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Weather will not affect LFTRs output

Weather in France slows nuclear power production

We’ve passed the tsunami test, the earthquake test and now the weather test.
I’m half joking but seriously I keep discovering more reasons to switch to LFTRs.
France never embraced Molten Salt Reactors fully but did experiment. Look at how they missed out. Weather conditions would not affect power production with LFTRs because supply of water is not required to cool them.
The seismic activity is not as serious as it would be with LWR’s or BWR’s and Fukushima recently showed that they withstand earthquakes quite well. ZCWUW7HCU7QW

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Public Comment to BRC by Mike Conley

Mike Conley is a writer from L.A., California. He is working on a novel. Has a book being published and working on a script for a documentary. He also attended the Blue Ribbon Commission hearing on May 13th the same week and same city that hosted the third Thorium Energy Alliance Conference. Washington, D.C.
They only give each person three minutes so he was only able to read the first page. He was one of five people who had a statement to support the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor which was originally called a Thorium Molten Salt Breeder Reactor. Keep in mind that any details outlined about the actual design is purely a speculation and broadly based on the original designs from the 1960s by Alvin Weinberg’s team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. LFTR has flexibility of function and application.

The Thorium Paradigm
The problem is with the reactors we’ve been using to produce it. If the reactors at Fukushima had been Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) they wouldn’t have had a disaster on their hands. 

  1. Liquid-fuel reactor technology was successfully developed at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s. Although the test reactor worked flawlessly, the project was shelved, a victim of Cold War strategy. But LFTRs have been gathering a lot of attention lately, particularly since the tragic events in Japan.
  2. A LFTR is a completely different type of reactor. For one thing, it can’t melt down. It’s physically impossible. And since it’s air-cooled, it doesn’t have to be located near the shore. It can even be placed in an underground vault. A tsunami would roll right over it, like a truck over a manhole cover.
  3. Imagine a kettle of lava that never boils. A LFTR uses liquid fuel.nuclear material dissolved in molten fluoride salt. Conventional reactors are atomic pressure cookers, using solid fuel rods to super-heat water. That means the constant danger of high-pressure ruptures and steam leaks. But liquid fuel can always expand and cool off.
  4. LFTRs don’t even use water. Instead, they heat a common gas like CO2 to spin a turbine for generating power. So if a LFTR does leak, it’s not a catastrophe. Just like lava, the molten salt immediately cools off, quickly becoming an inert lump of rock.
  5. LFTRs burn Thorium, a mildly radioactive material as common as tin and found all over the world. We’ve already mined enough raw Thorium to power the country for 400 years. It’s the waste at our Rare Earth Element mines.
  6. LFTRs consume fuel so efficiently that they can even use the spent fuel from other reactors, while producing a miniscule amount of waste themselves. In fact, the waste from a LFTR is virtually harmless in just 300 years. (No, that’s not a typo.) Yucca Mountain is obsolete. So are Uranium reactors.
  7. LFTR technology has been sitting on the shelf at Oak Ridge for over forty years. But now the manuals are dusted off, and a dedicated group of nuclear industry outsiders is ready to build another test reactor and give it a go. Will it work. If it doesn’t, we’ll have one more reactor to retire.
    But if it does work and there is every reason to believe that it will the LFTR will launch a new American paradigm of clean, cheap, safe and abundant energy.
    Let’s build one and see!

A Uranium reactor is an atomic pressure-cooker – it works just fine until it pops a gasket. Then you’ve got a mess on your hands. Even when it works properly, it wastes 95% of its fuel, making another mess. And the same procedure for making that fuel is used to make nuclear weapons. Is that any way to power a planet.

A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR, pronounced “lifter” ) is a completely different approach to generating power, with none of the problems inherent in Uranium reactors and several unique advantages. If the reactors at Fukushima had been LFTRs, Fukushima would never have happened.

The Molten Salt Reactor was the precursor to the LFTR. Developed at Oak Ridge National Labs in the sixties, the MSR performed flawlessly for 20,000 hours. But in spite of its superior design and stellar performance, the program was cancelled – a victim of professional rivalry, personality conflicts, and Cold War strategy.

LFTR technology has literally been sitting on the shelf for over forty years, but it’s been gathering a lot of keen attention lately. Because if LFTRs perform as predicted (and there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that they will) they will go a long way toward resolving the four main problems that everyone has with nuclear energy – Waste, Safety, Proliferation, and Cost.

WASTE: Yucca Mountain is obsolete. Why. Because LFTRs will eat nuclear waste for lunch. They’re designed to burn fuel so efficiently, that they can also consume the spent fuel that’s wasted by Uranium reactors. LFTRs will also be able to consume the cores of dismantled nuclear weapons.

No reactor is waste-free, but a LFTR’s waste will be miniscule. For a LFTR big enough to power a city of one million, the yearly long-term waste would be the size of a basketball, and becomes virtually harmless in just 300 years.

No, that’s not a typo. That’s how clean a LFTR will run. Its main fuel will be Thorium, a mildly radioactive element found all over the world. We have thousands of tons of it already dug up – it’s in the slag piles at our Rare Earth Element mines. (“REEs” are typically found with thorium ore.)
A 1-gigawatt LFTR, big enough to power a city of one million, will run on one ton of pure Thorium a year. The current price for a ton is $107,000 (that’s not a typo, either.) At the end of each year, 1,660 pounds of that ton will be “short-term” waste, meaning it’s virtually harmless in one year. The other 340 lbs (the size of a basketball) will take while longer to mellow out.

