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Providing a fundamental understanding of molten salt bulk and interfacial chemistry underpinning molten salt nuclear reactor technology

Addressing Energy Research Challenges

MSEE and Basic Research Needs Priority Research Directions

MSEE addresses three of the priority research directions (PRDs) identified in the report of the 2017 DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences workshop on Basic Research Needs for Future Nuclear Energy (PDF).


“Enable design of revolutionary molten salt coolants and liquid fuels”, is directly addressed by the atomic-scale experimental and theoretical studies on the structure and dynamics of molten salts, solute speciation and radiation-induced reactivity performed in Thrust 1.


“Tailor interfaces to control the impact of nuclear environments”, is addressed by the atomic-scale investigations into molten salt/solid interfacial structure and dynamics and their impacts on radiolysis and corrosion processes performed in Thrust 2.


"Reveal multiscale evolution of spatial and temporal processes for coupled extreme environments”, is addressed by the multi-modal imaging studies of corrosion on multiple length scales and the bulk and interfacial radiolysis studies under the combined extreme environments of high temperature and radiation (Thrusts 1 and 2).

MSEE and the Grand Challenges

MSEE addresses three “grand challenges” defined in the 2007 DOE Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) report Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the Imagination (PDF).

It addresses the question “How do we control material processes at the level of electrons?” because it is concerned with oxidation and reduction processes that control the speciation of dissolved fuel and fission products in molten salts (Thrust 1), reactivity induced by energetic excess electrons and holes produced by radiolysis in the bulk and at interfaces (Thrusts 1 and 2), and redox processes that occur during corrosion of reactor materials (Thrust 2).

It addresses the question “How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from complex correlations of the atomic or electronic constituents and how can we control these properties?” because molten salts are complex materials that arise from the combination of simple ionic components. Due to their Coulombic nature, molten salts have distinct structural and dynamical correlations unlike those of neutral molecular liquids, which have consequences for chemical reactivity and material transport (Thrust 1), and these correlations go into overdrive at interfaces (Thrust 2). Understanding the bulk and interfacial structure of molten salts is an integral part of our research.

Finally, MSEE addresses the question “How do we characterize and control matter away – especially very far away – from equilibrium?” because one of our key interests is to understand the behavior of many energetic and reactive products produced in radiation environments typical of molten salt reactors (Thrusts 1 and 2).

MSEE and the Transformative Opportunities

MSEE embodies three “transformative opportunities” defined in the 2015 DOE BESAC report Challenges at the Frontiers of Matter and Energy: Transformative Opportunities for Discovery Science. (PDF)

The opportunity titled “Mastering Hierarchical Architectures and Beyond-Equilibrium Matter” is embodied by our investigations of the complex structure of molten salts in the bulk and at interfaces, coupled with the highly reactive species generated by radiolysis in those environments (Thrusts 1 and 2).

The opportunity titled “Beyond Ideal Materials and Systems: Understanding the Critical Roles of Heterogeneity, Interfaces, and Disorder” is addressed by our studies of interfacial reactivity and corrosion of increasingly complex materials (Thrust 2).

The opportunity titled “Exploiting Transformative Advances in Imaging Capabilities across Multiple Scales” is embodied by using exceptional imaging capabilities such as simultaneous Computed Tomography, Differential Phase Contrast and X-Ray Fluorescence at National Synchrotron Light Source II (Thrust 2).