Author Archives: glerner

About glerner

I am a technical problem solver. I like working with people who have taken big workshops to be Internet Author/Experts, real estate investors, Internet marketers. I solve technical problems with WordPress, web sites, marketing, and using computers, so what was confusing or overwhelming can get done. I help entrepreneurs and small business leaders to produce the results they need, no matter what's actually been happening.

USA Energy Intensity and Carbon Intensity improvements

http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/nuclear-and-gas-account-for-most-carbon-displacement-since-1950

“Energy intensity improvements can be achieved by making an economy more energy efficient (more economic output per unit of energy consumption) and by switching from energy intensive industries (such as manufacturing) to less intensive ones. Carbon intensity improvements are achieved by switching from energy sources that emit a lot of carbon (eg, coal) to ones that emit less carbon (eg, natural gas) or no carbon (eg, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar).

“In the United States since 1940 the energy intensity of the economy has declined by nearly 70 percent and carbon intensity by 24 percent, while economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions have nonetheless tripled (from 1.9 billion tonnes carbon dioxide in 1940 to 5.5 billion tonnes in 2011) as a result of population and GDP growth.”

I commented:
All Molten Salt Reactors (including Thorium Molten Salt Reactor, LFTR, etc) have many advantages over Light Water Reactors (LWR) that we have been using:
- use no water (can operate in deserts), cooled by molten salts that can’t boil away;
- have no water-based risks (steam pressure explosions, loss of coolant accidents, hydrogen explosions), no huge steam containment building needed;
- since the fuel is molten, could eliminate long-term nuclear waste from LWR (fission well over 99% of it, converting it into mostly 10-year waste and a little 350-year waste, nothing longer);
- produce minimal long-term nuclear waste (well under 1% of LWR), and far less toxic chemicals than coal
- use the high heat for making electricity, desalinating water, making vehicle fuel from water and CO2, making ammonia, many industrial processes.
- work well with wind/solar power, providing “baseload power” instead of natural gas or coal.
See http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/

Response to “Coming Full Circle in Energy, to Nuclear”

My responses to article and comments for http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/business/economy/coming-full-circle-in-energy.html

R Lee, New Mexico said “The main issue with nuclear power is the waste. All nuclear power alternatives have waste streams that must be addressed. The US has fallen far behind in disposal, and megatons of waste are simply piling up. Even if we stopped using nuclear energy tomorrow we would still have to deal with this. A reasonable solution is to address the waste issue first, then explore nuclear energy options.”

We DO know how to deal with nuclear waste, just stop using Light Water Reactors. LWR is not the only kind of nuclear power!

Nuclear Regulatory Commission is protecting Light Water Reactors (LWR), but other than political reasons, we could switch to types of nuclear reactors with salt coolant instead of water (no risk of Fukushima-type problems) and with molten fuel instead of solid fuel (fuel rods and pellets prevent all fuel being fissioned). 98% of the uranium in LWR is “waste”, not because the uranium is somehow defective…

We’ve known what to do with nuclear waste from LWR since 1960s, when Oak Ridge National Laboratories (run by the patent holder on LWR) ran the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. Operated it over 5 years, worked fine, killed politically by LWR people. A modern version could take waste from LWR, no “reprocessing” needed, and use it.

Without uranium in the waste, most MSR waste is safe in 10 years (just like LWR fuel rods stay in cooling ponds 10 years), a little 350-year waste (about 300 lbs per GW-year electricity), and Nothing Longer.

http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/ shows clearly how MSR takes care of the safety concerns of Light Water Reactors, with no high pressure or water; and eliminates (not buries) nuclear waste.

While making CO2-free electricity, MSR also can provide heat for CO2-neutral gasoline, desalinated water, and other high-temperature industrial needs, further reducing use of high-polluting coal/oil.

Dr. John Miller, Twitter @NuclearReporter said “Reply to George Lerner: There is no nuclear reactor that does not leave a waste stream. If the reactor contains U-238, it leaves some plutonium 239 that must be stored for 240,000 years. Read my article in the New York Times last Friday: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/a-nuclear-submariner-challenges-a-pro-nuclear-film/

(Comments are closed on the “Coming Full Circle…” page, I can’t respond there.)

Only if we remove Pu-239 from the reactor. I was not talking about a solid-fueled reactor; much of what you know from LWR doesn’t apply.

Few facts about solid fueled, water cooled reactors apply to molten fueled, salt cooled reactors.

Pandora’s Promise discusses benefits of MSR, incl passive & inherent safety, and you keep “refuting” it with LWR facts — wrong technology!

In a molten salt reactor, we never would have to remove plutonium. We would want to keep it in the reactor, it is Fuel. Whether the Pu came from the LWR or from U238 absorbing a neutron in the MSR, it would stay in the MSR until it fissioned.

Well-known chemical processes can separate all the trans-uranic elements from the fission products — big advantage of molten fuel, so we can Fission 99%+ of U or Pu fuel.

Without uranium and transuranics in the waste, the rest of the radioactive waste (the fission products) is much simpler to deal with. Most (83%) of MSR waste would be below background radiation levels in fewer than 10 years. About 300 lbs per GW-year electricity to store 350 years. NOTHING longer.

We operated Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, successfully, in 1960s.

We have a solution to long-term nuclear waste. Fission it, don’t bury it. Light Water Reactors can’t use it, but other types of reactors Can.

http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/downloads/Molten_Salt_LeBlanc.pdf says “Perhaps a new term of “effective” conversion ratio would be to compare fissile consumption versus needed annual fissile additions. By this metric, most other reactors on a Once Through cycle have effective conversion ratio of near zero since they consume about 1000kg/GW(e) year but need to add 1000kg of fissile 235U per year. Even with Pu recycle, they do not improve dramatically. Thus the great advantage of molten salt converter reactors is that all plutonium produced stays within the core for the full lifetime where it is mostly consumed.

“In terms of long term radiotoxicity of wastes, these converter designs also perform remarkably well. All transuranics remain in the salt during operation… At the end of 30 years there is only about 1000kg present. [The specific design he is referring to at this point in his paper has no processing at all for 30 years, then the fuel is removed.] It is presumed prudent to perform a one time only process to remove these transuranics for recycle into the next core salt. If this is done and a typical processing loss of 0.1% is assumed, this represents a mere 1kg of TRUs going to waste over 30 years which is about a 10,000 fold improvement over LWR once through… It should be mentioned that removing and reusing TRUs does not involve isolating plutonium. The likely process would be Liquid Bismuth Reductive Extraction and Pu would remain with Am, Cm, Cf and the fission product zirconium.”

(If 10,000 fold improvement isn’t good enough, we engineer to tighter standards or add another transuranic removal step. I have no information about how much of that 30g/GW-yr is plutonium, but it certainly isn’t “weapons grade”.)

Removing uranium is a simple fluorination process, converts uranium to UF6 gas; equipment for this is currently used as part of uranium enrichment, those centrifuges work on gasses; I wouldn’t be surprised if better than 0.1% processing loss is standard.

We have simple solutions to deal with waste from Light Water Reactors. We would, however, have to stop thinking of Light Water Reactors as the only type of nuclear reactor that is possible. The designers of the LWR didn’t, the Atomic Energy Commission didn’t (see Civilian Nuclear Power–1962 Report to President Kennedy and Congress ).

Use LFTRs to make Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Vehicles?

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 don’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 need 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; 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) or 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, 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 one start-up company.

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)

Response to “Colorado’s Fracking Woes Show Fight Brewing in Oklahoma, Texas and Other Drought-Ridden Areas”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/16/colorado-fracking_n_3450170.html?utm_hp_ref=fracking

“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?

http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/2012-heat-for-industrial-use-from-lftrs/

[site limits comments to 1500 characters, so I posted a shorter version of this]

Response to “Nuclear Energy’s Future: Thorium”

Here’s what I wrote in response to “Nuclear Energy’s Future: Thorium”, by Zain Nayer, Matthew Liu, Gilbert Yang

http://ucs.berkeley.edu/energy/2012/06/windmisc/liquid-fluoride-thorium-reactors-the-future-of-nuclear/

Lastly, and most importantly, a thorium reactor is at no risk of meltdown: if the reaction goes critical, the reactant expands and the reaction slows down. Therefore, they don’t require active systems to stop meltdowns.

You aren’t using ‘critical’ correctly. In a nuclear reactor, ‘critical’ means “Every fission causes an average of one more fission, leading to a fission (and power) level that is constant.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_chain_reaction)

In a molten salt reactor, the fuel and coolant salt are molten. [Molten-salt cooled, solid fueled reactors are a very different technology.] The salt has a low viscosity (comparable to water), so with additional heat (for example from less being removed to produce electricity) the salt naturally expands, lowering the concentration of uranium in the reactor core, slowing fission. Removing extra heat increases the concentration of uranium. This happens quickly and automatically, producing a very stable reactor, capable of precisely following electric load demands.

