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Government approves construction permit for new type of nuclear reactor for first time in decades: 'Major regulatory milestone'

Getting the construction permits took nearly two years.

Getting the construction permits took nearly two years.

Photo Credit: iStock

For the first time in 50 years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a construction permit for a new type of nuclear test reactor.

The Hermes demonstration reactor will be built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, by California-based company Kairos Power and will use molten fluoride salt instead of water as a coolant, according to Chemistry World. This change will allow the reactor to operate at a much lower pressure, making it safer and more flexible. 

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"Molten salt's got similar liquid properties to water, you can pump it, it'll flow through pipes, it has really good heat capacity … salt is cheap, it's very stable, it's not toxic," Nicholas Smith, deputy director of the National Reactor Innovation Center, explained to Chemistry World.

Getting the construction permits took nearly two years, according to Kairos. 

"Kairos Power is thrilled to have achieved this major regulatory milestone as we make final preparations to start construction at the Hermes site next year," Mark Laufer, Kairos Power's chief executive, said, per Chemistry World.

While many people associate nuclear power with the Chernobyl disaster and the dangers of radioactivity, its proponents — including Miss America 2023, who studied nuclear engineering — contend that it is one of the safer and more environmentally friendly forms of power available. 

"Nuclear energy is akin to a climate savior, given the overwhelming utility, low risk and sustainability available from this technology," Robert Hayes, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University, wrote in a research paper. "The US should seriously seek to drastically expand its replacement of fossil fuels with nuclear energy to address both climate change and energy security."

"I'd love to see the Kairos project successfully come online and start producing power … and have enough success with that first of a kind reactor that another follows," Smith told Chemistry World. "[Molten salt reactors] open up a lot of opportunity not just for decarbonization, but directly using heat from power production."

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