Metatomic, Inc. is an outgrowth of discussions by nuclear industry leaders on how to deal with the large and increasing inventory of commercial light water nuclear reactor spent fuel in the United States.
Spent nuclear fuel (“SNF”) is hazardous for thousands of years (NRC.gov). Approximately 90,000 metric tons of SNF from 93 operating nuclear reactors has accumulated at U.S. nuclear plants (SNF Storage) over the past decades, with approximately 2,000 metric tons being added each year. Storage costs to U.S. taxpayers are in the billions of dollars and present both long-term security and environmental risks (GAO-21-603). Although deemed “spent,” SNF still contains over 90% of its potential to produce electricity, i.e., enough to produce electricity for hundreds of years (Argonne National Lab).
In response, Metatomic® has patented and patent-pending technology for conversion of SNF to salt fuel for the new generation of molten salt reactors (MSRs). In the 1960s, an operational MSR was built and operated for several years at Oak Ridge National Labs. More recently, in November 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a new MSR (DOE MSR project). Reports note that China already has an MSR cleared for startup, and Abilene Christian University has plans to build an MSR.
Metatomic’s conversion technology offers companies such as TerraPower the opportunity to safely access existing stocks of SNF as fuel for use in the new MSRs through a “dry” process that effectively closes the nuclear fuel cycle. By using SNF as a fuel, Metatomic can help reduce the need to mine or purchase virgin uranium ore (a strategic asset) and at the same time reduce the volumetric footprint of the original SNF by approximately 90%. Metatomic’s technology is also believed to be the most efficient process for producing MSR fuel from virgin uranium ore.