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

11 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


  6. [Dr. Tim makes many sensible-sounding assertions. Too bad they are on false premises. I’m showing his comment to point out how slippery the argument is, while seeming like a rational scientific analysis. In brief, no terrorist group would go through the expense of making extensive modifications to a nuclear power reactor, to get weapons grade or even sub-weapons grade nuclear material; there are much less complex and much less expensive ways to do it, where they wouldn’t be caught. We can easily make all Molten Salt Reactors with extensive monitoring and security and communications so anyone attempting would be detected and killed long before they got their theft or modifications done. This nonsense makes people afraid of nuclear power plants, and distracts people from watching for the simpler, less expensive, less risky ways of making nuclear weapons material, the 1940s-style nuclear piles that can be made by anyone with the technical knowledge to do the “conversion” needed for this stupid approach. — George]

    Thorium desirability issues:

    Thorium, the “other” nuclear fuel, could be the basis of an entirely new nuclear industry that is clean, green, low-cost, and intrinsically resistant to the production of nuclear weapons. Such is the bold claim made by many of thorium’s committed band of advocates.

    The technology favored by thorium advocates differs from the current mainstream technology in two ways. First, it uses a thorium-uranium fuel cycle, instead of the dominant uranium-plutonium fuel cycle. Second, it uses the molten salt reactor (MSR) design, in which the nuclear fuel takes the form of high temperature (hence, molten) fluoride salts. Put the two together and you have the LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor).

    The MSR/LFTR technology was developed from the 1950s to the 1970s, mainly at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It all began under the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program, which sought to create a reactor suitable for powering US strategic bombers, enabling the aircraft to remain aloft for days or weeks at a time. Although the program was canceled in 1961 and no aircraft ever flew under nuclear power, the technology progressed under two subsequent programs, the MSRE (Molten Salt Reactor Experiment) and the MSBR (Molten Salt Breeder Reactor), until funding ceased in 1976.

    At that time, the United States—and the rest of the world—decided to pursue exclusively the now dominant nuclear technologies: the uranium-plutonium fuel cycle and solid fuel reactor designs. These were chosen, say thorium advocates, because of their ability to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, while MSR/LFTR designs were abandoned because they could not produce plutonium, and so failed to support the production of nuclear weapons.

    [Common enough, but still a misconception. Breeding plutonium was chosen by nuclear reactor designers because in a thermal spectrum reactor, plutonium fission produces more neutrons for converting common U-238 into fuel, than U-235 fission or U-233 fission produces. Uranium was more scarce then; we’ve found more uranium mines since then. To power the world with nuclear reactors, we needed to breed as much fuel as possible. Nobody uses nuclear power reactors to make fuel for nuclear weapons — nuclear power reactors make multiple isotopes of uranium and plutonium, unsuitable for weapons. Making weapons-grade material requires specialty reactors, a Light Water Reactor or Molten Salt Reactor won’t work. — George]

    But following my own examination of the technology, I am forced to the very opposite conclusion: LFTRs could be used as highly efficient factories for very pure fissile material eminently suitable for bomb making [No, it would be so much more work than simple secret “nuclear pile” reactors nobody would ever use MSRs for bomb materials. — George].

    Furthermore, it is my belief—based on the facts set out here—that funding may have been cut because the widespread deployment of LFTRs would create an enormous proliferation hazard that is contrary to the US national interest. [No nuclear power reactor is a way to make nuclear weapons material. Maybe people in Congress bought by the coal and oil industries knew they couldn’t talk people out of attempting nuclear power, but they could stick us with LWR, among the most complex and expensive reactor designs possible, so we’d still be using coal decades later! — George]

    Fissile Material Production 101:

    Key to this argument is that fact that it is really quite difficult to produce the fissile material for a nuclear bomb using established technologies. The first approach is to extract and enrich fissionable uranium-235 from natural uranium (converted to uranium hexafluoride) by way of cascades of centrifuges. The process requires significant amounts of energy and sophisticated technology, and amounts to a major industrial operation that is difficult to conceal.

    The second approach is no less challenging, as it involves the “breeding” of fissionable plutonium-239 in uranium-fueled nuclear reactors, followed by the chemical separation of the plutonium that is formed in the fuel. [Weapons grade plutonium has Never been made from a nuclear power reactor, but instead in specialty reactors. These can be as simple as a graphite “pile”.]