Instead of “they don’t require active systems to stop meltdowns”, the fuel is molten during normal operation; “nuclear meltdown” doesn’t apply. Physical meltdown of the reactor materials won’t happen either. The material used in the 1960s to make the reactor, Hastelloy-N, was rated for 1050 degrees C (wouldn’t last as long under higher temperatures), but the melting point is much higher. Modern materials would need to be certified for reactor use, and would allow even higher temperatures. Industrial processes could use 950 C (for example break water and CO2 for making vehicle fuels) still within Hastelloy-N limits. Even running at 950 C, “meltdown” is physically impossible, there is no mechanism for suddenly adding all that heat. (Light water reactors are limited to about 350 C, by the pressure needed to keep water liquid at high temperature.)

Similarly, LFTRs (or other MSRs) can’t have “loss of coolant accidents”. The boiling point of FLiBe salt is about 1400 C. Uranium, and trans-uranic elements, and most fission products, are strongly chemically bound to the salt. The coolant remains liquid, at atmospheric pressure, so there is no chance of pressure explosions. No combustible materials, no hydrogen production, nothing that chemically reacts to air or water.

If the reactor gets too hot (turbine failure or heat transfer unit failure), or if electric power is cut (by power outage, operators, automatic sensors detecting some failure, or even remote sensors detecting an earthquake), frozen salt in a cooled pipe melts and the fuel quickly drains from the reactor into cooling tanks where fission is impossible (uranium density and shape have to be precise for fission to occur). Instead of needing power for emergency control systems, MSRs need power to Prevent reactor shutdown. In the 1960s, scientists turned off a FAN (which kept that pipe cold) on Fridays to shut down the reactor! Then they left for the weekend, came back on Monday, heated the fuel until it melted, pumped it out of the cooling tanks back into the reactor, and fission resumed.

Obviously LFTRs will have much greater safety while not needing a light water reactor’s “multiple redundant” engineered systems with high pressure pipes and valves, and will not need a LWR’s hugely expensive steam containment building (LFTRs have no steam, and no pressure), and so will cost much less than any LWR, even not counting the cost reduction (and quality control) of mass production.

Keep reading, at http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/

How Exactly Do We Handle Nuclear Waste?

“Everyone knows” dry cask storage and Yucca Mountain are the only ways. Even though that is not accurate.

We will have to walk people through how any other method works, for it to be accepted and implemented. We will have to educate environmental people so they understand what we are proposing will have us and the planet safe, or much safer than what we’ve been doing.

We will have to give specifics, to counter the LWR industry’s and coal/oil industry’s objections to eliminating or even reducing nuclear waste — they have a lot of money and power invested in this problem remaining; they benefit from our fear of nuclear waste.

A quick answer is “fission all the uranium and transuranic elements, which can be done in a molten salt reactor and a few other kinds of reactor, and then store what’s left until it isn’t dangerous any more. That will take 10 years for most of the waste; for 17% of the waste, it will take 350 years. For a LFTR, 800kg of uranium/plutonium/thorium per gigawatt-year electricity, leaves 185kg (300 pounds) of 350-year waste. The 10-year stuff is what those “cooling ponds” at LWR sites are for, but there are other ways; the 350 year stuff can go in “dry cask storage” in a deep hole though that may not be the best solution if we were to evaluate the storage methods.

In a molten salt reactor, the fission byproducts can be fairly easily removed from the reactor, while the reactor is operating, since the fuel is molten and could circulate through chemical extraction equipment, already known and in use in other industries. All elements with long half-lives would be left in the reactor to either fission, or to decay (from neutron bombardment) into short-half-life elements. Or different designs of molten salt reactors could operate for decades without processing fission byproducts, and remove them when the reactor is decommissioned; probably the reactor would be allowed to cool until the salt solidified, and the entire reactor shipped to a waste extraction facility.

But the quick answer is not enough for convincing people to approve and implement a method for dealing with dangerous waste, that will certainly cost a lot of money (though much less than a Hanford Vitrification Plant or Yucca Mountain — costs a lot more to store anything for 100,000+ years than for 350 years!).

What elements/isotopes are produced? In what quantities, per gigawatt-year electricity? What is the full decay chain for each isotope? How long is each isotope radioactive? What radiation type (alpha, beta, gamma) and what strength? What is the radiation dosage?

(Include brief summary of how doses compare to working in a granite building or getting a dental x-ray or trans-Atlantic flight or solar storm or coal plant or the radon in natural gas.)

What is the environmental and human health consequence of a failure to properly store each of these isotopes? How biologically toxic is each element before and after radiation levels have decayed below background levels (with comparison to coal/oil)?

What are the top 2-3 methods for dealing with each of those isotopes? Which isotopes can be stored together, using the same method? Which isotopes can’t be stored together even though the same storage method works?

How do we verify that the storage method has been applied correctly? What is the probability of a failure? How will we detect a storage failure, to fix it promptly?

How long is this storage method good for, and how do we re-store the isotope if needed? (Many isotopes need to be stored less than 1 year, maybe there are very good inexpensive storage methods that work extremely well for 9 months so we “switch containers” at 6 months?)

How would each element be stored after low-radiation levels, compared to existing usage or disposal techniques for that element by other industries?

How does this meet or exceed the requirements for current methods of storing LWR waste? How does this compare to the storage of coal/oil waste? (Coal industry does nothing to store the uranium in coal, since they got it classified as “naturally occurring radioactive material”. Coal ash contains many elements more harmful than uranium, yet is simply stored in ponds, landfills and abandoned mines.)

How would each storage method be tested and certified, compared to safety standards for coal/oil and LWR? Which of these methods are already certified for storing nuclear waste, vs. still need to be certified?

What is the cost of each method? What is the savings vs. current methods of storing LWR waste?

Can you see how 10 to 20 pages covering this, written very clearly for people who are not nuclear chemists, would make Congress and environmentalists more likely to think “these guys know what they’re talking about, that sounds like it would work, and if other scientists and engineers agree it would work, then I think we should do this?”

Senator Feinstein on LFTR

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”). 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 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, a LFTR can use 800kg uranium or plutonium waste, 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.
  • 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 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 promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 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
lernerconsult+lftr@gmail.com

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


Senator Feinstein response about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors

What To Do With Nuclear Waste

Here are my comments to an article in Oil Price, “6 Things to do with Nuclear Waste: None of them Ideal” at http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/6-Things-to-do-with-Nuclear-Waste-None-of-them-Ideal.html

There is another possibility you did not mention, a way of eliminating nuclear waste: fission it!

Very few people realize it, but there are other types of nuclear reactors than we’ve been using. We’ve only used light water reactors (LWR) for political reasons from decades ago, but our priorities have changed since then.

In LWR, fission byproducts absorb neutrons stopping fission; fuel rods get damaged by radiation; only ~1% of the fuel fissions.

Molten Salt Reactors, e.g. LFTR, use molten uranium in a molten salt coolant, and fission byproducts are easily removed; over 99% of the fuel fissions.

We successfully operated one for 5 years, decades ago. If we completed development of these reactors, they would exceed environmental standards for radioactive contamination, for reduction of existing nuclear waste, for reducing global warming pollution. They would provide low-pollution base-load power supplementing solar and wind power, getting us off coal/oil sooner. (I know, the oil and coal industries don’t want that…)

Molten-salt reactors use a special salt for coolant. The coolant won’t boil, so there’s no high pressure, no risk of “loss of coolant accidents”, no risk of steam or hydrogen explosions. This is inherently much safer, eliminating almost all the (water-based) risks of current reactors.

LFTRs would even cost a lot less to build than LWRs. No steam so no steam containment building. No high pressure so no high pressure piping.

Liquid fuel allows use of a “freeze plug” (frozen fuel in a section of pipe — cut power to cooling and it quickly melts, fuel drains from the core to passive cooling tanks where nuclear reaction is impossible), much simpler, safer and less expensive than LWR’s complex emergency systems to over-ride everything that normally happens in the core.

To make a gigawatt-year electricity, LWRs leave 35,000kg uranium/plutonium (and other transuranic elements) to somehow safely store for 100,000+ years. That’s not counting the 215,000kg depleted uranium left from making 35,000kg enriched uranium.

Only a properly designed nuclear reactor can Consume nuclear waste. A fast-spectrum molten-salt reactor could use nuclear waste from LWRs as fuel, 800kg to make 1 gigawatt electricity for a year. Since an MSR consumes 99%+ of the uranium (or plutonium or plentiful thorium) fuel, waste is much easier to take care of — most MSR waste would be harmless in 10 years (83%, radiation levels below background levels). The rest (17%) would be safe in 350 years. We know how to safely store 135kg (300 lbs) of waste for 350 years.

