Unlike today’s reactors, a traveling-wave reactor requires very little enriched uranium, reducing the risk of weapons proliferation. The reactor uses depleted-uranium fuel packed inside hundreds of hexagonal pillars. In a “wave” that moves through the core at only a centimeter per year, this fuel is transformed (or bred) into plutonium, which then undergoes fission. The reaction requires a small amount of enriched uranium to get started and could run for decades without refueling. The reactor uses liquid sodium as a coolant; core temperatures are extremely hot--about 550 ºC, versus the 330 ºC typical of conventional reactors.
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