SAFETY: Imagine a kettle of lava that simmers but never boils. It’s super-hot, but it’s not under pressure. A LFTR is essentially a kettle of atomic lava. The analogy is accurate – Thorium and Uranium reactions are what keep the earth’s core molten. In a LFTR, Thorium is dissolved in molten (liquefied) fluoride salt. That’s why the Molten Salt Reactor is now called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

If this “lava” ever leaks out (actually, it looks and flows just like green dish soap) there’s no explosion, because there’s nothing around the power plant for the molten salt to react with – LFTRs don’t use water to keep cool, or make steam to spin a turbine. They heat a common gas like CO2 instead.

Since the liquid fuel is never under pressure, a leak would simply “pool and cool” just like lava, quickly forming a blob of solid rock on the reactor room floor. If it spilled into a flooded reactor room, it would behave like the lava flows in Hawaii. A bit of steam would billow off the cooling blob of salt, and that would be it.

Only two percent of the salt mixture is the actual radioactive fuel, and every atom of atomic fuel is chemically bonded to the salt. There are no radioactive particles floating around inside a LFTR, ready to escape. Every particle is bonded to the salt itself, and stays that way until it is burned as fuel. The big problem at Fukushima wasn’t radioactive material such as Cesium leaking out of the reactors. The big problem was that it leaked out and spread into the environment. But if a LFTR leaked any Cesium at all, it would be trace amounts of Cesium Fluoride locked into the fluoride salt. Liquid fuel solves a crucial problem of environmental safety.

Once the salt has cooled, it’s an inert radioactive blob with the consistency of cast iron, and dissolves in water very, very slowly. In fact, the minerals in both fresh and salt water would form a protective crust over the blob, enhancing its ability to withhold contaminants from the environment. So if the reactor room were flooded,
by a tsunami or a hurricane or even sabotage, the amount of material transferred to the environment would be negligible.

Liquid fuel is stable stuff. Below 450°C (about 750°F) it’s just a lump of rock, and can be broken up and collected by robots or other remote machinery. A year after the spill, it can be manually recovered by workers in radiation suits. Like any nuclear fuel, it’s dangerous. But at least it’ll stay put until you can clean it up.

A LFTR will naturally regulate its own temperature, but a Uranium reactor will naturally overheat, unless it’s held back by a robust cooling system. Solid fuel rods get hot, and they also heat each other up, which is a good thing, but they can’t expand or move away from each other to cool themselves off. For a lot of technical reasons, the coolant of choice is super-heated water, which stays liquid as long as it’s kept under pressure. Hence the term “atomic pressure cooker.”

In the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the cooling system failed for a mere ten seconds. That’s all it took. At Fukushima, all the control rods dropped the moment the earthquake hit. Which was good; that stopped the fission process. But the fuel rods were still red hot, and they were still tightly packed together. And, there was no electric power to run the cooling system. So when the tsunami flooded the backup generators, everything went to hell in a hand basket.

Nuclear power is wonderful stuff, but after a series of spectacular near misses and disasters, a lot of people have written off Uranium reactors as accidents waiting to happen. The numbers on the dice are too big, they’ll tell you. The risks are too great. They’ve had it up to here with nuclear power…

But nuclear power isn’t the problem. The problem is with the reactors
we’ve been using to produce it.

LFTRs are completely different. For one thing, they can’t melt down.
Ever. The reason is simple: How do you melt a liquid. Solid fluoride salt melts
at 450°C. With a full load of atomic material, the temperature rises to about 700°C (1,300°F.) If the liquid fuel starts to overheat, it expands, which separates the radioactive
particles and slows the fission process, cooling the molten salt back down again.

This completely eliminates the need for control rods and a cooling system, as well as all of the problems, costs, and risks associated with a pressurized light water reactor. It also entirely eliminates any possibility of a meltdown. Better yet, the fuel will be piped through a processing unit, where the contaminants that spoil solid fuel rods are easily removed. This increases the fuel-burning efficiency of a LFTR to 99%, which greatly reduces the volume and the radioactivity of its waste.

Liquid fuel changes everything.

A LFTR never operates under pressure because even with a full load of nuclear material, the molten salt is still more than 500°C below its boiling point. And if it ever does start to get too hot, a freeze plug of solid salt in a drainpipe below the reactor will melt away. The fuel will empty into a large holding tank and solidify.

On Friday afternoons at Oak Ridge, the research scientists would switch off a common household fan that cooled the freeze plug. The hot salt above the plug would melt it, and the fuel would drain out of the reactor by gravity. On Monday mornings, they would switch on the heating coils and re-melt the fuel, then pump it back into the reactor and turn on the freeze plug fan. Even Homer Simpson couldn’t screw that up. For five years, the reactor practically ran itself. They used to joke that the biggest problem they had was finding something to do.

Passive safety isn’t just built into the LFTR; it’s built into the actual fuel itself. The genius of liquid fuel is that the stuff won’t even work unless it’s held within the confined space of a reactor. In a Uranium reactor, the solid fuel rods keep radiating heat even when the control rods are dropped. The cooling system never rests. But when a LFTR shuts down, the fuel shuts down and sleeps like a rock.

Because of the constant and absolutely critical need for cooling, all Uranium reactors are located near a large body of water. It’s a tragedy that some were installed near the seashore, in the most earthquake-prone nation in the world, the very country that coined the word tsunami. But when you’re a small, crowded island nation hungry for carbon-free energy, you don’t have much of a choice…

Until now. Because LFTRs are air-cooled. That changes everything as well. Because that means they can be installed anywhere. They can even be placed in underground vaults to ward off an attack or a natural disaster. If a vault is near the ocean, a tsunami would roll right over it, like a truck over a manhole cover.

PROLIFERATION: Any rogue nation can build a 1940s-style graphite pile reactor and make the Plutonium for a bomb. That’s what North Korea did. Or they can use centrifuges to purify Uranium for a bomb. That’s probably what Iran is doing. Or, with a lot of expense and difficulty, they can convert a Uranium power reactor into a Plutonium breeder. The genie has been out of the bottle for over sixty years.

