What if we could design and build a nuclear reactor :
- That uses no water and so can’t have high pressure steam or hydrogen explosions,
- With fuel that can’t have a nuclear melt down, or melt through the reactor walls,
- That fissions over 99% of its fuel, so there’s no waste needing storage for hundreds of thousands of years,
- and some designs can consume spent nuclear fuel from other reactors?
Well, we’ve already built one, and we ran it for 5 years! (But you probably never heard about it…)
What Is A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor?
A Molten Salt Reactor, such as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR, pronounced “lifter”) produces energy using a liquid (molten) nuclear fuel, not a solid fuel. MSRs also use a coolant that remains liquid at atmospheric pressure.
LFTRs are designed to convert Thorium (Th-232), an inexpensive and abundant material, into Uranium-233 which can then undergo nuclear fission. Other types of MSR can use spent uranium, depleted uranium, or plutonium, eliminating nuclear waste from solid-fueled reactors.
With liquid fuel and atmospheric pressures, MSRs solve the safety and waste disposal problems our current (1970’s design) Light Water Reactors (LWR) have.
With all the attention lately on nuclear waste, nuclear accidents like Fukushima, and producing energy without CO2 that increases climate change, we need to look at nuclear energy that is not from our current type of reactors.
Most safety concerns of LWRs are from using water coolant; MSR is a molten salt reactor (uses a special salt as coolant). The salt remains liquid at extremely high temperatures, there is reactor temperature can get high enough to boil the coolant. The fuel and coolant remain strongly chemically bound, don’t dissolve in water, can’t be carried by air, can’t enter the water supply or food supply.
All the nuclear waste problems of LWRs are from using solid fuel (less than 2% of the fuel gets used); MSR uses molten fuel, so can consume well over 99% of the fuel leaving only short-term waste.
With a reactor design that is inherently safer, the expensive “engineered in depth” safety equipment of LWRs is not needed, making MSR smaller and dramatically less expensive than LWRs. Molten Salt Reactors can be assembled in factories, much like large ships are built in ship yards, with modern quality control and sensors. There is minimal on-site construction beyond the building the reactor and operators would be in.
We abandoned MSRs in the 1970s (we decided to go with the liquid-metal-cooled fast breeder reactor (LMFBR) which produced reactor fuel faster). We later dropped the LMFBR due to proliferation concerns and reactor control issues.
We never came back to MSR, mainly from political inertia. We got the type of nuclear reactor the fossil fuel “energy experts” convinced the USA Congress to go with, the type that wouldn’t destroy the fossil fuel industries. Now, reducing CO2 production is so important we’re looking at nuclear power with renewed interest.
A demonstration Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) was developed at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the early 1960s and ran for a total of 22,000 hours between 1965 and 1969.
Alvin Weinberg, who ran Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) while the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment was conducted, was also the original inventor of the Pressurized-Water Reactor PWR used today (got the patent in 1947).
Of the Generation-IV reactors being developed, only the MSR has been built and operated. Some Generation-IV reactors are being built, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor .
FLiBe Energy in the USA is working on the engineering to bring a full LFTR into production (an MSR with a Thorium “blanket” to convert Thorium to Uranium fuel).
Others in several countries are building Molten Salt Reactors. Thorcon is designing MSR building-and-shipping factories, with experience building shipyards.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences has MSR plans — in 2010 they visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Chinese New Year in 2011 they announced they would be starting a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor program (and patenting every advance they make).
MSR modeling and design work is also being done in other countries, incl. Canada, France, Czech Republic.
Liquid: The fuel is molten Uranium in a molten salt, circulating continuously through the reactor, for over 99% fuel burnup, and easy processing of fission byproducts.
Fluoride or Chloride: The salt used in many MSR is made of Fluoride, Lithium and Beryllium, (or similar salts), or Chloride salts. These salts are very chemically stable, have a very high boiling point (for example FLiBe is liquid from ~400° to ~1400° C), and essentially impervious to radiation damage. The high heat capacity of fluoride salts lets a MSR operate safely at temperatures much higher than water-cooled reactors (1000° vs. 350° C) for more efficient electric generation and industrial use. Most fission byproducts chemically bond with the salt.
Thorium: If a MSR uses thorium, it is a plentiful metal, probably a couple of grams in your yard. Among the least radioactive elements, commonly discarded as waste from Rare Earth mines. The reactor converts Thorium to Uranium for fuel.
Reactor: MSRs fission uranium to produce heat. All MSRs are extremely resistant to nuclear proliferation (from mining to disposal) and produce only a very small amount of short-lived, low toxicity waste which is radioactivity-wise completely benign within 350 years.
MSRs run at approximately atmospheric pressure, or “garden hose” pressure, so they will have less expensive construction than LWR, and be much less expensive to operate. Passive safety features handle emergencies, even if no water or power is available, without needing operator intervention.
Molten Salt Reactors operate at much higher temperatures than LWR can, yet the fuel temperature never can exceed the temperature the materials can withstand. (In LWR, the temperatures inside the fuel pellets is always higher than the materials can withstand, if cooling fails.)
Thank you for collecting and logically presenting this information on MSRs utilizing the thorium fuel cycle and specifically the LFTR approach. There’s no question in my mind that the MSR is the path forward with regards to abundant and clean power. Under your list of benefits you might want to add a section on the MSR’s ability to produce medically important radioactive isotopes. Check the Thorium Remix 2011 YouTube presentation for the relevant information.
Consequences of The Path Not Taken ..
You knew ..
You knew at the very beginning .. You knew 50 years ago ..
You knew the correct development path for civilian nuclear power reactors but chose instead to optimize nuclear fuel cycles for the production of weapons grade materials .. Alvin Weinberg knew ( Inventor of the Pressure Water Reactor ( PWR ) and former head of Oak Ridge National Laboratory ( ORNL ) Glenn Seaborg knew ( Discoverer of Plutonium and seven additional heavy elements, former Director of The Atomic energy Commission ( AEC ) .. Eugene Wigner knew ( Developed the Aqueous Homogenous Reactor ( AHR ) .. Edward Teller knew ( Principal developer of the Hydrogen or fusion bomb ).
