Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Plasma Engineering for Advancing Molten Salt Reactors

with Alex Bataller
Department of Nuclear Engineering
North Carolina State University
Apr 7, 2023 10:10 AM
Goodwin Hall 440

Our increasing need for safe, abundant, reliable, and carbon-free energy sources is stimulating renewed interest for employing nuclear energy to power our world. New materials and technologies that can address the sustainability, cost, and waste issues limiting current nuclear reactor designs are critical for realizing a future powered by the atom. Among the new material concepts being explored is the utilization of molten salts in advanced fuel cycles and next generation nuclear reactors. For the former application, research efforts are being made involving pyrochemical processing to extract fissile material from spent nuclear fuel to reduce the overall waste stream and greatly extend the supply of nuclear material, i.e., closing the fuel cycle. For the latter application, molten salt is a promising class of materials that can function as the coolant in solid-fueled reactors (e.g., advanced high-temperature reactor) or as a solvent in liquid-fueled reactors (i.e., MSR). For all cases mentioned, the ability to incorporate nuclear material within its structure while remaining a liquid at elevated temperature is a critical property that is inspiring a new renaissance in molten salt development. However, the future commercialization of advanced nuclear reactors and fuel cycles utilizing molten salts will require solutions to several outstanding material challenges and sensor development. This seminar will present recent experimental efforts featuring ultrafast spectroscopy and plasma engineering applied to the study of molten salts. These molten salt topics include measuring thermophysical properties using laser-based techniques, studying the ultrafast radiochemistry of solvated electrons, utilizing glow discharges for in situ nuclear material accountancy, and developing a nonlinear microscope for studying interfacial corrosion dynamics.

Alex Bataller is an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University whose research program investigates matter and materials in extreme environments using ultrafast spectroscopy. Dr. Bataller's research group is focused on characterization and sensor development for molten salt applications including thermophysical property measurements, online material quantification, ultrafast radiochemistry, and in-situ corrosion studies using nonlinear microscopy. Bataller received his Ph.D. in Physics at University of California Los Angeles and his B.S. in Engineering-Physics at the University of Arizona. Bataller was an award recipient of the Julian Schwinger Foundation in 2019 for “Investigating Contact Electrification via Operando Ultrafast Non-Resonant Spectroscopy” and was selected as a DARPA Rising emerging leader in science and technology in 2015. He was awarded ORAU’s 2020-2021 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award and NCSU’s 2020-2021 Faculty Research and Professional Development Award for thermophysical measurements of molten salts.