Summary
A molten salt reactor (MSR) is a class of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary nuclear reactor coolant and/or the fuel is a mixture of molten salt with a fissionable material. Two research MSRs operated in the United States in the mid-20th century. The 1950s Aircraft Reactor Experiment (ARE) was primarily motivated by the technology's compact size, while the 1960s Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) aimed to demonstrate a nuclear power plant using a thorium fuel cycle in a breeder reactor. Increased research into Generation IV reactor designs renewed interest in the 21st century. Multiple nations started projects. As of May 2023, China had not announced the ignition of its TMSR-LF1 thorium unit following its scheduled date of February 2023. MSRs eliminate the nuclear meltdown scenario present in water-cooled reactors, because the fuel mixture is kept in a molten state. The fuel mixture is designed to drain without pumping from the core to a containment vessel in emergency scenarios, where it solidifies, quenching the reaction. In addition, hydrogen evolution does not occur. This eliminates the risk of hydrogen explosions (as in the Fukushima nuclear disaster). They operate at or close to atmospheric pressure, rather than the 75-150 times atmospheric pressure of a typical light-water reactor (LWR). This reduces the need and cost for reactor pressure vessels. The gaseous fission products (Xe and Kr) have little solubility in the fuel salt, and can be safely captured as they bubble out of the fuel, rather than increasing the pressure inside the fuel tubes, as happens in conventional reactors. MSRs can be refueled while operating (essentially online-nuclear reprocessing) while conventional reactors shut down for refueling (notable exceptions include pressure tube heavy water reactors like the CANDU or the Atucha-class PHWRs, and British-built Gas-cooled Reactors such as Magnox, AGR). MSR operating temperatures are around , significantly higher than traditional LWRs at around .
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