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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Back to the Future: U.S. Department of Energy to re-emphasize hydrogen fuel cell vehicles says: “Water — containing 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen — can also be used to create hydrogen gas. Applying an electrical current to water (a process known as electrolysis) yields H2 gas. However, unless this electricity is generated via nuclear power or renewable energy sources (like wind power or solar power) even the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles utilizing H2 from electrolysis is not free of harmful emissions.”

My response:

We can produce the hydrogen for fuel cells without using petroleum. We have already tested (over 20,000 hours) something that generates enough heat to split water, with no CO2, no coal/oil/gas, no generating long-term nuclear waste (instead, it uses that as Fuel). Can also generate electricity, make CO2-neutral gasoline (from splitting water and CO2), or desalinate water.

Molten Salt Reactors use molten fuel (so 99%+ of the fuel gets used) and are cooled by stable salts (which can’t boil away, so the reactor operates at atmospheric pressure).

No water at all for the reactor; no water-based accidents (“loss of coolant accidents” and hydrogen explosions of Light Water Reactors can’t happen), no high-pressure accidents (LWR needs very high pressures to keep water from boiling, but if a pipe breaks, LWRs can have water explosively convert to steam, that’s what the huge steam containment building is for).

Molten salts are excellent heat conductors, so the hydrogen production equipment can be located far enough from the reactor for safety (hydrogen explosion wouldn’t damage the reactor). Heat transfer equipment would mean no radioactive material ever contacts the water or hydrogen.

Molten Salt Reactors don’t have water and don’t have pressure, so no high-pressure steam containment building is needed. Without the biggest risks of LWRs, MSRs can be close to where the electricity or hydrogen is needed.

Since the fuel is molten, all fission byproducts can be removed (continuously or on a schedule, as appropriate for each element), so any accident (e.g. terrorists or earthquake) would have little radioactive material that could be released; plus most fission byproducts and the uranium and transuranic elements stay strongly chemically bound to the fluoride salts, which don’t interact with air or water, and quickly cool to solids.

A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (modern version of MSR) could use thorium (which the reactor would convert into uranium)as fuel; or other types of MSR could use LWR waste as fuel. LWR uses ~1% of the uranium/plutonium fuel; LFTR or any MSR would use 99%+ of the fuel, and thorium + uranium = 5 times as much fuel available. No expensive uranium enrichment or fuel rod fabrication. With almost 500 times the available power generation as LWR, we could make the hydrogen for fuel cells, for a long time.

The 1960s Molten Salt Reactor Experiment was successful, demonstrated all materials and procedures. Funding was cut before the commercial-scale demonstration reactor could be built, for political reasons (the Light Water Reactor had much more political backing, especially by the fossil fuel companies, as did the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor which also got killed). Our priorities have changed since then; MSR, especially LFTR, is looking like a great solution today.

Our manufacturing techniques, computer modeling, quality control, instrumentation, testing have all greatly improved since then, so we could have factory-assembled 200MW reactors shipped around the country in under a decade; but our political inertia has greatly increased, so the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it will start writing regulations in 30 years. China’s Academy of Science has a well-funded LFTR development program, USA has tow start-up companies, Canada has one.

Wikipedia “Molten Salt Reactor Experiment” and http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/


More info, from Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options – Oak Ridge National Laboratories 2011:

“The uranium carbonate cycle for hydrogen production appears to be particularly well suited for coupling to high-temperature, low-pressure reactors as it requires heat input in the 650°C temperature range and does not involve high-pressure caustic chemicals.”

Uranium Carbonate Cycle for Hydrogen Production (Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options - Oak Ridge National Laboratories 2011 - http://www.osti.gov/bridge/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=1018987

Also can use LFTR (or other types of MSR) to make gasoline from CO2 + H2O:

High-temperature reactor thermochemical power cycle for the production of gasoline (Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options - Oak Ridge National Laboratories 2011) - http://www.osti.gov/bridge/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=1018987
High-temperature reactor thermochemical power cycle for the production of gasoline (Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options – Oak Ridge National Laboratories 2011)

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