Downsides of LFTRs

“It eliminates one of the main sources of income for the nuclear industry: fuel fabrication. It eliminates the need for high-pressure piping, thus doing away with a critical skill set in today’s reactors. It uses thorium about 200 times more efficiently than uranium is used today reducing mining demand. In essentially every way it represents a complete departure from how ‘nuclear energy’ is done today, which means that the ‘nuclear industry’ will continue to ignore it.” — Kirk Sorensen

[Existing LWR sites would be great for installing LFTR (especially for initial commercial validation), already approved for nuclear. Replace the LWR “engine” with a LFTR, inside the containment building, connect to existing electric generator. Use LWR waste as fuel.]

Legal requirements for LWR and PWR reactor safety would not apply to this very different technology, but could be used to prevent construction of LFTRs. (“Where are the fuel rod cooling ponds???”) The international regulatory requirements for LFTRs need to be developed. The NRC isn’t interested.

Fear of “anything nuclear” could stop LFTRs from being built, even though deaths and cancers and disease from all nuclear accidents combined since 1945, major and minor, is less than the deaths produced each year by coal plants. And LFTRs would have better safety and less waste than current nuclear reactors.

“The utilities do not have an inherent motive, beyond an unproven profit profile, to make the leap… the large manufacturers, such as Westinghouse, have already made deep financial commitments to a different technology, massive light-water reactors, a technology of proven soundness that has already been certified by the NRC for construction and licensing. Among experts in the policy and technology of nuclear power, one hears that large nuclearplant technology has already arrived—the current so-called Generation III+ plants have solved the problems of safe, cost-effective nuclear power, and there is simply no will from that quarter to inaugurate an entirely new technology, with all that it would entail in research and regulatory certification—a hugely expensive multiyear process. And the same experts are not overly oppressed by the waste problem, because current storage is deemed to be stable.” Hargraves, American Scientist Volume 98, July 2010

“Also, on the horizon we can envision burning up most of the worst of the waste with an entirely different technology, fast neutron reactors that will consume the materials that would otherwise require truly long-term storage. But the giant preapproved plants will not be mass produced. They don’t offer a vision for massive, rapid conversion from fossil fuels to nuclear, coupled with a nonproliferation portfolio that would make it reasonable to project the technology to developing parts of the world, where the problem of growing fossil-fuel consumption is most urgent. Hargraves, American Scientist Volume 98, July 2010

Obvious sites to install LFTRs would be existing coal plants. Use heat from the LFTR, instead of from burning coal, to turn the existing electric turbines. But coal plants are toxic waste sites, that have been allowed to continue operating. (Many wastes in coal, incl uranium.) If inspected for a nuclear installation, they might be shut down and required by law to be cleaned up.

Best way to clean up radioactive waste present at all coal plants, is use a molten salt reactor, to fission all of it. The average 1GWe coal power plant produces 13 tons of thorium per year, recoverable from the waste ash pile. The uranium and thorium “waste” at every coal plant would generate much more energy than burning the coal. Laws need to be changed.

“… remote handling is required for maintenance. Long-handled tools were demonstrated during the MSRE program; and, after the primary coolant loop was flushed (as would be required for maintenance), only small amounts of fuel would remain within the loop. Nonetheless, the containment environment for an FS-MSR would be more radioactive than that for a solid-fuel reactor, making increased remote handling and inspection technology necessary”. Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2011

9 thoughts on “Downsides of LFTRs”

  1. less waste is a understatement how about <1% of the waste current nuclear reactors put out and even that waste can be recycled back into the reactor.

  2. Mr. Lerner, Brilliant, thanks! (I’ve also read your comment to the Mar. 12th NY Times article.
    Question please, speaking of: “Existing LWR sites would be great for installing LFTR (especially for initial commercial validation), already approved for nuclear….”
    Here in New York, on Long Island, we have the nearly completed and now mothballed LILCO reactor – as of some 10 years ago. It was fought down by area residents. As a documentary video producer for environmental subjects, I’d be interested in your opinion, with a view towards possibly developing publicity that advocates such a conversion to LFTR. Your response to my email address would be appreciated, thank you, Keith Rodan,

  3. I am interested in building my own mini to be off the grid and possible charge up the fuel rods on vehicles is there a way it can be done without the government on my back?

    1. Dream on. You’re not going to build a “mini” nuclear reactor to power a vehicle.

      Molten salt reactors can be mini, for example the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment was 7.4 MW (thermal), but you need materials, instrumentation, chemical processing, radiation shielding, etc. etc. Even after all the materials testing, reactor design work, licensing, chemical processing testing has been done (that probably would cost about $1 Billion), factory construction of a 100MW LFTR will be around $200 Million.

