The Clean And Environmentally Safe Advanced Reactor (CAESAR) Project is committed to creating an environmentally sound source of energy that significantly increases the "burn-up" of nuclear fuel while converting a great portion of the unavoidable toxic, spent nuclear fuel into plutonium free, "ultra-spent" fuel, with an immediate, positive impact on economic and national security worldwide.
.: Current World Energy Situation
As all nations struggle to meet the rising demand for energy in a climate of economic and political instability, environmental pollutants continue to build from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, while the production of nuclear waste by today's nuclear reactors continues to increase in temporary storage facilities. Such waste contains fissile isotopes greatly increasing proliferation concerns. The use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and other forms of energy accounts for 80-85% of the world's consumption. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 25% of the electricity produced, and only a negligible fraction of worldwide energy demand comes from clean or renewable energy sources (solar and wind power, for example). Several studies have shown that in order for life to be preserved very large amounts of zero-carbon-emitting energy resources ("carbon-less energy") must be deployed in the next few decades. The most optimistic predictions place the increase of renewable energy sources in the 18-20% range by 2050. Clearly this is insufficient to provide the carbon-less energy resources so badly necessary in a much shorter time frame.
While today's nuclear reactors contribute to decreased pollutant emissions, their mode of operation still uses only a fraction of the fuel potential and produces weapon grade materials with severe national security implications. A satisfactory solution to the treatment, transportation and storage of toxic nuclear waste has not yet been found, and has led to inconsistent policies often formed by closed-loop groups or lobbyists biased by private interests and local economics.
Leading experts have concluded that one of the few possibilities for an economic recovery and increased stability worldwide is through a "new, effective energy revolution." The rate of consumption of fossil fuels, a finite energy source, is increasing exponentially - in the last 30 years alone, more than 35% of the planet's resources have been irreversibly damaged and exhausted. By the same token, utilization of current nuclear technologies carries the risk of misuse of nuclear fuel, resulting in even more drastic consequences.
The US Department of Energy is actively seeking designs for a new generation of nuclear power plants that are proliferation-resistant. Currently, the great majority of research effort is being directed toward "fast breeder" reactors, which show several advantages over existing designs but are also capable of producing more weapons-grade materials than the existing nuclear reactor fleet.
The consequences of world reliance on fossil fuels and current nuclear technology are contributing factors to today's widespread political instability (consider the nuclear programs of North Korea, Iran, and many others). With the increasing effects of climate changes induced by greenhouse gases, the need for a new energy revolution is not only an economic problem - it is necessary for our survival.
.: The CAESAR Project
The CAESAR Project is headed by Dr. Claudio Filippone, a nuclear scientist and Director of the Center for Advanced Energy Concepts at the University of Maryland. The Center, a division of the University's Aerospace Engineering Department, was established to further the research and development of CAESAR.
CAESAR integrates all of the above-mentioned variables into a very ambitious advanced nuclear reactor design that is simple to implement and restores the balance between the demand for energy and the protection of our planet's resources
- CAESAR reduces environmental degradation by eliminating the need to burn fossil fuels and by better using the awesome amount of power normally trapped and currently unused in conventional nuclear fuel.
- CAESAR provides low-cost, zero-pollutant-emission electricity by alternating the functioning of the reactor with different neutron fluxes, thereby "creating and burning" fissile materials on the fly. Hundreds of years worth of electricity can be generated simply by using nuclear fuel in a way that is equivalent to having loaded it into at least two different reactors designed to operate with different moderation.
- CAESAR decreases the need to produce fresh nuclear fuel, making it a truly environmentally friendly technology by combining the advantages shown by transmutation reactors to be deployed at least 30 years from now.
- CAESAR's by-product is ultra-spent fuel, which cannot be used to produce weapons-grade material.
CAESAR was originally developed in 1993 as the Nuclear Powered Steam Expansion Engine (NPSEE), designed to boost the efficiency of conventional nuclear and non-nuclear power plants from the current 30-36% to approximately 56% with a Carnot efficiency of 68%. The mechanism used to boost efficiency was a thermal-hydraulic system called a "heat-cavity", conceived by Dr. Filippone and designed as a heat transfer mechanism able to provide safer, more efficient cooling to the fuel rods than conventional systems. The system also dramatically reduces the normally unavoidable "heat-rejection" in the environment, as occurs in all operating power plants, nuclear and fossil fueled.
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Status of CAESAR Experimentation
CAESAR prototypes driven by electrically simulated heat have been built, tested and presented to various government agencies, private investors, industry groups and academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad over the last several years.
To date, all of the thermal-hydraulic and heat-transfer tests, and simple neutronic tests, have been completed and returned positive results. The last crucial proof-of-concept neutronic experiment requires approximately $2.5 million and two years of experimentation. This research money would be used to assemble a "suspended" fuel assembly containing only U-238 (natural uranium, or fuel derived from waste) and positioned near an existing nuclear reactor acting as the "jump starter" of CAESAR. The suspended fuel assembly would be equipped with heat cavities to control quasi-instantaneous steam expansions, causing high heat-transfer coefficients on the surfaces of the fuel. This innovative heat transfer mechanism would provide the proper cooling for the fuel and, for the first time, active neutron moderation. During the experiment, neutronic and thermal-hydraulic data would be collected, allowing scientists to identify various correlations to scale the analogue to different nuclear reactor systems.
The University of Maryland has waived overhead charges for all grants received for The Caesar Project from philanthropic sources, so that all money can be focused on research and development. Additional grant proposals are being prepared for DOE, and other funding sources. If you are interested in participating to this initiative please contact the proper University of Maryland officials for more information.
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