A Universally Acceptable and Economical Energy Source?

Transatomic-PowerTransatomic Power’s Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor | Kent Beuchert writes:

Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, as Doctoral candidates in the nuclear department at MIT, produced a modified design of a reactor technology that first appeared many decades ago : the molten salt reactor, originally designed, built and tested at Oak Ridge Tennessee during the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s.

After her graduation, the two formed Transatomic Power in 2011, as a means of completing the design and commercializing their reactor design. Recently, they received a $2 million grant of venture capital from Founders Fund. The money will be used to test and verify the corrosion resistance of metals that their design employs in the reactor core and piping, as well as modeling the reactor design. One major purpose of the testing is to determine if the moderator’s lifespan (currently only vaguely estimated) will require periodic replacement, or will last throughout the reactor’s service lifespan. The answer to this question will not prove an obstacle to the design, only to the need for a design that provides for modulator access (for replacement).

Dewan believes one of the MSRs biggest advantage is the its ability to burn SNF (spent nuclear fuel – “nuclear wastes”) more or less completely, extracting 20 times more energy from uranium than a conventional reactor, producing a far smaller and far less radioactive final waste product, that will be much easier and cheaper to store, and will retain its radioactivity above background levels for only a few centuries rather than thousands of years. It also can be configured to burn Thorium, although that is not Dewan’s desired fuel, for several reasons : the greater perceived need to burn nuclear wastes, and the inferiority of a Thorium reactor’s proliferation safeguards, the lack of any need for an alternative to uranium fuel, as well as the current existence of a uranium fuel processing system.

The original Oak Ridge MSR design was modified in only a few ways : use of a different material for the moderator in place of the original space-consuming graphite, and slightly modifying the molten fuel salt (uranium dissolved in lithium flouride) being the most important. Together, these modifications allow for commercially competitive amounts of power to be generated, not possible from the experimental molten salt reactors built at Oak Ridge, and the ability to be powered by low level radioactive fuel, reducing proliferation concerns.

The Transatomic Power plant design has an estimated overnight build cost of $2 billion for a 520MWe unit. The lower costs are primarily due to the fact that no massive high pressure containment vessels or piping is needed for much of the plant, and also due to its higher efficiency output temps, which allow for smaller power turbines to be used. Power turbines constitute a major cost in any nuclear power plant design. With these build costs and the prospect of near zero fuel costs, there likely won’t be another power source that is cheaper, all things considered. Another advantage of the design is its ability to support load following – i.e. to alter power output quickly as demand changes. As of now only some fossil fueled and hydroelectric plants have such an ability.

This capability would allow for a larger percentage of nuclear power in any grid, which today only can exist as baseload power (although pumped storage does sometimes allow for nuclear power to be stored and then later available as hydroelectric, load following power). This plant would also likely reduce (realistically, probably eliminate) commercial prospects for the larger versions of small modular reactors, those that produce over 250 MWs. It achieves (actually, exceeds) the economies of scale of a conventional large reactor, something small modular reactors are totally incapable of. It also does not require shutdown for refueling – it is refueled at intervals and can be run continuously for decades, another cost advantage over conventional reactors.

Commercially, a $2 billion dollar 520MWe power plant can meet the needs of utilities facing only gradually increasing demand as well as those whose service area doesn’t require the 1000MW plus size of a conventional reactor, or those wanting to replace fossil-fueled load-following or baseload coal plants. Build time is estimated to be 36 months. The plant does not require any source of cooling water – the molten salt fuel liquid acts as its own coolant as it flows thru the primary loop, transmitting heat (but not radiation) to an intermediate loop. The lack of any requirement for cooling water dramatically increases the number of potential build sites. In fact, its inherent safety characteristics would allow for these reactors to be sited near large population centers, avoiding lengthy transmissions, reducing costs due to power losses and transmission line construction.

In considering the reactor’s characteristics with respect to safety, it’s hard to conceive of a situation that anyone would find threatening or dangerous. Every reactor state that one can reasonably imagine as conceivable, ends up with the reactor shutting down as the molten salt cools (slightly) and becomes a solid at which point no fission is possible (or heats up, reducing fission). No radioactive material (the molten fuel salt liquid) is ever subjected to anything other than slightly above atmospheric pressures, which essentially eliminates any radioactive blast issues, ( in fact, all pressures work towards forcing the radioactive material back into the reactor system), and no hydrogen emissions can develop to the point of posing an explosive danger.

The entire steam turbine system and its piping, which contains the only only material under significant pressure (water), is completely radiation free, meaning that any rupture in that system is, radioactivity speaking, a non-event. The fuel liquid operates at a much lower temperature than fuel rods in a conventional reactor and never contains the excessive reactivity potential possessed by a conventional reactor at the start of its two to three year run cycle.

The entire system is considered walk-away safe – no operator actions, or electricity, or pumps are ever needed in order for the system to shut down should an accident occur. The reactor will achieve a stable shutdown state in a fairly short time frame.

