Path to Zero
Path to Zero
4.21 - Could Molten Salt Reactors Boost Nuclear Energy? A conversation with Dr. Rusty Towell, Nuclear Researcher and Physics Professor at Abilene Christian University

In this episode, Path to Zero explores molten salt nuclear technology with an innovator who is heading up research that he believes will lead to safer, cleaner and more affordable nuclear power.

Dr. Rusty Towell is the director of the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab at Abilene Christian University. He also spent time as an instructor at the Naval Nuclear Power School and later earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics at The University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Towell and his team have applied for a permit with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the first new research reactor of any kind in the U.S. in more than 30 years. The groundbreaking aspect to his reactor is that it will be cooled by molten salt instead of water. If successful, the project could lead to commercial success in the small modular nuclear reactor arena.

Highlights from this episode:

  • An explanation of molten salt and its advantages to cooling nuclear reactors over water
  • The status of Abilene Christian University’s application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operator the first new research reactor in decades.
  • The mission of NEXT Lab to provide global solutions for the world’s need for energy, water and medical isotopes, which are used by medical professionals to diagnose and treat health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
  • How molten salt reactors use all of the uranium in the power generation process to avoid nuclear waste.
  • How the technology being researched at NEXT Lab fits well with the concept of small modular reactors that can built in a factory, loaded on a truck and installed quickly for rapid deployment of nuclear energy.

The Dillard Science and Engineering Research Center under construction at Abilene Christian University. The new facility will house the NEXT Lab’s new advanced university research reactor sponsored by Natura Resources.(photo courtesy of Abilene Christian University)

“We have to have new investments now so that by 2050, nuclear power is the dominant source of power around the globe to make safe, clean, affordable power in an environmental-friendly way without producing waste,” says Dr. Rusty Towell.