Energy Multiplier Module
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The Energy Multiplier Module (EM2 or EM squared) is a nuclear fission power reactor under development by General Atomics. It is a modified version of the Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) and is capable of converting spent nuclear fuel into electricity and industrial process heat, without separative or conventional nuclear reprocessing.
The EM2 is an advanced modular reactor expected to produce 265 MWe (500 MWth) of power at 850 °C (1,600 °F) and be fully enclosed in an underground containment structure for 30 years without requiring refueling. The EM2 differs from current reactors as it does not use water coolant but is instead a gas-cooled fast reactor, which uses helium as a coolant for an additional level of safety. The reactor uses a composite of silicon carbide as cladding material, and beryllium oxide as neutron reflector material. The reactor unit is coupled to a direct-drive helium gas turbine which in turn drives a generator for the production of electricity.
The nuclear core design is based upon a new conversion technique in which an initial “starter” section of the core provides the neutrons required to convert used nuclear fuel, thorium or depleted uranium (DU) into burnable fissile fuel. First generation EM2 units use uranium starters (approximately 15 percent U235) to initiate the conversion process. The starter U235 is consumed as the used nuclear fuel/DU or used nuclear fuel/thorium is converted to fissile fuel. The core life expectancy is approximately 30 years (using used nuclear fuel and DU) without refueling.
Substantial amounts of valuable fissile material remain in the EM2 core at the end of life. This material is reused as the starter for a second generation of EM2s, without conventional reprocessing. There is no separation of individual heavy metals required and no enriched uranium needed. Only unusable fission products would be removed and stored.
All EM2 heavy metal discharges could be recycled into new EM2 units, effectively closing the nuclear fuel cycle, which minimizes nuclear proliferation risks and the need for long-term repositories to secure nuclear materials.
Economics and workforce capacity
The expected cost advantages of EM2 lie in its simplified power conversion system, which operates at high temperatures yielding approximately 50 percent greater efficiency and a corresponding one-third reduction in materials requirements than that of current nuclear reactors.
Each module can be manufactured in either U.S. domestic or foreign facilities using replacement parts manufacturing and supply chain management with large components shipped by commercial truck or rail to a site for final assembly, where it will be fully enclosed in an underground containment structure.
The EM2 utilizes used nuclear fuel, also referred to as “spent fuel” from current reactors, which are light water reactors. It can tap an estimated 97% of unused fuel that current reactors leave behind as waste.
Spent fuel rods from conventional nuclear reactors are put into storage and considered to be nuclear waste, by the nuclear industry and the general public. Nuclear waste retains more than 99% of its original energy; the current U.S. inventory is equivalent to nine trillion barrels of oil - four times more than the known reserves. EM2 uses this nuclear waste to produce energy.
By using spent nuclear waste and depleted uranium stockpiles as its fuel source, a large-scale deployment of the EM2 is expected to reduce the long-term need for uranium enrichment and eliminate conventional nuclear reprocessing.
Conventional light water reactors require refueling every 18 months. EM2’s 30-year fuel cycle minimizes the need for fueling handling and can reduce the proliferation concerns associated with refueling.
Energy safety and security
EM2 utilizes passively safety systems designed to safely shutdown using only gravity and natural convection in emergency conditions. Control rods and drums are automatically inserted during a loss of power incident via gravity. Natural convection flow is used to cool the core during whole site loss of power incidents. No external water supply is necessary for emergency cooling. The use of silicon carbide as a safety-enhanced fuel cladding in the core ensures no hydrogen production during accident scenarios and allows an extended period of response when compared to the use of Zircaloy metal cladding in current reactors, which are reactive and not as heat resistant as ceramics in EM2.
Underground siting in a silo improves safety and security of the plant to terrorism and other threats.
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Nuclear Energy Institute
- Nuclear power
- Nuclear safety in the United States
- Economics of new nuclear power plants
- United States Department of Energy
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