It’s hard to imagine anyone having any objections to this nuclear reactor design. For those attracted to the safety of Thorium reactors or concerned about future uranium fuel supplies (such as India) , this design is better all the way around. With its meager fuel requirements, uranium will be economically available from either SNF, terrestrial mining or ocean extractable uranium ( freely available to virtually every country) for many millennia, eliminating any conceivable concerns about future fuel sources. And, of course, it can burn Thorium as well, should anyone so desire.

The superior economics and flexibility and load following characteristics, lack of any need for refueling shutdown, elimination of any significant fuel cost increases, removal or reduction of nuclear waste storage requirements, a much lower build cost requirement and elimination of the economic danger of a multi-billion dollar nuclear accident, would certainly make these reactors the first choice for any grid operator. And the plants can easily be co-located with conventional nuclear plants without placing any additional water demands, and be located near the likely source of the SNF they will consume as fuel.

One finds it difficult to foresee any significant risks when buying into this reactor design, financial or otherwise. I see a real possibility for this reactor design to become not only the standard and universal nuclear reactor, but also the standard commercial power plant as well, rendering all others of this size and larger obsolete. It is everything one could reasonably ask for in a power plant.

A complete technical description, accompanied by economic and safety rationales can be found at the company’s website :

Click to access TAP_White_Paper.pdf

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August 27, 2014 6:43 am

Am I understanding this correctly in that spent fuel assemblies currently stored at nuclear power plants could be used as a fuel in this type of reactor?

Reply to  Dave
August 27, 2014 6:56 am

Yes, this is true

Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 7:13 am

In that case, this type of reactor could solve a huge problem of nuclear waste storage since Yucca Mountain was abandoned from what I hear. (please correct me if I’m mistaken about this.) But I won’t get my hopes up too high until people with far more expertise than I weigh in on the subject.

Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 7:47 am

To elaborate, the SNF would have to be processed into fluoride fuel. Roughly, the zirconium fuel rods would be cut open and the oxide fuel grains dissolved in hydrofluroic acid. Some gases are released, but they are valuable (mostly xenon and krypton) and can be stored for later use after complete decay. Some of the other fission products can be removed by solubility and volatility differences, then the actinide salts are blended with a carrier salt (mostly lithium and beryllium fluroides). The actinide salts have high melting points, but dissolve into the molten LiBeF at reasonable temps.
Any waste from this reprocessing has few actinides in it, has moderate activity, and need only be stored for a few hundred years to reach activity lower than the original uranium ore. The SNF needs to be aged for about ten years before reprocessing, but there are lots of decades-old rods in pools at every current nuke plant so there is no shortage of feedstock.
This post does read like a press release, but has no errors of fact as far as I can tell. I really do like the promise of turning what is now a liability into a valuable asset.

Robert of Ottawa
Reply to  Dave
August 27, 2014 4:40 pm

The French, who produce 80% of their electricity from nuclear, have a saying that there is no such thing as nuclear waste.

Reply to  Dave
September 1, 2014 3:55 pm

Robert Heinlein predicted that we’ll learn to make use of nuclear waste

M Courtney
August 27, 2014 6:44 am

Sounds like they’ve thought of everything.
It almost sounds too good to be true.

…and no hydrogen emissions can develop to the point of posing an explosive danger.

Reply to  M Courtney
August 27, 2014 11:36 am

Sounds great. Makes a ton of sense. Therefore, I fully expect many greens and progs to be completely against it. It might make them feel yucky.

Robert of Ottawa
Reply to  Bill
August 27, 2014 4:43 pm

The greens will reveal themselves to be the misanthropic watermelons they are. They want YOU to starve in a cold, dark cave, not themselves. Read Plato’s Republic.

Mark Bofill
August 27, 2014 6:46 am

Two billion for 500MW sounds pricey to me. Is it because I’m reading a real claim instead of all the faked up green ones I usually look at?

Leonard Weinstein
Reply to  Mark Bofill
August 27, 2014 11:08 am

1 watt over 20 years produces 175 kW-hr electrical output. Thus the 500 MW would produce 8.75E10 kW-hr in 20 years. The capitol cost of 2E9 dollars amounts only to 2.3 cents per kW-hr. There would be operating costs, finance costs, and profit, but this is lower than almost any other power source, is clean and safe, and can be located near use to lower transmission losses. It looks cheap to me.

Reply to  Leonard Weinstein
August 27, 2014 10:07 pm

Right on the money as usual.
Now repeat the calculations with a 60 years life time as is more appropriate to a well designed fission reactor.
Such an MSR might even be competitive with the shabby “Old Nukes” we built forty years ago:

Reply to  Mark Bofill
August 27, 2014 3:17 pm

The $2 billion sounds low. The main problem they will have is the unproved components. They’ll have to check individual parts. This will take time and money. I’d say they won’t start a commercial plant until 2034. If I were to buy the concept I would need $3 billion to invest and an additional $2 billion in loans. The patent and intellectual property rights could be worth a bundle if they get it done. But these ideas take a Chinese style long term outlook.

duncan binks
August 27, 2014 6:47 am

Game changer?
Extremely interesting.

