A teenager designs a compact nuclear reactor

This is a great article (and TEDTalk) about a US teenager who has designed a small nuclear reactor that can burn waste from old nukes (and maybe even spent nuclear fuel).

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could one day burn waste from old atomic weapons to power anything from homes and factories to space colonies. 

The American teen, who gained fame four years ago after designing a fusion reactor he planned to build in the garage of his family’s home, shared his latest endeavor at a TED Conference in southern California on Thursday.

“It’s about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century,” Wilson said. “I think this has huge potential to change the world.” He has designed a small reactor capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes.

The reactor can be made assembly-line style and powered by molten radioactive material from nuclear weapons, Wilson said. The relatively small, modular reactor can be shipped sealed with enough fuel to last for 30 years.

“You can plop them down anywhere in the world and they work, buried under the ground for security reasons,” he said, while detailing his design at TED.


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  • Cremster

    It’s not a nuclear reactor. It’s a thermocouple device that runs a gas turbine to generate electricity using the heat from the radioactive decay of the nuclear material. Still pretty cool.

    • You’re thinking of RTG readioisotope thermal generators, like used on the curiosity Mars rover and Cassini Saturn probe. He’s talking about a Molten Salt Reactor. Pretty cool idea. Near 100% burnup, can use thorium as a fuel. Materials that can withstand high temperature salt corrosion plus neutron embrittlement that also don’t capture neutrons and turn into nasty isotopes need much testing.

  • Steve (North Shore)

    “Not only does it combat Climate Change”
    He wants to stop Climate Change? the Climate is always changing.
    I think this kid is going places, he just needs to watch out for the flakes

  • cows4me

    Shit just imagine what he could do with a still.

    • Travis Poulson

      I imagine the finished product could send a large shuttle to the moon.

  • Mr Sackunkrak

    That’ll put him on the Greens’ shit-list.

  • rightoverlabour

    Probably went to a charter school. Greens will hate this anyway as it solves problems but does not emanate from their brilliant think tanks…

  • thor42

    What gets me is that (IIRC) only about *1%* of the energy in uranium fuel is used before it is regarded as “spent” and is removed. Utterly bizarre and wasteful.

    Why on earth they don’t use more of the energy before replacing the fuel beats me.Does anyone know the reason?