SUMMARY: This study looked at the efficiency of several types of nuclear reactions: molten-salt reactors, light water reactors, and fast reactors. Using a program (written in Python), scientists looked at the data from each type of reactors and compared how efficiently plutonium was used in each. The results showed that molten-salt reactors were able to burn about 90% of the plutonium. The significance of this analysis shows that 1) there is a good way to get rid of weapons-grade plutonium, and 2) a large amount of electricity can be produced from the burning of the plutonium via molten-salt reactors.
LESSON COMMENTS: Students will need to first understand: nuclear fission, how nuclear reactors work, how electricity is made, and what molten-salt reactors are. Programming classes teaching Python can use this article to show how the program is utilized in a lab setting. Chemistry classes can use this article to talk about isotopes and nuclear reactions. Finally, this is a great class for a physics class to apply concepts of nuclear energy, thermodynamics (when talking about coolants in nuclear reactors) and also electromagnetic energy (for electricity generation). Teachers can even talk about forces, collision of neutrons with atoms, and the difference in the collisions of a fast reactor versus a conventional one (where neutrons are not moving as fast). This article can also lead to more research on fast breeder reactors which can then encompass both chemistry and physics topics such as: beta decays, nuclear fission, and collision and forces.
Merk, B., & Litskevich, D. (2018). A disruptive approach to eliminating weapon-grade plutonium – Pu burning in a molten salt fast reactor. PloS one, 13(8), e0201757. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0201757