    Adding to the difficulty, it is desirable to keep levels of the non-fissile isotope plutonium-240 (Pu-240) very low (under seven percent), since larger amounts increase radiation exposure rates for personnel assembling or handling nuclear weapons and can cause nuclear bombs to detonate prematurely, producing a lower than expected explosive yield or “fizzle.” Further, to achieve suitably low levels of Pu-240, reactors must run for a period of only weeks before the fuel is removed and reprocessed and the plutonium extracted—something that makes no sense at all where energy production is the objective.

    The considerable difficulties involved in producing weapon-grade uranium and plutonium, and the relative ease with which efforts to that end may be detected, has effectively limited the “nuclear club” to a small number of nations, and has entirely excluded non-state actors. In general, a nuclear weapon state’s interest is to make it as hard as possible for others to join the club. If a technology were to emerge that would make the production of weapon-grade fissile material relatively inexpensive, easy, and yet difficult to detect, the United States would have good reason to suppress it.

    Examining the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor:

    But first, we need to understand how the LFTR works. It uses natural thorium-232 as its fuel. While thorium is not fissionable, it is fertile: irradiated by neutrons, it transmutes into a highly radioactive isotope, protactinium-233 (Pa-233), which in turn decays into the fissionable isotope uranium-233 (U-233), which constitutes the fuel.

    U-233 is able to sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction just as U-235 does in a conventional reactor. The main difference is that some of the neutrons produced by the U-233 fission transmute the natural thorium into new U-233, thus maintaining the supply of uranium; indeed, it is key to the LFTR design that the U-233 is produced faster than it is consumed by fission. [Actually, LFTR designs would likely be just barely above “break even”, while plutonium fission would have higher breeding ratios. Plutonium would work in MSR too, already demonstrated in the 1960s. — George] And of course, the whole process needs to be kicked off with neutrons from existing fissile material, for example U-235, Pu-239, or U-233.

    This thorium fuel cycle can be carried out in a conventional solid fuel reactor, and indeed India is proposing to do precisely this in its forthcoming advanced heavy water reactors (construction of which will reportedly commence in 2014), intending to employ a fuel that includes thorium in addition to uranium and plutonium. But the fuel in any solid fuel reactor needs to be removed and reprocessed long before it is truly burnt up and no longer of use, otherwise some of these fissionable byproducts act as “neutron sinks,” degrading the “neutron economy”—the efficiency of the reactor—until the nuclear chain reaction grinds to a halt, or becomes difficult or impossible to restart once stopped.

    This problem is solved in an MSR/LFTR by continuously reprocessing the molten salt fuel on-site, removing undesirable fission products. These include neutron sinks like xenon-135 and samarium-149, but also chemical contaminants like sulfur and oxygen [wrong, sulfur and oxygen are not fission products], which can precipitate metal oxides from the molten salt. In this way, a batch of fuel can remain in a reactor for a considerable time, allowing a far more complete burn-up than could ever be supported in a conventional solid fuel reactor.

    It is also desirable to remove [these things do happen, but not desirable to remove — George] the Pa-233 from the fuel in order to prevent the neutron bombardment from transmuting it into Pa-234. This is unwanted for three reasons: first, transmutation reduces the yield of U-233; secondly, it absorbs neutrons (reducing U-233 production); third, the Pa-234 decay produces uranium-232, whose decay series ends with the decay of the isotope thallium-208 (Tl-208), which emits an ultra-hard gamma ray with an energy of 2.6 million electron volts—enough to penetrate over a meter of concrete and damage electronics and control systems.

    [LFTR is a 2-fluid MSR, the thorium is already outside the area in the reactor where fission and the strongest neutron flux is; in the “thorium blanket” the percent of Pa-233 becoming Pa-234 is too low to worry about. In 1-fluid MSR, where any thorium is in the fuel salt (like the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment in the 1960s where this whole “worry” comes from) we now have better ways to chemically separate thorium/protactinium from the rare-earth fission products (they are chemically similar) so if Pa absorbs neutrons it isn’t a problem, there are still enough neutrons to maintain fission. ]

    [Inside the reactor, the gamma radiation produced by anything is useful — it heats the fuel salt, the whole point of a nuclear reactor. There is zero reason to prevent forming U-232 (which fissions) inside a Molten Salt Reactor. By the way, there are no “fragile electronics” in a nuclear reactor, reducing gamma radiation is only to prevent damaging the electronics in a nuclear weapon (so it only explodes when you tell it to). — George]

    U-233 is the Key:

    This process was successfully carried out at Oak Ridge, where scientists developed means to remove the Pa-233 very efficiently using simple chemical reactions, even when the protactinium is present at the very low levels of 100 parts per trillion.[3] Once removed, the Pa-233 can simply be left aside until it decays into U-233. With a half-life of twenty-seven days, over 99.9 percent of the Pa-233 transmutes to U-233 over a period of about nine months. This U-233 can then be fed back into the reactor—or diverted in all or in part for another purpose, including bomb making.