(Molten Salt Reactors can be fast-spectrum simply by eliminating the moderator, and adjusting the fuel density and other parameters physicists know. All the basic design features — molten fuel circulating, fission product removal, very high fuel usage, freeze plug, strong fission rate regulation by thermal expansion of the salt — remains the same.)

MSR waste, once no longer radioactive, is chemicals we use in industry, to make solar panels and wind power generators, headphones, LCD screens.

Eliminate nuclear waste, inherent safety much better than LWR, lower construction cost. Smaller sites, no water needed, so build where electricity is needed. Make CO2-neutral vehicle fuels. Best base-load power to replace coal and oil.

See http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/ for what they are, how they’re different, what ways they are so much safer, how they can consume nuclear waste, how they would fare in accidents or terrorist attacks, how much less they would cost, how long it will take us to build them.

Nuclear Waste-Burning Technology Could Change the Face of Nuclear Energy

http://www.utexas.edu/news/2012/09/12/nuclear-waste-burning-technology-change-face-of-nuclear-energy/

“patented the concept for a novel fusion-fission hybrid nuclear reactor that would use nuclear fusion and fission together to incinerate nuclear waste”, still in a conceptual phase.

Here are my comments to the article:

There is already a nuclear waste-burning technology, tested and operated for over 20,000 hours, stable, easy to control. Used materials that didn’t corrode and not affected by radioactivity. Engineering work would be needed to make this commercial scale (100MW to 2GW, 200MW most likely), but no scientific breakthroughs would be needed.

In light water reactors (LWR, most reactors in the world), fission byproducts absorb neutrons stopping fission; fuel rods get damaged by radiation; only ~1% of fuel fissions.

Use molten uranium in a molten salt coolant, and fission byproducts are easily removed; over 99% of the fuel is fissioned.

83% of the fission byproducts are safe in 10 years; 17% safe in 350 years; a fraction have long half-lives, but would remain in the reactor until they absorb a neutron and decay to short term byproducts.

The coolant has a boiling point much higher than the reactor temperature, so (unlike water-cooled reactors) a Molten Salt Reactor works at atmospheric pressure. This is inherently much safer, eliminating almost all the (water-based) risks of current reactors. Systems and construction would be much easier, lowering costs; no steam containment building needed, since there is no steam.

LFTR is a type of molten salt reactor, that can breed thorium to U-233, or use U-235, or breed U-238 to plutonium; in an easy to control thermal spectrum. Spent fuel from LWR can be removed from the fuel rods and used, no “reprocessing” needed. Hard gamma rays prevent proliferation risks (much easier to make plutonium in a 1950s graphite pile).

While I think we should continue fusion research, we are much more likely to build a molten salt reactor, such as LFTR, long before a fusion-fission reactor.

Since materials and design have been demonstrated (though modern materials and improved designs will need testing), the main stopping point for developing a LFTR in the USA is legal and regulatory changes. Fusion-fission, with higher energies, will need much more testing and regulatory changes than LFTR!

Let’s start burning nuclear waste, instead of fossil fuels, before your fusion-fission reactor gets built.

See much more about LFTR, how they work, why they are so much safer, how they make electricity plus desalinate water and generate vehicle fuels, how much less they would cost, how they can be manufactured and installed, at http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/

Comments on EV.com “No Nuclear Meltdown Using Thorium”

Comments on an article, http://www.ev.com/knowledge-center/educational-articles/no-nuclear-meltdown-using-thorium.html

1) Get rid of the nuclear explosion image. If you are wanting to promote development of LFTRs it is inappropriate to link alternative nuclear energy to nuclear bombs.

2) Thorium/uranium blend in solid-fuel reactors (such as India is doing) has a minimal benefit over solid-fueled uranium. The dramatic reduction in nuclear waste of LFTRs is from the use of molten fuel, so it all can fission. The “no nuclear meltdown” comes from using molten fuel and using coolant (molten salt) that can’t boil away. AHWR would have similar nuclear waste production to a LWR (~99% fuel unused). A molten-fueled salt-cooled reactor leaves less than 1% of the fuel unused.

3) LFTR converts thorium to uranium, and the uranium fissions. It is inaccurate to say LFTR doesn’t use uranium. Plus, LFTR can consume uranium or plutonium from waste of current reactors (instead of using thorium).

4) Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) would have similar water-based risks as LWR: the water can boil away with any pipe break. It would have similar complex systems to reduce the risk of accidents; it would require a steam-containment building similar to existing (LWR) reactors. Many of these systems are designed to work passively, which is a good improvement.

What AHWR does passively, LFTR does inherently: LFTR has no water, has no high pressures (so no need for high-pressure containment), generates no steam (so no steam containment building, the most expensive part of a water-cooled reactor).

For clear explanations of how LFTRs work, how they are inherently safe, what is needed to produce them, how much less they would cost, what they provide beyond electricity (including vehicle fuels), see http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/

What is a LFTR? (Short, clear version for people new to LFTRs)

Nuclear power produces a million times as much energy as fossil fuels, per pound of fuel, without producing pollution or affecting climate.

Less radiation has been released into the environment from all nuclear reactors combined, over the ~60 years we’ve used them, in normal operations and minor accidents and major accidents, than from a single year of using a single average coal plant. (Coal ash is classified as “naturally occurring radioactive material”, NORM, so it doesn’t have to be cleaned up. Coal plants even want ash spill cleanup paid for by their customers or the government — highly irresponsible.)

Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is increasing average global temperatures, enough to raise ocean levels to flood large areas of our cities (which are almost all on oceans, major rivers, or large lakes). But this isn’t the worst effect of using fossil fuels. CO2 enters the oceans, becomes carbonic acid; this acid dissolves sea shells including of plankton and coral; there are already areas in the North Atlantic where there is no more plankton — we are killing the base of the food chain, and if you don’t care about animals, care about how many people around the world are dependent on fish as their primary protein.

People died in the Fukushima area from the earthquake and tsunami due to fires from coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas. Nobody died (or is likely to die) from the nuclear reactor failures. The only person found dead at the reactors, was from drowning.

As safe as our current Light Water Reactors (LWR) are, there are much safer nuclear reactor designs possible, that also produce dramatically less long-term nuclear waste. Some even use LWR “nuclear waste” as fuel. Some have been built and tested. Yet we’re not using them, for political reasons and from inertia. In most industries, major advances are welcomed — nobody wants to use 1950s computers or cars, yet we’re using 1950s-design nuclear reactors! Even the designers of LWR were pushing better designs by 1960.

LWR uses solid fuel in carefully prepared fuel rods, and is cooled with water. High temperature water must be kept under very high pressure, or it boils. Solid fuel traps fission byproducts, which stop fission with <2% of the fuel used; then the fuel rod has to be replaced. All the uranium and plutonium in the fuel rod, with all the fission byproducts, have to be stored for 100,000+ years.

Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), including Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR), have molten fuel that circulates through the reactor, so over 99% of the fuel is fissioned, and continuously refueled. The patent holder for LWR ran Oak Ridge National Laboratories for the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, which successfully demonstrated the design and operation procedures.

Unlike water-cooled LWRs, MSRs are cooled by molten salt, very good at transferring heat. The salt coolant is several hundred degrees below its boiling point, so the reactor runs at atmospheric pressure. The fuel is strongly chemically bound to the salt, so MSRs have no chance of “loss of coolant accidents”. Since the salt doesn’t boil, MSRs have no risk of high-pressure explosions.

Since the coolant can’t boil away, and the fuel/salt expands/contracts with heat, and that thermal expansion strongly regulates the fission rate, all Molten Salt Reactors are very stable. The fuel can’t get hot enough to melt the reactor vessel, in any normal or emergency condition — even though the normal reactor temperature is much hotter than LWR (about 600°C to 950°C vs 350°C).

In an emergency, or for scheduled maintenance, turn off cooling on a “freeze plug” and the fuel quickly drains to passive cooling tanks, where fission is not possible. Power is required to prevent the reactor shutting down. This could be controlled by operators, remote seismic sensors, temperature sensors.

In a LFTR, none of the waste is long-term. Fission byproducts are easily removed from the molten salt and safely stored. All have short half lives: 83% are safe in 10 years or less; 17% (135kg or 300lbs per 1 giga-watt-year electricity) are safe in 350 years. Elements with long half-lives stay in the reactor, where neutron bombardment causes them to fission or decay into elements with short half-lives. (LWR leaves 250,000kg waste to store for 100,000+ years, per 1GW-year. Wow! See LFTRs No Long-Term Waste Storage.)

