Rusty Towell is a professor of engineering and physics, and the director of the NEXT Lab, at Abilene Christian University, which applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last August for a construction permit that may allow it to build the first new research reactor of any kind in the U.S. in more than 30 years. In this episode, Towell walks us through the design of the molten salt reactor ACU wants to build, the hurdles it faces at the NRC, why the university may have an advantage in obtaining the enriched-uranium fuel it needs, and why, if the project succeeds, it could lead to commercial success in the small modular reactor market. (Recorded January 27, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. In this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome a new friend of mine rusty towel. He is a professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the director of the next lab, which we will talk about momentarily. Rusty, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Rusty Towell 0:25
Thank you appreciate you having me.
Robert Bryce 0:27
I warned you. I don’t want all the guests. So you can be glad about the fact that I want you. You guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So imagine you’ve arrived somewhere if you’re not in Abilene anymore, you’re you got about 60 seconds, introduce yourself, please.
Rusty Towell 0:43
I’ll thank you. My name is Ross detalle. I’m a professor of engineering and physics at Abilene Christian University and director of the next lab. Next stands for nuclear energy experimental testing, we are focused on making the world a better place by addressing some critical needs in the world by developing Molten Salt Reactors. And so I get the privilege of leading about 150 people in this effort to achieve that.
Robert Bryce 1:06
Okay, so that’s great. Well, and that’s why I wanted to have you on the podcast to talk about this project of the Molten Salt Reactor. In last August, the Abilene Christian applied to the US NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a construction license on this reactor, which is reportedly the first application for a new US research reactor of any kind in more than 30 years, which by itself is a remarkable fact. But why Abilene Christian why now? And is that true that this is the first research reactor in 30 years? I mean, that’s a pretty stunning fact, in a time when the US is trying to get back in the game and nuclear power. So what’s going on?
Rusty Towell 1:52
Yeah, so the number of research reactors across the nation has been on a steady decline for decades. We’ve decommissioned quite a few but haven’t had any new come online. And so the last reactor to come online, was I guess, University of Texas, when I moved from sort of its downtown main campus up to its research campus. I was still in Austin City Limits, but that that transition, yeah, happened over 30 years ago. And so if you’re talking about a brand new license for research reactors, it’s been even longer. And if you’re talking about a non water cooled research reactor at a university, that’s never happened. So we’re sort of plowing a lot of new ground here.
Robert Bryce 2:31
Excuse me, so I know so what you said that that reactor moved from what was the 40 acres? I graduated from UT Austin, I know you got your PhD at UT. I just looked you up as well. So that when they move that research reactor to the what’s now called the pickle campus, that was the last one you’re saying it but so now we have the potential for another research reactor here in Texas. So why Abilene Christian, why is this happening there? You know, forgive me, but when I think of new research reactors, I’m not thinking Abilene first. So why Abilene and why now?
Rusty Towell 3:02
Yeah, that’s a great question. And one that I think deserves an answering and people understanding. Several things came together, I’ll just say the right people, the right conditions, came together to allow it. And I think that it’s a great choice. So one thing is is, ACU is a smaller university. And so it was able to be a little more nimble and quick. Also, this is a very interdisciplinary project. And so being a little bit smaller in size, it’s a little bit easier to get different disciplines. And I’m not talking about maybe mechanical engineer targeting a nuclear engineer, I’m talking about can we get chemists and physicists and engineers all to collaborate together? That’s something that that is a little bit easier at a smaller institution. But probably the biggest reason is is because the university leadership, believes in a project and supports it. and material resources and material resources founder Doug Robison believes in this project, and believes ACU is the right place to lead it. And so because of the support, I think that allows us to move forward.
Robert Bryce 4:02
So I want to come back to the tour in just a minute but I’m live in Texas. I’ve been through Abilene, I haven’t been to AC use campus. I hope you invite me some time. But how many students at ACU is a it’s a private school, what’s the tuition and how many, how many faculty are are potentially going to be working on this project at ACU.
Rusty Towell 4:21
So ACU is about 5600 students total is less than 4000 resident undergraduates on our main campus in Abilene. We also have AC Dallas location, a lot of professional online courses, but the ICU campus in Abilene is just under 4000 students. Right now. We have about eight faculty involved with the project a total of 30 faculty and staff. During the summer we’re able to pick up additional faculty that will join in an effort and so we probably have about a dozen faculty that are have been working on the project over time. We hope that number grows, the university is looking to grow a nuclear engineering program. And so as those different academic programs grow that obviously the number of faculty involved will continue to grow. Also,
Robert Bryce 5:10
the next lab project itself and the reactor project, you have other partner universities, if I recall, it’s UT Austin, Texas a&m and Georgia Tech. How did that come about? How did this consortium come
Rusty Towell 5:21
about? Yeah, so we refer to that research alliance, our next research alliance, or nextra. And all four universities have sponsored research agreements from detour resources. And so that’s sort of the formal forming of that informal discussions between faculty members at the four institutions date back to yours. And so, you know, as faculty like to dream about future and think about collaborating on research projects, there’s a lot of discussions. And so for years, we had informal discussions before we understood or had a funding path to enable it. And when detour resources step forward as being a prime funder for this, then formal research sponsored research programs were put in between all the universities and natural resources, and that allowed the formation of this research alliance.
Robert Bryce 6:07
And so those other universities then they will have the students and staff or student and faculty that will come to Abilene then to work on. I mean, I’m thinking just out loud here, as I’m riffing here. But it sounds a little bit like a telescope project. Right? You are you have a bunch of different entities that are part of a group that will allow their people to come and participate in use the telescope do research. Is that a fair kind of a comparison on a project like this? Because it’s a big capital project? No.
Rusty Towell 6:35
Absolutely. And that’s, that’s exactly right. I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of work that can be done remotely. And so we benefit from work that’s done on all four campuses. But we do we have had guests come and work here, students come and spend the summer working with us. And we look if in the future for that to happen more and more often.
Robert Bryce 6:55
And so sorry, I’m just adjusting one thing here. So what is the what is going to be the capital cost of the research reactor? How much is that that plant going to cost? And where are you in terms of the I understand you’ve already started construction, you applied for a construction permit, but I understand dirts already moving?