August 27, 2014 6:57 am

This sounds like a winner and I hope they succeed.
But one correction. Nuclear plants are capable of load following and rapid power changes, anyone who disagrees just needs to look at the hundreds of naval nuclear vessels built over the last 60 years.
True most currently operating nuclear plants are not designed for load following. But that is because they were built as baseload plants and it is cheaper and more efficient to build a nuclear plant to operate at or near max capacity all the time. But with some minor changes current designs could be relatively easily built to be load following.

Reply to  ddpalmer
August 27, 2014 3:13 pm

Interesting you brought up the Navy. Along those lines the Navy has an outstanding safety record operating reactors. I am in favor of having the military build and operate these plants. They have the expertise, they can do it on base to simplify the permitting process (military bases are everywhere), they can sell the power to utilities to fund themselves, and the sites have all the security you could want, what’s not to like.

Reply to  Paul Bell
August 27, 2014 3:20 pm

Maybe a better option is to use a very disciplined organization? USA militarism is already a serious problem, the last thing the country needs is military personnel generating electricity.

James the Elder
Reply to  Paul Bell
August 27, 2014 9:37 pm

Who would you rather trust; the military or a contractor that’s the cousin to the brother-in-law of a Congressional staffer’s girlfriend?

Reply to  Paul Bell
August 28, 2014 7:29 am

Perhaps the reactors are well designed and built by the private sector rather than just well operated by the Navy. Maybe we should just outlaw unions in the nuclear power industry to allow the private sector discipline comparable to the Navy. See, you can put whatever spin you like on such matters.

Reply to  Paul Bell
September 2, 2014 3:50 pm

I agree and have thought about this a long time.

Reply to  ddpalmer
August 27, 2014 6:41 pm

@ ddpalmer – I was in the nuclear Navy and then the civilian industry. Civilian nukes can NOT load follow, due to their highly different design: far lower enrichment and ability to deal with different local power densities. The main cause is the about-10-hour peak to peak Xenon cycle. I will leave out the esoteric nuclear physics discussion – suffice it to say that when a plant leaves a steady-state power level, the different decay rates of different fission products create a series of (semi-manageable) power oscillations that require significant “driving” and operator attention. Making more than one power step change in a two-day period or so will set up a harmonic set of changes and make the plant hard to keep at a set power level. It won’t blow up or go over rated power levels, but will have to be lowered below an efficient level before slowly ramping back to 100%.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  ddpalmer
August 27, 2014 9:08 pm

A different fuel construction allows the propulsion reactors to rapidly follow load. A commercial PWR uses the control rods to shape the active part of the core while power is changed by changing the boric acid dissolved in the coolant (boron is a neutron absorber with tritium being a waste product). This is a slow process as it is done by draining off some coolant and removing the boric acid with a distiller. Commercial BWR also shapes the active part of the core with the rods while power is controlled by increasing or decreasing coolant flow through the core. ( The faster the flow, the fewer voids in the core so you get more moderation and higher power.) The BWRs were advertised as able to follow the load rapidly, but there seems to be a problem with rapid load changes. Both types have zirconium rods with ceramic uranium oxode fuel pellrts shaped like miniature “cans”. Rapid changes in power levels seemed to cause differential expansion in the rods which would lead to fuel perforations and increased fission products in the coolant. At least that was the theory of the Reactor Engineer at the plant where I did an operator traing class back in the 70s. It may have changed.
Naval propulsion reactors don’t work that way.
Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

August 27, 2014 7:00 am

Who was the maroon that said that giving humanity access to cheap, clean, reliable power was akin to handing a toddler a loaded gun?
Until you can stamp that mindset out from society, nothing will ever be good enough.

Reply to  LeeHarvey
August 27, 2014 7:14 am

As Paul
Ehrlich put it, “Giving society cheap abundant energy is . . .
like giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

M Courtney
Reply to  Charles Battig
August 27, 2014 7:17 am

Don’t dismiss Paul Ehrlich.
He may have an insight into the mind of an idiot child.

Reply to  Charles Battig
August 27, 2014 7:25 am

Ehrlich has been proven wrong on so many things. Why do we still quote this buffoon?

Reply to  Charles Battig
August 27, 2014 7:36 am

@ Jim Brock –
Your words are an affront to buffoons everywhere.

Reply to  LeeHarvey
August 27, 2014 7:16 am

Paul Ehrlich, different words but same meaning.

Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 7:35 am

Yes, I had intended to mention that I was paraphrasing.

August 27, 2014 7:01 am

Please read “Plentiful Power” by Charles E. Till and Yooh Il Chang. It discusses the history behind this. Also read this: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smarter-use-of-nuclear-waste/.
I have been waiting for this for some time. This is good stuff. Thanks.

Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 12:27 pm

Not behind this particular technology, but another with the same benefits (the IFR sodium cooled fast reactor). GE-Hitachi has ready that technology maybe since 20 years, now, it’s called PRISM:

August 27, 2014 7:02 am

I don’t have anything against nuclear, but the hard-sell language in the article is putting my back up. But wait! There’s more… If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

Reply to  Katherine
August 27, 2014 7:59 am

I suppose we’ll know if just 1 plant is built. Countries around the world can then see it in operation etc and decide whether it’s worth buying. A pilot if you like. If it does what it says on the box then Greenpeace should promote it seeing they are always complaining about nuclear waste.