There are three possible fuels for nuclear reactors: uranium-235 (0.7% of all U), uranium-233, plutonium-239. MSRs can use all three. LFTRs can convert plentiful thorium (Th-232) to U-233. Other types of MSRs could convert U-238 (over 99.2% of all U) to Pu-239. This is done inside the reactor, no fuel fabrication needed. MSRs could eliminate (fission) long-term nuclear waste from LWRs, with all the safety of MSRs.

Thorium is 4 times as abundant as uranium, and virtually 100% of naturally occurring thorium is Th-232. Thorium is found with rare earth elements, in coal (far more thorium energy in coal ash piles than energy from burning coal), and in some types of sand.

LWR temperature is limited by steel’s ability to contain the water pressure; MSR has atmospheric pressure and is limited by the melting point of the reactor materials.

In a MSR, the reactor is cooled by a molten salt (no water used). The heat from fission, much higher in MSR than in LWR, turns a turbine to make electricity (like in a LWR or coal plant, or with more efficient high-temperature turbines), and/or is used for high-temperature industrial processes (for example, desalinating seawater or making gasoline or a direct diesel-replacement, from CO2 and water).

With no high pressures, no water, and materials designed for high-temperature operation, MSRs will be much less complex (and therefore less expensive) to build than LWRs. They can be factory assembled, with modern quality control, modern sensors and monitoring, and shipped wherever needed. One design for a 220 MW LFTR would fit in a standard shipping container (think “18-wheeler”), a few more for the fuel cooling tanks, waste processing, electric generator and gasoline-maker.

If you include all the start-to-finish costs of generating power (but not carbon tax, pollution cleanup, or health care costs of using fossil fuels), electricity from LFTRs would be less expensive than from coal or oil or natural gas, per gigawatt-year electricity. MSRs also require very little land, and no water cooling, so can be located where electricity is needed, or even deployed for disaster relief.

Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) designed and built a Molten Salt Reactor from 1960-1965, and operated it for over 15,000 hours, see Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. They demonstrated the design, materials, equipment, procedures, operations, safety, use of different fuels. It was found to be an extremely stable reactor (rate of fission automatically regulated by the natural heat expansion/contraction of the molten fuel). They turned off the fan keeping the freeze-plug frozen on some Friday nights, left for the weekend, reheated the fuel on Monday and pumped it back into the reactor.

With modern materials, computer-aided simulations and design tools, modern manufacturing techniques, modern instrumentation and testing, and all the ORNL experimental results, we could build LFTRs, or other MSR designs, and then have factories mass-producing them, in 5 years. ORNL designed and built a MSR (most of a LFTR, just without the “thorium blanket” to breed fuel) in 5 years, with slide rules and good engineers.

(The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says will take at least 20 years; but they don’t want MSRs to work, they want to keep LWRs going, keep doing what they know, and keep their high-power high-pay jobs; the NRC takes over 5 years to license a new reactor that is virtually identical to the last one that was built. Maybe when China builds them and tries selling us MSRs, the NRC will wake up?)

Wind and solar are intermittent; they need either a source of “base load” power, or energy storage systems capable of powering a city through a month of bad weather. LFTRs make an excellent base load power to combine with solar or wind power, and easily follow the electric demand (when wind/solar are producing electricity, LFTRs automatically generate less), to replace our using coal and oil as fast as possible.

Reprocessing nuclear waste (from light water reactors)

“Reprocessing LWR waste” is very complex, and very controversial. There are simpler methods.

Separating uranium from the nuclear waste is a simple chemical process, fluoride volatility, already used in preparing light water reactor fuel. Fluorination makes uranium a gas (molten UF4 becomes gaseous UF6) easily separated from molten waste. Then use the uranium in a LFTR or other molten salt reactor (or even a solid-fuel reactor that can use low-enriched or un-enriched uranium).

That one step reduces the waste from light water reactors to almost completely fission products, a few percent of the original waste. Virtually all of the fission products have half lives so short they are safe within 10 years (83%) or 350 years (17%). We know how to store each of these elements for 350 years. No geological storage (million years) is needed.

The few elements with longer half lives 1) aren’t very radioactive (that goes with having long half lives) 2) are produced in small quantity 3) can be separated and bombarded with neutrons (either in the LFTR or a special neutron source) so they are transmuted to elements that have short half lives.

Uranium is not highly radioactive. By itself it is easy to store safely. For example, we’re storing depleted uranium (lower in U235 than natural uranium) in storage drums, for decades at a time.

People in the LFTR community are developing the specifications and regulations, what elements in what amounts would be in LWR waste, and how each element would best be stored.

Keep reading on this blog, I’ll post more specific information as I find it.

Can’t we have nuclear waste mostly die away in 50 years?

In the March 24, 2012 issue, page 27 of Science News (90th Anniversary Issue: 1950s) they mention this as one of the science predictions that “never quite came to fruition” under “The future’s so bright”:

1955 “Atomic plants do not pose the ‘disposal’ problems that many laymen often think… Fifty years would perhaps be the right time to let the hottest radiations die away” (8/27/55 p.131)

I sent Science News this response:

Our current 100,000+ year storage time for waste from atomic plants is due to the specific atomic plants we are using, not inherent to nuclear power itself. Solid fueled reactors keep fission byproducts trapped in the fuel rods, so only 1-2% of the fuel can be used. The rest of the uranium is left as waste with the fission byproducts. But using solid fuel is not necessary.

Molten fueled reactors, such as the reactor operational from 1965-1969 in the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, allow easy separation of fission byproducts from the fuel. 83% by mass of these will decay to below background levels of radiation within 10 years; the remaining 17% are elements that decay within 350 years. (Uranium and transuranic elements would be kept circulating through the reactor until they fission.)

The Atomic Energy Commission knew of other reactor designs than the pressurized water reactor we still use, including molten salt reactors. See Civilian Nuclear Power–1962 Report to Kennedy and Congress.

Also see http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/03/20/1962-aec-report/ which quotes Alvin Weinberg (1947 patent holder of the PWR) “Both the fast breeder based on the 239Pu-238U cycle and the thermal breeder based on the 233U-232Th cycle figured prominently in the report. Indeed, the report implied that both systems should be pursued seriously, including large-scale reactor experimentation. It particularly favored molten uranium salts for the thermal breeder.”

Especially specifying “hottest radiations” (those that are most radioactive, with the shortest half-lives), the 1955 statement was accurate.

The type of molten salt reactor favored today is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. It can use as fuel the spent uranium, depleted uranium, or plutonium from solid fueled reactors, converting that long-term waste to 10 year and 350 year waste. Plus, loss of coolant accidents are physically impossible (salt coolant stays liquid more more than 400 degrees C above the reactor temperature), no water means no high pressure so steam/hydrogen explosions are impossible, “nuclear meltdown” is standard operation, and electricity is needed to Prevent shutdown of the reactor; without electricity a simple “freeze plug” melts and the fuel dumps to cooling tanks where fission is impossible, to passively cool without water.

For more on molten salt reactors, and the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, see http://liquidfluoridethoriumreactor.glerner.com/
and the main LFTR sites, http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/ and http://energyfromthorium.com/

We could implement modern designs of a molten salt reactor, in less than 5 years (the MSRE began in 1960, the reactor was operational in 1965, we have all their research and what we’ve learned since; they didn’t have nuclear modeling software, CAD software, our material testing methods, etc.). Estimated development cost, including validation of modern materials, is $1billion, and estimated construction of factories for assembly line production of LFTRs (like Boeing has for airplanes) is $5billion, less than the $10-12billion for construction of a single new PWR. A 100MW LFTR would cost around $200 million.

Flibe Energy plans to have a LFTR operational by 2015, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has LFTR plans — in 2010 they visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the MSRE was done; and Chinese New Year in 2011 they announced they would be starting a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor program (and patenting every advance they make).

To a bright future,
George Lerner

Washington Post, Nuclear power entrepreneurs push thorium as a fuel

I responded to the Washington Post article, Nuclear power entrepreneurs push thorium as a fuel with this:

For one thing, [Ingersoll] said, it would be too expensive to replace or convert the nuclear power plants already running in this country

Since our reactors were almost all built in the 1970s, we will have to replace our aging nuclear plants, want to or not. But if he is talking about converting to using thorium instead of uranium in existing solid-fueled plants, then he is no doubt correct.

Whether reactor uses uranium, plutonium, or thorium is not a key issue. Solid-fueled or molten-fueled reactors can use either.