Rusty Towell 7:12
That’s right. So one of the things we like to do is we like to do as many things in parallel as possible to move forward in a timeline that allows us to really get this, this deployed to the world, right? I mean, you don’t bless the world. If we just have an r&d project on university campus, we really have a chance to really make an impact in the world if we can take this technology and deploy it. So we’re really looking forward to that. And, and so, we’d like to do things in parallel to give us the give us the shortest timeline possible. And so while we have submitted an application NRC for a construction permit for the research reactor, we have started construction on a building to house that. And for a commercial reactor, this isn’t an option, you can’t start a building for commercial reactor until you have a construction permit for that from the NRC. But for a university research reactor, there is provisions in the licensing code to allow you to have a apply for a license to build a reactor in a multifunction pre existing building. And so we are building this building that will be preexisting when we get permission to build the reactor. And so we’ve separated the physical building from the reactor that it’s going to go inside of it. And that’s something again, it’s never been done before. But we’re excited about having a building that will outlive one research reactor.
Robert Bryce 8:35
And so what is the capital cost here? Doug are rusty, what are you what are you saying it? What is this going to this project going to cost?
Rusty Towell 8:42
So the building, Abilene Christian University is investing $23 million into the building this multi use facility that will house the research reactor, the the actual reactor itself has a price tag of about $100 million. And then on top of that, there’s the cost of fuel and operations. And of course, we know us building it if you’re not going to operate and do some research from it.
Robert Bryce 9:08
So 100 So I get the cost of the building 100 million for the reactor. So where does that money gonna come from.
Rusty Towell 9:16
So it knitter resources is has been funding it and will continue to fund it. Obviously, something this large, it would be nice to, it’d be nice to have support from other entities. And so we are actively, you know, looking for sources, both federal dollars and state dollars to help support this. And we believe this is the type of stuff that both the federal government and state governments are interested in and, and and have funded. So we’re looking for other sources, but right now, virtually all the funding comes from natural resources. Early on in the project. We had some foundation dollars to help support this. And we have gotten a few grants from the Department of Energy to do very targeted research applications.
Robert Bryce 10:02
Gotcha. So 100 million, I know there are a number of many other nuclear startups, so TerraPower backed by Bill Gates will be a good guy for you to talk to, I suppose he could probably afford to write the check. But a lot of venture capital is going to other companies X energy, terrestrial X energy, they’re getting a lot of VC money. So it could be you’re gonna go to venture capitalist as well, then for this kind of investment.
Rusty Towell 10:27
I think that’s a natural resources question of where they raise the capital. So I’ll defer to knitr resources to answer that. They obviously have listened to a lot of people and, and, and are open to ideas, but at the same time, this is something that their current investor pool believes in, and, and they’ve raised the money we’ve needed to to, to keep us moving full speed ahead thus far.
Robert Bryce 10:56
Gotcha. So 100 million for the reactor, what are the biggest line items in that? I know, you’re gonna have to have steam generators, right? Because you’re gonna be producing power. So that’s kind of an author, or are you are you going to so let me
Rusty Towell 11:07
back up real quick there and just say, the NRC is definition of a research reactor limits is both in total thermal output and what we can do with that thermal energy. And so we’re not allowed to produce electricity and hook it up to a grid. And we’re maxed it to one megawatt thermal. So this this research reactor is really a research project on collecting data about how this advanced reactor will behave. And so if you look at how, most research what most research reactors is about 30 around the nation, what do they do? That’s research. Mostly, they use the reactor as a source of neutrons, and do research and use the reactor basically, as a neutron source. They’re not hooked up and making electricity. They’re not asking, you know, how can we get this thermal energy from fission on the grid? They’re really using it as a neutron source. This reactor not so much just a neutron source, because if you just want expose something, neutrons, whoa, go to University of Texas we already talked about they have a reactor doing that, or Texas a&m, MIT, Missouri, and the list goes on and on. But if if what what this reactor will do will will research how a reactor cooled with molten salt behaves? And so there’s some technical differences there. And we’re going to try to to make sure that models that we have that simulated and our expectations are matched, and therefore support licensing of a larger commercial Molten Salt Reactor. And so that’s really the research focus of this reactor not can we make thermal energy? And once we have thermal energy, can we convert it to electricity? And so that’s not something we have in our 100 million dollar budget.
Robert Bryce 12:44
I gotcha. So then the idea would be you prove up this technology and then you could scale it up to 50 megawatts, 100 megawatts, whatever that prescription is, but at one megawatt thermal in theory, if you were going to produce juice, you could produce maybe 300 300 kilowatts, right? Something like that, right? 300,000 Watts, or a third of the thermal output could be converted to electricity, if that was what you were aiming to do.
Rusty Towell 13:06
That’s right. And the one thing I’d say that’s a little different is because we have a high temperature operating reactor, theoretically, or practically, we probably could get closer to like 45% of that thermal energy converted to electricity, because we’re operating at higher temperatures. So again, instead of being about 30% 45, that’s, you know, this 50% increase in the electrical output from the same thermal out, but because we’re operating at higher temperatures, another advantage of this technology, right?
Robert Bryce 13:33
Well, so just for people who are listening, I think I understand this, and I’ll use the word enthalpic efficiency is an AI right there that that is the term of art. So if you have a higher outlet temperature, you can create supercritical steam, and therefore you at a higher temperature steam you you have better enthalpy coefficient, you’d convert more in thermal energy into electric energy. Is that do I have correctly? My terms? Correct. So what is that temperature that has returned? 700 c, what is that? What does that temperature?
Rusty Towell 14:02
Yeah, about 700? Maybe, maybe the output might be just underneath that 680 or something. But But somewhere around that, say 650 to 700 range. Okay.
Robert Bryce 14:14
So there could be a potential because I’ve talked with other people in the nuclear space. Brett Rand Paul, I talked to him he’s for the podcast, he’s talked about this issue of these reactors, New Generation Next Generation reactors. Yes, we can produce power but the one of the first opportunities may be for commercial heat, right. And that’s one of the things that’s interesting about x energy and Dow their deal. Because it sounds like Tao is saying, well, we want to use those molecules that gas to produce products. We don’t want to burn them to me make heat. So then would that be one of the potential let’s talk about markets then for this commercial? Molten Salt, the molten salt design? Are you any longer term I know you’re in the academic space, but in a tour is obviously thinking about commercial zation? Are they looking at the power market? Are they looking at the Petrochem refining market? Where would you know what their aims are? Yes,
Rusty Towell 15:07
we’ve we’ve hosted potential customers of this technology from several of them are very interested in the high temperature process heat. And for the exact applications, you’re talking about plus things, even as mundane as desalinating water producing synthetic fuels, the production of hydrogen etc, right? All those are more efficient at high temperatures. And so, if you can provide that, you know, 700 degrees centigrade type of process heat, then you can, you can avoid burning a lot of hydrocarbons.
