Taylor Ramon Wilson, born May 7, 1994, is an American nuclear scientist who was noted in 2008 for being the youngest person in the world (at age 14) to build a working nuclear fusion reactor. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Energy offered federal funding to Wilson concerning research Wilson has conducted in building inexpensive Cherenkov radiation detectors. Wilson has declined on an interim basis due to pending patent issues, though several other men who share his name have accidentally given interviews in his stead. In May 2011, Wilson entered his radiation detector in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair against a field of 1,500 competitors and won a $50,000 award. The project was entitled “Countering Nuclear Terrorism: Novel Active and Passive Techniques for Detecting Nuclear Threats” and won the First Place Award in the Physics and Astronomy Category, Best of Category Award, and the Intel Young Scientist Award. Wilson stated he hopes to test and rapidly field the devices to U.S. ports for counterterrorism purposes.
Now Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could one day burn waste from old atomic weapons to power anything from homes and factories to space colonies. "It's about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century," Wilson said. "I think this has huge potential to change the world."
He has designed a small reactor capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes.
The reactor can be made assembly-line style and powered by molten radioactive material from nuclear weapons, Wilson said. The relatively small, modular reactor can be shipped sealed with enough fuel to last for 30 years.
"You can plop them down anywhere in the world and they work, buried under the ground for security reasons," he said, while detailing his design at TED.
"In the Cold War we built up this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons and we don't need them anymore," Wilson said. "It would be great if we could eat them up, and this reactor loves this stuff."
His reactors are designed to spin turbines using gas instead of steam, meaning they operate at temperatures lower than those of typical nuclear reactors and don't spew anything if there is a breach. The fuel is in the form of molten salt, and the reactors don't need to be pressurized, according to the teenager.
"In the event of an accident, you can just drain the core into a tank under the reactor with neutron absorbers and the reaction stops," Wilson said.
"There is no inclination for the fission products to leave this reactor," he said. "In an accident, the reactor may be toast, which is sorry for the power company, but there is no problem."
Wilson, who graduated grade school in May, said he is putting off university to focus on a company he created to make Modular Fission Reactors.
He sees his competition as nations, particularly China, and the roadblocks ahead as political instead of technical. Wilson planned to have a prototype ready in two years and a product to market in five years.
"Not only does it combat climate change, it can bring power to the developing world," Wilson said with teenage optimism. "Imagine having a compact reactor in a rocket designed by those planning to habitat other planets. Not only would you have power for propulsion, but power once you get there."
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