US teenager Taylor Wilson designs compact nuclear reactor

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Eighteen-year-old Taylor Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could convert waste from old atomic weapons into power for homes and factories and maybe even one day space colonies.


According to TED Blog, Wilson, who graduated from high school in May, first came to attention at the tender age of 14 after he designed a nuclear fission reactor he planned to build in his parents' garage.

He spoke about that at TED2012 and at TED2013 Conference in Southern California, he spoke about his latest project on Thursday.

AFP reports he said: "It’s about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century. I think this has huge potential to change the world."

According to TED Blog, he said: "I realized that the biggest problem we face — what all these other problems come down to — is energy. This is a talk about fission — about taking something old and bringing it into the 21st century… I think this has a huge potential to change the world."

TED Blog reports that what Wilson has invented is a Small Modular Fission Reactor that can be built in factories and shipped to anywhere they are needed. The reactors are installed three meters underground which makes safer from the perspective of counter-terrorism than reactors built above the ground. They are also molten salt reactors, meaning, according to TED Blog, that they can run on the waste from old nuclear weapons and thus make it possible to find a way to use the material from weapon stockpiles, another safety issue from the counter-terrorism perspective.

According to AFP, the reactor is capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes
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Written By: JohnThomas Didymus
continue to source article at digitaljournal.com

9 COMMENTS

  1. The article is mostly hype and doesn’t examine the claims being made very critically.

    See the following for a more critical perspective

    http://funologist.org/2013/03/05/this-is-what-technophilia-looks-like/

    “The promises are basically identical to the promises Bill Gates makes for his own Terra Power. But the folx at Gates very well funded research organization are estimating 2022 for the first prototype. It is worth noting this is being built outside the US because the permit process is too slow, a point young Mr. Wilson seems to have no concerns about. But since he does not have a company to back up his fanciful claims it perhaps does not matter.”

    • In reply to #1 by Axulus:

      The article is mostly hype and doesn’t examine the claims being made very critically.

      See the following for a more critical perspective

      http://funologist.org/2013/03/05/this-is-what-technophilia-looks-like/

      Yes there is much media hype in the article and of course he did not build a functioning fusion reactor- surely that doesn’t need stating! The point is to show that highly advanced technology and research is no longer the exclusive province of government funded mega corporations and that these bright enthusiasts deserve support.

      Your quoted source is hardly reliable or unbiased; Paxus seems not to understand that molten salt (thorium) reactors operate on completely different principles to conventional uranium fission reactors. (The Gates TWR project seems to be similar but I could see no mention of thorium…)
      He also argues against small modular reactors but , again, those he quotes are conventional uranium fission designs!!

      “Not one of them points out that *seasoned nuclear engineers with financial backing are not forecasting production of small modular reactors for a dozen years.  Nor do any of these excited writers point out that type of reactor Taylor is hoping to design is an exiting (sic) design which has been abandoned by several countries for more promising designs.  Nor do they even challenge the idea that this might not be a cheap solution, since **all reactors currently under construction in the west (western Europe and North America) are delayed and over budget.
      And while i have not studied this design in depth, it almost certainly fails the most important tests for a reactor: cost, waste and flexibility.”

      • Who are behoven to the nuclear establishment
        ** of course they are- because they are uranium fission devices, hopelessly inefficient and costly!
        Paxus seems to be a strawman enthusiast, to me…

      LFTR & other thorium based reactors are being developed in China, India and other places; the principle was proven in the 1960′s (see this well written article for the politics behind the abandonment of thorium power)-

      http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/143437-uranium-killed-the-thorium-star-but-now-its-time-for-round-two

    • In reply to #1 by Axulus:

      http://funologist.org/2013/03/05/this-is-what-technophilia-looks-like/

      Yes but that article is just as needlessly pessimistic.
      “TWR are hard to build, and thus LFTR must have exactly the same problems, even though it’s a completey different design.”
      It’s a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Both LFTR and TWR have significant and clearly proven advantages over conventional designs, whatever their drawbacks might be. Calling substantiated claims ‘techophillia’ just because it’s an area of nuclear physics you’re not personally familiar with, is profoundly ignorant.

    • …at the tender age of 14 after he designed a nuclear fission reactor he planned to build in his parents’ garage.

      Is anybody else thinking about Sheldon from the tv-show ‘The Big Bang Theory’?

  2. @OP – The reactors are installed three meters underground which makes safer from the perspective of counter-terrorism than reactors built above the ground. They are also molten salt reactors, meaning, according to TED Blog, that they can run on the waste from old nuclear weapons and thus make it possible to find a way to use the material from weapon stockpiles, another safety issue from the counter-terrorism perspective.

    I don’t really see how using weapons grade uranium or plutonium, (the articles are not clear as to the fuel) is either safer or more terrorism resistant, than Thorium reactors which can’t be used for weapons at all!