And Yet ..
The unfortunate legacy of that singular decision is the world we find ourselves in now. Not a world powered by abundant, cheap, and safe Molten Salt Breeder Reactors based on the Thorium fuel cycle; but rather a world characterized by resource wars for the control of finite fossil fuels ( Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan ), fears of nuclear “accidents” ( Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima ), fears of nuclear proliferation ( North Korea, Pakistan, Iran ). The problems associated with the long term storage and security of highly radioactive partially burned nuclear fuel rod assemblies. Having to deal with the consequences of Global Climate Change caused in part by our over reliance and over deployment of CO2 emitting coal fired power plants.
You knew ..
Jim Scanlon aka “Triffin”
I do have a little info on the medical radioisotopes LFTR produces, at Useful LFTR Fission By-Products, for Industry and Medicine. Very exciting to know we could have very targeted cancer therapies.
I don’t think “plutonium for bombs” was a direct major factor in not getting molten salt reactors. The direct factor was making nuclear bombs got top scientists knowledgeable about plutonium and solid fuels; those scientists then used what they were knowledgeable about for building nuclear reactors. They knew solid fuels, they knew water, they knew steel and using steel to contain pressure, they didn’t know nuclear power would work they needed to take it from theoretical to actual. They did know that water cooled solid fuel might not be the best approach, but it was the best approach to Get Started and verify nuclear power is possible, and learn what works and what doesn’t work, and then find the best solution. (See Kirk Sorensen – The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn’t This Happen (and why is now the right time?))
Plutonium in a fast-spectrum reactor has advantages in the likelihood of the atom fissioning instead of absorbing a neutron, and advantages in the number of neutrons produced per fission to breed more fuel, over uranium. Remember, uranium was thought to be much more scarce in the 1950s and 1960s than it is today, especially thinking we’d have thousands of reactors by now; best breeding was a major factor in picking U238 to plutonium in a fast breeder reactor, over uranium in a molten salt reactor.
So, maybe the “conspiracy” wasn’t “plutonium for bombs”. The AEC recommendation in 1962 to switch to other reactors (the plutonium fast breeder and the molten salt reactor were recommended) didn’t consider how much money and power the LWR industry and NRC would get by making tons of nuclear waste, and by making fear of nuclear waste and nuclear power. If we had Molten Salt Reactors supplying all our electricity and gasoline, the coal industry would be all-but-extinct; they benefit by making fear of nuclear power, and by making sure nuclear power never becomes safer or more efficient or lower cost.
I note from various Thorium conferences that there seems to be a band of “Thorium enthusiasts”, almost like a religious cult, that propose Thorium to be the answer to the World’s energy problems (“the golden bullet”). The reality is somewhat different. LFTR are potentially hazardous in operation, just like contemporary nukes, but perhaps less prone to catastrophic accidents of the type like Fukushima, Harrisburg and Cherbobyl. [No, Fukushima and Harrisburg are water-based accidents, impossible in MSR. Chernobyl was a modified plutonium-production reactor, with a “positive void coefficient of reactivity” (steam bubbles could send it out of control at any time); MSR has inherently stable fission rate.] However, there are many analysts who say that Thorium LFTR and similar cannot come on stream fast enough to help against anthropogenic climate change, “peak oil” and similar. There is a lot of longterm development required to interrate a commercial design of LFTR. [Did you find out how many person-years work those analysts estimated? Scientists and engineers would only give time estimates for a specific number of people and specific budget. A well-funded company given a regulatory green light could have a factory producing 200MW MSR in well under 5 years, there are no technical hurdles just good design work.]
My submission is that coping with the present insane stockpiles of nuclear waste from conventional nukes needs immediate attention as these represent a severe contemporary biological hazard and considerable expense in the future, regarding building suitable longterm repositories. MSR and Thorium LFTR may enable this waste to be rapidly transmuted into materials which are less radiotoxic. This is a very pressing immediate issue.
However, the World is presently dictated by the love of money (Wall Street moto: “Greed is Good !”), such that Bilderberg and others do not care about the Earth’s environment, only the economic bottom line? It is thus likely to be that investment to develop MSR and LFTR is likely to come very slowly and reluctantly from the financial gurus of Wall Street and Bilderberg. Thorium is a dream, like a religious cult, and will need some divine intervention to make things happen quickly in reality !
You say “LFTR are potentially hazardous in operation, just like contemporary nukes, but perhaps less prone to catastrophic accidents of the type like Fukushima, Harrisburg and Cherbobyl”. No, Molten Salt Reactors can not possibly have out of control fission (positive void coefficient of reactivity) like Chernobyl; neither can LWR. MSR has far more stable fission rate than LWR, regulated by the thermal expansion/contraction of the fuel salt; the 1960s Molten Salt Reactor Experiment demonstrated highly stable even during startup, shutdown, adding fuel, etc. And MSR can not have a loss of coolant accident like Fukushima, the coolant never gets close to boiling temperature, the molten fuel is strongly chemically bound to the molten salt coolant. Unlike the materials of LWR, the materials of MSR can handle higher temperatures than the hottest the fuel can get.
The only ways molten salt reactors can fail that might be a “catastrophic accident” that I can think of is a large bomb exploding, which would then require collecting the solid salt, radioactive but not going to move in wind or water; easier to clean up than an oil pipe bursting. Remember, most of the radioactive material released in LWR accidents are a) gasses, that in MSR are frequently or continuously stored or b) elements that in MSR are strongly chemically bound to the salt. MSR can operate underground, the bomb would ruin the reactor but everything would be contained under 10 meters packed earth.
