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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I wrote Senator Feinstein, to propose USA develops LFTRs:

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Senate Committee on Appropriations,
Energy and Water (Chair)
One Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104
Phone: (415) 393-0707
Fax: (415) 393-0710

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Clean power could be to the 21st century what aeronautics and the computer were to the 20th, but the U.S. is failing to develop the best available method for producing abundant, cheap, non-polluting, electrical power: thorium based, molten-fueled nuclear power plants.

“Nuclear” scares people because of the problems connected with uranium solid-fueled, water-cooled nuclear reactors. These problems are avoided by Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR: pronounced “lifter”, one Molten Salt Reactor design). The process was proven practical by successful operation 1964-1969 of a Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Its advantages over solid-fueled water-cooled reactors include:

SAFER

  • LFTRs have no high pressure to contain, generate no combustible or explosive materials;
  • Freeze Plug melts if power lost, fuel drains to passive cooling tanks, without electricity or water;
  • Fluoride salt coolant can’t evaporate away, so loss of coolant accidents are physically impossible;

MORE ECONOMICAL

  • Ambient-pressure operation makes LFTRs easier to build and cost less;
  • Operating cost is less since inherent safety means less complex systems;
  • Fuel cost is lower since thorium is a cheap, plentiful fuel;
  • No expensive enrichment or fuel rod fabrication is required;

MUCH LESS NUCLEAR WASTE

  • A LFTR’s waste is benign within 350 years. No uranium/plutonium as waste.
  • To produce 1 gigawatt electricity for a year, takes 800kg of thorium, or uranium/plutonium waste.
  • 83% of the fission byproducts are safe in 10 years, 17% (135 kg, 300 lbs) within 350 years, no uranium or plutonium left as waste. After these times, radiation is reduced to below background radiation levels.
  • (Compare to 250,000kg uranium to make 35,000kg enriched uranium for a solid-fueled reactor, all needing storage for 100,000+ years.)

CAN CONSUME NUCLEAR WASTE from other reactors

Instead of thorium, some designs of Molten Salt Reactor can use 800kg uranium or plutonium waste from Light Water Reactors, same fission byproducts, same electrical output. Don’t bury nuclear waste, fission it for energy. Convert 800kg to be stored for 100,000+ years, to 135kg for 350 years.

EASIER SITING

  • Without needing a huge steam containment building, LFTRs use a much smaller site than LWRs.
  • No water source required. No risk of contaminating the water supply.
  • LFTRs can be safely built close to where there is electrical need (50MW to 2GW), avoiding transmission line power loss.
  • LFTRs can even be deployed for military field use or disaster relief.

CAN PRODUCE VEHICLE FUEL

In addition to delivering carbon-free electricity, LFTRs high temperature output can generate carbon-neutral vehicle fuels, using only water and carbon dioxide (from the atmosphere or large CO2 sources such as coal plants).

SUPPORT SOLAR & WIND POWER

LFTRs are less expensive and more environmentally friendly than other sources of base-load power or grid power storage, needed to supplement wind and/or solar power generation.

The total cost of developing LFTR technology and building assembly line production (like assembly line production of aircraft, with strict safety standards) will be much less than the $10-$12 Billion for a single new solid-fueled water-cooled reactor (e.g. LWR) or single nuclear waste disposal plant. With sufficient R&D funding (about $1 billion), five years to commercialization (including factories, under $5 billion) is entirely realistic, and another five years for a national roll-out is very feasible.

CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT

Unfortunately LFTR plants may not be built now because of restrictive rules by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and federal and state laws. Though one of the least radioactive elements (half-life is 14 billion years) and the radiation can be stopped by a thin layer of plastic, thorium is classified as nuclear hazardous material. Since thorium and rare-earth elements are virtually always located together, this classification prevents mining of rare-earth elements in the U.S. and eliminates jobs producing these essential materials.

This obstacle can be overcome by Congressional legislation to authorize creation of a rare-earth refinery cooperative to service thorium-rich rare-earth producers, giving them authority to develop separate markets and uses of now-restricted thorium, including energy production.

Such legislation will assure U.S. production of Heavy Rare Earths for several industries (uses include headphones, TVs, and high-power magnets for windmills), and allow development of thorium energy at no expense to the government. LFTR requires from the government only a safe regulatory pathway; private industry will do the rest, creating thousands of good jobs.

I urge you to be prepared to support relevant Rare-Earth/Thorium legislation soon to be submitted to Congress, to allow interviews requested by thorium experts, and to seek information from sources such as: www.thoriumenergyalliance.com.

Rare-earth products are essential to our commerce, technology jobs, and security. Yet, our regulations regarding thorium now prevent us from becoming independent of China for those strategic materials, and they inhibit our continuance of the successful Molten Salt Reactor work discontinued in 1974, now too being being taken up by China. On Chinese New Year in 2011, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that they would be embarking on a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor program, and patenting every advance they make. We’re at a strategic crossroads for American leadership.

Best regards,

George Lerner
San Francisco Bay Area, CA [update: now in Phoenix, AZ]
[email protected]

See http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/ for very clear explanations and links to technical references.


Senator Feinstein on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, 2012

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