    They are also molten salt reactors,

    Molten sodium and potassium salts, heated and liquefied, at 700°c+ are being used in solar-thermal power towers to conduct heat to the steam turbines’ heat exchangers.
    I don’t see how using a different higher temperature coolant to transfer heat, makes a uranium reactor safer, or more resistant to terrorism. (although it is probably safer than a Fukushima type reactor) An Advanced gas Cooled Reactor with fuel capsules is probably much safer if uranium is to be used. (see link @3)

    @ Nodhimmi – Yes there is much media hype in the article and of course he did not build a functioning fusion reactor- surely that doesn’t need stating!

    @ link – Wilson first received attention at the age of 14, after building a nuclear “fusion reactor” he’d dreamed up in his parents’ garage. He spoke at TED2012 about that experience, He mentioned “fusion” experiments with Deuterium (an isotope used in hydrogen bombs)

    I AM NOT AWARE OF ANYONE YET INVENTING A “FUSION REACTOR”!

    and he’s back this year at TED2013 to talk about a new project.

    @OP – TED Blog reports that what Wilson has invented is a Small Modular Fission Reactor

    The articles seem very vague (with much duplication on the links) about what fissile materials are being used (although “Old weapons” – suggests Uranium or Plutonium)

    @link – “Imagine having a compact reactor in a rocket that produces 50-100 megawatts. That’s the rocket designer’s dream,” says Wilson. And it isn’t inconceivable, considering that plutonium batteries have been sent into space aboard rockets.

    I think this is what he refers to as a “”plutonium battery”! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope-thermoelectric-generator.

    ”I think there’s something poetic about using nuclear power to propel us to the stars. Because the stars are giant nuclear power reactors themselves.”

    I think the nearest things at present to “fusion reactors” and nuclear propulsion to the stars, is the VASIMR rocket engine of which test-bed prototypes are running.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable-Specific-impulse-Magnetoplasma-Rocket

    http://www.adastrarocket.com/AdAstra-Release-July-27-2012-English.pdf

    ISS Update: VASIMR Plasma Rocket http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4jf2F3YEAI
    There are other youtube videos about VASIMR as further links.

    Taylor Wilson looks like a bright inspiring youngster, but his enthusiasm seems to exceed his planning!

    I am not very convinced about the journalists’ grasp of these issues!

    • In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

      I don’t see how using a different higher temperature coolant to transfer heat, makes a uranium reactor safer, or more resistant to terrorism.

      Quite frankly, if your knowledge of thermodynamics is this poor, then you should not be giving any opinion on this topic other than, “I don’t understand this. Can someone explain it to me?” And gladly. Steam has to be at very high temperature and pressures to move energy from the reactor to the turbines. If any number of things go wrong this pressure can dramatically ramp up and the reactor can explode once it exceeds tollerances. Denser materials can move an equal level of energy at normal atmospheric pressure (LFTR for example) while some gases operate at high pressure but are inherantly self limiting (because they double as moderators) and can’t increase pressure (Pebblebed).

      I don’t really see how using weapons grade uranium or plutonium, (the articles are not clear as to the fuel) is either safer or more terrorism resistant, than Thorium reactors which can’t be used for weapons at all!

      That is a misquote. The blog says, “run on the WASTE from old nuclear weapons.” Nukes half a shelf life because they (D’oh!) undergo nuclear decay and eventually turn into materials that don’t explode in thesame useful way.

      I AM NOT AWARE OF ANYONE YET INVENTING A “FUSION REACTOR”!

      Incorrect. Many test reactors have been built. Many have generated more power than required to start them. The stumbling block is running them for more than a few seconds and getting more electricity out than you put in. The device in the basement though was certainly a farnsworth fusor, which generates small amounts of nuclear fusion at the cost of large ammouts of electricity. It is a net loss device, but it is still a reactor.

      The articles seem very vague (with much duplication on the links) about what fissile materials are being used (although “Old weapons” – suggests Uranium or Plutonium)

      Let Me Google That For You:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor
      This article will probably answer many of your questions.

      I think this is what he refers to as a “”plutonium battery”! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope-thermoelectric-generator.

      While I’d agree that is a silly comparison, there have been many proposals for nuclear fission engines and power systems for space use. The reason they don’t get used is because lay people are terrified of the idea of putting nuclear material on top of rockets; both things they barely understand. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible the young man is trying to say, “See, we can launch such material safely. Stop worrying so much.” Given the development of Falcon 9H and SLS, he would be entirely correct.

      I am not very convinced about the journalists’ grasp of these issues!

      Which as always is a lamentable state of affairs.

      • In reply to #7 by ANTIcarrot:

        It seems you did not understand my post.