    [So they are going to have to modify a nuclear power reactor, undetected for about nine months, even though sensors in the reactor would be reporting a drop in fission rate from the reduced fuel, and even though their trucks would be detected approaching the reactor, and their footsteps would be detected in the reactor room and their every movement would be caught on video, all communicated via military-grade communications? And even if they somehow manage to avoid all the booby-traps such as sleepy-gas or removing all oxygen from the room or spraying everyone with super-glue, the drones at three local hidden sites controlled by any of five Air Force bases are waiting to strike as soon as they leave? How is this simpler than them building a 1940s design graphite pile reactor in their cave? Fission products would also be stored in the high-security reactor building until they decayed below safe radiation levels. Now, how’s the maintenance, safety and security at your local chemical plant? — George]

    [Also, why use a nuclear reactor to bombard thorium with neutrons? There are much simpler neutron generators, readily available, for example hospitals use them, universities have them, manufacturing companies use them.]

    To summarize, the protactinium removal has two important advantages for would-be bomb makers: very high purity U-233 is produced; and the U-233 contains very low levels of the undesirable U-232, whose daughter Tl-208 emits ultra-hard gamma rays capable of harming the health of handlers and machinists, damaging control electronics, and which can be detected by air- and even space-based sensors. [That is another reason why MSR would be designed specifically to not “remove” protactinium; even in single-fluid MSR it would still be in the protection of the reactor vessel.]

    The world has but one experience of using U-233 in nuclear bombs. In 1955, the United States detonated a composite U-233/plutonium bomb in the Nevada desert as part of the Operation TEAPOT nuclear test series. The device detonated successfully, albeit with a lower than anticipated yield. With over half a century of nuclear weapons technology advances since then, there’s little doubt that U-233 bombs could be made highly viable, especially given the very high purities achievable, at least in principle, using LFTR technology with protactinium removal. [Yes, it is “possible”; why would they go do a difficult way to make a nuclear bomb? Actually, the easy ways of making any nuclear bomb would be too hard, given how easy chemical poisons or chemical bombs are to make. Chemical manufacturers in Texas pushed for lower safety regulations and TX legislators gave it to them, even after several employees were killed not knowing a room had “a few breaths you’re dead” poison in it; wouldn’t terrorists go to one of those chemical plants for their materials?]

    However, four major challenges complicate efforts to get LFTRs operational on a production scale:

    (a) Producing a reactor containment material that can withstand both intense radiation and high-temperature chemical assault from a wide spectrum of fission products and their daughters over a fifty year time scale; [Wow, a flat out lie. We have a material already certified for Molten Salt Reactor use with FLiBe salt, demonstrated in the MSRE in the 1960s. Maybe he means the graphite moderator? Well, we have designs where graphite could be simply slid out and replaced, downtime maybe one hour every 4 years. Or, eliminate the moderator, have a fast-spectrum reactor with all the safety and stability inherent to MSR. We do, however, want to test modern materials that would last decades at even higher temperatures, so MSR could provide heat to many industries.]

    (b) Developing the continuous on-site reprocessing technology, using currently experimental pyroprocessing/electrorefining processes, so that it can operate reliably without accident or releases, also over a fifty year time scale; [First, these are simple chemical processes used in several industries (and it’s not “reprocessing” like to make new solid-fuel pellets out of used ones, but rather chemical removal of fission products from a liquid); second, most have already been demonstrated in the MSRE; third, even if some process failed, it would simply reduce fuel usage slightly — the main neutron absorbers in LWR are gasses that simply bubble out of the molten fuel salt and are easily collected.]

    (c) Scaling up the experimental MSRE design used at Oak Ridge, with its 7 megawatt (MW) thermal power rating, into a production LFTR with a thermal output of 1,000 MW or more, capable of reliable continuous operation; and [Hundreds of discussions by the Thorium Energy Alliance and nuclear physicists and designers around the world, have not identified any scaling issues. There are many designs made, that would be easy to factory assemble. However, we might never make a single 1,000MW reactor when connecting several 200MW reactors on a site would be so easy, and 200MW reactors could be shipped fully assembled in standard truck/rail/boat containers.]

