ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene Christian University (ACU) Next research lab submitted an application for a construction permit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Monday in hopes to be approved for a molten salt research reactor.

This would be the first molten salt reactor in the Western Hemisphere since the 1960’s. Dr. Rusty Towell, Director of the Next Lab, said research reactors are not anything new. However, ACU’s technology would be since they’ve updated their requirements.

“All the sudden, ACU is a very attractive place to go to school if you want to be an engineer or a physicist or a nuclear chemist because we will have a unique research tool, unique in the world,” said Towell. “We want to build a research reactor on ACU campus, but using new technology. Specifically molten salt as the coolant.”

The liquid salt will be mixed with uranium – one acting as a coolant and the other as fuel. These two elements together would then go on to create energy.

Tim Head, Next Lab’s Assistant Director, said using molten salt instead of water will allow operations at higher temperatures, and if there were to be a spill, clean up would be easy and not harmful.

“If there were something to go wrong, instead of sprouting a leak that sprays isotopes all over the place, it just drips on the floor and freezes. And is a mess that you can clean up,” said Head.

The purpose of the research that will be gathered from this reactor will go on to showcase the tremendous amounts of clean energy that reactors like this one can create.

“We want an energy source that’s clean, affordable, safe, but also reliable. We learned last year in February that if we don’t have reliable energy, energy that’s deplorable on demand, 24/7, then when we need it most, it might go offline,” said Head.

And it’s not just energy these reactors can create, but also medical isotopes that help diagnose and treat cancer. Domestically, the U.S.’ production of these isotopes is virtually none.

“So to treat cancer, to diagnose and treat cancer, were going to produce those medical isotopes. The most commonly used medical isotope molybdenum 99, and none of it is produced in the United States,” said Head.

Because of this, the isotopes must be flown in from other countries – upping the costs and decreasing the isotope’s lifespan.  

Next Lab is hoping to be approved and “active” by 2025. The overall goal is to raise awareness of the energy that is created through nuclear energy.