Generation of Critical Irradiation Data to Enable Digital Twinning of Molten-Salt Reactors

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Cambridge, Massachusetts
Project Term:
09/30/2020 - 07/31/2024

Critical Need:

Close to a third of all U.S. nuclear reactors will be shut down permanently by 2025. Although nuclear power is one pathway to achieving a zero-carbon grid, nuclear power plants are comparatively cost-intensive in some markets. Many industries are employing AI, advanced data analytics, distributed computing, powerful physics simulation tools, and other breakthroughs to advance autonomous, efficient, and low-cost O&M in their processes. O&M is approximately 80% of a reactor’s total generating cost. The nuclear energy industry has not fully explored these innovations, necessitating new designs of effective and low-cost advanced reactor O&M procedures. Knowledge gained from innovating now can lay the groundwork for optimal O&M. GEMINA sets the stage for advanced reactors to operate with a staffing plan and fixed O&M costs more akin to those of a combined cycle natural gas plant than those of the legacy light-water reactor fleet.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Molten salt reactors (MSRs) produce radioactive materials when nuclear fuel is dissolved in molten salt at a high temperature and undergoes fission as it flows through the reactor core. MIT will target two technical gaps: (1) fission product release and transport during normal MSR operations, and (2) radioactive dose rates for MSR primary system maintenance due to fuel salt deposition. In MSRs the primary system serves as the first radiological release barrier during normal reactor operation. Workers performing maintenance related to the primary system would be exposed to a considerable radiation field, even after the fuel salt is “completely” drained. As a result, the number and training of decontamination specialists, health physicists, and maintenance staff might need to be significantly enhanced, which increases O&M costs. MIT plans to design and execute novel reactor experiments, including fuel salt irradiation and post-irradiation examination, to close the technical gaps by generating MSR-specific data. Digital twins of MSRs will require this critical data, which is currently unavailable. DT modeling could greatly optimize system design, required O&M tasks, and staffing.

Potential Impact:

The program goal is to reduce fixed O&M costs from ~13 $/MWh in the current fleet to ~2 $/MWh in the advanced fleet. Benefits include:


Establishing U.S. advanced reactor technological leadership and improving U.S. energy security with safe, reliable, dispatchable power for a robust and resilient electric power system;


Reducing energy-related emissions with a competitive, carbon-free electricity source; and


Increasing productivity and creating a competitive edge for advanced reactors.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jenifer Shafer
Project Contact:
Dr. Gordon Kohse
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