February 21, 2024, 10:19AMANS News

After nearly eight years of valuable service as editor of the American Nuclear Society journal Fusion Science and Technology, Leigh Winfrey has indicated that she intends to step down from the position as of June 2025, providing an opportunity for a fresh voice to lead FST. Consequently, ANS is seeking a qualified individual to fill this position.

The role of the editor is primarily technical leadership, setting the direction of the journal by soliciting papers, special issues, and reviews on important and timely technical topics. The editor also oversees the peer review of submitted papers and decides on acceptance, revision, or rejection.

Clean hydrogen could help clean up steel industry

February 21, 2024, 7:03AMNuclear News
The Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant in Oswego, N.Y., site of a DOE hydrogen demonstration project. (Photo: DOE)

As hydrogen production increases worldwide, some see clean hydrogen as a game-changer when it comes to decarbonizing the steel industry.

Steel production is one of the “hard-to-abate” sectors of industry, which are responsible for about 30 percent of global carbon emissions. These industries are tough to decarbonize because the technologies either do not yet exist or are considered uneconomical.

Can uranium extraction from seawater make nuclear power completely renewable?

February 20, 2024, 11:52AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Researchers have been working frantically to develop an array of materials and fibers to economically extract uranium from seawater—and they have succeeded. PNNL scientists exposed this special uranium-sorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. (Image: PNNL)

America, Japan, and China are racing to be the first nation to make nuclear energy completely renewable. The hurdle is making it economical to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium in seawater is truly inexhaustible.

While America had been in the lead with technological breakthroughs from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, researchers at Northeast Normal University in China have sprung ahead. But these breakthroughs from both countries have brought the removal of uranium from seawater within economic reach. The only question is when will the source of uranium for our nuclear power plants change from mined ore to sea­water extraction?

Taking aim at disease

February 16, 2024, 3:02PMNuclear NewsKristi Nelson Bumpus
ORNL radioisotope manufacturing coordinator Jillene Sennon-Greene places a shipment vial of actinium-225 inside the dose calibrator to confirm its activity is within customer specifications. (Photo: Carlos Jones/ORNL, DOE)

On August 2, 1946, 1 millicurie of the isotope carbon-14 left Oak Ridge National Laboratory, bound for the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital in St. Louis, Mo.

That tiny amount of the radioisotope was purchased by the hospital for use in cancer studies. And it heralded a new peacetime mission for ORNL, built just a few years earlier for the production of plutonium from uranium for the Manhattan Project.