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

5 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. Learner, 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, keithgvp@aol.com

  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.

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