“Thorium LFTR and similar cannot come on stream fast enough to help against anthropogenic climate change, “peak oil” and similar” —
Read the estimates more carefully. Scientists always say with this many people and this budget, we estimate __ years. Most of the materials testing and equipment design can be done at the same time if there are more people working. A small group in the 1960s, part of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, using slide rules and pencils, went from initial idea to design to materials testing to functioning reactor in 5 years. We could have a production reactor in 5 years, with superior safety/testing/monitoring/reporting, and a factory 1 year later (any changes needed can be incorporated in the factory quickly, just like the automobile and aerospace industries do), given enough funding.
We need wind, solar, tidal, and advanced nuclear as fast as possible, to lessen the effects of climate change. To reverse ocean acidification (CO2 + water makes acid that dissolves plankton cell walls and other microscopic shells), hopefully in time to avoid mass extinction, we need industrial heat roughly the current annual energy use of the planet for 10 years; only modern, high-temperature, efficient nuclear power has any chance of being ramped up to that scale fast enough. (Plus, MSR would be about 1/10 the cost of wind + solar + solar thermal + offshore wind + wave + tidal — what an in-depth study for California says would supply all CA needs without oil/coal/NG/LWR, and CA has that huge coastline and sunny deserts, not including the cost of rebuilding our electric power grid for long-distance wind/wave/solar energy transmission.)
Thorium (in Molten Salt Reactors) is not a dream, simply an engineering and manufacturing project, not even one of the largest we’ve done.
Your assertion is without foundation, as a Thorium LFTR has not been built since ORNL.
If you really want to see the devastation caused by nuclear technology, please visit the news aggregator http://www.enenews.com regarding Fukushima.[enenews gathers, they don’t discern whether something is sensible or factual or realistic; they present any gossip, mistaken “facts”, lies, from anywhere on the Internet. You really think something is true because you found it there? — George]
LFTR have many potential failure modes:
(i) melt plug and pipe to dump tank can become blocked; [Of course, but so what? No release of radiation, no change in fission rate, fix it and move on. George]
(ii) leaks can occur due to unexpected fracture due to neutron embrittlement or undetected corrosion; [Of course leaks can occur. The leaked salt will cool and harden, we clean it up; we fix the pipe. No high pressure, no water, no way to carry anything away from the site. Neutron embrittlement is only in the reactor core (not even out to the reactor vessel), we know how long that would take for a specific reactor design, normal maintenance, not a risk of accident or failure.]
(iii) if continuous chemical processing is used, chemicals such as Fluorine, Hydrofluoric acid and similar are used; this could result in an explosion in the continuous chemical plant; [Right, so we should check safety procedures are followed. We detect leaks of these before an explosion occurs; this is known in many industries. There are far larger chemical plants, with much worse safety records than any nuclear reactor.]
(iv) for terrorist organisations, it is fairly easy to modify the continuous chemical reprocessing and change the fuel mixture to provide a very pure stream of P239, suitable for making atomic munitions;What nonsense! Undetected? With all the monitoring and communications we would factory install in every reactor? “Fairly easy”??? Power-generation reactors can’t produce isotopically pure Pu239, but inevitably includes other isotopes Pu that would make the bomb self-detonate as a fizzle. Much harder than making a secret 1940s-style Pu-239 production reactor.]
(v) all nukes release radioactive gases (e.g. Xenon, Krypton) which are typically vented to environment; it is well known to have leukemia clusters around nukes; [These aren’t “vented” at LWR sites. The LWR fuel pellets are so carefully made primarily to prevent any fission products escaping. The LWR steam containment building is so carefully made, to prevent any fission products escaping. There is equipment to filter all gasses before venting anything. “Clusters”? Radiation is carefully monitored, and less than at natural gas or coal plants. Molten Salt Reactors would collect and store xenon and krypton, not “release” them.]
(vi) operation of a LFTR will result in radioactive “consumables” being generated, for example graphite separation wall between primary and secondary (blanket) circuits which will need replacing on a regular basis, and will be initially highly radioactive and hazardous;
and the list goes o. [Many designs of MSR don’t use any graphite. Those that do, the “regular basis” would be about 4 years; “highly radioactive” is short-term fission products, simply store the graphite (which would have small amounts of fission products in it) for 10 years. “Hazardous” compared to what? The “consumables” of an equivalent power coal plant?]
To assert that Thorium LFTR are somehow benign and not health-dangerous to people living nearby to them is naive and dangerous sales talk. Much the same was said about conventional nukes in the 1960’s. History has shown how wrong the propaganda was at the time – see Fukushima as an example of what can go wrong. [The “sales talk” by physicists, engineers in the 1960s was not about the LWR. We are still using LWR because Congress kept it, against the recommendations of the physicists & engineers. I guess Congress kept LWR because it wouldn’t put the coal & oil companies out of business. The patent holder on the LWR type of reactor (PWR) was fired from running ORNL and the Molten Salt Reactor program, for daring to say LWR could have loss of coolant accidents and we should use MSR instead. Follow the basic safety procedures appropriate for any industrial site, and MSR is not health dangerous to people in the site or living nearby, and accidents would be less harmful and less likely than coal/oil plants.]
Rather than diverting scarce resources to LFTR development, would it not be more appropriate to divert the resources to try to ameliorate the Fukushima situation. TEPCO cannot cope and colossal damage is being done each day to the Pacific Ocean.
Millions of years of careful evolution of species in the Pacific Ocean is being wrecked by the radiation from Fukushima: 50 years of nuclear power, 500000 years of nuclear pollution.[Sure, go help TEPCO. But Seriously? Most fission products have half lives under 35 years; the uranium is low-level radiation and there is already far more uranium dissolved in the oceans than we’ve ever mined.] To think that Thorium LFTR s the “magic bullet” for power generation is both naive and irresponsible, just as mainstream media does not report Fukushima, nor all the nuclear reactors that Russia has dumped just off the Norwegian coast, some still with fuel in their reactors.[You can find all kinds of nonsense on the Internet. What does an unsubstantiated rumor of illegal ocean dumping have to do with the design, construction, operation, safety of a Molten Salt Reactor? You want to reduce pollution in the oceans, using Molten Salt Reactors or other modern nuclear power to replace coal and oil and natural gas, will save much more pollution than Fukushima made.]