Robert Bryce 15:41
Gotcha. So, talk to me about the molten salt design and what what is the, what is that fluid when you talk about Molten salt? And I’m asking this because I honestly don’t know, I mean, I’m follow the nuclear sector pretty closely. But when it comes to the different chemistries and how they actually work, I’m, you know, I’m a little out of my depth. So how does this work? I mean, if you can you just design, you know, talk us through what this loop instead of sending water to cool the machinery, you’re using a molten salt liquid? What does that what does that salt dissolved in it? What is the what are the you’re using uranium? How enriched is it? Talk us through talk to me about that, if you would?
Rusty Towell 16:18
Sure. So there’s, there’s really sort of two things that are technically different than the current deployed commercial reactors. And the first thing is that instead of circulating water through the core to remove the heat that’s generated in the core and take it to a steam generator, we’re using a different fluid. Okay, the problem with water and water is great, except that as soon as it gets up to 100 degrees centigrade, or 212 Fahrenheit, it doesn’t want to be a liquid anymore. And so it wants to become a steam. And now steam is not very good at moving thermal energy from point A to point B. And so to keep it as a liquid, we put it under very, very high pressure. And if you keep it under very high pressure, then you can keep it as a liquid. Well, the danger of having a high pressure system that if you ever have a leak, immediately wants to flash to steam, it gives us a lot of our driving safety factors or hazards. And so you think about what happened in Fukushima, the release of radioactive material was because the high pressure in the system and needing to release that pressure, you vent a little bit of the water off, it immediately becomes a steam and it wants to move up in the atmosphere and drift around the globe. And it’s a it’s a beautifully designed mechanism for distributing radioactive material around the globe, put radioactive material and high pressure water, a little leak and let it go. So
Robert Bryce 17:39
but you also have, but you also have the risk to the personnel on site on site, right? If you have a high leak of high pressure steam, they could get killed right on the spot.
Rusty Towell 17:47
Absolutely. The driving danger of these big commercial power plants is really the high pressure or exactly what you’re talking about. And, and to prevent against that we have very, very elaborate systems that have a very high cost. And so you have to have these huge containment domes, and things like that, that drive the cost up. And and all this is related to fact that your water wants to become a steam. So let’s not use water. So what are what are our choices for a fluid to circulate through there that are really good at moving, moving thermal energy from point A to point B, but never wants to become a vapor, and therefore we can operate at very, very low pressure. And so one fluid that’s really, really good at that is a salt. Now, when we think of salt on our table, right, sodium chloride, we always see it in a solid form. Well, that’s because it’s a room temperature. It turns out that sodium chloride, if you raise the temperature up above 800 degrees centigrade, it actually can melt and it becomes a liquid. And when salt becomes a liquid, we call it a molten salt. Now, we’re not going to use sodium chloride in our reactor, we’re actually going to use a mixture of different salts put together and the melting point is closer to 450 degrees centigrade.
Robert Bryce 18:52
And what are the what are those salts if you don’t mind, talk us through the texture.
Rusty Towell 18:55
So most people who think about using salts, either type of fluoride or chlorides, we’re talking about using fluoride salts. So a combination of lithium fluoride beryllium fluoride, uranium fluoride, which brings us to the second point, in addition to using our coolant being a molten salt. The other thing we’re doing is we’re dissolving the fuel the uranium fluoride in the salt. So getting your sugar dissolved in your coffee cup. It’s in there, but it’s all mixed out through it. So current technology we put uranium behind the metal cladding and fuel rods and fuel pins, right, we have this solid fuel rod. And the way we keep radioactive material away from people in the environment is we say that cladding around the fuel rod is the first barrier. And so as soon as that barrier becomes potentially nearing end of life, we take that fuel rod, and we call it instead of useful to us we call it waste or spent nuclear fuel right. And in that moment, we’ve turned In what it really is like 95% of the energy content, potentially, and we’ve thrown it into the waistband. And so traditional reactors use three to 5% of the energy content and then generate a lot of waste because 95% of waste is fuel that we’re just not using. I gotcha. And so if we, if we dissolve our uranium in molten salt, so we have a liquid fuel instead of solid fuel, and our barrier is the barrier around the salt. That’s what keeps the radioactive material from getting to the environment. Now it’s low pressure. So it’s not like it’s wanting to see if there, if there is a leak, it doesn’t spew into the air, it drips to the ground. So literally, you have a catch pan and drips to the ground. And as soon as it comes down to 400 degrees centigrade, it’s a solid, it’s not going anywhere. So by
Robert Bryce 20:52
May I just quickly interrupt because there are two things that are interesting. They’re about the cooling. And I’m just thinking about as you’re talking about this, this heat exchanger, you need this medium as a heat exchanger between the reactor and the steam generator, right be the way to move that out. So gas would be the other way to do that right to remove some of that heat, right, which is x energies design. And then just one other idea. Just I wanted to touch on this because my father in law is a chemist, and he’s walked me through many of these things. Even Paul Rasmussen, he’s Emeritus, chemistry professor at U of M. We were talking about this the other day, and he talked about beryllium. So I just want to get this on the table because he said, Yeah, okay, well, molten salt. That’s a good idea. But beryllium is of nasty substance, right, that you have to be very careful with highly toxic is, is he on the right track there? This is this is that’s a problematic ingredient in this mixture. Is that Is that a fair assessment?
Rusty Towell 21:42
Well, oh, so absolutely. Fluorine is a nasty thing, right? Chlorine is the thing, one of the beautiful things about salts is they’re very, very strongly bonded, right? And that’s sort of again that the chemistry of this that that prevents, why does the salt not want to become a vapor is because again, those ionic bonds are pretty strong. And so the the brilliant is a is a hazard by itself. And so we will treat it when we put brilliant salt in the reactor, we will be mindful of that and be careful of it. It’s one of these things that you can develop a sensitivity to. So in and of itself, beryllium is much less hazardous than, say fluorine or something like that.
Robert Bryce 22:24
But if they’re bound together that that risk is much less. That’s right. Okay, good. Well, I’m glad to just die. I had something I didn’t understand. And Paul Rasmussen my father in law just mentioned this the other day, so it was top of mind so I’ve interrupted you now but so you’ve got this mixture of lithium fluoride beryllium fluoride, uranium fluoride, working as this the cool the I’ll call it the heat exchanging mechanism right but the fuel is also the thing that is producing the heat right I’m the coolant is also producing the heat. I’m not getting ahead of the game here.
