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ACU leads collaboration with Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Texas on nuclear project



Photo by: Jeremy Enlow

ABILENE – The NEXT Lab at Abilene Christian University, in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin, has launched a consortium with a goal to build a university-based molten salt research and test reactor.

NEXT stands for Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing. ACU students and faculty from several academic departments are working together to research the use of molten salt, rather than water, as a coolant for reactors.

The reactor will advance the NEXT Lab’s mission which is to provide solutions to the world’s need for safer and less expensive energy, pure and abundant water, and medical isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer by advancing the technology of molten salt reactors while educating the next generation of leaders in nuclear science and engineering.

Most salts, including ordinary table salt, melt at high temperatures and become a liquid that looks and acts much like water. However, molten salts do not boil until they reach extremely high temperatures, making them excellent heat-transfer fluids for use as a coolant for reactors. NEXT’s research over the past three years has centered on developing the tools and expertise to melt, circulate and study salt at high temperatures. These advances have enabled it to be well prepared to collaborate with scientists and engineers from other institutions in developing a plan to build the first university research reactor to be cooled with molten salt.

“The ACU-led construction of a research reactor will establish the NEXT Lab as the world leader in molten salt reactor research,” said Dr. Rusty Towell, professor of engineering and physics at ACU and director of the lab. “This gives our students an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to world-changing technology.”

The NEXT Lab and its molten salt test loop are housed in the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium on the ACU campus.

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