2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the
Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our
favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog
focuses on sodium and its role in the next series of innovative nuclear
Sodium; the sixth most abundant element on the planet is being considered
as a crucial part of nuclear reactors. Implementing new safety levels in reactors
is crucial as governments are looking for environmentally friendly, risk-free
and financially viable reactors. Therefore, ensuring new safety levels is a
main challenge that is being tackled by many industries and projects.
In the wake of Fukushima, several European nations and a number of
U.S plants have shut down and switched off their ageing reactors in order to eliminate
risk and safety hazards.
The sodium- cooled fast reactor (SFR), a concept pioneered in the
1950s in the U.S, is one of the nuclear reactors developed to operate at higher
temperatures than today’s reactors and
seems to be the viable nuclear reactor model. The SFR’s main advantage is that
it can burn unwanted byproducts including uranium, reducing the need for
storage. In the long run, this is deemed cost-competitive as it can produce
power without having to use new natural uranium.
Nuclear reactor. Source: Hallowhalls
However, using sodium also presents
challenges. When sodium comes into contact with air, it burns and when it is
mixed with water, it is explosive. To prevent sodium from mixing with water,
nitrogen – driven turbines are in the process of being designed as a solution
to this problem.
A European Horizon 2020 Project, ESFR-SMART project (European Sodium Fast Reactor Safety
Measures Assessment and Research Tools), launched in September 2017, aims to improve
the safety of Generation-IV Sodium Fast Reactors (SFR). This project hopes to
prove the safety of new reactors and secure its future role in Europe. The new
reactor is designed to be able to reprocess its own waste, act more reliably in
operation, more environmentally friendly and more affordable. It is hoped that this
reactor will be considered as one of the SFR options by Generation IV International
Forum (GIF), who are focused on finding new reactors with safety, reliability
and sustainability as just some of their main priorities.
European Horizon. Source: artjazz
Globally, the SFR is deemed an
attractive energy source, and developments are ongoing, endeavouring to meet
the future energy demands in a cost-competitive way.