The focus should be on Thorium LFTR for transmuting the insane stockpiles of contemporary high-level nuclear waste, rather than on power generation per se. [Well, that plan would not replace coal & oil, or even LWR. And you wouldn’t use LFTR to fission LWR nuclear waste, you’d use a fast-spectrum molten salt reactor.]
When I and my colleagues have been to Thorium conferences, the word “Thorium” is uttered like some call to the Gods, in reverence, and any criticism of Thorium LFTR is rapidly dismissed or ushered away. Do not be deluded ! Please take a balanced view on matters. There should be more titles on your web-site to the dangers and hazards of Thorium LFTR, and fewer on the relatively few benefits of Thorium technology. [What if those “danger and hazards” of LWR don’t exist in LFTR or other Molten Salt Reactors? What if many of those don’t exist with LWR either? You seriously want to keep using coal? That’s what we’ll get if we don’t get a workable plan for replacing it. The manufacturing of all the solar + solar thermal + wind + offshore wind + wave + tidal + geothermal to replace coal & oil, would be much more polluting and over 10x more expensive than MSR, but it would work… if you want to pay that much more. I don’t just consider the benefits of thorium, but also molten fuel, salt coolant, atmospheric pressure operation, stable fission rate, chemically bound fission products.]
LENG is a much better way to generate power cleanly, but sadly is in its infancy, just like quantum physics would have seemed strange to Isaac Newton. Please do not damage and pollute the World with module Throium LFTR’s everywhere ! Not a good idea really ! [I guess he means “low-energy nuclear reactions”, which has some (as of early 2015) scientific verification and plausible theory; still takes far more energy than produces. I’m not going to take his recommendation.]
Thank you for your edited comments above. I respectfully disagree with most of the assertions that you have made, any experience with LFTR in future will prove me correct. My views are backed up by analysis of various nuclear specialists in the UK, reporting and advising to UK government. [Careful, if you talk to “nuclear specialists” they will speak about what they know, which is LWR. You and they have to be rigorous making sure your conversation about MSR remains about MSR. Also, there are experts on MSR advising to UK government they widely implement MSR. George.]
To dismiss http://www.enenews.com as scaremongering is grossly incorrect. [I didn’t say scaremongering. I said aggregating. They don’t distinguish the accuracy, motives, credibility of what they aggregate. Most of what they aggregate is by people who don’t understand enough to repeat accurately what the scientists reported; or by people that are repeating what scaremongering people said. Most of what they aggregate is garbage; and they make no attempt to evaluate it.] The Fukushima Dai’ichi situation is very serious, and merely to dismiss it as a mere “blip” in the nuclear industry is quite irresponsible. [I never did “dismiss it as a mere blip”. It is however from management ignoring basic safety issues, that other reactor operators in the area followed; and it is less damaging than the “scaremongering” people say. And, Fukushima says nothing at all about Molten Salt Reactors! MSR is a completely different technology than LWR.] The ecological effects of Fakushima Dai’ichi in the Pacitic Ocean are beginning to become very clear, although I suspect that it will be attributed to “anthropogenic climate change”. Strange that most of the problems with the ecology of the Pacific Ocean have occurred within the past four years, when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are now around 400 ppm, rising at a steady rate of around 3 ppm/year, and not subject to any sudden step change in concentration. [No, not strange at all, chemical pollution, acidity, etc. are rising, and stressing entire ecological systems. And we are measuring the effects more often and more rigorously. And they are not limited to the Pacific Ocean. As bad as Fukushima is, it can’t produce all the results we’re seeing. But climate change, combined with ocean acidification (CO2 + water makes acid, a specific acid that makes microscopic sea shells harder to form), “rising at a steady rate”, is “suddenly” making chemical changes happen (there is now enough acid and high enough temperature to dissolve more minerals so it is harder to form calcium carbonate shells. We are close to the acid levels that will make most species of plankton extinct. That’s not strontium or any other fission product, that’s CO2. Other effects from hormone-mimicking drugs, from heavy metal poisoning (from coal and other industries), from pesticides, etc. etc.) Now, are Molten Salt Reactors going to be an improvement over coal + oil + LWR? ]
One things is clear: there is a lot of very dangerous high-level nuclear waste around the World, at least 100000 tonnes of the stuff. MSR or LFTR is perhaps the only viable way of transmuting this waste to render it less dangerous. I hope we can at least agree on this point of detail. [I don’t know how much nuclear waste there is, but it’s too much; we only have so much because Congress blocked the reactors the designers wanted to use, and picked the reactor design they said not to use! After 10 years (the time for most fission products to be very low level radioactivity), dry cask storage is very safe for decades; it is not “very dangerous”. We should eliminate long-term nuclear waste, just the same; it’s the right thing to do, it’s less costly than storing it, and it makes a very good fuel in the right type of nuclear reactor. MSR is a safe inexpensive way to eliminate it, though other ways, e.g. the Integral Fast Reactor and accelerator-driven fast-spectrum reactors are also viable (but more complex, probably more expensive).]
Regarding LENR, there is a growing mass of scientific literature on this subject, as research work progresses at various universities. Just like solid-state electronics and quantum theory might have seemed strange to developers of original thermionic electron tubes, LENR will become an important field. You seem to have missed out on studying recent peer-reviewed scientific papers. I kindly recommend that you acquaint yourself with this field of research as it offers something much safer than a LFTR or MSR.
I’m not writing about LENR. And it’s not something we can build today, as great as it will probably be when we develop it. (Hey, at least you aren’t one of those “well, if it’s so great how come nobody’s done it already” people.)
Many of your assertions are respectfully not correct and not objective: prototype LENR devices have been tested today, and have been peer reviewed. There was skepticism some years ago, but this has now been dispelled.