Key differences are solid fueled or liquid fueled; and the type of coolant. The article doesn’t carefully distinguish statements about solid-fueled reactors vs. molten-fueled reactors, nor water-cooled vs. salt-cooled reactors. Ingersoll’s statements are consistently correct about solid-fueled, water-cooled reactors. (I disagree with others claiming Ingersoll is disingenuous or status-quo; I guess his statements about one type of reactor were used carelessly, as is common in articles, not knowing the difference between reactors.)

It will cost less to develop and install LFTRs than to rebuild all our existing reactors. Molten salt coolant remains liquid, so the reactor runs at atmospheric pressure; no high pressure containment needed. Construction costs will be dramatically lower, not needing a high-pressure reactor vessel, not needing a steam containment building (huge reinforced concrete), and not needing complex redundant safety equipment to deal with high-pressure water. See LFTRs Do Not Need High Pressure Containment.

Molten salts have much higher safety as coolant than water (which requires very high pressure to keep it liquid, and boils away if the pressure vessel breaks). See No Water Needed for LFTRs, and no Loss of Coolant Accidents

LFTRs can’t have high-pressure explosions (they operate at atmospheric pressure); can’t have loss of coolant accidents (the coolant won’t evaporate, and is chemically bound to uranium and transuranic elements); can’t have hydrogen explosions (nothing in them generates hydrogen). See Passive and Inherent Safety.

[Ingersoll] also pointed out that thorium would still have some radioactive byproducts — just not as much as uranium and not as long-lived — and that there is no ready stockpile of thorium in the United States. It would have to be mined.

Let’s look at what specifically Dan Ingersoll meant? Current reactors need about 250,000kg natural uranium, to make 35,000kg enriched uranium, to make 1GW electricity for a year. 250,000kg waste (almost all uranium, store for millenia).

Adding thorium mixed with uranium in solid-fueled reactors would give a slight improvement in waste.

Substituting thorium (use no mined uranium except to jump-start the reaction) in a solid-fueled reactor would save 215,000kg waste (no “depleted uranium”), would have about 35,000kg waste for 1GW-year electricity. This is probably what Ingersoll was saying.

A molten-salt reactor would need 800kg of uranium or plutonium or thorium, to make 1GW-year electricity. 800kg waste (no uranium or transuranic elements), store 83% for 10 years and 17% for 350 years. We know how to safely store 135kg (300lbs) per gigawatt-year, for 350 years. See No Long-Term Toxic Waste Storage.

There is thorium at every rare-earth mine, abandoned, plus tons of purified thorium buried in the NV desert. Is there another stockpile of fuel a molten salt reactor could use? Absolutely! Nuclear waste is primarily uranium, fuel for a molten salt reactor. (Unfortunately MSRs consume uranium so efficiently we would have to supply the entire world with USA-levels of electricity and vehicle fuel for a century, to have consumed all our uranium waste stockpiles.) See LFTRs Can Consume Nuclear Waste.

We’re spending more on just the Hanford ‘Vitrification Plant’ — $12Billion — (http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/feb2012/2012-02-07-092.html) than we would spend developing LFTRs and building assembly line manufacturing for them.

If we mine our rare earth metals, we would get thorium as a byproduct. (The USA doesn’t have any active mines for our rare earth deposits, because thorium is considered “nuclear waste”, though so slightly radioactive the half life is 14 billion years, and the radiation is stopped by a thin layer of plastic; one industrial use of thorium is in eyeglass lenses. So China supplies our rare earth metals, for headphones, TVs, windmills.)

“A thorium-based fuel cycle has some advantages, but it’s not compelling for infrastructure and investments.”

More accurate statement would be “A thorium-based fuel cycle has some advantages in a solid-fueled reactor compared to using uranium in a solid-fueled reactor, but …”

This statement is not accurate if comparing a molten-fueled reactor to solid-fueled. Solid fueled reactors only fission ~1% of the fuel; fission byproducts are trapped in the fuel rods and stop the reaction. In a molten-fueled reactor, fission byproducts are easily extracted; the 1960s molten salt reactor fissioned over 99% of the fuel. See No Long-Term Toxic Waste Storage and LFTRs Can Consume Nuclear Waste.

Overall, [Ingersoll] says the benefits don’t outweigh the huge costs of switching technologies. “I’m looking for something compelling enough to trash billions of dollars of infrastructure that we have already and I don’t see that.”

Again, Ingersoll was talking about using thorium in a solid-fueled reactor. Much bigger benefits if we use a molten-salt reactor, such as LFTR. We wouldn’t “trash” reactors, we would use them until need repairs more expensive than replacing them. (Happening Soon.)

Economics of LFTRs make very good sense, see Economics of LFTRs. Flibe Energy plans to have a LFTR operational by 2015; assembly line manufacturing LFTRs a few years later.

Additional LFTR Information

See the Thorium Energy Alliance and Energy from Thorium for detailed scientific and engineering discussions, presentations, and conferences.

D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010) p.1649-1650 excellent technical journal article on MSR and LFTR.

See Kirk Sorensen @ MRU on LFTR on inherent safety vs. engineered safety systems, history of thorium reactors, how they work, and the benefits.

Google TechTalk – The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be

Kirk Sorensen – The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn’t This Happen (and why is now the right time?)

TEDxYYC – Kirk Sorensen – Thorium 4/22/2011

See Kirk Sorensen – Introduction to Flibe Energy @ TEAC3 for a short, very understandable description of how the reactor works, including converting Thorium to Uranium.

Kirk Sorensen @ PROTOSPACE Entertaining while explaining the science behind reactors. Thorium vs. Plutonium and Thermal vs. Fast. Medical and industrial uses of most fission byproducts from a LFTR. Safety systems. How much money a company would make from operating a LFTR. Engineering tasks to solve in building a LFTR. 2-1/2 hrs

Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor, Kirk Sorensen

Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant Based On Molten Salt Technology, Ralph W. Moir and Edward Teller, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 2005

Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Labs 2011, for reactor configuration; economics and safety; salt selection and salt processing technologies; fuel cycle options; uses of reactor high-temperature output; performance comparisons with existing reactor types; used fuel disposition, separations, and waste management; proliferation resistance.

The Thorium Problem – Danger of Existing Thorium Regulation to U.S. Manufacturing and Energy Sector. Gov’t treats thorium as some dangerous radioactive waste (it’s among the Least radioactive elements), preventing mining and production of rare earth elements essential for industry (from headphones to advanced batteries to windmill generators). The Dept. of Energy’s budget is over 60% for nuclear weapons, not for developing clean safe sustainable energy sources to power the country. Thorium laws prevent jobs in USA, forcing us to buy from China (almost a monopoly on rare earth element production).

Google Tech Talk — Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor

Aim High! Thorium Energy Cheaper Than From Coal, by Robert Hargraves (available on Amazon)

Popular Science article, Next Gen Nuke Designs mainly about LFTR.

Thorium Remix 2009 – LFTR in 25 Minutes

Nuclear Waste Cleanup is expensive, is there a better way than Storing it?

There have been several articles recently about cleaning up nuclear waste, including Plan developed to clean up highly radioactive Hanford spill

We know how to have 800kg instead of 250,000kg nuclear waste, to produce a gigawatt of electricity for a year (1 gigawatt-year electricity). Perhaps it’s time, as we have more and more nuclear waste to clean up, and as our reactors are getting so old they have to be rebuilt, for us to switch to a much cleaner and safer reactor.

A conventional (solid fueled) nuclear reactor starts with 250,000 kg natural uranium, enriches a rare isotope to make 35,000kg enriched uranium, and only fissions about 1% of that uranium before the fuel rod has to be replaced. 250,000kg to make one gigawatt-year of electricity.

Radioactive cesium and strontium (mentioned in the Hanford article) are two of the fission byproducts from the reactor. The article doesn’t mention the uranium waste, which a different design of reactor could fission, instead of leaving as waste.

A Molten Salt Reactor (or Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) would use 800 kg of fuel (any isotope of uranium or plutonium from nuclear waste, weapons, or converting thorium to uranium in the reactor), circulates the molten fuel for 99%+ fissioning, generating a giga-watt-year electricity, and has very low waste: 83% of 800kg completely safe in 10 years; remaining 135 kg (300 lbs) completely safe in 350 years.

Compare 135kg for 350 years to our current PWR or LWR: 250,000kg for thousands to millions of years. And that 135kg could be from 800kg of nuclear waste.

I’m not talking about store nuclear waste for a while and move it to another nuclear waste storage facility (which is what all the news is about). I’m talking about fission all the fuel, that we took from nuclear waste, make electricity from it, and the uranium is gone, the plutonium is gone (fissioned completely) and in 10 to 350 years (depending on the fission byproduct) all that is left are non-radioactive chemicals that are useful for industry.

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).

