MSR Benefits

Molten Salt Reactor Advantages

  • Molten Fuel - Fuel circulates through the reactor, fission products get removed, for over 99% fuel use (vs. LWR ~3%). No long-term radioactive waste.
  • Salt Cooled - Coolant far below boiling point, reactor operates at atmospheric pressure. Fuel dissolved in stable salt (no water), no loss of coolant accident possible. No need for high-pressure safety systems.
  • High Inherent Safety - No water, no high pressure, nothing that could propel radioactive materials into the environment. Thermal expansion/contraction of molten fuel salt strongly regulates fission rate; MSR is a very stable reactor. Simple safety systems work even if no electricity or operators.
  • Easy Construction and Siting - Low pressure operation, so no high-pressure safety systems. No water, so no steam containment building. Reactor factory assembled, with modern quality control, sensors and communication.
  • Lower Cost - Even with exotic materials, construction costs will be dramatically lower than LWR — factory construction, minimal manual on-site preparation. No long-term radioactive waste, so no long-term storage.
  • High Temperature Operation - Heat to generate electricity, desalinate water, produce CO2-neutral vehicle fuel, etc.
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“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

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