Your web-site is very pro-nuclear and grossly ignores the downsides. Fukushima Dai’ichi should make people very nervous about anything to do with nuclear power. [MSR is not LWR. Fukushima is a completely different reactor than MSR. — George] There is presently a massive general media coverup (as identified by Greenpeace investigations) preventing true reporting of the severity of the Fukushima Dai’ichi incident; there have been triple melt-downs, melt-throughs and melt into the ground beneath the reactor buildings. A black mushroom cloud appeared over reactor 3 when it exploded [Notice his use of inflammatory “mushroom cloud”, as if there had been a nuclear explosion; no, there was a hydrogen explosion, and there was no Plutonium in it. Tim Norris is lying. — George], wherein black dust was expelled high up into the atmosphere, and massive bird die-off occurred shortly thereafter as the Plutonium dust was injested by the birds during migratory flights). A MSR (molten salt reactor), wherein Thorium LFTR with its FLiBe salts is a sub-class thereof, will be very dangerous under fault conditions, especially in a situation of a serious leak. To assert otherwise is reckless, misleading and irresponsible. [MSR has no water, no high pressure, no way for radioactive material to travel from the reactor building. The fuel, molten in the molten salt, quickly cools to solid, with the fission products trapped.]
[Notice this is all about LWR, not MSR.] Moreover, what do you expect from UK Government: Sellafield (i.e. Windscale and its associated nuclear accident), huge spills of radiation via regular discharges have occurred into the Irish Sea. There have been fires at the Thorp facility, and whole buildings at the Sellafield site are now regardedclassified as “nuclear waste” (i.e. so radioactive). The UK has circa 290 tonnes of P239 and does not know what to do with it, namely the most radiotoxic element known to mankind. Sure, the UK Government has MSR advisors, and reprocesses nuclear fuel (which has been a commercial loss-making activity for many years). After the Fukushima Dai’ichi accident, many redundancies were made in staff at Sellafield, so the UK was assisting with reprocessing the spent fuel rods from Japan. [All water-based problems, impossible in MSR; or lack of basic industrial safety (e.g. fire). Simple chemical fire, by the way, not some mysterious nuclear problem. P is Phosphorus, he means Pu Plutonium. Plutonium in a molten-fueled reactor would be completely fissioned, no long-term storage needed.]
Your site is typical of pro-nuclear types that ignore the safety and environmental issues, and naively get hung up on wizzy exciting technology.
At the present time, there is a desperate need for balanced thinking about the pros- and cons- of nuclear technology. LWR and BWR are an ecological disaster (note: understatement here) [per gigawatt-year electricity, even including Fukushima as if were a USA accident, LWR has less ecological damage than coal, and coal in USA is cleaner here than in Asia; USA about 600 times as many coal-related deaths than LWR. If you are concerned about ecological damage, or about improving health, MSR will be much better than coal.], whereas MSR are an improvement, especially if they can be configured to transmute dangerous nuclear waste; 100000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste presently exist around the World. LENR promises large amounts of very clean power [I hope we get LENR, like fusion, but today still consumes more energy than generates], but does not offer transmutation functionality to dispose of the insane stockpiles of contemporary nuclear waste, as aforementioned. We agree on the fact that MSR can be extremely useful to mankind, and are beneficially developed as promptly as possible.
At the present time, wind, solar, gas are promising for the future for energy production, whereas oil and coal will be in relative decline in the longer term. Tidal and wavepower may see some innovation in future, likewise geothermal. However, the World is very hungry for energy, and UN analysis show that 2 kW/day energy access is required for families to self-limit their size, reducing population growth; renewables cannot provide such energy, so population growth continues in quite unsustainable manner at present. Population growth and CO2 rise is occurring so fast, that it is unlikely, according to many energy experts, that MSR, for example Thorium LFTR, can come on stream fast enough to help in the situation. That is the sad reality. [No, engineering work is already going on, construction of mass-production factories could begin today, and could be complete in a few years. Politicians are the road block, fossil fuel pockets are very cozy.] Human society is on an unsustainable trajectory of resource consumption and population growth, and there will eventually be a major collapse. MSR, mutatis mutandis Thorium LFTR, will do little to change this doomed trajectory of human society. THAT IS THE REALITY. [Reality based on LWR history? We can produce MSR in factories, with quality control like aerospace uses, to supply current and expanding energy needs, including electricity and vehicle fuel, while generating power for desalinated water and reversing ocean acidification. MSR will take much less time and money than LWR to build, and much less time/money than solar + solar thermal + wind + offshore wind + wave + tidal that would be needed for “all-renewable”. — George]
So does anyone for sees using artificial leaves as a possible source of energy source? Or just using nuclear power is sufficient enough for the world?