LFTRs convert Thorium into Uranium-233, an incredibly nasty substance. It’s an efficient, hot-burning reactor fuel, but it’s a very problematic weapons material. By contrast, U-235 and Pu-239 are very well behaved substances, and can be easily worked with in the lab or the factory. Out of the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that were ever produced, the U.S. military built and tested only one U-233 “ device.” It was a partial fizzle, and we promptly abandoned the idea.

Even though LFTRs and LFTR fuel will be “denatured” to prevent weapons production, a rogue nation could possibly get around the fix and start a U-233 bomb program. But they’d have to start from scratch. There’s a wealth of information about U-235 and U-239 weapon design, and several experienced scientists could probably be recruited. But making a U-233 bomb is a lost art.

So, yes, in theory, you could make a bomb with a LFTR. But the development of a workable device would be an expensive and painstaking affair. Even though LFTRs won’t be “bomb-proof” per se, Uranium and Plutonium technology is very well known, thoroughly proven, and fully developed. So why reinvent The Bomb.

One last point: Nuclear weapons are not dependent on nuclear power. Even if every commercial power reactor in the world were taken out of service, that still wouldn’t stop the bad guys from pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea developed the bomb without generating a single watt of nuclear power.

COST: The cost of a nuclear power plant is largely determined by four elements: The reactor itself; the structure that contains it; the inspection process; and the lawsuits that are piled on the project.

This last element adds an enormous amount of time and money to the endeavor, which raises utility rates and turns off investors and insurance firms and voters. So a rational comparison can only be made with the first two elements – the cost of the reactor and the cost of the containment structure.

The inspection process varies, depending on which reactor technology is used, and a Uranium reactor’s custom-made high-pressure systems require a bewildering thicket of inspections, tests, and reports. You’d think they were trying to go to the moon.

 

But LFTRs are an entirely different technology. In fact, it’s a lot more like high-temperature plumbing than nuclear physics. And because molten salt sheds heat quite easily, an elaborate cooling system isn’t even needed. A simple radiator will suffice.

Since LFTRs don’t operate under pressure, high-strength valves and fittings and high-pressure pipes aren’t needed, either. Off-the-shelf parts will do. Back-up generators, emergency cooling systems, control rod mechanisms, spent fuel storage pools, the crane for replacing fuel rods, the reactor pressure vessel, the airtight containment dome – all of these pricey items and more are eliminated.

For various reasons, every Uranium power reactor in America was designed and built from scratch, which significantly added to their build time as well as their cost. The plans alone would often exceed $100 Million in today’s dollars.

But LFTRs will be small and standardized, allowing them to be mass-produced in factories and shipped by rail. Their low-pressure components will be much easier to assemble, allowing for faster and simplified inspection. LFTRs will be modular, so a power plant will be able to grow along with the city it serves. All these factors and more will combine to produce a trickle-down effect, greatly reducing the complexity, cost, size, and build time of each project.

The current estimate for 1-gigawatt Thorium power plant is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 Billion. That makes Thorium competitive with coal.

CONCLUSION: Liquid fuel is the killer app of nuclear power. It’s a whole new ball game. In fact, LFTRs could even replace the furnaces of our existing fossil fuel power plants, including coal. (Don’t get me started about coal…) LFTRs will provide carbon-free power wherever it’s needed, 24/7/365.

We’ve already mined enough fuel for over 400 years. They’ll be mass-produced right here in America, providing plenty of good jobs, and they’ll get us off of foreign oil and domestic natural gas, and even King Coal, by providing us with all the safe, clean energy we need.

Will they work as promised? Let’s build one and see. Power to the Planet!

Mike Conley Los Angeles p.s.

One more thing: Last fall, a delegation from China visited Oak Ridge National Labs. When they returned home, they announced that they would be embarking on an aggressive Molten Salt Reactor program, and would be patenting everything they can think of along the way. The Chinese are eating our lunch again, and using our own damn recipe. If this isn’t a Sputnik Moment, then I don’t know what is.

[I recall he did improvise a few words at the end in regard to building.the LFTR: Let us build one even if we make total fools of our selves as if to say “What if we’re right?”]

 

 

“THE THORIUM PARADIGM” soon to be a one-hour documentary
from B2MR PRODUCTIONS

Executive Producer: James Blakeley III

310-283-8632

james.blakeley@yahoo.com

Producer: Marina Martins

310-666-9213

marina.uig@gmail.com

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Thorium Molten Salt Reactor covered in Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal wrote this on Thorium MARCH 19, 2011

Does a Different Nuclear Power Lie Ahead? By MATT RIDLEY
Might the Fukushima accident eventually create a chance for the nuclear industry to “reboot”? In recent years some have begun to argue that solid-fuel uranium reactors like the ones in Japan are an outdated technology that deserves to peter out and be replaced by an entirely different kind of nuclear energy that will be both safer and cheaper…

The attention brought by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant break down has had unexpected attention brought to the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor which by the way has no need for water or containment and cannot melt down and will not radiate the worst nuclear isotopes.

There was a time when the Americans chose a path based on the perceived need to compete with the Russians for military supremacy. Nuclear weapons needed Plutonium. The method at the time was to breed Plutonium in a reactor. But Thorium Molten Salt Reactors could not produce Plutonium. This was viewed as a negative and became shelved.

Fifty years later, the worst nuclear breakdown since Chernobyl in 1986 has turned turned out to be relatively minor and the 50 remaining nuclear reactors in Japan remain safe. The different circumstances are so obvious. For instance human error was responsible for the Chernobyl accident. A natural disaster of such an unexpected strength that has not been experienced by Japan in modern history caused the disruption of 4 reactor units at the same plant in Fukushima Daiichi. The safety record for nuclear power plants has been unsurpassed by any other power facility or other industry.