Reply to  Katherine
August 27, 2014 7:37 pm

They are not offering to sell you one. Relax.

August 27, 2014 7:04 am

MSR == Molten Salt Reactor.
“Low level radioactive fuel” What’s that? It certainly can’t be “low level radioactive waste”, as that include labcoats. There’s no reference to that in the .pdf. Also, no reference to “modulator access” – likely should be moderator.
“it’s hard to conceive of a situation that anyone would find threatening or dangerous.”
You’ve never met the Clamshell Alliance in NH.
There are plenty of people conditioned to panic over radioactive stuff like bananas or coal.

Reply to  Ric Werme
August 27, 2014 8:03 am

“…as that include labcoats.”
With or without person inside?

Reply to  Ric Werme
August 27, 2014 3:01 pm

Rick: where did you see the “low level radioactive fuel” quote? It may be a valid statement. “LLR Fuel” would be different than LLR Waste. You probably know it, but the use of the term low-level has been a poor misnomer. LLR Waste (the better percentage being CO-60) can have very high activity levels. If they are using applying the term “low-level” to fuel, I suspect they mean low enrichment. If this is the application, it is a confusing term to mean low enrichment. I was flabbergasted that they can use as low as 1.8% U-235 enrichment. That would be a huge cost savings in enriching Uranium, plus the reduction in proliferation security issues.
PS: I loved the “with or without persons in the lab coats” comment. I can think of a few whom I wouldn’t mind being used as fuel. : ) But let us not give the government any updated, technologically improved ideas for solyent green.

Reply to  aGrimm
August 27, 2014 5:48 pm

4th paragraph of the main post:
The original Oak Ridge MSR design was modified in only a few ways : use of a different material for the moderator in place of the original space-consuming graphite, and slightly modifying the molten fuel salt (uranium dissolved in lithium flouride) being the most important. Together, these modifications allow for commercially competitive amounts of power to be generated, not possible from the experimental molten salt reactors built at Oak Ridge, and the ability to be powered by low level radioactive fuel, reducing proliferation concerns.

Richard G
Reply to  Ric Werme
August 27, 2014 8:44 pm

When I fly, I need to skip eating bananas for a while to get my radiation levels back to normal. I’m never quite sure how many though, what with altitude, duration and so on. If I inquire at the counter, they will look at me funny and I end up having to go through additional security to board.

August 27, 2014 7:09 am

Corrosion is their problem to be solved. Finding a moderator containment material that is both corrosion resistant and radioactive resistant in this salt bath may not be easy.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  fhhaynie
August 27, 2014 8:24 am

Tantalum is likely to do the trick, but of course it will be ruled against because of “blood Coltan” which never amounted to more than a couple of hundred kilos now and again. Modern barbarians are waiting out there to pounce on such an idea!!.

August 27, 2014 7:11 am

This makes too much sense. The eco-jihadists will have to oppose it on point of principle, as they want all of the world subservient to them. Cheap clean energy for the masses? Utter heresy!
If Tom Steyer was actually interested in something other than buying controlling interest in the White House he’d be all over this.

August 27, 2014 7:13 am

It’s hard to imagine anyone having any objections to this nuclear reactor design.“.
There are some people of whom it’s hard to imagine anything nuclear that they would not have objections to.

Bertram Felden
Reply to  Mike Jonas
August 27, 2014 7:44 am

That’s exactly what I was going to say.

Daryl M
Reply to  Mike Jonas
August 27, 2014 8:00 pm

I was about to say the same thing.

August 27, 2014 7:15 am

very interesting, would like to see more studies done and testing.

C.M. Carmichael
August 27, 2014 7:16 am

If it sounds like a great idea, the greens will hate it. Unless it ends up with us living in mud huts, it is not enough.

Reply to  C.M. Carmichael
August 27, 2014 8:08 am

You misunderstand the objective of the greens, they hate the fact that you are alive. You are correct though, for them it’s never enough.

August 27, 2014 7:19 am

If something sound too good to be true …
This whole article sounds too much like a door to door sales pitch.
Where are the negatives?

Reply to  Dan
August 27, 2014 7:28 am

There are always negatives. But is this case all very manageable. Check out the link I point to above and the book if great too. Liquid thorium reactor are also good but I think this does one better. We could have both. They both solve the waste issue. This is nothing new, just in the background.

DD More
Reply to  Dan
August 27, 2014 11:20 am

No Cooling water? The Rankine cycle is the fundamental operating cycle of all power plants where an operating fluid is continuously evaporated and condensed. http://www.thermopedia.com/content/1072/
They may not need water in the salt-loop, PB reactors do not either, but they will have no efficiency in the turbine feed loop with out it.

George (Jim) Hebbard
Reply to  DD More
August 27, 2014 3:49 pm

Yep. To say “no cooling water” cause a credibility gap a mile wide. Someone has overlooked the operating principles of turbo-generators..

Richard G
Reply to  DD More
August 27, 2014 9:03 pm

Yes, but with the pressurized water on a separate loop from the radioactive salt, wouldn’t that eliminate most of the risk that current reactors have with radiation leaks?