[Artificial leaves will eventually be more efficient than chlorophyl leaves, but still very low energy density. We need energy density greater than coal or oil, not less. Nuclear fission is about 1 million times as much energy per kilogram fuel as coal/oil. Just like wind and solar power, use artificial leaves in niches where makes sense; use nuclear energy for powering the world. Use trees for beauty and ecosystems. — George]
Solar power (i.e wind, sun) are diffuse, intermittent sources which only produce their rated power when the sun shines (not at night) or when the wind blows. This is not going to support 9 billion people in 2050. The nuclear solution, especially LFTRs, perhaps in conjunction with the Bloom Box solid oxide fuel cell (such as used by FedEx and Google) can run continuously at rated power, safely. The aforementioned solid oxide fuel cell still needs a hydrocarbon fuel or the “hard to manage” hydrogen. However, the property owner owns the generator, which is a plus, and transmission losses are negligible (due to its proximity of the generator to the building to which it feeds power) compared to remote wind farms or solar cell arrays, and transmission line losses. Average power use, in kilowatts (not energy use which is kilowatt x hours), per US home, calculates out to 1,265 watts continuous based on 911 kW x hours/ month and 720 hours/month (24 hours/day x 30 days/month = 720 hours/month) per home according to Department of Energy. This 911 kW x hour number could go down with LED lighting replacing incandescent and fluorescent lighting. The biggest consumer of electricity is still heating and air conditioning, dwarfing that of electric automobiles, lights, appliances, and heavy machinery in an industrial factory, in terms of energy consumption. Just ask any power company and ask for a graph of power consumption over time – there are peaks on hottest summer days and coldest winter nights. If you believe humans are causing global warming instead of the sun changing it’s cosmic ray output (think sun spots and Maunder minimum with its corresponding global cooling/little ice age during that period) then you have a responsibility to educate yourself about the nuclear power choices, especially if you procreate or plan to procreate. The only solution to less carbon emissions – if you believe humans are causing global warming due to carbon emissions – is to either have less humans or adopt safe nuclear power such as LFTRs for the precise reason they are orders of magnitude less toxic than PWRs, they emit no carbon, and they consume no hydrocarbon, and the fuel source is a subiquitous as lead in the earth’s crust. Remember that the polar CO2 ice caps on Mars are shrinking too and humans did not cause that. The sun did. Since most people refuse to fight their primitive instinct to procreate you had better make an educated choice about your energy future. Solar, again, is intermittent, expensive, and not energy dense. Thorium LFTRs are 1,000,000 + more energy dense than hydrocarbon fuels much like any nuclear reaction. Solar is diffuse and needs “acres” of human coveted real estate. Not everyone lives in a house with a big roof or owns acres of land. If we humans can not manage ourselves to be less in number to free up more land for solar energy and emit less carbon emissions then we must consider this nuclear solution as an option…don’t imagine that global warming is something you can change with your energy choice because ultimately its all up to the sun over which we have absolutely no control.
I mostly agree strongly. But the “if you believe humans are causing global warming” is a red herring, the science is clear, and the politicians saying that just don’t want to be on record for spending money to keep our cities safe from rising seas; for keeping our crops safe from changing rainfall patterns; for keeping our oceans safe for fish (a major source of food for people, but ocean acidification, caused directly by CO2 combining with water, dissolves sea shells including plankton and coral, the base of the ocean food chain). We need molten salt reactors, in massive numbers, quickly, to power the world. And remember, MSR costs much less than wind+solar+wave+tidal+distribution to provide all-day-every-day power.
How small can a Liquid fluoride thorium reactor be made ?
What is the minimum size a total electric generating Liquid fluoride thorium reactor system be ?
Can it be as small as a large home appliance like a fridge ?
Can it be small enough to power a single home, or a street and negate cross country power transmission cables ?
[Molten Salt Reactors can be small. For example, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment generated 7.4 MW heat (would make about 2.2MW electricity). But it doesn’t make sense to make MSR for individual homes, instead of installing a 200MW reactor for a town or a factory or several 200 MW reactors to power a city. No need for cross country power transmission cables. MSR sites would be much smaller than any LWR site, since there is no water and no high pressure; see Manufacturing Molten Salt Reactors — George]
LFTRs seem extremely promising. They are “boring” reactors which is a good thing – think airplane safety – you want airplanes to be boring. Wings falling off airplanes are like PWR/LWR nuclear reactors melting down which is “exciting” and lethal. The ORNL reactor ran for
decades, continuously[years, with interruptions for numerous scientific experiments including testing all types of fuel (U233/U235/Pu239), with 17,655 hours of fission — George] without “excitement”. Availability of Thorium is on par with lead, which is a lot. The US has large reserves of it (2nd or 3rd in the world last I checked – China is not in top ten of the the list, unless they are concealing facts). Operating pressure is near atmospheric and not hundreds of atmospheres. 800 degree [Celsius] operating temperature means more efficiency. PWR/LWRs use .005% – .007% of fuel leaving 99.99% waste, which is ridiculous – ceramics crack – heat transfer through solid pellet is inefficient – cells have to be “re-arranged” and replenished periodically and constantly. Thorium reactor uses 99%+ of it’s fuel and mixes completely with liquid salt – is easy to add new fuel because it mixes with liquid salt – has super long (safe) half life – you can hold room temperature Thorium in your hand – no super special handling logistics like a drop of human sweat ruining a batch – the salt freeze plug/gravity automatic shut down in case of power loss to salt pumps is extremely smart, hence absolutely no chance of a Fukushima scenario where all backup generators failed and the batteries ran out – not to mention if Thorium feed supply stops circulating, the reaction slows down, which is not the case with PWRs. If water circulation fails in a PWR it will overheat. What is there not to like about LFTR technology? What part of the statement “no power required to shut this thing off” do people not understand? Lack of electric power basically kills the reaction – very smart – and safe. Why are we not building more of these? Obama granted $8 billion for 2 more PWRs in Georgia in 2010 – they should have been LFTRs. [Actually, $8 billion could do all design and commercial-scale testing, and almost enough to also build factories to mass-produce LFTRs like we build airplanes. — George] There’s already enough opposition to these old style reactors as it is. There is no radioactive steam escape possibility with LFTRs due to liquid salt at atmospheric pressure in contrast to what happened at 3 Mile Island Power Station, Pennsylvania incident [plus, of course, there can’t be steam in a reactor that uses no water — George]. It is interesting that what became a result of the requirement for a “safe” nuclear powered aircraft in the 1950s resulted in this clever design invention which was ignored in favor of the Plutonium waste product breeder reactors.
We could employ a lot of folks building these things in the US especially if the government mandate was to use exclusively US sourced materials and components.
4g of thorium vs 12 tonnes of coal per person, per year to supply the average joe electricity… would destroy economies, and eventually put large portions of the current supply chains out of business/work in relation to any of the current energy producers coal, oil, conventional nuclear… have you any projections on the net losses and increased unemployment that would result in a successful transition to lftr that is advocated here or is that an unreasonable assumption.
