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A New Design for Nuclear Plants: The Pebble Bed Reactor

New nuclear power reactor designs could help ease concerns over the safety of nuclear power generation. One new design called the "pebble bed reactor" differs in several ways from the current generation of reactors. First is the form of the fuel. The uranium is encased in small graphite spheres about the size of a pool ball, instead of the long rods of fuel used now. Experts believe this new design is a safer way to contain the fuel. Other design changes include using helium instead of water as a coolant and as a more efficient way to transfer energy.

The design of the pebble bed reactor is more flexible than current designs because it is modular — it is built from several parts that can be joined together. Smaller units mean more can be joined together in order to increase the power of a plant as needed. Current reactors don’t have that kind of flexibility. Designers of this new reactor believe it will be safer, more efficient and more flexible than current designs. Will this new design impact public perception of nuclear power?