MSR Benefits

Molten Salt Reactor Advantages

  • Molten Fuel - Fuel circulates through the reactor, fission products get removed, for over 99% fuel use (vs. LWR ~3%). No long-term radioactive waste.
  • Salt Cooled - Coolant far below boiling point, reactor operates at atmospheric pressure. Fuel dissolved in stable salt (no water), no loss of coolant accident possible. No need for high-pressure safety systems.
  • High Inherent Safety - No water, no high pressure, nothing that could propel radioactive materials into the environment. Thermal expansion/contraction of molten fuel salt strongly regulates fission rate; MSR is a very stable reactor. Simple safety systems work even if no electricity or operators.
  • Easy Construction and Siting - Low pressure operation, so no high-pressure safety systems. No water, so no steam containment building. Reactor factory assembled, with modern quality control, sensors and communication.
  • Lower Cost - Even with exotic materials, construction costs will be dramatically lower than LWR — factory construction, minimal manual on-site preparation. No long-term radioactive waste, so no long-term storage.
  • High Temperature Operation - Heat to generate electricity, desalinate water, produce CO2-neutral vehicle fuel, etc.
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I sent this to Senator Boxer (D-CA) and to Sierra Club of CA.

Dear Senator Boxer,

Instead of expanding oil drilling, fracking, pipelines, rail car fires, coal ash ponds spilling, the environmental damage and illness of burning fossil fuels, we can use other forms of energy.

Many environmentalists are now seeing that the energy form with the lowest number of deaths and illnesses per gigawatt-year, the lowest quantity of pollutants, and the lowest full-lifecycle CO2 use (even lower than wind and solar, which require concrete and metal construction and high-tech materials over large areas) is new types of nuclear power.

The Light Water Reactor, what the USA and most of the world uses almost exclusively, is far from the only type of nuclear reactor possible.

Molten Salt Reactors have no water so no high pressure, no high-pressure pipes and emergency systems, and no steam containment building, all very expensive in LWR. Total cost, of the entire life-cycle, should be lower than coal. They are cooled by molten salt, and can operate at temperatures high enough for industrial use (e.g. making electricity more efficiently, making CO2-neutral gasoline, desalinating water for agriculture or drought relief, or making ammonia for fertilizer) yet not nearly hot enough to boil away.

200MW MSR could be deployed for military or disaster relief. Some designs could installed in non-nuclear countries. The inherent safety, largely from no water, means installation could be very near electric demand, on very small sites.

Molten Salt Reactors have molten fuel. Since the coolant can’t boil away, and the fuel is chemically bound to the coolant, “loss of coolant accidents” are physically impossible.

Simple thermal expansion strongly regulates the fission rate, MSR is a highly stable reactor. Inherent safety, instead of highly-engineered safety. (The opposite of Chernobyl, fission rate got over 1000x normal.)

With coolant that can’t boil, and fuel that can’t get denser (unlike LWR fuel if coolant boils away), there is no way the fuel can melt through the reactor vessel. During accidents, fuel can be quickly drained to storage tanks, even by power being cut to a “freeze plug” (refrigerated section of pipe makes salt frozen). Or, simply leave the reactor running, Fukushima-style accidents are impossible.

LWR needs 200,000kg uranium to make 35,000kg enriched uranium to make about 1 gigawatt-year electricity. MSR needs under 1,000kg to make the same electricity.

Some MSR designs convert plentiful thorium into fuel, no enrichment, no fuel pellet assembly. Other MSR designs can use LWR “waste” as fuel, needing only mechanical shredding and simple acid dissolving of the fuel pellets. (Not nearly as complex as PUREX reprocessing. No more “nuclear waste problem”.)

With very small amounts of uranium or plutonium in the waste (industrial chemical processes typically lose 0.1%) the entire waste is below background radiation levels in 350 years, but most of the waste is safe in 10 years — we know how to store about 375 lbs of simple chemicals per gigawatt-year for 350 years.

I have much more detailed descriptions of the safety, efficiency, technical work needed, political reasons we haven’t done this yet, companies in USA and other countries that are doing research and planning MSR construction, at

The main downside is the coal and oil industries would be violently opposed, most likely literally; they are highly likely behind the anti-nuclear hysteria.

California could lead the way in the high-tech development of mass produced Molten Salt Reactors, with high quality control, advanced materials, advanced sensors and communication, and surveillance.

Total development costs to bring the technology from initial successful demonstration (in Oak Ridge National Laboratories 1960-1972) to 200MW commercial reactors, and construction of factories, would be about $2 Billion. Total cost of electricity, from mining through decommissioning, would be comparable or below coal. Or we can wait and let China do it, they have a $multi-billion program started.

George Lerner

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