The total cost of developing LFTR technology, all certifying of materials and systems, and building assembly line production (like assembly line production of aircraft, with strict safety standards) will be much less than the US$10-$12 Billion for a single new solid-fueled water-cooled reactor or single nuclear waste disposal plant. With sufficient R&D funding (probably less than US$2 billion), five years to commercialization is entirely realistic, and another five years for a national roll-out is very feasible.

This blog covers design, safety, nuclear waste, economics, development and testing to be done, proliferation, how LFTRs would fare in accidents or attacks.

We have improved the design of the molten salt reactor, but even if we just use the original design that was operational in the 1960s, we would have a much smaller nuclear waste problem.

Evaluate new LFTR technology (it is not LWR or PWR)

There are several blogs out there that “prove” that LFTR won’t work. If you look closely at what they are saying, they apply facts about solid fueled reactors, including light-water reactors and pressurized-water reactors (LWR/PWR), to prove their point.

But there is almost nothing applicable from LWR/PWR technology to LFTRs, beyond they both have uranium fission. Solid fuel vs. fluid fuel. High pressure water cooling vs. atmospheric pressure stable salts. No removal of fission byproducts (trapped in the fuel rods) vs. removing fission byproducts from liqiud salts. Complex engineered safety vs. inherent and passive safety.

If you’re going to analyze a technology, you can’t simply take someone’s sloppily written ideas about a very different technology; they won’t apply. You take your knowledge and experience from other technology’s problems and solutions, and find out how well they apply.

http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/part-8-msr-lftr/8-4-the-isotope-separation-plant/ is referred to by several people. But it’s full of misunderstandings, sloppy writing so you’re not clear which type of reactor he’s talking about, and little analysis of LFTRs actual design and workings.

Much of what he says “against LFTR” doesn’t apply to LFTRs, but rather to PWR and LWR.

“This would be very technically challenging, especially in the LFTR case given the importance about separating out of U-232 (and its Thallium-208 payload) from U-233 or indeed removal of protactinium-233 as well as a host of other nuclear ‘poisons’ discussed. Build up of these in the core both leads to increased irradiation of the core as well as the eventual shutdown of the nuclear reaction process altogether.”

Many inaccuracies in one paragraph.

You wouldn’t remove protactinium-233 from a LFTR — when thorium absorbs a neutron, it decays to protactinium-233, then to uranium-233. He’s talking about removing the fuel! In a LFTR, you circulate the blanket salt (that has thorium, some decaying to protactinium then to uranium) through a simple chemical processing section, to extract the uranium from the blanket salt and deposit it into the core salt.

You would not remove U-232 from a LFTR. It is a gamma ray source, providing anti-proliferation benefits; in the reactor it will absorb a neutron and become U-233; then it fissions. He’s confusing solid-fueled (probably LWR and PWR) technology with liquid-fueled technology.

“increased irradiation of the core”

What does that mean? A nuclear reactor is designed to create radiation in the core (and keep it there). Does he mean to say that in a solid-fueled reactor, fuel rods get damaged by radiation?

“eventual shutdown of the nuclear reaction process altogether”

Sounds like he’s again confusing solid-fueled (LWR and PWR) technology with liquid-fueled technology. In a molten-salt reactor, fission byproducts are easily removed from the circulating salts. A fast-spectrum molten salt reactor would not require batch processing of the salts for decades.

See Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Laboratory 2011

See D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010) 1644-1656 (most of the papers published in this publication would be about PWR and LWR, but this paper is on molten salt reactors).

“the real radiological hazard is a pipe burst (an all too common occurrence and any chemical plant, and especially likely at these sort of working temperatures and radiation levels), we would thus need to put the CPP [chemical processing plant] underneath our concrete containment dome.”

Well, he’s clearly talking about LWR/PWR, since LFTRs don’t need concrete containment domes (there’s no high pressure water to contain). Pipes definitely could leak in a LFTR, but they wouldn’t “burst” at atmospheric pressures.

“yet to come up with a functional design of an CPP… materials science and chemical processing technology has moved on hugely in the last 40 years, so I doubt it would be sensible to build an CPP as shown in these plans. A new one would have to be redesigned from scratch.”

Yes, new would be better. But couldn’t it be that the 1960s design worked? Could it be that removing xenon gas is as easy as spraying the molten salt in a chamber, so the gas could come out of the liquid and be collected? (ORNL demonstrated it working in the MSRE.) There are other examples of the different chemical processing needed, all much simpler than he’s talking about, in ORNL documents from the 1960s and 1970s, and newer publications from several sources. I haven’t seen engineering specs, but the technology for the required chemical processing is known (and much of it used in the MSRE).

A “functional design” of a CPP would be designed to match the size and type of reactor being built, and we will see only simplified versions, just like in any industry making a new product. However, there are scientific journals going over designs, for example the links I’ve included.

“The designers of this reactor seem to be assuming that this CPP, which will involve various stages of pumping, sparging, vacuum processing and filtering of the working fluid, often at a variety of set temperatures or pressures will operate with no net energy input and achieve 100% separation efficiency!”

Of course it will take energy to pump, filter, electrolyze, etc. Engineers do include these in system designs. You wouldn’t need 100% separation efficiency, you need good enough so the reactor works for the expected lifetime. The designers know that can be done, at better than required efficiency, and when giving overviews of the technology (to people who likely wouldn’t understand detailed engineering and chemical specifications) they say the essential points — we need these capabilities, which are known and understood and have been demonstrated in other industrial applications; and we need these capabilities which are new and need explaining in more detail.

LFTRs are Much more forgiving of fission byproducts than solid fueled reactors — fission byproducts are trapped in solid fuel pellets, but can be removed from the circulating salts in a molten salt reactor.

“As the working fluid will be coming off the exhaust from the heat exchange cycle it will be relatively cool (in the MSRE it was at around 570 °C) yet some of these processing stages will require the fluid to be heated back up to 1,600°C.”

Just because the MSRE ran that temperature doesn’t mean MSRs can not run hotter! Most would be run hot enough (over 650° C), to split water and CO2 for making vehicle fuels. The highest temperature LFTRs would need materials able to handle the heat, and there are research results about which materials would work. I’ve seen suggestions of temperatures up to about 1000° C. (The salts are stable liquids to about 1400°C.) I haven’t seen anything mentioned needing 1600° C. Clearly he isn’t specifying what “these processing stages” are, nor is he starting from what would work in a LFTR. No engineer designs systems that cool down and “require the fluid to be heated back up” unless there is no other way; there are good ways with LFTRs.

“LFTR supporters have suggested (see here) using electrolysis to help improve the filtering efficiency of their plant. An excellent idea, it would solve a number of problems, but unfortunately electrolysis systems practically eat electricity! Where’s all that electricity going to come from?”

Hmm, he seems like he’s serious asking that. I’d guess the designers would get electricity from the electric generators connected to the reactor, wouldn’t you? How much electricity does he think electrolysis will “practically eat” compared to the electric generation capacity of the reactor? Maybe he’s taking knowledge from using electrolysis to make hydrogen fuel cells? (Electrolysis to make hydrogen fuel cells is less efficient than running the car on the electricity, or on gasoline instead of burning oil to make the electricity.)

“…achieved in which we compromise the standards of our CPP, accept one that is smaller and less efficient (and thus our reactor burns much more fuel and produces more waste) but is sufficiently efficient to give us a decent fuel burnup rate without being over complex (or large), nor energy hungry… Inevitably from time to time (probably at least once a year or so) we’d likely need to dump the entire core’s contents and replace it with fresh fuel. The ‘dumped’ contents being added to the global nuclear waste stockpile.”

Is he talking about a LFTR? All the physicists analyzing LFTRs (not saying what they know from solid-fuel reactors) say 95% to 99.5%+ fuel burnup, depending on the design of the reactor. We know the burnup that was achieved in the MSRE.

You wouldn’t “dump” the fuel into a stockpile, you’d remove the fission byproducts in the chemical processing plant, and continue using the fuel. Does he actually believe that since we can’t get 100% efficient, the reactor or fuel won’t work for longer than a year? (Is he talking about fuel in a fuel rod? Is the time he mentions the time fuel is usable in solid fueled reactors? Very difficult to remove the fuel from the ceramics in the rod, to do chemical processing on it.)

When people write things about complex technologies like this, make sure they’re clear about the technology, and write so you are clear which technology their facts or problems or solutions are about.

American Lawmakers Warned of Emerging Nuclear Power Market Risks and China’s Possible Domination

“A consortium of nuclear power advocates is concluding a week of briefings today with members of House and Senate energy committees from both sides of the aisle, and members of the bipartisan U.S. Defense Energy Security Caucus. The group’s message: There are safer, cleaner nuclear power options coming available, and while many of them are being developed in America, they stand the best likelihood of adoption and commercialization in China.”
from American Lawmakers Warned of Emerging Nuclear Power Market Risks and China’s Possible Domination, 27 Jan 2012

How Might LFTRs Fail?