        In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

        I don’t see how using a different higher temperature coolant to transfer heat, makes a uranium reactor safer, or more resistant to terrorism.

        Quite frankly, if your knowledge of thermodynamics is this poor, then you should not be giving any opinion on this topic other than, “I don’t understand this. Can someone explain it to me?”

        ? ? ? ? ? ??

        And gladly. Steam has to be at very high temperature and pressures to move energy from the reactor to the turbines. If any number of things go wrong this pressure can dramatically ramp up and the reactor can explode once it exceeds tollerances.

        I know! That is why I mentioned heat exchangers to use the heated salts to heat water to power steam turbines (as on Solar-Thermal liquid salt systems).- (Or alternatively to heat gases for gas-turbine generators)

        Denser materials can move an equal level of energy at normal atmospheric pressure (LFTR for example)

        I agreed it was likely to be safer than a water cooled uranium reactor and even provided a link to an earlier discussion which explained the problems with water-cooled reactors.
        Hot salts present potential corrosion problems in reactors!

        while some gases operate at high pressure but are inherantly self limiting (because they double as moderators) and can’t increase pressure (Pebblebed).

        I referred to the safety features of a pebble bed (fuel capsules) helium cooled reactor which was linked on the earlier discussion.

        I don’t really see how using weapons grade uranium or plutonium, (the articles are not clear as to the fuel) is either safer or more terrorism resistant, than Thorium reactors which can’t be used for weapons at all!

        That is a misquote. The blog says, “run on the WASTE from old nuclear weapons.” Nukes half a shelf life because they (D’oh!) undergo nuclear decay and eventually turn into materials that don’t explode in the same useful way.

        I am aware of half-lives of isotopes. What is not made clear is which isotopes are being used. The half-life of uranium-238 is about 4.47 billion years and that of uranium-235 is 704 million years, so we might expect quite a proportion of these to remain in ” fissile material from dismantled nuclear weapons”, Plutonium is even more dangerous! Terrorists could still scatter radioactive material around.

        I AM NOT AWARE OF ANYONE YET INVENTING A “FUSION REACTOR”!

        Incorrect. Many test reactors have been built. Many have generated more power than required to start them. The stumbling block is running them for more than a few seconds and getting more electricity out than you put in.

        Perhaps I should have said a usable reactor, where you do not have to put in more energy than you can get out.

        The device in the basement though was certainly a farnsworth fusor, which generates small amounts of nuclear fusion at the cost of large ammouts of electricity. It is a net loss device, but it is still a reactor.

        Technically yes an experimental one!

        The articles seem very vague (with much duplication on the links) about what fissile materials are being used (although “Old weapons” – suggests Uranium or Plutonium)

        Let Me Google That For You:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moltensaltreactor
        This article will probably answer many of your questions.

        Not really! I did not see specified isotopes in the original articles and this suggests alternatives.

        Molten-salt fueling options
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-salt-eactor
        The thorium-fueled variant called Liquid fluoride thorium reactor, has been very exciting to many nuclear engineers. Its most prominent champion was Alvin Weinberg, who patented the light-water reactor and was a director of the U.S.’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a prominent nuclear research center.

        • MSR can be fueled using enriched Uranium-235.
        • MSR can be fueled using fissile material from dismantled nuclear weapons.

        I made it clear that thorium reactors were safer and more terrorist resistant, IF Thorium was being used.

        I think this is what he refers to as a “”plutonium battery”! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope-thermoelectric-generator.

        While I’d agree that is a silly comparison, there have been many proposals for nuclear fission engines and power systems for space use. The reason they don’t get used is because lay people are terrified of the idea of putting nuclear material on top of rockets; both things they barely understand. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible the young man is trying to say, “See, we can launch such material safely. Stop worrying so much.” Given the development of Falcon 9H and SLS, he would be entirely correct.

        I don’t understand this thinking! Every probe to the outer solar system (Pioneer, Voyager, Cassini etc) has carried PLUTONIUM PELLETS to power their Radioisotope-thermoelectric-generators . They have been launching nuclear material into space for years, and also have electrically powered operational ion-drives on space-probes.

        In any case: The working VASIMR rocket engine I mentioned, is working towards a nuclear fusion engine with a magnetic containment envelope.

  3. It seems there are already commercial proposals for small nuclear power plants.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/big-idea/08/mini-nukes-pg2
    None of the new small reactors have been deployed yet. Some, like the one designed by NuScale Power, are light-water reactors that resemble ones long used on warships. Others are more novel. Toshiba and the Japanese Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry are working on a liquid-sodium-cooled “nuclear battery.” Delivered partially assembled and installed underground, the reactor would generate ten megawatts for 30 years until it needed refueling. The isolated Alaska village of Galena is in discussions with Toshiba to become its first customer.

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