    (d) Achieving all the above at modest cost, so that the resulting electricity can be sold in competitive energy markets. Those embarking on any LFTR program would presumably hope and expect that these problems are ultimately soluble. It is also possible that a country—or countries—might initiate an LFTR program with a principal objective of producing a surplus of U-233 for making nuclear weapons, in which case the above considerations are likely to diminish in importance. [Nonsense. And everyone working out the design and manufacturing costs knows that they would be competitive with current coal plants, not some “ultimately soluble problem”.]

    It is, of course, possible to build an LFTR without protactinium removal equipment; the resulting U-233 would be heavily contaminated with U-232, making it far from ideal bomb-making material. But protactinium removal could always be bolted on at a later stage, and the equipment itself concealed from nuclear inspectors, or its actual purpose obfuscated. . [We wouldn’t need “nuclear inspectors”, all MSRs would have built-in sensors and communications. But we wouldn’t build LFTR for non-nuclear states, we would make MSR with zero chemical processing, bury it underground fully sealed, 30 years later replace it and do the chemical processing at a secure facility.] Bearing in mind the intense radiation to which the on-site reprocessing equipment would be subject, and the high temperatures of 600 degrees centigrade or more, inspections would need to be conducted entirely using remote access/robotic methods, making accurate determination difficult. [No robotic inspections needed, use built-in modern sensors and communication. Fine, you want RoboCop too, okay.]

    But the key point here is that neither thorium, nor the LFTR, nor the uranium it produces, are intrinsically resistant to facilitating the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If LFTR designs are ultimately proven and become widespread, the selection of LFTRs as a means of producing fissile material would be an entirely rational choice [highly stupid choice] for states either wishing to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities [much harder way to get nuclear weapons], or to increase their stock of nuclear weapons at much lower cost [seriously???], and with much lower risk of detection [hey, terrorists, over here, low risk for you, honest], than using conventional technologies. As such, the technology itself would not prevent nuclear proliferation. That would only be possible with a frequent and rigorous inspection regime.

    In conclusion, if all the hype is removed regarding Thorium LFTR, it is not such a wonderful technology as some slick US “sales representatives” from US companies such as Flibe might make one believe. If a major accident were to occur at a Thorium LFTR (for example a major pipe leak, or reactor wall failure due to corrosion [corrosion of what, we’ve already done material testing to know how long the material would last]), the radiation levels (for example, hard Gamma radiation) would be so high that it would be impossible to fix such a reactor, which would have to be abandoned for at least 300 years. Thorium LFTR is thus not all that its enthusiasts would suggest. [300 years is the time for the two fission products with medium (35 year) half lives. These are low level radiation. The longer half life isotopes are all very low radiation. Every isotope with high radiation has a half live under one year, and many of those have half lives in minutes. Now, about that “major accident”, how exactly would this occur? There is no high pressure or mechanical force make a pipe leak, so we’re left with natural disaster or explosives. Even with these, the radiation has no way to get out of the reactor building (no water, no pressure, fission products regularly removed and stored, salt is chemically stable and most fission products are strongly chemically bound to it, the salt quickly cools to solid, the salt is too dense to be carried by air and doesn’t dissolve in water). We know how to build a building around a molten reactor that would protect it from natural disasters and from terrorists (even building 10 meters underground would work) and from radiation leaks (much simpler than the steam containment building for LWR). ]

    Dr Tim

    Maybe you should work to prevent pipe leaks and failure due to corrosion, in the coal and oil and chemical industries? The only times these have ever happened in any nuclear industry is when Congress blocked funding for cleanup at nuclear weapons production sites, for example Hanford.

    Oh, and the scientists at Oak Ridge had to request funds for decades to remove the MSRE fuel salt from storage tanks, which would have been simple if done promptly. Only Congress is that stupid, along with the management at TEPCO. Molten Salt Reactors would be safer than LWR in earthquakes and tsunamis (only TEPCO ignoring required safety measures like keeping diesel generators out of the flood zone damaged Fukushima reactors, all other reactors in Japan were undamaged), MSR would probably be safe from TEPCO-level stupid managers, I think we can make MSR safe from Congress — if Congress blocks MSR companies from proper decommission procedures, tell all communities how to safely wait and then dig up the fuel storage tanks and deliver them to Washington DC.