All devices have failures. We have to consider the possible failure methods of any nuclear reactor design.

We don’t know the ways LFTRs would fail, just like we didn’t know decades ago that a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami could knock out all deisel backup generators leading to loss of coolant accidents, or how engineers’ recommendations would be ignored in construction of sea walls, at Fukushima-Daiichi

…but we do know many ways that current reactors fail that LFTRs can’t — we know LFTRs can’t fail from core meltdowns, loss of coolant, or high pressure explosions.

Since LFTRs could be mass-produced and installed everywhere a 100MW – 1000MW power source is needed, small problems such as leaking pipes would be much more likely.

Current reactors have leaking pipes, often. Easy to detect, easy to fix, easier to clean up in a LFTR since radioactive material is trapped in a salt that cools to a solid, instead of leaking radioactive water. At atmospheric pressure and with chemicals that don’t react to air or water, repairing the pipe would be the same or easier than for a solid-fueled reactor.

Fire a cannon at it, and the fuel would spill out and collect in the drain tanks. Damages the reactor, you’d have to repair it, but not a radiation disaster. Loss of electric power generation would be annoying to the city; but most cities would have multiple smaller reactors instead of one larger one.

The amount of uranium (and all other radioactive materials) in a LFTR at any time would be less than in any solid fueled reactor, and there would be no radioactive fuel stockpile (thorium is pretty harmless) and no spent fuel storage.

(LFTRs used to consume nuclear waste would be located at the waste storage facilities, which are heavily guarded.)

“MSRs will have an increased potential [compared to solid fuel reactors] for small-scale radioactive materials leaks because the highly radioactive fuel material is liquid and comparatively more accessible than solid fuels. The leak probability will be increased for on-line reprocessed reactor design variants as a result of more intensive fuel salt manipulation. The fuel salt reprocessing manipulation will need to take place within a hot-cell type environment, providing an additional containment structure within the primary reactor containment.” Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2011

(MSR leaks would quickly cool to a stable solid, rather than the radioactive water leaks in a water-cooled reactor.)

Terrorists with plastic explosives, to send radioactive fuel droplets into the air? They would quickly cool to glass-like solid, wouldn’t stay in the air (too heavy, about 2.4kg/liter), wouldn’t dissolve in water, wouldn’t flow well in water, but of course would have to be collected. Since there is much less radioactive material in a LFTR than a PWR, just enough to sustain fission, and radioactive fission byproducts would be regularly removed, there would likely be injuries only for people close enough to be hit by explosives spraying shrapnel and hot liquid salts. Installing LFTRs underground would make placing those bombs much harder to do. Put the electric turbine above ground, and in tours of the facility call it “the reactor” so most terrorists would strike the wrong device.

Insiders who have access to the reactor, and can install some high-tech “fire hose” that would handle 700° C highly radioactive liquids and gamma rays, for at least a few minutes?

There would be heat burns from very hot liquid hitting people. I don’t know what happens if radioactive FLiBe gets inside you, from drops landing on you; seems that would be the worst. So we would want to protect the facility against people installing explosives or other things.

Looks like the point terrorists would target is the attached equipment to use heat, air and CO2 to make methanol and gasoline; “It’d be like blowing up a big tank of gasoline, we’d get a big ‘splosion and be in the news!”. There would need to be an above-ground truck loading station or gas pump, easy to attack. Of course, the reactor would be shut down, and methanol/gasoline production would cease.

There are dozens of terrorist targets that would be easier and less expensive to attack. It’s easier and more dramatic to blow up a school bus or bridge or restaurant. But we still have to look at ways to prevent attacks.

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

Solving Technical Challenges in Building LFTRs

  • High-temperature operation naturally presents design challenges.
  • LFTR technology base has largely stagnated for 40 years.
  • LFTR technology is very different from the water-cooled, solid-fueled reactors that are the basis for current nuclear power generation, and is not yet fully understood by regulatory agencies and officials.

Flibe Energy LCES 2011

“Only Single Fluid graphite designs do not require new materials to be verified in a strong neutron fluance.” LeBlanc TEAC3

“The design weakness of the two-fluid design [at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s] was its complex plumbing. The design used brittle graphite pipes to hold the fuel salt. The pipes separated the fuel salt and breeding salt, so they were essential. The problem is that graphite expands under intense neutron bombardment. So, graphite pipes would change length, crack and become very leaky… In modern research, copper-reinforced graphite fiber cloth seems theoretically suitable, but no physical tests have been done.” Wikipedia

We have computer modeling, design, and testing methods not available in the 1960s; we’ll likely find a better material and/or better core designs.

[So at worst, we go with graphite and the reactor would be periodically shut down, like current reactors needing to be refueled? "Typical graphite lifetimes of 4 years" — while we'd love to have a reactor that runs non-stop for 50 years, would 4 years be okay? These pipes would only be in the reactor core. So drain the fuel, swap in new pipes (are designs so would be easy), and start it up again. These graphite pipes cracking wouldn't be catastrophic, they are only separating liquid salt containing uranium (and reaction byproducts) from liquid salt containing thorium, primarily for ease in separating out reaction byproducts.]

Solving the “two fluid plumbing problem” that ORNL had in the 1960′s: Make the reactor core a small (less than 1 meter diameter) elongated cylinder. A single barrier separates core and blanket regions (not intermixing regions in the core with complex pipes). The entire volume of the core is power-producing salt; the carrier salt itself is a fairly effective moderator, so no graphite moderator is needed. Increase power generated without intermixing by extending the length of the core.
This reactor design has a “potential lower limit of start up fissile inventory of a mere 150 kg/GW(e) with 400 kg/GW(e) being a more conservative goal. For comparison ORNL Two Fluid work was about 700 kg/GW(e), ORNL Single Fluid 1500 kg/GW(e), an LWR is 3-5 tonnes/GW(e) and liquid metal cooled fast breeders 10-20 tonnes/GW(e).” A reactor with a 70 cm wide cylindrical core 6.6m long with a steam cycle generator, gives 224MW electricity. “Including a meter thick blanket and outer vessel wall still results in a simple to manufacture design that can fit within a tractor trailer for transport”. D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010) p. 1644-1656

Need more research on materials for in the core, or improvements on the Hastelloy-N alloy for use in the reactor core: “It is likely though that Hastelloy N has a limited lifetime if used within the full neutron flux of the core. Use in the outer vessel walls and heat exchangers should pose little problem but substantial work will be required in order to qualify any new alloys for ASME Section III use.” D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010)

“Potentially a much superior metal barrier is a high molybdenum alloy which is known to have a much greater tolerance to neutron damage (Zinkle and Ghoniem, 2000).” D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010)

There is a long Core-Blanket barrier materials discussion at D. LeBlanc TEAC3

“…the Oak Ridge National Laboratory prototype LFTR showed some signs of corrosion after four years’ operation. Hence this would be a technical challenge that needs to be addressed if LFTRs are to be constructed and have an expected 50-year operational lifetime… The corrosion problems are potentially soluble simply by employing sufficiently thick pipe and chamber walls fabricated from Hastelloy-N, or alternatively developing further improved corrosion-resistant metal alloys, says Dr. Norris.” [Dr. Timothy Norris, European Patent Attorney at Norway's ACAPO] — Nuclear Energy Insider

What is Needed Short Term: Fuel Salt chemistry and corrosion studies of various carrier salts and materials for heat exchangers or potential 2 Fluid barriers. Non-nuclear component testing of pumps, valves, heat exchangers etc. LeBlanc TEAC3

… we believe a small prototype plant should be built to provide experience in all aspects of a commercial plant. The liquid nature of the molten salt reactor permits an unusually small plant that could serve the role just so that the temperatures, power densities, and flow speeds are similar to that in larger plants. A test reactor, e.g., 10 MWelectric or maybe even as small as 1 MWelectric would suffice and still have full commercial plant power density and therefore the same graphite damage or corrosion limited lifetime. Supporting research and development would be needed on corrosion of materials, process development, and waste forms, all of which, however, are not needed for the first prototype. Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant, Moir and Teller, 2005

We need to show adequate long corrosion lifetime for nickel alloy resistant to the tellurium cracking observed after the past reactor ran for only 4 yr. If carbon composites are successful, corrosion will likely become less important. We want to prove feasible extraction of valence two and three fluorides, especially rare earth elements, which will then allow the fuel to burn far longer than 30 yr (200 yr). We need to study and demonstrate an interim waste form suggested to be solid and liquid fluorides and substitute fluorapatite for the permanent waste form of fission products with minimal carryover of actinides during the separation process. This solution holds the promise to diminish the need for repository space by up to two orders of magnitude based on waste heat generation rate. We need a study to show the feasibility of passive heat removal from the reactor after-heat and stored fission products to the atmosphere without material leakage and at reasonable cost. Another study needs to show that all aspects of the molten salt reactor can be done competitively with fossil fuel. Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant, Moir and Teller, 2005

Manufacturing LFTRs Easier than Other Reactors

LFTRs eliminate most of the expensive, complex (and therefore failure-prone) systems in water-cooled reactors.

