Matthew Riss

Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

Faculty Advisor: Amy Hixon

Synthesis, Characterization, and Thermodynamic Properties of a Suite of Thorium Nitrate Salts

As far as energy production goes, nuclear energy has and continues to be a hot topic. Past meltdowns and failures, such as the catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 have caused public opinion to, in some cases, turn against nuclear energy. Despite this, nuclear energy continues to account for a significant amount of the world’s energy production, and likely will contribute to more of that energy production in the future as fossil fuels dwindle. In the past I have done research into different kinds of nuclear reactors, i.e. those not using uranium. I found that, although uranium reactors are predominant in nuclear energy, another, possible more sustainable option involves using thorium. Thorium salt reactors utilize molten salt to either cool or fuel the reactor, which brings along specific advantages. For example, not having to rely on water for cooling can be an advantage, as this factor (i.e. using water to cool) was a factor leading to the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.  My research project would involve the characterization of different thorium nitrate salts. The main goal is to explore how different alkali cations affect the thermodynamics of thorium salt compounds. In this project, different thorium nitrate salts would be synthesized then characterized using a variety of techniques, including X-ray diffraction, thermogravimetric analysis, and calorimetry. Hopefully, the characterization of these salts would provide useful links or information that allows for conclusions to be made regarding the efficacy of these salts in the nuclear fuel cycle. Overall, exploring the thermodynamic properties of neglected thorium compounds will have significant consequences with respect to energy and nuclear energy specifically.