Turning a problem into a solution
One of the hallmarks of the Seaborg CUBE reactor is the harnessing of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) using thorium as a catalyst. For this reason, we also refer to the CUBE as a waste burner. But what does that really mean? Current conventional reactors use less than 5 percent of the energy available in uranium fuel rods. The waste consists mostly of depleted uranium, together with fission products and transuranic elements. The fission products are the lighter nuclei that result from splitting the atoms and they are typically characterized by a short half-life. Affordable and robust handling of fission products is manageable as the storage period required to reduce the radioactivity to safe levels is relatively short, on the order of 300 years. The transuranics elements, however, are created from neutrons converting uranium into heavier elements, such as plutonium. These generally have long half-lives, and constitute the reason why SNF today must be kept and isolated in storage for hundreds of thousands of years. Using the thorium cycle, our reactor converts these transuranic elements into green energy and short-lived fission products. By doing this we eliminate the need for expensive long-term storage of SNF.
The ever-growing global stockpiles of radioactive ‘waste’ already available are already a highly compelling reason for deploying our reactor design. By using the SNF from conventional reactors, the use of the readily available stockpiles greatly reduces the cumbersome and costly task of maintaining the storage of nuclear waste, along with providing affordable, carbon-free energy. What about thorium mining? Our innovative use of SNF together with thorium, which is about four times as abundant as uranium, greatly alleviates the pressure on the dwindling reserves of uranium still remaining. Moreover, since our reactors require less mined fuel and runs on SNF the mining footprint will be greatly reduced compared to other green technologies including conventional nuclear. Finally, thorium is found in abundance all out the world which is an attractive feature from a geopolitical point of view.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Even though the CUBE is a waste-burner it will still leave some radioactive bi-products behind. However, the amount of remaining waste is vastly reduced and, just as important, it has a half-life much shorter than what we put into it. In fact, the characteristic half-life is reduced from several hundreds of thousands of years down to 20-30 years. This makes the handling of the waste much more practical, affordable, and environmentally-friendly than for conventional reactors, since no long-term storage is needed.
At Seaborg Technologies we recognize the extreme importance of non-proliferation (i.e. the (non)-ability to extract weapon-grade elements from the reactor). Therefore, one of our key design choices has been to design our reactors entirely proliferation-proof. That explains our decision to make the Seaborg CUBE a single-salt, thermal-spectrum molten salt reactor, as this is the only way to guarantee that no weapons-grade materials are present by itself in the reactor at any point in time. Furthermore, our molten salt chemistry system cannot be used nor modified to separate or extract weapon-usable material from the reactor. This unique Seaborg approach opens new and untapped markets inaccessible to other designs that can not deliver the necessary non-proliferation profile required to bring about a worldwide energy revolution.