Molten salts are superior coolants so heat exchangers and pumps are smaller and easy to fabricate.

Simpler design and smaller size mean LFTRs can be produced in a factory and delivered, reducing construction cost and time, while increasing manufacturing reliability.

Assembly line production of a reactor would be comparable in complexity and quality control to building large aircraft.

Using modern design for the LFTR core, a reactor with a 6.6m long by 0.7m wide core, and a meter thick thorium-conversion blanket, generates 220MW electricity “in a simple to manufacture design that can fit within a tractor trailer for transport”. D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010)

Business economists observe that commercialization of any technology leads to lower costs as the number of units increases and the experience curve delivers benefits in work specialization, refined production processes, product standardization and efficient product redesign. Given the diminished scale of LFTRs, it seems reasonable to project that reactors of 100 megawatts can be factory produced for a cost of around $200 million. Hargraves, American Scientist Vol 98, July 2010

Production Requirements

Once we have assembly line production, a 100 MegaWatt LFTR would cost around $200 Million, so the total cost of producing power would be cheaper than coal. Boeing makes a $200 Million dollar product per day. Robert Hargraves – Aim High! @ TEAC3

“Boeing produces one $200 million plane per day in massive production lines that could be a model for mass production of liquid fluoride thorium reactors. Centralized mass production offers the advantages of specialization among workers, product standardization, and optimization of quality control, as inspections can be conducted by highly trained workers using installed, specialized equipment.” Hargraves, American Scientist Vol 98, July 2010

LFTRs can be 1-5 MW up to 1000MW or larger, to fit the site needs.

Site footprint:
A light water reactor would need 200,000 to 300,000 square feet, surrounded by a low-density population zone.
A LFTR would need 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, with no need for a buffer zone. Thor-Facts

Production details for installing a LFTR 10m underground (to prevent most terrorist attacks and avoid most natural disasters) are included in Moir and Teller, 2005

A Manhattan Project level of focus would produce operating LFTRs within 2-3 years and production in 5 years. Skunk works level of focus would have a prototype in 5 yrs, production in 10yrs. Cost to have LFTRs ready to be mass produced would be comparable to designing and certifying a new single PWR plant. Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor

FLiBe Energy plans to have a LFTR operational by 2015.

Most LFTR designs (like the MSRE) use thermal neutrons (lower energy), but fast-spectrum molten salt reactor designs also work well; similar liquid-fuel, atmospheric pressures and chemically stable salt coolants. See Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge Nat’l Labs

Liquid fluoride solutions are familiar chemistry. Millions of metric tons of liquid fluoride salts circulate through hundreds of aluminum chemical plants daily, and all uranium used in today’s reactors has to pass in and out of a fluoride form in order to be enriched. The LFTR technology is in many ways a straightforward extension of contemporary nuclear chemical engineering. American Scientist volume 98 – Hargraves, 2010

“The containment wall thickness and consequent capital costs for FS-MSRs will be lower than those for other reactor types because mechanisms to generate pressure or explosive chemical mixtures within containment are lacking. The containment walls are only required to contain a low-pressure internal environment and endure when subjected to external seismic and impact stressors. Halide salts are chemically inert, so they do not have exothermic reactions with the environment (oxygen, water) as would hot sodium or hot zirconium. With a greater than 500°C margin to boiling, the halide salts also do not have a credible route to pressurizing containment as would a water-cooled reactor. FS-MSRs also do not have any hydrogenous material within containment; thus they cannot generate hydrogen.” Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Labs, July 2011

“FS-MSRs will require more expensive structural materials than LWRs because of their higher reactor temperatures and fast neutron flux tolerance requirement. However, because of the lower pressure, smaller amounts of the materials will be required. Overall, the material-expense-balance economics are as yet unknown. FS-MSRs will also require more expensive components and instruments because of both the higher temperatures and the requirement to accommodate remote maintenance.” Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Labs, July 2011

About Hastelloy: “Good resistance to aging and embrittlement and good fabricability. It has excellent resistance to hot fluoride salts in the temperature range of 1300°F to 1600°F (705°C-870°C).” and “In tests of over two years duration, corrosion attack on HASTELLOY N alloy in molten fluoride salts at temperatures up to 1300°F (704°C), was less than one mil per year. It is expected that alloy N will be most useful in environments involving fluorides at high temperatures… HASTELLOY N alloy has good oxidation resistance in air. It shows promise for continuous operations at temperatures up to 1800°F (982°C).”HASTELLOY ® N alloy

Economics of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors

Develop LFTR and factories: ~$5Billion. Build 100MW LFTRs on assembly lines: ~$200 Million.

Fuel for 1GW LFTR: $10,000/yr. (LWR: $50-60 Million/yr.)

A 1 GigaWatt LFTR generates $595 million to $690 million of electricity per year, plus:

  • 150kg xenon @ $180,000.
  • 125kg of neodymium @ $150,000
  • 15Kg Pu-238 (only Pu-239 is fissile) for radioisotope power @ $75M-150M
  • 20kg medical molybdenum-99, plus 5g Th-229 (decays to Bi-213 for cancer treatments)
  • 20Kg radiostrontium for remote heating units.

Radioisotopes and Medical Isotopes from LFTR

Capital costs are generally higher for conventional nuclear versus fossil-fuel plants, whereas fuel costs are lower… because the construction, including the containment building, must meet very high standards; the facilities include elaborate, redundant safety systems; and included in capital costs are levies for the cost of decommissioning and removing the plants when they are ultimately taken out of service. The much-consulted MIT study The Future of Nuclear Power, originally published in 2003 and updated in 2009, shows the capital costs of coal plants at $2.30 per watt versus $4 for light-water nuclear. A principal reason why the capital costs of LFTR plants could depart from this ratio is that the LFTR operates at atmospheric pressure and contains no pressurized water. With no water to flash to steam in the event of a pressure breach, a LFTR can use a much more close-fitting containment structure. Other expensive high-pressure coolant-injection systems can also be deleted. One concept for the smaller LFTR containment structure is a hardened concrete facility below ground level, with a robust concrete cap at ground level to resist aircraft impact and any other foreseeable assaults. Hargraves, American Scientist Vol 98, July 2010

Limited decommissioning cost vs. LWR systems, infrastructure & waste. Total development cost for Th-MSR may be less than ‘true cost’ of decommissioning current LWR. Th-MSR’s value in burning existing waste may offset its total Build & Operational Cost. Kennedy TEAC3

The U.S. nuclear industry has already allocated $25 billion for storage or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. FLiBe Energy. [Perhaps the company that builds LFTRs will get the contract? Development of LFTRs and construction of manufacturing plants for the entire world would cost less.]

For economics of solid fuel reactors, including construction, fuel, waste, decomissioning, see Doty Energy – Fission.

Useful LFTR Fission By-Products

Fission of 1000 kg U-233 produces several chemicals essential for industry, readily extracted from a LFTR, including 150kg xenon, 125kg neodymium (high-strength magnets), 20kg medical molybdenum-99, 20kg radiostrontium, zirconium, rhodium, ruthenium, and palladium.

LFTRs also produce non-fissile Pu-238, that conventional reactors can’t produce isolated from highly fissile Plutonium-239; Pu-238 is needed for radioisotope power such as for NASA deep space exploration vehicles (none left, only Th to U-233 makes Pu-238 w/o Pu-239).

(Extracting these from fuel rods in a solid fuel reactor would be extremely difficult.)

Radioactive isotopes are needed for medical treatment, including highly-targeted cancer treatments. These are currently very rare, since they have half-lives of a few days. LFTRs would produce these as part of the decay of U-233, and they would be easy to remove from the fuel salt.

Iodine-131 is used to treat cancers of the thyroid.

Thorium-229 for cancer treatments, decays to Bismuth-213, which decays through alpha emission (unlike most of the fission products that decay through beta emission). By binding Bi-213 to an antibody, it can be directed swiftly to a cancerous cell. The alpha decay of the Bi-213 then has a high probability of killing the cancer cell. (Very small amount/treatment, but decays fast to Bi-209.)