The antinuclear movement has unwittingly helped the progress of nuclear energy. Articles such as these will now become more common over the next few months. The reality is that people are asking why has there been so little innovation over the last 30 years? Can reactors be made safer?

One of the main inventors of the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor, Alvin Weinberg, knew that they were superior to the solid fueled reactors and pushed for their acceptance. He eventually lost his job for making too much noise about it when the politics of the time were more about arms than climate change. Weinberg was ahead of his time. He also designed the Light Water Reactor, currently the most popular reactors, which he himself turned against.

Now considered a fourth generation technology the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor shows the most promise as a nuclear energy design precisely because they solve the problems that made the older nuclear power plant designs unpopular.

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Thorium MSR in China

Kirk Sorensen’s EFT page: Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) is now being developed in China

and here is Charles Barton’s Post China starts LFTR Development Project

I’m sure Kirk Sorensen and Charles Barton had mixed emotions when they learned that China was building a TMSR. Details of the design are not available. For newcomers, this is a big deal because the LFTR is a TMSR. TMSR is a more general term.
So it’s great that somebody recognizes this technology as promising. It’s sad that the US, the place that gave birth to the first TMSR, has not revived the research to commercialize them. Alvin Weinberg must be turning in his grave.

Funding LFTR nuclear thorium

Possible billion dollar return from one tonne of Thorium

Kirk Sorensen provided this fascinating look at what a LFTR could do in the not so distant future:

Each metric tonne of thorium consumed in a LFTR could produce:

9900 GWe*hr of electricity (at 45% conversion efficiency)
up to 15 kg (8400 watts*thermal) of Pu-238 for NASA space missions
20 kg of molybdenum-99 for medical procedures
5 g of thorium-229 for targeted alpha therapy medical procedures
3300 thermal watts of strontium-90 for heating sources
150 kg of stable xenon
125 kg of stable neodymium

that’s about
$600M worth of electricity
~$100M worth of Pu-238
~$200-300M worth of Mo-99
and about $300K worth of xenon and neodymium

and many lives saved through clean electricity and medical radioisotopes.

See Kirk’s talk on Google Tech Talk posted Dec 6th 2010 – Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste?

Funding nuclear thorium

Furukawa Fuji and Mini-Fuji Business Plan

Charles Barton introduces more on the IthEMS business plan from Dr. Kazuo Furukawa

This company has visited England and the US in a string of presentations to ask for 300 million to jump start their own innovation to the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor. The Mini-FUJI targets shipping and the FUJI targets base load electricity. They predict a working prototype six years from the project launch date. You will find the Thorium MSR’s strengths widely discussed on this site as well as Charles Barton’s Blog and Kirk Sorensen’s Blog.

The Aker Solutions’ Accelerator Driven Thorium Reactor™ (ADTR) has won the prestigious Energy Award at this year’s IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers) Innovations and Excellence Awards which is laser based solution but has a much more modest timeline for 2030. Long term projections seems to be a requirement to get attention these days.

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Q and A with David LeBlanc – Canadian Thorium expert

David LeBlanc is a physics researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. He founded Ottawa Valley Research Associates Ltd. to advance molten salt reactor designs. Is an important contributor to the energyfromthorium.com forum and is becoming lecturer on the related subjects of Thorium Reactors.

1. You have taken a recent interest in DMSR* (see David’s explanation below) Why is this of interest?
My approach in design has always been to simplify as much as possible. The DMSR runs on a liquid salt mixture of low enriched uranium and thorium without the need to develop salt processing methods to remove fission products. It is just a very simple vessel filled with inexpensive graphite with no components or barriers needed within the core region itself.
Thus it is basically just a larger version of the highly successful Molten Salt Reactor Experiment that ran from 1965 to 1969.  The benchmark DMSR design runs at a lower power density than previous MSR designs in order to get a full 30 year lifetime out of the graphite to remove the complication of replacing graphite.  It should be noted though, that it is still much higher power density (and smaller) than any other graphite moderated gas cooled designs.
The salt is run in batches with the addition of small amounts Low Enriched Uranium to keep it running. After a long run of perhaps 10 to 30 years, this salt is then removed to have an optional one time only processing done, likely at a central facility.
At the very least, the contained uranium can be fairly simply removed and reused and there is an economic incentive to do so.  It is hoped a nation also performs the harder removal of the other actinides (Pu, Np, Am, Cm) and also recycle these in the next salt batch.  This step is not likely to be done for economic reasons but it is the right thing to do environmentally since by doing so the remaining mix of fission products are only of concern for a few hundred years.  This relatively short term storage we can certainly have great confidence in as opposed to trusting disposal methods that need to assure things for hundreds of thousands of years.   Furthermore, the proliferation resistance of this design is quite likely the highest of any reactor design running or proposed.  Molten salt reactors running on the pure Thorium to U233 cycle do have attractive anti-proliferation features but represents the use of highly enriched uranium which many might argue against regardless of added safeguards. The uranium in a DMSR is always denatured with too much U238 to have any worry of bomb use.  Like any reactor (even pure Th-U233 ones) there is Plutonium present but it is very difficult to remove and has a mix of undesirable isotopes that make it much poorer than what is currently in Light Water Reactor waste.
This mix of low tecnological uncertainty and high proliferation resistance comes at the modest price of needing a bit more resources than a pure Th-U233 cycle.  However it is as little as 20 tonnes of natural uranium per GWe-year and small amounts of enrichment (vs 200 tonnes for a LWR).
The fuel costs including enrichment are under 0.1 cents per kwh so it is hard to imagine even the pure Th-U233 cycle reaching this since salt processing costs must be covered.  Work on pure Th-U233 cycle designs should continue but the DMSR approach seems to offer just way to many advantages to ignore.
2. You have your own “tube within a tube” design for a Thorium MSR that is patented. a) Can it be classified as a modular design?
This approach for a pure Th-U233 design can get to high total powers, easily several hundred MWe per “tube within tube” but it is also a great approach to run quite small power levels as well.  This approach has a completely encompassing blanket salt that catches all the neutrons coming from the fuel salt in the central tube.  Thus, unlike most other reactor designs, one doesn’t need to worry about increasing how many neutrons are lost due to “leakage” if trying to make a small, low power core.   I should add a note that this approach is not yet patented but is currently progressing fairly smoothly through this very time consuming (and inexpensive) process.
b) How does your design improve on the graphite problem of longevity?
The tube within tube approach works quite well without any graphite at all within the central tube.  Other work that looks to remove graphite typically is faced with needing a much higher fissile starting load (how much U235, U233 or Pu).  However with an encompassing blanket salt you can run the central salt with a very low concentration of fissile fuel and the salt itself slows down the neutrons quite effectively to give a softer neutron spectrum that has other advantages than just needing less fissile material.  More modeling is needed but early indications point to needing only a few hundred kg of fissile material per GWe (1000 MWe) versus many tonnes in other approaches without graphite.
(note: My tube within tube design is a Two Fluid or perhaps 1 and 1/2 fluid design.  It can be run with the uranium denatured but it doesn’t offer the same level of proliferation resistance as the Single Fluid DMSR because with a blanket salt a proliferator could simply stop adding U238 to the blanket.)

