The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plans to establish a framework for cooperation on the technological and scientific development of molten salt reactors. Experts from 17 IAEA member states met in Vienna to “lay the foundations” of the initiative, the statement said. “It is the first time a comprehensive IAEA international meeting on molten salt reactors has ever taken place,” Stefano Monti, head of the nuclear power development section at the IAEA, said. “Given the interest of member states, the IAEA could provide a platform for international cooperation and information exchange on the development of these advanced nuclear systems”, he noted.

The IAEA said molten salt reactor technology has received private funding in recent years with several reactor concepts now under development. Stewart Magruder, senior nuclear safety officer at the IAEA, told the meeting that the challenges with molten salt reactors are “not only technical”, but also regulatory, because nuclear authorities will need to review existing safety regulations and modify them to fit the new technology. Molten salt reactors are powered by a liquid fuel rather than solid fuel rods and use a radioactive solution that blends nuclear fuel with a liquid salt. They can run on uranium, but are also ideally suited for thorium.

Molten salt reactors operate at higher temperatures, making them more efficient in generating electricity, while their low operating pressure can reduce the risk of coolant loss, a major accident risk, the IAEA said. According to the agency, molten salt technology needs at least a decade of “intensive research, validation and qualification” before it can be commercialised.