Rusty Towell 22:51
Well, yeah. So when it when the when the salt with the fuel embedded in it is in a configuration to sustain a constant chain reaction, nuclear chain reaction, then visions are going to occur and heat is going to be released. And we’re in the region designed to do that as the core. Okay, so it’s a special design place again, we get more technical, but most reactors you take a neutron when it when fission occurs, neutrons moving very quickly, at high speeds, and we call it a fast neutron has a lot of kinetic energy. And when it’s moving that fast, it’s very, very rarely will it ever be absorbed by another nucleus to cause fission. And so it so Most reactors, we have a moderator present and moderator is something that allows the neutron to bump into an exchange and lose some kinetic energy and after bumps into enough of them it’s moving very slowly. And when it’s slow moving neutron, we call it a thermal neutron. When it’s when it’s moving relatively slowly, there’s a very high probability that it gets absorbed by another fuel nucleus and fission occurs again. And so the, it’s actually it’s actually hard to have sustained fission in so so we have a very special shape, or most generally, it’s, it’s a roundish looking or a cylindrical looking core, and there has to be moderator present. And if you have all that right, then you can eventually get a sustained chain reaction. In reactor talk, we say the reactor goes critical, which just means it’s producing the same amount of heat each second, and that’s where it likes to operate. And so, when the fuel in the molten salt leaves the core and circulates through a pipe to a heat exchanger, right where maybe steam is produced for a steam generator to go turn a turbine, when the when the fuel leaves the core it no longer is in a configuration to go critical. And so, vision is not occurring in a sustained way anywhere except inside the core. And that’s the safety feature this also in that if you want to. If you want to shut down the reactor, you just drain the core and the fuel is drained out of the mouth. iterator and the critical configuration, so it’s impossible for it to go critical. So it’s, it’s, you never have to worry about what happens if the reactor goes critical or supercritical, and you can’t cool it because you just drain the fuel from the core, and it naturally will cool down and be safe. And it sort of drain tanks got inherent safety baked into this type of a reactor design. Well, and
Robert Bryce 25:24
that’s the key isn’t I mean, the, if we’re going to get this next generation of reactors on stream, they have to have these passive kind of safety features, right. And this is one of the the big barriers that’s been in place now for a long time. But let’s talk about getting this approved. Because now it’s just a few days ago, where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the design approval for new scales, light water design, which is the briefly the shrunken version of the existing light water reactors were using today. But it took new scales six years, they first applied it in 2017, took them six years to get this design approval for the reactor, which is very similar to the reactors we’re using now. And they had to pay on the order to the NRC on something on the order of $500 million, in addition to spending, what I understand estimates of $500 million themselves, 2 million pages of supporting documents 12,000 page application. And I’ve talked about this with many people, you know, other people, including Brett Rand Paul and about on this podcast about that hurdle itself being an almost impossible thing to overcome, for any kind of entity, whether it’s a research reactor. Anyway, it’s a very long introduction, Rusty to how do you overcome the NRC as a hurdle for this to make not just to get your approval of the construction permit, but then the design permit and then to then potentially bring this into the marketplace? So how do you see this? How do you see your entity and Tura and ACU overcoming the NRC roadblock, which is what I think is the pretty much the right answer? No, it isn’t for the right. Right description. Rather, forgive me.
Rusty Towell 27:06
Yes, I think that’s right. I think that’s an accurate description. When you look at the past and you say, how long is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission been in existence? And how many new reactors and how many advanced reactors and how many? How susceptible? Has that regulatory agency been to new ideas and innovation in the nuclear field, and I think roadblock is an accurate description. And so several things have happened. I think there has been legislation passed that says, hey, can we can we modernize this? Can we can we? Can we look at the there’s a cost of not licensing new reactors, right? We look here in our state of Texas, we know, when we had this huge freeze in February, a couple years ago, there was millions of people without power for many days, hundreds of people died. That’s the that’s a real cost of not having reliable power on the grid. And so there is a there is a there’s not just a risk of doing something, there’s a risk of what happens if we don’t do that. So. But how are we going to get through this? I think I think that the NRC is is changing and is working on this. They recognize this challenge, also, I believe, and they’re working on Abilene Christian University and material resources. We looked at this same roadblock, and we looked at new scale and other companies and said, what is their success? And are we just going to jump in and try to do the same thing? And, well, we don’t have a billion dollars to try to get a license to get started. And so one of the decisions we made early on is if Can we can we take a smaller step? Do we have to go straight to a commercial reactor? Or can we make it easier for the NRC to license us and what does that mean? Well, let’s start with a research reactor instead of commercial reactor. And so why is neuter resources sponsoring the construction of a research reactor at Abilene Christian University. It’s not the not that they’re more charitable, then, you know, other advanced reactor companies is that they looked at it and said, The best way to us to get to commercial deployment is to start with the Reese. We’ll start with the reactor that’s easier for the NRC to license. And so let’s make it a small, small power, which means we have less fuel loading, which means we have less radioactivity. So we’ve just lowered the bar for everything. And so, you know, we talk a lot of times about, you know, we’re not doing fast pitch baseball, we’re not even doing slow pitch softball, we’re, we’re trying to do T ball, right? We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for the NRC to approve what we’re doing. So we we went back and we’re building off of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment from Oak Ridge in the 60s and we’re we’re trying to do something very similar but we’re even making it simpler. We’re let’s go order magnitude lower power. Let’s not use high enriched uranium, let’s go to low enriched uranium. Let’s let’s, you know, where we can simplify it. Let’s do that. But that will give the NRC experience at licensing something that’s cooled by something other than water. So first time the NRC will is considered licensing a Molten Salt Reactor. And so we’re just trying to make a smallest step as possible.
Robert Bryce 30:26
I got you. So. Okay. Right. So, Rod Carew, made a great career hitting singles, right. So you’re, you’re not aiming for the homerun right away. You’re taking this intermediate step, but talk about the, you mentioned Oak Ridge. So this design this reactor design, I know several other companies have, are using designs that have been tested by the DoD in the past. You mentioned Oak Ridge. So this, this molten salt design was tested at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 60s.
Rusty Towell 30:53
Yes, so 1965 1969, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment MSRE operated, so four years of operation, so they got 1000s of hours, multiple fuels, a lot of good data and a lot of experience. Obviously, they didn’t have the sort of scientific instrumentation around it that we would have liked. And so you know, one, you know, you can argue, why are we building something 10 times smaller what they built in the 60s? Well, in the 60s, Oakridge didn’t have to go through the NRC. So going back to our discussion, can we get something licensed today? Right. And so that’s, that’s where we’re starting is a small step. But but
Robert Bryce 31:34
those documents are those documents easily. So I know the government generally keeps good records. So those design records for that reactor, they’re easily available you and are you using those as kind of your blueprint then for the design of this?