[George — Putting the fossil fuel industries out of business, would provide enormous health benefits, enormous ecological benefits, so even if every one of those people couldn’t find other work, it would be worth it. Wars and dictatorships are started by coal and oil. People die every week from fossil fuel illnesses. But do you really think, we couldn’t come up with other things for them to do with their skills and talents? If we look at what those people are good at and love to do (not “I love mining coal”, but perhaps they love working with heavy equipment, or love working with the land, or love working with people dedicated to doing good work, or love providing the country with energy, or love doing physically hard things well — people with those interests and skills, are all needed in other industries.]
Wind and solar energy:
– take too much space (low density energy source),
– are not very scalable (no way they can cover all our energy needs),
– are intermittent (i.e. need fossil backup when there is no sun and wind),
– are very maintenance sensitive,
– suffer distribution losses (due to their large space requirements),
– are “horizon polluters” (unsightly) and
– last but not least are expensive (only profitable with massive government subsidizing).
If the world really wants to stop CO2 emissions (and even reduce what is already in the air), the LFTR (nuclear energy from thorium) is the only way to go. The advantages have been discussed in abundance already so I will suffice with summarizing the here:
– Virtually no nuclear waste and what’s there only needs storage for 300 years instead of hundreds of thousands;
– the technology is intrinsically safe (no meltdowns or explosions even if all backup systems fail);
– it is a high density, scalable technology that can be placed close to where the energy needs are;
– it is reliable (always runs no matter the weather or time of day, for decades);
– no nuclear proliferation problems — weapons grade material can not be made in any power generation reactor;
– allows for higher efficiency and compact electricity generation (small gas turbines instead of large steam turbines) due to the higher temperatures available;
– due to the low cost and said high temperatures can be used to desalinate sea water (desert areas can be made suitable for cultivation!)
– and it can be used to turn H2O and CO2 from the air, into synthetic hydrocarbon fuels that are CO2 neutral.
To top it all off — there is enough thorium in the ground to power the entire world for tens of thousands of years.
So you wonder – what is NOT to like? Why does our government subsidize BILLIONS of dollars into that useless Tokamak project (hydrogen fusion) based in France that is going NOWHERE already for 60 years because of insurmountable engineering problems, while energy from thorium, that can be done with today’s technology, is consistently overlooked by our politicians? You would think that with Republicans holding the House, Senate and presidency, this could be changed? Thorium is a perfect opportunity for environmentalists and capitalists to come together and safe the planet from CO2 while at the same time getting it cheap, safe and abundant energy for every person on this earth!
[George: Why not? Because most politicians are in the pockets of the fossil fuel companies, doing what their donors want while pretending to do what the people they represent want.]
Politicians follow money, yes, but no politician will ever go against popular opinion. It is up to you to make sure every politician in every election has to answer this question: “Why does the U.S. government support the construction of very expensive and highly dangerous Light Water Nuclear Reactors and obstruct the building of much cheaper and safer Molten Salt Reactors?”
When politicians try and fail to answer that question, news ‘reporters’ will begin to ask it as well, and possibly one or two will begin to educate himself on nuclear power production, and learn that there is a difference. As it sits today, if you say ‘nuclear’ you run into a wall of ‘no’ because the vast majority of people, with no knowledge of what nuclear power is, believe every reactor is a potential Chernobyl that generates mountains of nuclear waste before they eventually blow up.
[George — Yes. Molten Salt Reactors can’t “blow up”, and generate no long-term nuclear waste (1000kg fuel leaves 830kg waste to store 10 years, 170kg to store 350 years to be below background radiation levels), to generate more than 1GW-yr electricity.]
I’m preparing a power point type presentation for environmental groups. I discuss all manner of energy sources used to power the electric grid with a conclusion that nuclear is our only/best option. I belong to several environmental groups, they are very anti-nuclear. I hope my presentation might change one person’s mind, maybe more. I can do this, but please suggest how we can be more proactive.
How about send me your presentation slides before talking to the groups? If you are clear what problems with LWR are from use of water, what problems are from use of solid fuel, and clear what benefits of Molten Salt Reactors are from salt coolant and which are from molten fuel, people understand.
Similarly, being clear which companies pushed for LWR (the fossil fuel companies, to protect their interests), helps environmentalists understand they’ve been lied to about nuclear power, when actually they just have been told about one type of nuclear power, the most complex and expensive type that nuclear engineers had not recommended.
A world having an abundant, clean, cheap, reliable, compact and safe energy generating method would be a completely different one. Global warming could be halted and even reversed (by removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it). Wars over oil would be a thing of the past. Desert areas (currently hotbeds of violence and political instability because of resource scarcity) could be cultivated (by desalinating seawater) turning wastelands into farms and forests. The latter also would end the diaspora of refugees to the West, ending the destabilizing of our political systems that this currently causes in the West. Guilt-free mobility for all of us could be drastically increased (on the road, sea and in the air) without constantly having to worry about potential pollution that this would cause, resulting in an enormous boost of the world economy and prosperity without the environmental downsides. Agriculture and farming would be a lot more effective without pressure on the environment. Billions of people would be lifted out of poverty. Think about it – a sustainable, safe and prosperous world without wars and famines, what is not to like about energy from thorium?
So why don’t guys like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates invest their money in the development of the molten salt reactor, where they REALLY can make a difference, instead of playing with space rockets and self-driving cars that don’t really “self drive”? Why do Democrats and Republicans constantly undermine each other at the expense of this country, instead of coming together to support the development of this technology and make this a better world as a result? Can anyone explain that to me?
I have been talking up this option for years but nobody mentions this technology on any of the news or anywhere else for that matter—- why is this, is it the fossil fuel industry that is burying this ?
Is this technology a reality now? Is it in development at all?
[George’s comment: China is investing heavily in developing MSR, as well as other new nuclear reactor designs. Dennis LeBlanc in Canada, Kirk Sorensen at Flibe in the USA, are some of the other groups. Plus, materials that would be used in MSR, and also in using molten salt heat storage with concentrated solar thermal installations, are being tested.