Reply to  DD More
August 28, 2014 4:09 am

They are almost certainly referring to emergency cooling systems. No elaborate plumbing is needed to cool a reactor core after shutdown.

August 27, 2014 7:19 am

“It’s hard to imagine anyone having any objections to this nuclear reactor design….”.
Although I am fully supportive of MSR nuclear power (whether thorium or uranium fuelled) myself, there is a hardcore anti-nuclear movement out there who will never accept the idea of peaceful civilian nuclear power no matter how safe the technology is or how you try to convince them that it is.
Cue Roger Sowell in 3….2….1….

Reply to  CD (@CD153)
August 27, 2014 7:29 am

Roger will be here soon I am sure…..

August 27, 2014 7:20 am

That $2 billion is around 4 (or 5) times the cost of a fossil fuel plant and a lot lower than a conventional nuclear one. But annual fuel costs (or lack there of) should make it about as cost effective (maybe even better) as a fossil fuel plant in a few years.

August 27, 2014 7:23 am

Current PWRs can do load follow, if so designed.
The article also seems to imply that no cooling water is needed. The vast majority of cooling water at any NPS is for the turbine condensers; very little water is required to cool the nuclear plant.

Reply to  phillipbratby
August 27, 2014 9:07 am

You are correct, the plant would still need cooling for the steam cycle. However, you can use air cooled condensers, if you are willing to take the efficiency hit.

August 27, 2014 7:24 am

While I love the idea of a MSR, there are things that must be guarded against. For one, the fuel. IF they are to use SNF, then it needs to be processed. And stored / recovered. And shipped. Remember that in Fukushima, it was a SNF pool that overheated and caused “issues”….
Then there is that metal wall between the very hot molten salt and the very wet water… That needs to NOT suffer significant erosion over years (decades?) of high speed high temp flow of both salt and water. Not a walk in the park.
I’m all for building these things (and using Thorium, SNF, whatever…) in them. But to pitch them as super easy and super safe and tasty as chocolate just smacks of hype… It will be a hard engineering job and they WILL find “issues”. Just hopefully an order of magnetude or so smaller than with BWR / PWR / etc.
(Oh, and the slight slam on Thorium is wasted breath too. It is not a panacea, but no more difficult to use as fuel than U. CANDU reactors can run it now and it can be put in fuel bundles in our existing fleet of PWR / BWR / etc. too. Yes, you need to think about the change of operating mode / pace. So? It’s just an economic thing really to choose U over Th, and both will last for 10s of thousands of years… so no hurry.)
On ship reactors as load following: Yes, but they use a 20% or so enriched metal plate fuel in many of them (especially smaller submarine designs). That means enrichment… which means nuclear weapons fuel is just a question of ‘how long to run the enrichment’… THAT is why we don’t have them for power reactors. They are on the forbidden path that lets you make SNM “boom stuff’. It is possible to make a load follower without that approach, but it is bigger and slower to change state.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  E.M.Smith
August 27, 2014 8:43 am

Well yeah they are learning to advertise. Thorium is more abundant than many think. It is a nuisance waste product in rare-earth deposits, some of which have more thorium than rare earths. Beach sands in many parts of the world have an abundance of it and these are processed for titanium, zirconium and abrasive garnet (especially India and Australia) Often there is a bit of U in the ore, too – probably not a problem used as a fuel. In processing of rare earth ores, thorium is removed early as an insoluble compound. The present economics legislate against high Th ores simply because of having to dispose of them in an acceptable way. Such a reactor would be a boon to the rare earth production industry.

August 27, 2014 7:28 am

As a graduating senior in ChE (1952) I was told that I could get a job working on this molten salt reactor if I wanted it. Apparently there have been some insurmountable obstacles or it would be working right now.

Reply to  Jim Brock
August 27, 2014 7:43 am

Kill by Clinton, John Kerry in 1994.

M Courtney
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 7:48 am

After 42years with no progress?
Good call.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 8:53 am

It worked. Killed by Pentagon – no weapons grade by product. See last paragraph:

M Courtney
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 8:59 am

Ah, well there was a (Cold) War on.
And that was in the days of Nixon, not Clinton.
But if it does work then all power [to their] elbow.
(For me, the sales pitch was too much. It sounded too good to be true so I was instantly cynical).

Richard G
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 10:17 pm

I agree with you M Courtney, It read more like an investor sales pitch than an operational analysis.

Reply to  Jim Brock
August 27, 2014 9:40 am

The bulk of the early work on these designs focused on component lifetime – specifically, developing alloys able to maintain their mechanical and material integrity in a corrosive, radioactive salt environment. Experimental tests running over several years at ORNL in the 1960s and 1970s showed that modified Hastelloy-N possesses the necessary chemical and radiation stability for long-term use in molten salt reactors. Despite this progress, the USA remained focused on light-water reactors for commercial use, primarily because of extensive previous operating experience with naval water-cooled reactors and early commercial power reactors. Advocates of thorium and increasing demand for small modular reactors drove renewed examination of molten salt in the 1990s. In 2002, the multinational Generation IV International Forum (GIF) reviewed approximately one hundred of the latest reactor concepts and selected molten salt reactors as one of the six advanced reactor types most likely to shape the future of nuclear energy “due to advances in sustainability, economics, safety, reliability and proliferation-resistance” [2]. From the white paper, quote unquote.