Isn’t running without graphite a huge advantage?

Running without any graphite would be nice but I don’t think I’d call it a huge advantage.

But there’s still a need for advanced metals like Hastelloy etc?

Yes of course, we need something for the barrier (Molybdenum alloy, Hastelloy, Carbon composite etc) and we’d likely have lots of Hastelloy N for the outer vessel wall and heat exchangers.

3. How much of Canada’s nuclear plant costs are regulatory and/or license based? How much is added expense because we need to acquire materials from abroad? Could changing the laws bring costs down?
That is a bit outside my area of expertise but certainly the regulatory environment drives up the price of nuclear power.  It must be noted though that when starting with designs that are inherently safe like Molten Salt designs, the burden on regulators to assure public safety is enormously relieved and in a logical world at least, this should relate to much lower regulatory headaches and added costs.
4. We all know that safety is a major accomplishment in Nuclear Reactors. Some are talking about easing up on such strict measures to enable lower costs. Do you think this is realistic?
I think the public will want, and has the right to see ever increasing safety of nuclear operations.  Current reactors already have reached extremely high levels of safety but by expensive engineering solutions and the “defence in depth” approach.  It does indeed look like the industry is facing a situation of potential customers weighing added safety features like “core cathers” versus somewhat lower capital costs.  Fortunately for molten salt designs we are able to offer designs with the utmost in safety to the public in very cost effective ways.
5. An electric power grid has been the subject of energy futurists. How does a flexible grid affect the opportunities for nuclear projects both large and small?
I’m afraid that is too far from my area of knowledge to offer useful comment.
6. What in your opinion needs to be mined anymore? The environmentalists see mining as one the evils of our time. New types of reactors can use existing “waste”. Is there enough “waste” to go around?
I’m from a mining town and while I admit there are environmental downsides to any mining operations, the benefits to the local and world economies are enormous.  Current uranium mining efforts are dwarfed by those for other metals like copper or iron and certainy coal mining.  In 2009 there was about 2 Megatonnes of uranium ore mined while 2500 MT of copper ore was mined.  We should try to minimize mining but I don’t foresee any “real” problems of significance even if the world chose to greatly increase even conventional reactors that are very inefficient in uranium use.
7. Steven Chu and the Obama administration give conflicting signals. On one hand they say it needs to be part of the energy and carbon emissions solution yet they put very little into R & D. It’s looking like they are like the “Reluctant Astronauts” Frightened to proceed yet lured by the prestige.
Does Canada need to be so dependent and cooperative with the US who seem stuck on the fence?
I certainly think Canada can go its own way and we’ve proven this in the past with our development of CANDU reactors which are a significant portion of the world’s fleet.  While the basic public, political, and regulatory environment is arguably much better than in the U.S. the high inertia of our heavy water heritage will be hard to counter at least through AECL itself.  However, even molten salt designs can be quite attractive using heavy water.  My feeling is that in the long run, graphite or no moderator at all will prove best but it might be our foot in the door to broader interest of the current Canadian nuclear establishment.
8. We have learned about Molten Salt Reactors and the amazing advantages of this very different technology. Is it possible to use existing waste as the sole fissile substance?

Do you mean  Uranium as a fissile source? There is a great deal of very useful fissile material (mainly Pu) in current spent fuel.  However if we want to build thousands of reactors worldwide we can soon find ourselves with a shortage.  We can even run MSRs with only this waste, i.e. no thorium or even U238 to convert to more fuel.  In this mode though, we run out very quickly.  As simple start charges to start pure Th-U233 reactors we can go much further but it still represents a potential shortfall.

I worded number 8 badly. I was trying to say “Is there any point or is it possible to run MSR’s with other types of fuel (ie uranium only in the salt) or is Thorium so damn efficient that it’s crazy not to use it.  Maybe the idea of running a reactor with just uranium is too proliferation friendly?

A uranium only version of the DMSR is something I’m certainly looking into and depending how you look at it, it could be considered even more proliferation resistant than the standard DMSR that uses both uranium and thorium.  The reason is that as soon as you have thorium you also have protactinium which you can separate from all the other denatured uranium and wait for it to decay to U233.  This has to be weighed against having a bit more Pu in the salt and needing more uranium annually.  Having no thorium in the salt has several other minor advantages but such an overview would take quite awhile to explain.