      Buy yourself a good solar panel system, and buy appliances designed to run at maximum efficiency off the solar panels, and go to bed shortly after sundown (no staying up late night watching a big-screen TV). Energy storage systems for a very efficient house are still expensive (for a city, storage systems are so much more expensive very few cities would pick anything but natural gas, if they won’t use Molten Salt Reactors as baseload power).

      Hydrogen fuel cells for cars sound like good ideas, and there isn’t infrastructure for them yet. Buy a hybrid car, or maybe an all-electric car.

      1. reminds me of that book “The Radioactive Boy Scout” about a kid who tried (and almost succeeded) at building a breeder reactor in his parents’ garden shed.

  4. The emphasis in relation to Thorium LFTR seems somewhat displaced. Indeed, there is plenty of Thorium about which could be used in a future LFTR. However, developing a molten salt reactor (MSR) which can operate on the high-level waste product of conventional nuclear reactors would be rather better. High level nuclear waste costs money to store, is environmentally dangerous and is readily accessible, whereas Thorium has to be mined or extracted from waste debris of rare-Earth element mining. Taking a balanced view to human society, especially in view of the fact that the huge amounts of nuclear waste exist (although one would wish the situation were otherwise), developing MSR to transmute this waste should be a rather higher priority than a Thorium LFTR per se. Chemistries of U238 and P239 MSA may be rather less challenging than Thorium 232 (Protactinium 232 => U233) regime.

    The economics strongly favour MSA (or a Thorium LFTR configuration) for radioactive waste disposal as a first target for research and development. The UK developing MSR for providing a nuclear waste disposal service for the World could be a rather valuable new industrial venture, especially if a bit of electricity can be generated in the process.

    The USA has 77000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste, Japan has 17000 tonnes such waste, and China will soon be producing large quantities of such waste from its proposed circa 200 conventional reactors to be built.

    Some balanced rational thinking is clearly required as to where effort and scarce resources should be focused.

    Kind regards

    1. We will use both MSR (thermal spectrum, use thorium or U235 or Pu239 as fuel), and FS-MSR (fast spectrum, use any isotope of U or Pu as fuel). The fast spectrum reactors need salts where more chemical materials testing is needed than for thermal spectrum reactors; and there is more “fast spectrum is more dangerous” beliefs (the 1970s LMFBR is Not the same as FS-MSR, LMFBR is a solid fueled, molten-sodium cooled reactor, with more complex control equipment and more risk; FS-MSR has the same simplicity and stability as MSR).

      FS-MSR will likely be at storage sites for LWR waste, or inside LWR sites using that reactor’s spent fuel and connected to the same electric generators. MSRs like LFTR will likely be at sites where they “don’t want nuclear waste”, or connected to existing equipment replacing coal plants, or close to new electric need.

      There is enough LWR “waste” to power the world at USA levels for about a century. FS-MSR could breed the main component, U238, to fissile Pu239, for use in reactors around the world. But there is such anti-plutonium hysteria, even at the low enrichment that a power reactor needs and with inevitable other isotopes that would make the fuel completely unusable in nuclear weapons (isotopes that would make the “weapon” tend to “pre-detonate”), we’ll politically not be able to do that for a long time. Thorium is available around the world, barely radioactive for shipping to the reactors, far easier politically; so we will probably use MSR such as LFTR long before using FS-MSR except at existing LWR sites. Those sites have far more waste/fuel for FS-MSR than they could use for centuries (but far shorter than geologic storage we would need if we didn’t use fast-spectrum reactors to fission the U238).

      In the 1960s removing protactinium from chemically similar salts, so it would become U233 instead of less useful isotopes, was important but complex, where the thorium and the uranium are in the same salt. Today we both a) have simpler chemical separation for a single-salt design, and b) would likely use a two-salt design, where thorium is physically in a different region and so chemical separation of the protactinium would not be needed. That is no longer an issue.

  5. I read recently that one fabricator of solid fuel rods for nuclear reactors has filed for bankruptcy in the USA. Seems that the present economic model for the nuclear industry is beginning to fray.

    Maybe a shift in economic model pertaining to the nuclear industry will favour introduction of MSR (incl. LFTR). I say: “Let’s transmute (“burn up”) the existing stockpiles of highly dangerous nuclear waste, rather than adding to it via the present nuclear industry !” That way, we avoid having to store and keep watch of the waste stuff for 100000 years !

    Kind regards


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>