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Will Nuclear Plants Put Their Faith in Power Balls?
These Everlasting Nuclear Gobstoppers may prevent meltdowns.
JUL 2, 2020
- The future of nuclear energy could be self-contained, heat-tolerant uranium and ceramic pellets.
- Scientists are racing to develop much smaller reactors with more effective safety measures.
- The tiny pellets are made in a special furnace, using chemicals to turn uranium into Orbeez.
A new technology scientists are calling “power balls” could revolutionize nuclear power plants by allowing for much higher temperatures without a meltdown incident. The secret? Tiny seeds of uranium that are layered with protective coating, ensuring they stay cool at temperatures up to and exceeding 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Triso (tristructural isotope) particles are like tiny Everlasting Gobstoppers of nuclear fuel. A core of uranium and oxygen is coated with layers of protective ceramic and graphite. The ceramic (silicon carbide) has been used for a century to make things like sandpaper and ceramic automobile brakes. It’s extremely heat-tolerant and is also used in construction of furnaces and as a heat-resistant shielding in LEDs.
The grains are made with processes that sound like the food science people pull out on Top Chef. First, uranium is mixed with a chemical that allows it to break into gummy beads just a millimeter across—like the microplastic beads you might find in a face wash. In a special oven, the beads are contact-coated with graphite that’s made to collapse from its gas form into solid layers. Then, thousands of these chocolate-coated uranium Dippin’ Dots are packed into individual pellets.