There’s a simple concept that runs behind all kinds of nuclear plants i.e. to convert the heat that’s generated by nuclear fission into electricity. Although there are several methods to implement it, each method requires a delicate but balanced amount of efficiency and safety. These power plants work best when their core is extremely hot, but if it were to surpass a certain limit, it’d ultimately lead to a meltdown poisoning the environment.
There’s a new technology of “power balls” that’s making itself to the headlines since it could revolutionalize the entire concept of nuclear power plants. Not only do scientists claim that power balls are smaller and much efficient when compared to current power reactors, but also its designers claim the fact that they’re meltdown proof meaning, it can allow higher temperatures eliminating the possibility and risks of a meltdown.
What’s Their Secret?
Millions of tiny, sub-millimeter size grains of uranium that are individually layered with a protective coating, which ensures that they stay cool even if the temperatures were to exceed 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s known as triso fuel, triso is short for “tri-structural isotropic.”
The particle, smaller than a poppy seed has a protective shell or coating that does not let the uranium inside the particle melt, irrespective of the extreme temperatures that may occur inside a reactor. While triso fuel is a mixture of uranium and oxygen, its layered protection is made of graphite and ceramic to form silicon carbide.
How is Triso Made from Uranium?
The multistep process of creating triso from uranium begins with treating uranium – ore mined from the ground or down-blended from weapon materials, with chemicals to convert it into gel-like beads. These beads with a diameter of only a millimeter, and consistency like that of a jelly bean, were then put into the furnace along with some gases that decompose in the heat, resulting in a deposition of layers of silicon carbide and graphite around the uranium kernel.
Eventually, what you have is a lot of indestructible particles of triso fuel that are pressed by thousands of spherical or cylindrical fuel pellets.
Triso Fuel Reactors > Traditional Reactors?
Nuclear reactors today operate robustly below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the highest a next-generation reactor could touch would be about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. However, researcher Demkowicz from INL – Idaho National Laboratory, has demonstrated that triso particles can withstand temperatures over 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning the coating fails to break at such high temperatures.
In a conventional nuclear reactor, fuel control rods are pushed into the core to control the fission rate when things get too hot. All nuclear reactors across the globe are secured in massive containments that are designed to prevent any kind of radioactive disaster if things went south. However, in the case of triso fuel, not only is each particle wrapped in its own control rod but also the reactor will not require massive vessels costing millions of dollars anymore.
That way, you have a nuclear reactor that not only fits into a cargo container but also complies with all the safety features of a traditional reactor. New reactor designs suggest that it’s impossible to exceed a temperature of 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit, so if we were to combine new designs with a fuel that can handle the heat, you’ve found yourself an accident-proof reactor!
So, Yes. Triso Shall Lead the Way.
For a large number of decades, nuclear authorities have been blind to anything but massive power plants. They’re essentially equipped with extreme and redundant security systems, but there are always elements that fall under the jurisdiction of humans, that could possibly result in a disaster. Therefore, scientists are pushing “power balls” technology forward because it does not require any costly containment, instead, it saves a lot of time and money. When you’ve triso-fueled reactor that can’t melt, there’s a drastic impact on your safety concerns, and paves the way for smaller and modular nuclear power reactors in the future.