Rusty Towell 31:47
So in a lot of ways we are those are the documents are available, they’re out there publicly available, and you can you can get to them now, that doesn’t mean that every question you have, you can find the answers to even though there’s you know, 1000s and 1000s of pages of reports out there, there’s some things that, that they just didn’t have the instruments to monitor or they weren’t concerned with. And so there are things that we wish were documented or had been learned from that experiment that weren’t. And so there’s value in what we’re doing, I guess, in terms of, of the reactor we want to build, we will learn more than then we have current understanding of, but we’re certainly building off of that experience from 50 years ago, as much as possible.
Robert Bryce 32:28
So just curious to follow on that, because then you’re looking at those, assuming there’s some blueprints for the design of the thing itself, right, the reactor itself. So you’re handing those off to I’m assuming an engineering design firm and saying, Here, use these and then they’re working from those blueprints to an A in CAD or something else? I’m just curious how that what are the mechanics of that? Yeah. So
Rusty Towell 32:50
we’re not taking the 1960s reports and handing it to a engineering firm and say build is one of these. We have used that general design, you know, for example, a simple loop, right? The core, the soil goes through a pump through a heat exchanger back into the core, Oh, and there’s a drain tank beneath it, right. So that that concept we are using now we’ve modified it and tried to where we can take advantages of advances over the last 50 years or better ideas we’re trying to take take advantage of that. But at the same time where there could be uncertainties about the interaction. So our choice of salt and MODERATOR We’re taking from there. So we sort of mot we’re, do we know that fly? There’s lithium fluoride, brilliant fluoride, uranium fluoride will work in a reactor with graphite as a moderator. Yeah, we know that because they did it 50 years ago. Does that mean we’re given the dimensions? No, we’ve we’ve done our own calculations of what dimensions we need. Yeah, they line up and it looked very similar. But remember, we’re using different enriched uranium, right, we’re not using high enriched uranium, we’re not using some sort of military grade uranium, we want to use low enriched uranium in this reactor. And so that means we need to change the the neutronics are slightly different, we need to do some new calculations. And, and so we’ve done that, but we have taken our conceptual design. And last year, we partnered with Teledyne brown engineering and we gave them our conceptual design and said, can you advance this to a design where we can actually be prepared to step into a detailed engineering design? So that’s, that’s where we are in the in the design processes, as we we have a fairly well advanced design and conceptual levels, and we’re ready to take that and produce sort of construction drawings out of it.
Robert Bryce 34:40
I see. So you’re, you’ve got the conceptual designs, but you’re not you’re not drawing up the construction design or the actual, what those those blueprints for the what the reactor would look like, not quite yet, but you have an idea of what it would look like dimensions and so on.
Rusty Towell 34:54
That’s right. And okay, we’re, we’re in negotiation with engineering firms that to enter into A contract for them to do that detailed design. So we’re, we have a request for proposal that it’s out to many of the best engineering firms that are reviewing that and trying to give us their estimates of both time and dollars to work with us to generate that it’s a fairly
Robert Bryce 35:16
select group of vendors, though, wouldn’t it be? So you’ve got what? Sargent and Lundy, maybe or Bechtel or I know Sergeant Lundy does this kind of work? Who would be the other? I’m not asking you to? Well, I am asking you to who, whose How big is that universe of people of entities that could do this? If it doesn’t half a dozen firms?
Rusty Towell 35:37
Yeah, half a dozen. We’ve had serious conversations with half a dozen that are interested in working with us. And so the folks that you mentioned, united again, Teledyne brown engineering, Jacobs,
Robert Bryce 35:50
Bechtel. Well, Brian, rude I don’t think
Rusty Towell 35:56
Zachary. Engineering. Exactly. Nuclear. I also hear from Texas so. And yeah, I shouldn’t start list without him.
Robert Bryce 36:05
No, no, no problem. But you also said in one of the the the press release that Abilene Christian put out, sort of the NRC is able to approve this application within a year, which we talked about how that might happen that not next year should be well positioned to complete the Nurten detour, resources sponsored research reactor by 2025. And we’re two years away. You know, pardon my tone of skepticism, but it’s well earned. You know, I ran into the guys from new scale and Idaho National Labs or Idaho Falls. 10 years ago, I said blue sky for me, when are you gonna have this reactor online? They said, 2025. Now they’re saying 2032 Something is the 2025 timeframe. I mean, is that really doable? Rusty?
Rusty Towell 36:49
Yeah, well, so embedded in that quote was, hey, can the NRC review this construction within 12 months, so they they’ve accepted a document and said, We will review it, and we think it’s gonna take 18 months. So okay, already, I would say that. And listen, they don’t, she’s never licensed anything that quickly before. So if they do it, 18 months, this is better than ever done before, that I’m aware of. And so we, we were very aggressive and put forward a very aggressive schedule, both for us and for them. Likely, if again, if they perform, as they say they’re able to, then that’ll put us sort of six months behind of where we were when I made that statement. And, and remember, this is a two stage licensing process, we asked for a construction permit. And then once we get permission to build it, then we can start building it. But we didn’t have to give them an operating license. And the NRC has to review the operating license, say, can we actually turn it on? So it says two stage application process? And so when we get a construction permit, we’re just halfway there. And so we have to go through another review process. And so if that review process is another six months longer than what we planned, then all of a sudden, we’re a year. So it’s you it is it likely that 2025 doesn’t happen, and it’s really 2026, I would say 2026 is still a victory, and still a very, very aggressive schedule for any of these projects. We’re we’re in the process of trying to understand since we just learned this 18 month review period for the NRC just really a couple months ago, we’re trying to understand our schedule, is there a way that we can still talk 25 is really 26 the right number. So we’re we’re looking at that and trying to rebase line that. But you’re right, this is a very aggressive schedule.
Robert Bryce 38:36
So as I think about this, one guy who made has been made a lot of money, you have to understand where your risk are, where your risks are. So as I look at it, and I think about as you’re talking about you telling me this, you have technology risk, right on the on the reactor design itself, right, which some of that’s been derisk before with Oak Ridge, but you have made capital risk, well, you maybe you’re not borrowing the money, but you have a lot of capital, you’re gonna have to put up just to get on get onto the into the batter’s box. Right. But your is your regulatory risk, the biggest risk that you faced in terms of how you handicap and understand where your risks are, is the NRC, your biggest risk factor?