  7. [Oh dear, another post where he fervently believes things that aren’t true about LFTR or similar Molten Salt Reactors. My comments are in bold, his worst statements I’ve crossed out — George]

    Dear George

    You are respectfully deluded by Thorium LFTR, and MSR in general. These are environmentally dangerous machines, but may be useful in disposing of the circa 100000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste generally spread a locations around the Earth, and which otherwise has to be safety stored (in some way) for 100000 years of so. [LFTR breeds thorium into uranium for fuel, wouldn’t use LWR spent fuel or recycled weapons material as fuel. Other types of MSR, specifically fast-spectrum MSR, could completely eliminate long-term nuclear waste, nothing but fission products to store (10 years for most fission products, or 350 years for a few).

    When the Fukushima Dai’ichi plant was built, GE engineers and management were also deluded about safety, and see now what has happened. The Pacific Ocean has been severely damaged; millions of years of evolution have been wrecked in just a few years by leaks from the Fukushima Dai’ichi site. This is the reality; please do not delude yourself. Please respect my superior wisdom for once. The Japanese Government at one stage was considering evacuating Tokyo, a city of 40 million people, for example if Fukushima Dai’ini had gone the same way as Fukushima Dai’ichi. GE engineers designed a reactor that would have been undamaged had TEPCO management done simple safety steps they knew needed to be done, and that all other nuclear reactor operators in the area did do, including Fukushima Dai’ini management. TEPCO wasn’t deluded about safety, in the sense of thinking what they did was safe; TEPCO ignored regulators and others saying they needed to do things for safety. TEPCO left diesel backup generators in the flood zone; TEPCO didn’t build any sea wall, never mind building one high enough for tsunamis of the size that they had been told had actually occurred in the area; TEPCO didn’t have or bring in another diesel generator when the ones they had were destroyed (any air force base in the world could have delivered one).

    Einstein, who is highly respected, said that nuclear power was one hell of way to boil water. The emphasis is on the word “hell”. He had a correct perspective.

    MSR, and Thorium LFTR as a sub-category, run at criticality, with very high neutron flux and gamma radiation flux. The fuel components are extremely radiologically “hot” in operation, as well as being physically very hot (+700 oC) during operation. You simply cannot deny these facts. An accident would be very difficult to handle, for example severe leak, in practice from such machines. If you deny these points that I raise, I am afraid that you are in a state of self-denial and utterly deluded. “Run at criticality” just means there is a controlled nuclear fission reaction, so “of course”. “Very high neutron flux and gamma radiation flux” is also, “of course”. Very hot? Compared to what? There are numerous industries that operate consistently at thousands of °C and there are materials in MSR that handle safely the hottest MSR can possibly get. When he says “very difficult to handle”, compared to what? Compared to Fukushima, where they hadn’t even directed ground water away from the site? No, not even close. Compared to cleanup at the Richmond CA oil refinery explosion, sending thousands of people to the hospital? No, not even close. Compared to the cleanup of the recent oil pipeline break off the southern California coast? Much smaller area affected, much better contained, detected much sooner; the collected fuel and cooling salt could simply be chemically cleaned (remove the dirt, etc.) and put back into another reactor.

    In contradistinction, solar cells, wind turbines, tidal turbines, ocean wave energy converters, geothermal, hydroelectric and similar simply do not have these severe radiological risks. Moreover, they are showing themselves, over a complete life cycle, to compete effectively with nuclear power. Nukes have high construction and decommissioning costs; again, if you deny this, you are utterly deluded.

    By “nukes” he is almost certainly talking about LWR not realizing MSR is a completely different reactor with very different construction and decommissioning costs.

    How is he calculating “solar cells, wind turbines, tidal turbines, ocean wave energy converters, geothermal, hydroelectric” are inexpensive? Especially if you ignore the coal plant that the city relies on for when the weather isn’t cooperating, in other words if you use those energies for when they are available but don’t have to build enough to supply 100% of the city’s energy needs, you could say those are inexpensive. A detailed assessment for California showed the state could get almost all its power throughout the day, without coal, oil, natural gas or light water reactor; but it would cost over 10x what molten salt reactors would cost, and would require redoing the long-distance power grid. So, no, those other power sources do not compete well with the price of power from molten salt reactors.

    Kind regards


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