Thursday, June 30, 2011

Self regulating nuclear fuel

I don't get to talk to people who get to work with things that effect our daily lives (e.g. engineers) on a regular basis in my line of work, and that adds a layer of exciting mystique to the projects they work on, or know about.

I heard about this novel type of nuclear fuel rod over the other day, in a discussion about the directions that nuclear programs in various countries are going in light of the earthquake in Japan. The jist of this technology is that by using UH_3, the fuel rods self regulate to oscillate within a temperature range. Above a certain temperature, the UH_3 breaks down into hydrogen gas and uranium, at which point the reaction stops and the rods start cooling. When it cools to a certain point, the hydrogen gas starts reacting with uranium to form UH_3 again. No chance of meltdown. The uranium serves as the fuel, the hydrogen as the neutron moderator, one nice neat package.

I just thought that this was an incredibly clever (and lucky) solution to the problem of nuclear meltdown. I am in awe of the engineers, material scientists and physicists involved in developing a project like this. Wikipedia says that there are no working prototypes have been developed yet, and if I am to believe the person who told me about this, the politics of the situation makes a working prototype seem unlikely.

My misgivings about nuclear power aside, this technology is just cool!

1 comment:

  1. FYI: You might find this an interesting look at work that effects daily living, on the atomic topic above......

    FYI: The novel “Rad Decision” culminates in an event very similar to the Japanese tragedy. (Same reactor type, same initial problem – a station blackout with scram.) The author has worked in the US nuclear industry for 25 years. Readers report the book is an excellent source of perspective for the lay person. The novel is free online at the moment at . (No adverts, nobody makes money off this site.) Reader reviews are in the homepage comments - there have been a lot, and they've been uniformly positive.