Rusty Towell 39:16
i That’s certainly one of one of the big ones, right. I mean, and you know, and as we knew that stepping in, and I will say, compared to where we were three years ago, I think that risk has decreased. I believe that the NRC has demonstrated a commitment to working with us. And they’re their 18 month review, commitment shows commitment for them to do something better than they’ve ever done before faster than ever done it before less than this talk time specifically. And so I think there’s there’s real improvement there. So while it’s still one of the big ones I’m more optimistic that there’s a path forward than I was three years ago when we started this project.
Robert Bryce 40:06
So, three years ago, you started to work 2023. So when you started in 2020, but and you’re still optimistic, I’m just gonna double check here after knowing it to new scale six years, but that’s a that’s a design permit that they got. Right. And you’re you you’re saying you, you only need the construction? Does you need the construction permit and the operating permit? You don’t need a design permit. Is that are you able to see those? You had to skip that step? Because it’s a research reactor?
Rusty Towell 40:34
That’s right. There’s there’s multiple licensing pathways. So if you really dig into the the laws that govern how the NRC is allowed to approve things, there’s there’s a couple different statutes
Robert Bryce 40:46
1010 CFR 5010 CFR 50 2am. I getting too wonky?
Rusty Towell 40:50
Yeah, you got you got all the right letters?
Robert Bryce 40:53
No, my federal code here.
Rusty Towell 40:56
You do. And, you know, it’s I don’t naturally speak code of federal regulation. But but there are these different paths, we’re going through the 50, the 10 CFR 50 path, which is sort of this construction operating license, the 52 is attractive to a lot of commercial plans. You know, again, you have a better understood and defined technology and repeat licensure of it, I think is a little bit easier. And, and I will talk more about that because I’m not an expert. As I already said, we’re going down the 50 path, which is this sort of give them a construction permit dinette gives you permission to build the reactor and then you have to submit an operating license and that is what gives you permission to essentially load fuel into that reactor and turn it on.
Robert Bryce 41:40
I gotcha. And I somewhat babble on Pascaline familiar with this because it TerraPower I believe is following the same 10 CFR 50 pathway for their nature M reactor in the one that they’re planning to build in Wyoming. And I heard crystal avec talk about this when the IAEA IAEA meeting in Washington back in. Was it October early November? I don’t remember now. But let’s talk about fuel. So you mentioned so we’re talking about fly, which is the acronym for lithium fluoride, beryllium uranium, I’m guessing here but so do you need to hate Liu hai assay low enriched uranium for this? And if so, where are you going to get it?
Rusty Towell 42:16
Yeah, so we’re using low enriched, not high and rich, but we are wanting to be real close to that borderline. Right. So that is a low enriched uranium or Hey, Lou, and where are we getting it from? So another advantage of being a university research reactor is that a long time ago back in the Atomic Energy Commission, the decision by the federal government was that we prefer universities not to be owners of enriched uranium, and have to worry about securing it and disposing of it. So the department energy stood up the research reactor infrastructure program. And so this is a program that provides fuel and then at the end of life, retains fuel from these university research reactors.
Robert Bryce 42:58
So so your vendor for the future would be the doe. That’s right. So I guess so. And just you said low enrich. So hey, Lou is what 15 to 20%? Enriched? Am I remembering correctly? So what is your enrichment level for India? Is it called Les Lu? Or just low enriched uranium? What is it?
Rusty Towell 43:16
We’re trying to get real close that 20? So 19.75, for example, right? So yes, we’re in the Hey, Lu range. So the you know, and everyone knows, or if you’re following the field at all, there’s a lot of concern about where we get this because we don’t have a domestic supply for this domestic commercial supply, or ayllu. We can enrich domestically, you know, the current licensing facilities get it up to three 5% or something like that. But if we’re trying to get to 19%, then where do we get that? Well, the department energy has a variety of sources of that fuel. Now that the request by vendors out exceeds the what’s currently available, and that’s why a lot of funding that was included in some of the recently passed legislation was for specific dollars to go to the department or D stand up this reserve of Isa low enriched uranium, we need a very small quantity compared to a bigger reactors, you know, the Terra powers are Kairos. And these other large x energy that are building larger reactors, what we need for a one megawatt reactor universities or tractors is a much smaller quantity of of uranium. And we’ve identified a few sources that are present in national labs and we’re working with department energy to understand it, but the so while the department Energy provides fuel for all the other research reactors in the country or at MIT, ut a&m, Missouri, all those they provide the fuel and in life, take it back. We’ve asked, Hey, will you do that for us also, and we actually asked that question before we started this project. So, in fact, there’s no use us going down this path, but we don’t have fuel. And the agreement was yes, we want to work with you. But you’re also asking for something we’ve never done before. So it’s going to take some collaboration. And so we’re working with department energy to secure and identify the source of the Hey, Lou, and then not only that, but how are we gonna get that? Hey, Lou, mixed in with the flies in this new fuel form? It’s not a solid fuel rod anymore. It’s a different fuel form. And how do you transport that fuel formula takes a different type of container and that has to be approved and vetted through the Department of Transportation. And so there’s a lot of a lot of things that have to happen to get the fuel to us. That’s a little different than what they’ve done before and debut in the department energy so we’re, we’re working with them and in conversations.
Robert Bryce 45:45
Well, that’s interesting, because now you’re bringing another wrinkle here. I hadn’t even thought about but so I’m check my checklist is right. So you got the NRC, you have to have them on board and fully cooperative, Department of Energy on board fully cooperative. And now the Department of Transportation fully on board and cooperative any other. I’m not I’m not gigging here. I’m just trying to make sure I understand. Are there other federal agencies that you’re going to have to have cooperation from on this?
Rusty Towell 46:08
Well, I mean, certainly EPA is going to have an environmental assessment or environmental review of what we’re doing. And so there was there was an EPA part of this, that because of the environmental impact, or potential environmental impact that they have to do a review of it. And so that’s another agency that will certainly be involved.
Robert Bryce 46:27
And that’s federal now we’re also going to have to talk then about because I’m just thinking out loud here, then you got Texas Department of Environmental Quality, right, Texas DEQ? I guess with Texas Department of Transportation, they would have some say in this as well, then and because of DOD do T’s are the federal the Department of Transportation to be involved. Is that what do you my impression is given what I know about Texas, is that the regulatory regime in Texas is not going to be as onerous as the federal things that you have to work out. But as a DC hurdles at the at the state level.
