Pebble Bed Fellows
MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing will join together to develop a pebble bed nuclear reactor in China for research purposes. The collaboration was made possible by a formal agreement between the United States and China that allows the two countries to exchange technologies and ideas related to nuclear power.Pebble bed nuclear reactors, which have been studied at MIT since the 1980s, promise to be far safer and more efficient than today’s nuclear power plants. They are powered by uranium enclosed in billiard-ball-sized graphite “pebbles” that are meltdown-proof. “Everybody essentially now believes that there is no way we could melt this reactor down,” says Andrew Kadak, professor of nuclear engineering and MIT team leader. Unlike traditional reactors, pebble bed reactors could be assembled out of prefabricated modules to cut down on construction costs. Another benefit is that the reactors get hot enough to speed the electrolysis of water, producing hydrogen, which scientists believe will one day be an important source of fuel.
In the next year, the MIT team will use Tsinghua’s research reactor-the world’s only operating pebble-bed reactor-to test system analysis software.