New U.S. Hybrid Fuel Could Galvanize Nuclear Industry

As the number of global nuclear reactors has declined to a 30-year low, advocates for nuclear energy say the industry is in dire need of innovation to keep its preeminence in the world’s energy future secure. Design advancements such as small modular reactors have been suggested, and in fact are being implemented in the United States, but a more innovative breakthrough may come from an unexpected source—the nuclear fuel itself.

Scientists and researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory, the United States’ Department of Energy-financed think tank, recently completed work on a brand new type of nuclear fuel that could potentially alter the industrial landscape. Part thorium, part uranium, and largely secret, this new hybrid fuel (code named ANEEL, or Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life) has an extremely high burn-up rate, which is desirable as it means the fuel remains in the reactor longer and yields a higher amount of energy than traditional uranium-based fuel. ANEEL projects to release up to 80% less byproduct waste than traditional fuels, and is also said to be difficult to weaponize. The presence of thorium in ANEEL also means it can be sourced more abundantly from nature, as thorium is nearly twice as plentiful on earth as uranium.

With climate change directing global thinking towards clean energy, the demand for nuclear has shrunk considerably—despite nuclear being the cleanest form of energy available to man. As of July 2020, 408 reactors were operating in 31 countries—a loss of about 9 units from the previous year’s number. This renders the average global age of nuclear reactors to approximately 31 years old.

OTEK’s technology is specifically geared to help older plants such as these continue their productivity, and in some cases enhance it, as they continue to age. While DAS and flat-screen technology has risen in demand recently, these types of Instrument & Control room modernization do not make economical sense for plants thirty years and older. With OTEK’s plug and play instrumentation, older plants can simply upgrade unit by unit or all at once in a planned outage, avoiding the lengthy and expensive shutdowns required for DAS and flat-screen implementation.

While we may not be producing the fuel that could save the nuclear industry, you can be sure we’ll be there monitoring it, with innovative instrumentation that measures up.

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