Rusty Towell 46:59
I mean, certainly. Certainly, there will be aspects of it in state and even local level, right? I mean, if you want to you as we traveled around big cities all the time. So yeah, hazardous cargo has to take this loop. Right. So right, yeah. materials through, you know, it’s gonna have some local impact and state impact. And going back to your original, or one of your earlier questions, what are your major, major concerns? Right? Obviously, NRC licensing is one of these big hurdles, department energy getting into the fuel, that’s a major hurdle. I think these transportation environment, etc. Those are things that have to be addressed. But I see those as lower risk and necessary, but probably not the same level.
Robert Bryce 47:40
Fair enough. That’s yeah, I’m glad you put it that way. Because, yeah, I would think, you know, as, as you’ve talked about it, that obviously, in our seas, you’re your primary hurdle. And then, you know, you heard that I’m sure the TerraPower said they were going to delay the rollout of the matram reactor because they couldn’t get Hey, Lou, and you have a lot of other companies or entities rather, that you’re competing with for a limited supply of hay Lou, at a time when the Russians are really one of the major suppliers of hay Lu. And if it is to be believed with the Russians, they’re going to be out of the game. So then you’re gonna have to rely on central synergy or some other outfit, the US company or if Canadians, someone else to provide the halo. So these are other things that are going to go into have to be overcome. But backup just for a minute, Rusty, so you, you you’re sorry, you got your doctorate in physics, what was your focus on your doctorate and now you’re a nuclear guy? How did how did that happen?
Rusty Towell 48:33
So my PhD is in nuclear physics and isn’t nuclear physics, okay, because it feels a little related. And I also was an instructor at the Navy’s Nuclear Power School. And so I have some experience with military or the Navy’s nuclear program. And so,
Robert Bryce 48:50
are you a former Navy guy too, or no? Yeah, yes. Okay. So you know, well, I think it’s worth noting because the electric power sector is just filthy with nuclear power, you know, Navy guys of all kinds nuclear, Navy guys, just power plant and the Navy turns out some of the top people in the in the electric sector and has been for decades. So that just so you were you were in the Navy and then went back to school to get a PhD in in nuclear physics, then is that was that your your pathway? That’s right. And are you from Abilene?
Rusty Towell 49:19
Yeah. So I grew up in Abilene High School, and I got my undergraduate engineering physics degree at Abilene Christian University. And then I went off the Navy taught the Navy’s Nuclear Power School and University of Texas for my PhD in Nuclear Physics and did some research at Fermilab had a postdoc at Los Alamos worked at Brookhaven National Lab before I came back here as a faculty member and been here for 22 years now.
Robert Bryce 49:43
Gotcha. So when you’re just have to ask so when you were in the Navy, you did you spend any time on ships are you are you we’re mainly in the in the educational part of the Navy.
Rusty Towell 49:50
So mainly the educational part. And for people that are you know, served long term like my father and others when they talk about sea time they measure it in years. Um, I can measure my seat time in hours. So I was there, but embarrassingly, it was, it was a short period of time.
Robert Bryce 50:07
Well, look, I’m not saying I don’t think it’s anything to be embarrassed. But I just I’m just curious because that was one of the one of my heroes in the nuclear war in the electric sector is Frank Sprague and I have a chapter about him in my book. And he was one of the people that we profile in juice in my documentary, and Sprague went to the Annapolis and he learned that he learned about the electric electricity in the Navy, and that that was one of the things that set him up for success when he later worked for Edison and then went out on his own and perfected the electric streetcar perfected the electric elevator. But I digress. So let’s talk about our cut for a few minutes. We’re coming up on about an hour, quick station break. My guest is rusty towel. He is the director of next lab and a professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at Abilene Christian university. You can find out more about him at acu.edu/index. That’s acu.edu/next. What about ERCOT? Do you see a pathway we’ve talked about other hurdles are caught is a complex market, I will take that with a I can say that with no fear of being contradicted. They’re rolling out this new thing called the performance credit mechanism, which the public utilities commission is saying, Well, this is going to help other you know, the stabilize the grid, etc. Do you see Have you followed this at all the ERCOT politics? And do you see the potentially molten salt reactors or other reactors being able to compete in the ERCOT? Market?
Rusty Towell 51:29
Yeah, so I think Gurkha kind of came on my radar screen. When we had a huge freeze two years ago, right? That’s when I learned that acronym and and who they were and what they’re doing. So I am no expert on the business management of that system. Yeah. What I’m very confident in is if you can bring a source of energy that’s reliable, safe, efficient, and at a price point that doesn’t require subsidies or mandates, but it can actually compete in the marketplace, at its own levelized cost electricity, that that if you bring that forward, it’ll be embraced and not only by our code, but I think by utility producers around the world.
Robert Bryce 52:15
Okay, well, I’m glad you brought that up. Because that brings to mind another question. And so what are you thinking you could produce? I mean, blue sky this for me, and I asked people in the nucleus Okay, blue sky this remember? Like I said, the new scale guys, when I saw him in Idaho, and Idaho Falls years ago, blue sky for him? What are you gonna have this deployed? So blue sky blue sky had for me, you get this design, you get the construction permit, you get the operating permit, you get the then the ability to potentially then to go commercial commercialize this, what, what could a Molten Salt Reactor, what could you be producing power for if, say you had 100 megawatt 50 megawatt reactor? And you can scale this up? How? What price point? Could you meet out on a kilowatt hour or megawatt hour basis? What have you have you done those numbers?
Rusty Towell 52:58
So we’ve looked at those numbers and just said, you know, what, what do we what’s possible. And really, you can just take a few factors, and compare it with current deployed nuclear. And what you find out is that we have a levelized cost of electricity comes in and slightly lower natural gas. Okay. And all we’ve done is we’ve taken credit for just a few things that we don’t need that huge dome over the top. So you take the levelized cost of electricity of current nuclear fleet, so heavily regulated, lot of safety features, your type of technology, and you say, let’s just strip away the 40% cost of that containment dome, right, that should no longer need. And then let’s say we don’t throw away 95% of our fuel into a waste stream, but we use 100% of our fuel. And we’re operating at higher temperature. So we get more electricity for the same our thermal energy. And we just consider those three factors. All of a sudden, it takes what is an expensive form of of electricity, current nuclear, and drops it down cheaper than natural gas.
