Nuclear energy can be a good option when integrated into a renewable energy mix. It is inexpensive and reliable. Nuclear energy plants do not emit any CO2. But it is not without its controversies: nuclear accidents can have major consequences and nuclear waste remains radioactive for long periods and must be stored safely.
At TU Delft, scientists are conducting research into:
- improving the safety and efficiency of nuclear reactors
- reducing the amount and radioactivity of nuclear waste
- producing radionuclides for medical and industrial applications
New types of nuclear energy plants, such as the High-Temperature Reactor and the Molten Salt Reactor, are inherently safe and use fissile materials much more economically. This means that both reactor types cannot only use uranium as a fuel, but also thorium, which potentially produces nuclear waste that is not nearly as long-lasting. The Molten Salt Reactor is especially sustainable because the components in the fissile materials that last for a long time can be recycled infinitely while dramatically reducing the storage time required for nuclear waste.
In recent years, nuclear power plants have become increasingly large in order to reduce the cost of electricity through the economies of scale. An alternative approach is to actually reduce nuclear power plants in size and build them in clusters. At TU Delft, research is being conducted into small and medium-sized inherently safe nuclear power plants based on a flexible modular design. An interesting example is the U-Battery. This is a small nuclear power reactor with a capacity of 5-10 MW that can meet electricity and heat demands at industrial locations.
Waste produced by nuclear fission remains radioactive for thousands of years and therefore needs to be stored safely underground for long periods of time. The Delft Reactor Institute is conducting research into the chemistry and mobility of fission products in the geological environment of the final storage site as well as the impact of radiation on the substrate.
The Delft Reactor Institute is conducting research into the production and use of radionuclides for medical and industrial applications. Part of the research is focused on the development of new production methods through the use of hot atom chemistry principles and the construction of special radiation facilities such as the gamma-shielded facility. The development or improvement of isotope generators is another important research aspect. The Delft Reactor Institute is also researching special-purpose nuclear reactors for the production of radionuclides. For example, this involves a small nuclear reactor with a uranium compound dissolved in water in which fission is used to create the desired radionuclides. Research is focusing on the design of the reactor and the special chemical processes used to retrieve the radionuclides from the solution.
In TU Delft's nuclear research reactor, new materials are being developed for renewable energy, such as batteries and solar cells, and for research on medical diagnostics and tumour treatment methods. Read more on the website of the Delft Reactor Institute.