Terrestrial Energy https://www.terrestrialenergy.com/ David LeBlanc, Canada
Flibe Energy http://flibe-energy.com/ Kirk Sorensen, USA
ThorCon Power http://www.thorconpower.com/ Jack Devanney, Ralph Moir, Lars Jorgensen, Robert Hargraves, USA
Moltex Energy http://www.moltexenergy.com/ Ian Scott, UK and Canada
I have been in the utility industry for 30 years. Why am I just now learning about this? This should be mainstream news on every channel in the nation. How do we promote this and expose the public to the benefits of this technology.
I’ve been reading this debate with interest.
Personally I think that atomic energy’s mixing up with weapons production, thereby involving government defense contracts, and endemic secrecy, has caused no end of problems for commercial nuclear energy.
On the lies issue, there’s no doubt that various world governments and the nuclear energy industry has lied, evaded and told half truths, for a variety of reasons.
The fact is when people (usually deluded green activists, or communists as I call them), have pointed out the dangers of nuclear fission, the “experts” have always soothed their troubled brows with the, highly unlikely, multiple fail safe systems, practically impossible mantra. This has turned out to be a bit too optimistic, given the spectacular failures of some reactors.
A number of “red flags” spring out when reading about liquid salt reactors: No need for a containment building, explosions are impossible, highly unlikely, built in safety, etc. These have all been said about existing reactors, and didn’t turn out to be quit true, just saying.
As an enthusiast of nuclear energy, a couple of things puzzle me.
I note that the salt drained into the underground tank, will be very hot presumably, what happens if you can’t cool that tank?
Can the fuel solidify within the reactor, what happens if that happens? How do you liquefy the contents again, or is the reactor ruined?
How do you get the solidified fuel out of its underground tank and reuse it?
Can I add some points.
Light water reactors use very costly to make solid fuel in the form of ceramic oxides. During use, the pellets expand and distort until they can no longer be safely contained by the fuel tube/rod. At that point between 1 and 4% of the fuel energy has been used. They are stupendously radioactive and remain very hot (decay heat) for many years so are stored under water. Processing to make them safe for long term storage is hugely expensive and even that has led to stockpiles of poor grade plutonium that nobody wants. There are further issues with solid fuel: (1) the noble gasses (Xenon, Krypton, etc) created by the nuclear reactions build to enormous pressures inside the fuel tubes. These affect the reaction efficiency (neutron poisioning) and are another reason why fuel has to be removed long before its fully burnt. (2) Radioacive iodine and caesium are released as gasses into the fuel tube. If the tube ruptures those biologically active elements are released.
The neutron flux inside a PWR actually cracks the water. They all have “recombiners” which turn them back to water. If the pressurised water is allowed to boil the steam will react with the fuel tube cladding (xirconium) also cracking the water. Fukusima was blown apart by hydrogen/oxygen explosions.
More recent PWR plants have ultra strong explosion containment buildings that can hold the steam and radioactivity if the pressure vessel ruptures. If this happens the reactor containment room will become radioactive. They also have many layers of redundant controls to make sure they are safe. And safe they really are. Today’s nuke power plants are probably the safest energy generators we have. But they are so expensive to build and operate that nobody wants them.
Moltex Energy seem to be the leader in terms of getting regulatory approval and keeping costs down. They have done this by removing as much as possible anything that has to be engineered to handle a problem. Ian Scott points out that even the salt plugged dump system is still an engineered solution. But to be fair, the dump system is also used as a quick way to shut down the nuclear reaction so its functional part of a LFTR design.
Moltex put the salt fuel into stainless steel tubes which are vented to release the noble gasses. These tubes are cooled by a secondary salt which is used to generate steam to drive turbines. The whole lot sits in a stainless steel tank which has passive cooling adequate for removing decay heat. There is no moderator because they are fast spectrum reactors. There is no internal pressure so protection from internal explosion is not needed. Iodine and caesium will always preferentially form a salt so (as with any MSR) they are never available in dangerous gaseous form. You “could” take the lid off and there would be no contamination. The would of course be a huge amount of heat and unsheilded radiation so (as with any nuclear plant) there is a lot of high quality concrete to protect to the environment.
Salt fuels can be used to 25% burnup before the waste products must be extracted for long term storage. But this is a much easier chemical process than for solid fuels. After removal of actinides, the fuel salt can go back for more energy production. Over time a near 100% burnup is possible. Moltex fuel tubes can easily be rearranged in the reactor or removed and replaced. The used salt is processed and added back to new fuel for the next load.
Kirk Sorensen explains how this is done in one of his many videos. It’s a chemical process and lot easier (much less cost) than reprocessing the ceramic oxide fuels used in PWRs.
The fast spectrum designs have an added advantage that they can burn as fuel the LWR waste and low grade plutonium from the stockpiles that plague the nuclear industry. This is believed to be why Canada awarded them their first big contract.
They could also burn thorium but the issue there is with the regulators. Ian Scott wanted to get started now with the more than adequate uranium and spent fuel sources. Thorium can come later.
I have no connection with Moltex. All this info is available on line.
It seems appropriate to remind ourselves that earth warming is here to stay unless there is a catastrophic reversal in the declining albedo or decrease in incoming solar photons. The half-time for atmospheric carbon dioxide is about 100 years thus we can expect a continuing rise in average earth temperature even if we stopped all fossil fuel burning today. So the engineering must be focused on how to deal with a continuing rise in sea level at the same time that we support new reactor designs and of course the phobias against ionizing radiation and somehow overcome the fossil fuel burning lobby. Considerations of painting all the roof-tops with reflectors and all roads white, become silly when one starts with the fact that land is only 30 per cent of earth surface and the paintable surfaces are a small fraction of the land surface.
With respect to the public concern regarding ionizing radiation, it will not be enough to show MSR will not have the release risk of other designs unless we have as strong a lobby as the fossil fuel industry to show there is a safe source as well as a safe level of radiation exposure. The latter is an area I have studied for over 40 years. Of course, solar and wind do not have a prayer for the bigger and long-term climate change issues of sea-level rise and other changes from a warming earth.