Robert Bryce 54:05
So you’re saying then, well, I think I’m pretty familiar with these numbers that you could be producing power at 20 to $30 a megawatt hour. I mean, that would be competitive with net gas now, right where that gas is at $3. Right now, $3 per million Btus. So might be a little bit less than that, but 20 to $30 to even $40. And that would seem to be the sweet spot in the market. You’re saying you could meet that market? That that that price point?
Rusty Towell 54:30
That’s right. That’s what we believe in. Now, again, that’s an int of a kind, right? I mean, we’re not talking about the first commercial flight one a first time always has bigger expenses. And so we’re really talking about, you know, an end to the kind but we believe that that’s that’s, that’s possible.
Robert Bryce 54:47
And is there a sweet spot in terms of that design in the size of the of an SMR? We’ve put that acronym out there small modular reactor in terms of the marketplace. I know you’re more on the Fit Physics in the academic side is in the commercial side. But once you scale this up, are you thinking of 30 megawatt reactor? 50 megawatt? What is that? What what size of the mark of deployable reactor are you thinking would find purchase in the marketplace?
Rusty Towell 55:14
So, so we’ve looked at what is deployable in a small modular reactor form. So what could you mass produce in a factory and then put on a bed of a flatbed truck and deploy? And the thought there is we could probably do something up to about 250 megawatts thermal, you know, when an order of 100 megawatts Electric is being sort of the sweet spot for a tourist first sort of commercial deployment? And, and so we’ve looked at that deployment scenario. And as we’ve talked to different potential vendors, right, so electricity producers, but also users of that, that thermal energy, they say, yeah, that’s useful, right. And if if we’re a large plant, and we need to have these sort of modules, great, we’ll invest in two modules. And that will get us, you know, 500 megawatts of thermal energy or 200 megawatts of electricity, or, you know, and a lot of applications that allows us to do both. You can imagine a scenario where you deploy, and you both desalinate water and produce electricity. When there’s demand for electricity, you produce a lot of electricity. But when you’re off peak, you run the power plant at full power, but you produce less electricity, but you start desalinating a lot of water. And water is easy to store pure water for use later. And so that that allows you to to operate the reactor the way like sort of constant power, but also meet the changing electricity needs.
Robert Bryce 56:40
Gotcha. Well, that’s interesting, because you know, that this is one of the big debate now in the SMR. Worlds, what’s the right size? How soon can we get it deployed? What is going to cost? What are the hurdles? You know, and there’s, there’s so many different pieces in play here. But is, is that the cost of natural gas that you’re competing them with fundamentally in the US market? I mean, it’s different in Europe. And we’re going to talk about $3 Gas today at Henry Hub versus I haven’t checked today, but to TTFN, probably at 15, or 20, something like that. Is the cost of gas going to be the is that going to be the competition, you mentioned that right that we think we can produce, you think you can produce power for less than the cost of gas. So that’s your real benchmark that you have to meet Is that a fair?
Rusty Towell 57:23
Material resources talks about sustainable energy and sustainable energy for them is, is not only environmentally friendly, what comes to mind a lot of times which which it is but also it surprised the marketplace without this mandates or subsidies. Right? Right. So we’re allowed to if it’s just a flat open market with its level playing field, you know, if you want to deploy, you know, to where there’s real growth need for electricity in third world countries where they need energy to really raise the standard of living, if you want to deploy into those parts of the world, you’re not going to deploy something, if it’s if it’s financially unaffordable to them, you have to be able to compete and be relevant, and we believe we can, because the technology is right, that the inherent safety allows you to build it in such a way that you don’t have to invest, you know, so much in these multiple containment domes for when something goes wrong. Because you don’t have to, that’s never going to happen. It’s impossible for us to spew gas up in the atmosphere if our we have no water involved with the plant.
Robert Bryce 58:30
Sure. Well, good. Well, so we’re getting on to an hour here, Rusty. So I’m going to bring us to an end here pretty quickly. The same questions I asked all my guests, what are you reading what’s on the top of your book, book pile these days?
Rusty Towell 58:45
So my number one go to book is the Bible when I don’t do a lot of reading, but that’s my number one go to and so I’ll, I’ll say that’s what I’ve been in daily for last few days.
Robert Bryce 58:55
Okay, well, that’s an old reliable, though no problem with that. Authors are well known as some of them, well known, some of them unknown. Then what gives you hope? That’s the other question that I always put to my guests. And I was intrigued by their answers. What gives you hope?
Rusty Towell 59:12
Well, I think this project gives me hope. And, and the ability for this project to really address world needs and make the world a better place. I mean, it just, for me, I. Prior to working on this project, I did a lot of basic research and national labs, a lot of fun questions, you know, I mean, I did my dissertation on the anti core content and nucleon, right. I mean, I’m sure that’s riveting to you, and you’re excited to hear about that someday, but
Robert Bryce 59:40
sorry, the anti core community Forgive me What is What did you say?
Rusty Towell 59:44
Well, how many anti op versus anti down quarks are there in a proton? And that’s sort of what he’s getting.
Robert Bryce 59:50
I answered. I don’t know. But anyway, yeah. And and,
Rusty Towell 59:53
you know, more importantly, do you care or, you know, but it was it was basic research, right? It was just undescribed Free, it’s always neat to learn about the world. But, but it’s even, it’s a better feeling when you feel when you know, what I’m doing is going to make the world a better place. And, you know, in here at Abilene Christian University where we have young students coming in and just starting their, their, their, their choosing a professional career, and by getting a degree in the field day one, when they when they see how they can tie a chemistry degree in to making the world a better place or an engineering degree and make the world a better place or physics or computer science or mathematics or whatever. But when they can see the purpose of how they can they can do it, then they come into the job with an additional passion that they don’t have otherwise, you know, seeing that passion excitement, of course, that that gives me hope. And and so I’m, I’m optimistic that that we’re heading the right direction and the NRC and DOE and all these other factors will get in line and this will be the reality.
Robert Bryce 1:00:58
Well, that’s good place to stop. So we’ll stop there. My guest has been rusty towel. He’s the director of the next lab and professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at Abilene Christian university. You can find out more about their project which is the they’ve applied for the first construction licensed for a research reactor of any kind in the United States in more than 30 years. And they are in Abilene, Texas. You can find out more about them at acu.edu/next Rusty thanks for coming on the power hungry podcasts been very interesting. Thanks.
Rusty Towell 1:01:28
Thank you so much for the invitation. And all you out there in podcast
Robert Bryce 1:01:31
land tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast might be as good as this one. Until then, see you