Reply to  Jim Brock
August 27, 2014 12:26 pm

the ‘insurmountable obstacles’ have been the lobbying efforts of the conventional enriched uranium suppliers, who have fought for decades to keep any research money from going into thorium. They greatly reduced and then killed the thorium projects we had going in the 1950s and 60s. Why? Because the uranium nuclear industry makes its money not in building plants, but in selling expensive fuels. Thorium fuel is inherently cheap, and requires no expensive refining. So they can’t make money on it. Their efforts have been so successful that the only way our government has been able to get research going is through a joint project with the Chinese, who have provided most of the funding, while we have provided most of the scientific expertise.

August 27, 2014 7:31 am

August 27, 2014 at 7:09 am
“Corrosion is their problem to be solved. Finding a moderator containment material that is both corrosion resistant and radioactive resistant in this salt bath may not be easy.”
I agree. That’s why it is important to get one of these molten salt reactors up and running as a demonstration plant, in a safe location. Run it 30 years and then shut it down and decommission it. Then we’ll know if it is a practical technology or not. Area 51 would be a good place to start.

Reply to  pochas
August 27, 2014 7:37 am

The Russian BR-5 fast reactor ran from 1959-2005, 43 years. Does that help?

Edward Richardson
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 7:58 am

5MW is a lot smaller than 500MW

D.J. Hawkins
Reply to  CNC
August 27, 2014 4:52 pm

Corrosion/erosion properties are generally immune to scaling effects. Unless there are significant changes in fluid velocity or temperature during scale up, a 43 history at 5MW tells you all you need to know for 500MW.

August 27, 2014 7:32 am

Some thoughts:
– $2B for 500MW is pretty competitive relative to current LWR (light water reactor) prices (~$4B – $6B for 1000MW, conservative guess).
– Eliminating the need for cooling water is HUGE, but I struggle to understand how this reactor accomplishes it. From the above provided description (as well as other literature I’ve read on this), it’s not clear how the heat exchange between the salt and the secondary side coolant (water) leaves the salt any cooler than the primary side water in today’s reactors. This is currently achieved through cooling water (e.g. lake, river, ocean) that pulls a significant amount of the remaining heat out of the secondary side after passing through the turbine.. This allows the secondary side to extract the most heat possible from the primary side. How is it achieved in this reactor?
– Reactor sites today have incredibly strict seismic requirements. It seems likely that this reactor would have to follow the same.
– Proliferation concerns with thorium fuel are pretty minimal. If I understand it correctly, there’s roughly the same level of effort required to enrich by-product of thorium into weaponized material as is required to enrich plutonium pulled out of the ground. Effectively, a net-zero proliferation impact.
– Super long continuous run-times seem to me to be “pie-in-the-sky” marketing. The 2nd law’s still in effect. Maintenance is still required, even if refueling isn’t. Still, this doesn’t reduce the interest of this reactor. It’s just that we’d have to be realistic about maintenance and upkeep.
– To answer the above question, yes, this reactor is claiming to use the spent nuclear fuel (pellets) currently contained in the fuel assy’s at commercial nuclear plants.
– Current nuclear reactors can load-follow, just not the ones in the US. The designs have to be modified and beefed up to withstand the transients (among other things). France’s reactors are load-following.
– I think a major reason that molten salt was not pursued was the extreme corrosiveness of it. Maybe current material technology has solved this. Also, I think there’s an “industrial” risk (non-nuclear) of the salt reacting (chemically speaking) with the secondary side water. Heat exchangers leak. Inevitably (it seems). I’m curious how this concern has been addressed.
That’s all for now…

August 27, 2014 7:38 am

Probably should have refreshed before posting the comment…sorry for being repetitive.

August 27, 2014 7:49 am

Heh. I managed to misspell fluoro- twice, in different ways. Annoying word, that.

August 27, 2014 7:56 am

Their mention of a conventional water-based rankine cycle is a bit odd- almost all the other discussion of MSRs focuses on brayton cycles which can run at higher temps and achieve higher carnot efficiency. That also eliminates the salt-to-water heat exchanger, replacing it with a salt-to-helium HX, much safer.

August 27, 2014 7:59 am

The earth and near Solar system are its own, dynamic energy resource. Piezoelectric electrostatics and grounded magnifying transmitters with turbines powered by electrostatics and induced power similar to lightning strikes from the ionosphere to the magnetic-heavy earth, photovoltaics or natural gas powering magnifying transmitters or photovoltaic fields, may be a more “universally-acceptable and economical energy source” than MSRs, TRs or PRs since they have less-potent reaction chemical waste [electro-magnetic waste fields or entropic output] which has the property of being recyclable.

