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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“In Texas, the average [fracking] well requires up to 6 million gallons of water, while in California each well requires 80,000 to 300,000 gallons”.

Current nuclear power plants (Light Water Reactors, LWR) are cooled by water. But there are other types of reactor, that don’t need any water.

Molten salt reactors (MSR) are cooled instead by stable fluoride salts. The reactor temperature is 600-950C, much higher than LWR (350C (660F), steel can’t handle higher pressures to keep water liquid above 350C).

The salt boiling point is over 1400C, so the coolant can’t boil away; and the molten fuel is chemically bound to it — “loss of coolant accidents” are impossible, and the reactor runs at atmospheric pressure.

The much higher heat of a molten salt reactor can be used for many industrial processes. Desalinate water, or make hydrogen for fuel cells, or make gasoline from water and carbon dioxide, or make ammonia for fertilizer. The heat would also turn electric turbines.

Instead of using (and polluting) water to extract energy, a molten salt reactor could produce pure water for agriculture.

The Molten Salt Reactor was built and tested in the 1960s, ran fine, a very stable reactor, operated over 20,000 hours, ready for a commercial-scale plant; was ended by politicians pushing LWR. Now, of course, we know the disadvantages of LWR — tons of nuclear waste and some “loss of coolant accidents”.

A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is a modern version of MSR. LFTRs run on either thorium (plentiful around the world in Rare Earth mines or some types of sand), or uranium or plutonium. The uranium/plutonium can be waste from a light water reactor — about 1% of the uranium in LWR fuel rods is used, where a molten salt reactor, since it uses molten fuel, would use over 99% of the uranium (or plutonium or thorium) fuel.

China is funding rapid development of LFTRs, and will patent all their advances; USA is stalling (Nuclear Regulatory Commission likes their power and income with the LWR industry, the coal and gas industries don’t want anything nuclear, and Congress can’t get anything done).

Molten salt reactors are one of the Only ways of Eliminating long-term nuclear waste: MSRs can take 800kg of LWR waste, fission all of it, make 1 gigawatt-year electricity, and instead of needing to be stored for over 100,000 years, waste from a LFTR is almost all elements that aren’t radioactive after 10 years; 17% need to be stored for 350 years (135 kg or 300 lbs), none longer than 350 years. (All the long-term elements, including uranium and plutonium, get left in the reactor so they either fission or decay to short-term elements.)

Make 1 gigawatt-year electricity. LWR: store 250,000 kg (550,000 lbs, makes 35,000kg enriched uranium) for over 100,000 years. LFTR: store 300 lbs for 350 years. Which do you think is better?

Eliminate long-term nuclear waste each year, make electricity and desalinate water or make CO2-neutral gasoline. No toxic fracking chemicals leaking into the water supply. No draining water from the water table, in drought areas. Farmers, and environmentalists, does that sound good?

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