9. The CANDU reactors have a reputation for being a flexible design and some have proposed using Thorium with CANDU’s.
a) With the Heavy Water Reactors of Canada and the Light Water Reactors of the US are we stuck with old technology that should be replaced or can we just refurbish the old plants?
Refurbishment has been adding useful life to many plants, including CANDUs but at some point, and not too far off it just gets too expensive and new plants are needed to replace the plants that are upwards of 40 years old already (60 years is often suggested as a limit)
b) and is it cost effective?
Current reactors designs are likely a much better choice than more fossil fuel plants and at least more economically feasable that renewables (which should be part of the mix but very hard to see handling baseload demand). Current designs are certainly not cheap and have many unresolved issues but are at least better than the current alternatives.
c) or more cost effective to introduce a factory assembly of MSR’s
Yes, I certainly think MSRs will prove the best long term choice.  It may be a long time before they are the only type of reactor but they certainly should play a very large role going forward.
10. Is there a shortage of trained people in the Nuclear Energy industry and is it playing a factor in the progress of the industry?
Yes, there certainly seems to be a shortage of trained people and it could indeed curtail progress of all efforts.  Hopefully the university system can ramp up to help.  A good example is the newly formed University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).  Their nuclear program is growing at an exponential rate and shows no signs of slowing down. Now if I can just convince them (and others) to start doing more MSR research…

DMSR*

- The “D” stands for “denatured”—the uranium in the reactor contains too much U-238 to be useful in weapons. The concept also dispenses with processing the salt to remove fission products; the same salt is used throughout the 30-year life of the reactor with small amounts of low enriched uranium added each year to keep the fissile material constant. The amount of uranium fuel needed—about 35 metric tons per GWe year—is only one-sixth of what is used by a pressurized water reactor. . . .

The amount of fissile material needed to start new reactors is also very important, especially in terms of a rapid fleet expansion. The 1 GWe DMSR was designed for 3.5 metric tons of U-235 (in easy-to-obtain low-enriched uranium) which can be lowered if uranium costs go up. A new PWR, by contrast, needs about 5 metric tons, whereas a sodium-cooled fast breeder such as the PRISM design requires as much as 18 tons of either U-235 or spent fuel plutonium. Any liquid fluoride reactor can be started on plutonium as well, but this turns out to be an expensive option, since removing plutonium from spent fuel costs around $100,000 per kilogram

See Charles Barton’s Post called Phoenix Rising May 2005 that covers David’s trip to ORNL earlier this year and where the DMSR was discussed.

My previous post on David’s Magazine Article Too Good To Leave on the Shelf

Youtube Talks by David LeBlanc

Liquid Fluoride Reactors a New Beginning for an Old Idea

Liquid Fluoride Reactors: Luxury of Choice – October 2009 – Part One

Liquid Fluoride Reactors: Luxury of Choice – Ocober 2009 – Part Two

ORNL Talk – May 2010

Liquid Fluoride Reactors: An Exploration of Design Space

David LeBlanc explains why thorium reactors need a lot less fissile nuclear material to start and for ongoing operation

New Posts nuclear thorium

THORIUM: A Tipping Point in History

This blog form Environauts.com covers background about how Thorium is getting a second chance, how it almost got passed over as an energy source. Sometimes profit and fear reinforce each other even at the expense of what’s good for the planet.

THORIUM: A Tipping Point in History


From the same blog more details about Thorium and how Thorium is the most “misunderstood and overlooked element on the Periodic Table”

Unlimited Energy from the Past…

New Posts nuclear thorium

Recycle or Reprocess?

“Recycle” adds a new twist to explain a special kind of reprocessing to remove proliferation risk.
And the LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) is the answer. The Molten Salt Reactor testing
was proven highly effective back in the 1960’s but back then they wanted more nuclear bombs
not less. Now we’re moving in a pro-nuclear direction for energy we can fix our bad karma. We
can use the weapons and convert them to nuclear energy to solve the energy crisis and replace
the coal plants which are mostly responsible for climate change. The LFTR can also assist in the
creation of more biofuels and hydrogen fuel. Too bad managing money always gets in the way
of real progress.

Old Way and New Way to Recycle

LFTR New Posts nuclear thorium

Interdependent Reactors Are the Fastest Route to 2020 Energy Independence says Kirk Sorensen

Slightly Condensed version of Kirk Sorensen’s talk at the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference
(After careful reading I found it difficult to shorten – The parallel interdependent reactors is the most interesting and the fact that meeting a 2020 date by doing so is very exciting given that Bill Gates has a much longer deadline with his 40 years for TWR. This is an excellent plan Kirk.)
See the full text here:

As we have for most of human history, we stand at the edge of an energy crisis. The methods by which we have powered our society have come to a limit, and a change is necessary. Seven hundred years ago in England, the energy crisis was caused by massive deforestation and a lack of firewood. It was solved by turning to coal, a filthy, inexpensive, and abundant fuel. But as the skies darkened over the cities of England and the United States, people turned to gas and oil to improve the situation. Now all of these fossil fuels will have to be replaced due to the environmental damage they cause and the social, political, and financial instability they engender.

Fortunately, in 1939, humanity discovered the physical process that would allow us to replace fossil fuels forever—the fission of the heavy elements known as actinides. By 1944, we realized there were actually three different ways to use this physical process to provide us the energy we need. One of these approaches was relatively “easy”. It involved the use of a substance almost as rare as gold—uranium-235. Even back then, physicists and scientists realized that uranium-235 fission was not going to be a long-term energy solution. There simply wasn’t enough of it. The other two approaches were significantly more difficult but promised essentially unlimited amounts of energy. One was to fission the common isotope of uranium, uranium-238, and the other was to fission thorium, which was three times more common than uranium itself.

In one of the great historical tragedies of human history, this marvelous new energy source was discovered during a time of war, and was immediately put to work for destructive means. This colored and affected forever how world leaders and the public would view this incredible discovery, and is a legacy that we find ourselves, even seventy years later, still trying to move past.

