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Industry Q&A: MoltexFLEX CEO David Landon

Industry Q&A: MoltexFLEX CEO David Landon

Nuclear appears to be having a renaissance. A wave of new reactors designs for advanced nuclear reactors is working its way to market. One of those companies, the UK’s MoltexFLEX, has its own cutting edge solution to the world’s energy needs with its FLEX reactor. Grid Brief sat down with MoltexFLEX CEO David Landon to get the skinny on this reactor and Moltex’s vision for the future.

What are the advanced nuclear industry’s biggest hurdles and how are you taking them on?

The main hurdles (in the UK) are the need for government signals of support in the form of a clearly defined and ambitious programme to support the development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies such as the FLEX reactor. This involves clarity of the role of the UK government’s recently announced Great British Nuclear (GBN) initiative, including: the role and scope of GBN in project development; line of sight to potential sites for first deployment; and early and sustained access to the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation.

The current energy crisis seems to be changing minds with regards to nuclear. Are you feeling this shift within the industry, too?

Yes, there is an increasing acceptance that nuclear must be part of the energy mix, and a growing optimism. It is likely driven by events in Ukraine and a realisation of current vulnerabilities. However, we must not be complacent.

How do you see the relationship between renewables and nuclear?

Renewable energy generation is inherently intermittent, and wherever you look in the world there is a need for a substantial low-carbon flexible energy generation as a back-up. In the UK it is 100 GW by 2050 and in the RoW it is 4,000 GW.

If humanity is to reach net zero by 2050, we need to build 1GW per day of new low-carbon energy generation just to replace exiting fossil fuel energy sources. If you then add renewal of existing low-carbon sources as they reach end of life, and the expansion of energy to those parts of the world that do not enjoy our abundance of energy, then the number is considerably higher. In addition, for those who lead the way there are very significant export opportunities.

Our FLEX reactor, alongside our GridReserve® molten salt storage system, is designed to work flexibly by providing grid-level storage when intermittent renewables such as wind and solar are not available, as well as reliable, low- cost and low-carbon baseload power.

Advanced nuclear is a competitive field—lots of companies are trotting out new designs. What sets MoltexFLEX apart?

The most unique feature of FLEX is a patented concept for a molten salt reactor. It uses two molten salts - one is the fuel salt, which contains the fissionable material in a fuel pin much like a conventional light water reactor.

The second is a cooling salt that circulates around the pins to remove heat. Using this concept and established salt chemistry, we have demonstrated effective corrosion control of both salts with the reactor steel alloys - and this means the long-recognised benefits of a molten salt technology can now be realised commercially.

The FLEX reactor is a simple and small modular design that produces heat at 750°C. Primary and emergency heat removal coolant flow is delivered by convection, removing the need for complex pump systems. The low-pressure operation means vastly smaller volumes of concrete and steel are needed for the containment structures., The simplicity of the design means the reactor uses only approximately 10% of the systems found in a conventional PWR. All in all, this makes the 16MWe/40MWth FLEX simpler and less costly to build and maintain.

Even better, the high temperature output can be used to produce high-quality steam at 600°C, and this means 20% greater efficiency in energy conversion, and smaller and lower-cost steam turbines. The result is low-cost electricity. The high temperature output is not only useful as industrial process heat, it also allows energy storage in molten salt tanks – GridReserve ® – providing even greater flexibility in the use of the reactor output heat.

Singularly or in combination, these features deliver a highly flexible heat and electricity source that can respond to hourly, daily, or seasonal changes in demand.

Many people are worried about nuclear waste. Fears about waste have even led to nuclear moratoria in places like California. How is Moltex taking on this issue?

We’ve got it covered! Moltex Energy Canada is developing the waste-burning version of the SSR, which is going to use the recycled spent fuel from other oxide-fuelled nuclear reactors as its own feedstock fuel.

What’s your vision for nuclear’s future?

Nuclear has the potential to play a major role in achieving net zero by 2050. However, to do this we need to develop the technologies that transform the cost and speed of delivery of nuclear energy, and roll it out en masse quickly. There is an opportunity for nations who lead the way in innovative nuclear technology and delivery to drive net zero and reap economic benefits in the process, and we are excited to be a part of a nuclear renaissance.