Reply to  Jonah Lissner
August 27, 2014 11:30 am

“may be a more “universally-acceptable and economical energy source” than MSRs, TRs or PRs since they have less-potent reaction chemical waste…”

I think the term “universally acceptable” refers to its versatility. The plant can be smaller or larger, run on different fuels, can power up and power down, and does not need to be built near a huge pond or lake.
I know the term “universally acceptable” does not mean, “Every one will just love this source of power and adopt it in every state, by Federal Decree.”
I would look forward to a prototype and a white paper for your underground magnifying transmitters if they could be produced. Until then, as the good book says, “Let not he who puts on his armor boast as he who takes it off.”

Reply to  Zeke
August 29, 2014 8:25 am

Zeke, do you have a website of your work projects?

Reply to  Zeke
August 29, 2014 2:20 pm

Inre: Jonah Lissner
My second remark will answer your question. I certainly do not have a site or any work in power generation.
1. I do have an authentic interest in the subject, because I am presently being sold a lot of huey by politicians and progressive scientists, claiming that renewable energy is “reliable” and that it is also “free.” They go on to wildly assert that they can provide everyone a “warm comfortable home” using “wind, solar, and tides, which costs us nothing.” But results are quite different from the claims. And worse, the abject failure of these technologies are not acknowledged. Imagine carrying out an experiment and ignoring the horrible results. Who are these people?
2. The replacement technology will not come to the West or to the world without the means of mass producing it and shipping it; it will require abundant coal and oil and capital until it is actually in place. So my suggestion is that you get your design into a workable plant quickly before there is not enough electricity to even support an aluminum plant where you are. This has already happened in the UK, under current European Union renewables requirements. You will need plenty of steel and semi trucks for your system.
3. Any one who argues that there is “free energy” – while simultaneously claiming that the resources and infrastructure needed to develop and ship the new technology to domestic and international markets must be dismantled (ie harmless fossil fuels) – cannot possibly have the expertise, knowledge, or experience to address the subject in the first place. Suppose an engineer ripped out the plumbing and electrical wiring of a city, based on a promise of future “free energy.” Plainly, no engineer would be able to use such reckless practices and still be able to keep his license to practice.

Reply to  Zeke
August 29, 2014 2:21 pm

Here, let me be of some small assistance to you if I can. To quote from your paper,
Example 2.
AMT^3 in prototypical design resemble an oil derrick or radio station antenna;
because of the interaction of the Ionosphere and the Magnetosphere, the ground already has a
range of electo-magnetic frequencies from 7 to 12 hz. Utilizing a very high rate of speed from an
opposing energy-state to perturb air via grounded electro-magnetic fields as efficiently as
possible, the AMT of the Tesla design utilizes three coils and oscillating rod to transmit
electronic standing waves from the earth surface location across the reflective Kennelly-
Heaviside layer to the opposing receiving station or stations wirelessly.”
This should help to gain a hearing for what you are saying. It is important that you should be able to attract venture capital and develop a product which people want to buy, at a price that is right for them.

Reply to  Jonah Lissner
August 27, 2014 7:45 pm

I’ll have a double order of that with cheese.

August 27, 2014 7:59 am

I could be wrong, but I think I see Sam Bodman’s fingerprints on this somewhere

Robert Doyle
August 27, 2014 8:11 am

Well, there are now three horses in the race.
D.O.E. & China are continuing to sloooowly advance the Thorium solution.
The third architecture is being designed by “Thor Energy” in Norway.
They have pursued an evolutionary design, which physically integrates our uranium with Thorium.
Think of the uranium as the fuse that lights the Thorium into activity.
Thorium-plutonium (Th,Pu) oxide fuels will provide an evolutionary way to simultaneously reduce plutonium volumes and capture energy from this material. In this work we compare the neutronic properties of Th,Pu-fuel and MOX fuel with different Pu isotope vectors. For these studies, burn-up simulations are performed for a regular MOX PWR fuel assembly and for a thorium-plutonium PWR fuel assembly of the same geometry. The neutronic properties and performance of the assemblies are investigated by lattice calculations using CASMO-5. The plutonium content of the two fuel types is chosen so that the same total energy release per fuel assembly is achieved, which demanded a somewhat higher plutonium content in the thorium plutonium case. The assemblies are then analyzed with regards to temperature coefficients, delayed neutron fractions, control rod and boron worths, coolant void reactivity (CVR) and decay heat. Overall, the results show that MOX and Th,Pu-fuel have fairly similar neutronic properties in existing PWRs. Th,Pu-fuel offers an advantage over MOX fuel with regards to CVR values and plutonium consumption. The conclusion is therefore that introducing Th,Pu-fuel would improve these factors without imposing any major hurdles from a reactor physics point of view
Pellets with various throium levels will be tested. The objective is pellets with 90% thorium or more.

August 27, 2014 8:12 am

Good news!
If the costs don’t rise during the initial phases this could be a good reinvention.
Lets hope nuclear-bomb building goes away.