We have taken the “easy” route. We have used nuclear energy based primarily on the fission of this rare-as-gold isotope of uranium. … We still live on a planet where most of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Perhaps even more troubling, most of our fellow citizens and leaders don’t even know about the other two approaches. They assume that “nuclear energy” means one and only one thing—making energy from nuclear fission the same way we have made it for sixty years.

…While many of us know that such events (like chernobyl, etc) are not possible in well-built, Western-style reactors, it takes a few moments to explain the defense-in-depth approach of our reactors to a regular person, while it only takes a fraction of a second for anti-nuclear forces to say “Chernobyl!” and stoke fear.

Another potent source of anti-nuclear anger surrounds the issue of so-called “nuclear waste”. … I still find over and over again that spent nuclear fuel is demonized as a toxic, dangerous, poisonous substance that will last forever and is intractable to solution.

Such a statement, is of course, untrue, but it is politically and culturally potent.

A slightly more sophisticated attack on nuclear power has to do with the costs involved in building a conventional nuclear power plant. They’re high. Really high. And once an organization commits to build one their uncertainty levels are high. … endangered species … Some anti-nuclear group might rile up a local community or a powerful politician. Fossil fuel interests threatened by a loss of market share might quietly fund all manner of subversive efforts. …or public opinion might have a decided shift during the construction period. All of these factors combine to give pause to those who might consider building conventional nuclear reactors.

Several additional factors have come into play … Obama administration has cancelled the US effort to built a permanent spent-nuclear-fuel repository at Yucca Mountain. … Obama and Bush administrations have made efforts to provide loan guarantees to new nuclear power plants. … the severe economic downturn … and a general reduction in the appetite for energy that has led to temporarily lower fuel costs. Natural gas and oil seem cheap—for the moment.

All of these factors combine together to create what I like to think of as “boundary conditions”. …

…First, we can’t keep using fossil fuels. They’re destroying our environment and exporting wealth away from our country. But those who control the fossil fuels have vast amounts of power and money and can make life very difficult for those of us trying to establish a new energy source.

Second, cancelling Yucca Mountain, continuing to operate our 100-odd reactors, and building new reactors in the future mean that we have to do something about what the public calls “nuclear waste”. And I think it has to be a lot more than just education, although I think that’s an important part of it. We need to address the problem in a satisfactory way. I know we won’t satisfy everyone, but we need to satisfy most of the public.

Third, we have to do something about the cost of bringing new nuclear energy online. The old way is slow and expensive. We need a new way that’s better, safer, simpler, and costs less. Fortunately all of these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Now what nuclear approach should we take?

…do things the way we do today—building more light-water reactors that use uranium fuel? … To get off coal and fossil fuels, and to replace the transportation energy we currently get from oil will take about … about ten times what we’re getting from nuclear today. … We’re not even mining uranium anymore in the United States. We import all of our uranium. And considering that Yucca Mountain, which we’re not even going to build anymore, was politically limited to about 70,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, that would mean that we would be filling up a Yucca Mountain-equivalent every two years. It’s pretty hard to imagine pulling off such a political solution in today’s or even tomorrow’s environment.

What if we reprocessed the spent nuclear fuel? We could recover the unburned plutonium and mix it with fresh uranium to provide fuel for nuclear reactors. Well, that doesn’t change the story too much either, since it would take about two or three nuclear reactors’ worth of spent fuel to supply another one. The basic problem there is that each current nuclear reactor isn’t producing enough new fissile material to compensate for that which is being consumed.

What about fast reactors? These are reactors that don’t slow down their neutrons so that they can get better fuel efficiency and fuel conversion. Fast reactors theoretically could fit the bill. If we assume that each fast reactor could consume about half of the energy in uranium then a thousand fast reactors would use about 2000 tonnes of uranium each year, and we have lots of uranium sitting around at enrichment plants. But there’s a few other issues of concern with the fast reactors. … We would then need each of those … fast reactors to breed lots of extra plutonium so as to be able to start up more fast reactors, or we would need to enrich a lot of uranium to start fast breeder reactors. We would also need to build the reprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities to make all this happen. It’s possible, but it’s going to be very expensive.

Then there’s thorium. Thorium has a special property—it breeds to uranium-233 and uranium-233 fissions and gives off 2 or 3 neutrons that enable it to keep converting more thorium into uranium-233 and burning it. This means that once we start a thorium reactor we can keep it going indefinitely just by adding thorium. But how do we get it started? How much uranium-233 do we need? Well, most of the studies done by Oak Ridge in the 1960s indicated that we could start a one-gigawatt thorium reactor with about 1 tonne of uranium-233. How much do we have right now? About one tonne. So we could only start one reactor, right? With uranium-233, yes, but we need to go about quickly “converting” our fissile materials into uranium-233 so we can start more.

Why does it only take one tonne of uranium-233 to start a thorium reactor but it takes 10-15 tonnes of plutonium to start a fast breeder? Here’s why—things look different when you’re a slowed-down neutron versus a fast neutron. When you’re a fast neutron all of this fuel looks really small to you, and you have a lot less probability of causing fission. So you need a lot more fuel to insure that you get enough collisions with fuel to generate the energy you need. On the other hand, when you’re a slowed-down neutron each fuel nucleus looks a lot bigger and you have a much better chance of causing a fission. So having slowed-down neutrons makes your fuel go a lot further than using fast neutrons. This is the basic reason why a thorium reactor with slowed-down neutrons can start with a lot less fuel for a given power rating than a fast reactor with fast neutrons. Each little bit of fuel counts for a lot more in a reactor with slowed-down neutrons.

We don’t have to limit ourselves to just uranium-233 to start these thorium reactors. We can use the highly-enriched uranium that we’re recovering from all of the nuclear weapons that we are decommissioning to help us. We can use the plutonium we’re recovering from those weapons. We can use the plutonium that’s been generated in our reactors over the last sixty years to help us. By using slowed-down neutrons and thorium, the startup power of this fuel is magnified by about 1000 to 1500% over a fast reactor.

So what should we do first? Well, the first thing we should do is stop the Department of Energy’s effort to destroy the one tonne of uranium-233 that we already have. They don’t think that that uranium-233 has any value to their mission and are going to spend $500M to mix it with uranium-238 and throw it away in the desert. That’s a bad idea. We’re going to need that one tonne and a whole lot more.

The next step is to get going on the research and development of the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor. This is the machine that can burn thorium as a fuel and only needs about a tonne of U-233 or other fissile material to start it up. The US hasn’t invested any money to develop LFTR since 1974, the year I was born. Other countries are making investments. We need to get going before we get completely left behind on something that we invented.

At our enrichment plants around this country, we have 470,000 metric tonnes of depleted uranium hexafluoride. That’s a uranium atom with six fluorine atoms around it. We need to get that fluorine and convert the uranium into something that is chemically stable and can be buried. Uranium oxide is what it was when we dug it out of the earth, and that’s what we need to turn it back into. Each time we do this we will free up six atoms of fluorine that we will need for the rest of our plan. That means that that 470,000 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride will be converted into 360,000 tonnes of uranium oxide and 150,000 tonnes of fluorine.

Next we use some of that fluorine, about 30% of it, to fluorinate all of the spent nuclear fuel we’ve already generated from running reactors. 95% of the spent nuclear fuel is uranium oxide and it will be converted to uranium hexafluoride, which is exactly the form we need it in for going to an enrichment plant. So we could go ahead and send it to an enrichment plant and use it that way if we so desire. I’m more interested in the other 5% of what’s in the spent nuclear fuel. 1% is plutonium, americium, neptunium, and other actinides that are called “transuranics”. These are the higher actinides that are generated when uranium absorbs a neutron and doesn’t fission. These are also the substances that give planners such headaches when they think about building places like Yucca Mountain, because they are radioactive for tens to hundreds of thousands of years and comprise most of the long-term trouble. The other 4% are fission products, most of which are already nuclear-stable and could be partitioned and sold for the valuable materials in them, like neodymium and xenon gas.

With the transuranic fluorides we recover, we have to destroy them through fission. Waiting tens of thousands of years for them to decay isn’t the right approach. We have to put them in a reactor and burn them up in fission. What’s the right kind of reactor to do this? I think it’s a fast reactor, but not the kind of fast reactors we generally hear about these days. I think it’s a fast reactor that is a cousin to the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, except it will be one that will use liquid-chloride salts that are chemically stable as a fuel and coolant, not the liquid-sodium-metal that is currently proposed. Again, just like other fast reactors it will take 5-10 tonnes of these transuranics to produce a gigawatt of power. So what have we bought by this approach? Just this—in these liquid-chloride reactors we will jacket the reactor with a thorium blanket and make new uranium-233 even as we are destroying plutonium. That means that for each year we burn plutonium, we’ll make enough uranium-233 to start a new LFTR. Compared to the fast reactor approach where you’re trying to breed plutonium to build more fast breeders, and it takes 20-30 years to produce enough new fuel in a fast reactor to start another one, we won’t be using these chloride fast reactors to start other fast reactors. We’ll be using them to make the fuel to start fluoride thorium reactors that use slowed-down neutrons.

With this approach, plutonium from weapons and reactor fuel will start about 70 chloride fast reactors. Each one will make enough uranium-233 each year to start 70 new LFTRs at a gigawatt each. That means that in less than 20 years we could have 1000 LFTRs online, generating all of the energy our nation needs, all the while we’re burning down and destroying the plutonium we’ve generated over the last 60 years for weapons and from reactor operation. Compare that to the standard fast breeder approach where in 20 years the 70 fast breeders we started have generated enough new fuel for another 70 fast breeders and you can see really quickly how fast uranium-233 and slowed-down neutrons can let you move ahead and replace coal and other fossil fuels.

Remember all of that fluorine? It’s going to end up combined with lithium, beryllium, and thorium to make the fuel for the thousand LFTRs that we’re going to build. Those thousand LFTRs are going to burn about a thousand tonnes of thorium each year to make all of this energy, which is about a quarter of what one mine site in Idaho with a pit the size of a football field could produce. Again, thorium and slowed-down neutrons can let you be much more efficient in your nuclear strategy.

At the end of this effort, we will have destroyed our 100 tonnes of highly-enriched uranium from weapons. We will have destroyed our 100 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium from decommissioned weapons. We will have destroyed the 700 tonnes of plutonium and other actinides in the spent nuclear fuel. We will have essentially eliminated the issue of spent nuclear fuel as a concern. We will have replaced the coal and gas electrical generation in the country. We will have added enough additional electrical generation to the nation’s grid to power electric cars rather than gasoline-powered ones. We’ll have cleaner air. We’ll have cleaner water. We’ll keep hundreds of billions of dollars in our country because we’ll be energy-independent. And we will have solved the energy crisis permanently.

All of this is unlocked by the fundamental properties of thorium. We can make it happen. May we have the wisdom to do so.

  • Quick Facts: [Thorium Element 90 in periodic table] [Burns up fuel much more efficiently than traditional reactors] [leaves barely any waste behind] [3 x more abundant than uranium] [MSRs run at high temp in liquid molten mixture of fluoride - heat useful for purifying water] [looks like blue water] [no pressure needed] [much safer because of passive safety] [Less expensive to build because it is smaller and easier to build with no pressurized containment needed] [can run without water therefore good for dry and remote locations][molten salt is very stable]

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