Jim Clarke
August 27, 2014 8:26 am

I don’t mind the ‘hype’ style of the article all that much. It is more subdued and realistic than the constant hype for solar and wind that we hear almost every day. It is the nature of the game to hype what you are selling, otherwise people won’t even listen to you.
I think there is another problem here that has not been brought up, and may be more difficult to overcome than the problem of corrosion:
It will step on a lot of toes!
These reactors will greatly reduce the need for enriched uranium, make the current style of nuclear reactor obsolete and greatly reduce the need and scope of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). A lot of wealthy and/or powerful people will become less so, and they won’t like it.
We have this idea that advancements in nuclear energy technology have stalled because of a grass roots distrust of the energy source. I am sure that is partially true. But I also believe that there are vested interests in the way things are done now, and they are not interested in any changes that will hurt or eliminate their bottom line. It will take some politically powerful allies of MSR’s to make these things a reality.

Reply to  Jim Clarke
August 27, 2014 3:15 pm

The powerful coal and railroad interests – and many other interests (back in the early days of nuclear power) used their power to put roadblocks to the economical development of nuclear power and financed a lot of the anti-nuclear “fervor” of those times. Today we have other entrenched powers that will manoever “behind the curtains” to protect their turf. It has always been so and always will. Unfortunately, these clowns appear to “own” the MSM (aka the ” Liberal Propaganda” press) which gives a very big chunk of illegitimate power to shape things to their liking. I’m betting Molten Salt Reactors will be “in their sights”.

August 27, 2014 8:33 am

I’m concerned that the political/regulatory regime will effectively kill this like they have conventional nuclear reactors. They could take decades to approve the design. (Visit the website of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and see their level of urgency for getting anything done.) Environmental lawsuits could prevent start of construction for another decade, and continuing lawsuits mandating construction halts and design changes could stretch out construction to 10-12 years beyond that. Reason does not rule in this area. The average age of a nuclear reactor in the US is 39 years, and the last one was built in the 1990’s. The same people complaining about CO2 and coal emissions work their tails off to prevent nuclear power from solving those issues. And most people seem to think nuclear = bomb, so they are easily swayed by green propaganda. The company may have to go to Russia or China to actually get anything built.

Reply to  larrygeary
August 27, 2014 8:58 am

If this thing is as good as it sounds, someone will build one somewhere.

Reply to  Canman
August 27, 2014 9:09 am

True. But I am disappointed and ashamed that my country is becoming a technological backwater mired in political corruption and unreason.

Bruce Cobb
August 27, 2014 8:35 am

Oh-oh, Big Wind and Big Solar aren’t going to like this. Price-wise, it looks to be competitive with coal and gas, and cheaper than traditional nuclear plants.

August 27, 2014 8:39 am

the elites have already scared the public far too much about radiation…………people refuse to see the FIRES from the earthquakes and the natural gas lines…..they FEAR nuclear power generation that doesnt harm anyone and is safe clean and cheap….but are unafraid of the very things that are dangerous…that natural gas line into their homes could explode.

Alan Robertson
August 27, 2014 8:46 am

If this thing is more than just a pipe dream, then the current US puppet administration would do everything in their power to insure one never gets built.
Too many oxen would be gored.

August 27, 2014 8:59 am

Just think if these young workers had access to even a small portion of the $billion$ Obama’s insiders squandered on faux ‘renewables’.

August 27, 2014 9:04 am

Sorry for the quick post…
By the Foudners Fund is a truly powerful, wealthy and ground breaking group of investors. If anyone can persuade the enviros to cool it and let this progress, it is this group.

Michael Moon
August 27, 2014 9:28 am

This new reactor design does need cooling water. 1200 degrees F steam makes electricity just like in a coal plant, but the steam must be condensed with cooling water to become liquid again to be re-used. 44% thermal efficiency is much better than LWR’s at 34%, but the 56% must be exchanged to cooling water.
I read most of the white paper. This reactor would be extremely unlikely to melt down, as the uranium is dissolved in molten salt, which would just drain into a dilution tank in the event of problems. The dilution would stop the fission. Fuel is added continuously, so no refueling shutdowns every four years. Spent Nuclear Fuel is a massive headache to the industry, and these reactors will consume it, huge advantage.
Sign me up!

Reply to  Michael Moon
August 27, 2014 10:30 am

Or the heat can be used to heat buildings.

Michael Moon
Reply to  jim2
August 27, 2014 10:51 am

Yes, I had a job offer from the old Detroit Edison to work on their downtown co-gen plant. I am not aware of any nuclear plants that do this though. Gulf States Utilities has the world’s largest water softener, supplies process steam to an oil refinery across the street from their natural-gas-fired power plant in Baton Rouge LA. I did work on that one!

Robert Doyle
August 27, 2014 10:07 am

Michael Moon Wrote
August 27, 2014 at 9:28 am
This new reactor design does need cooling water. 1200 degrees F steam makes electricity just like in a coal plant, but the steam must be condensed with cooling water to become liquid again to be re-used. 44% thermal efficiency is much better than LWR’s at 34%, but the 56% must be exchanged to cooling water.
This is exactly one of the key benefits of a Thorium reactor like the type that “Thor Energy” is trying to build in Norway. They will use a small amount of U235 to ignite the Thorium. The Thorium does NOT require water cooling! In fact, the only water in the containment building is a separate vessel holding water mounted above the Thorium reaction process. In the event of some kind, let’s say an earthquake, the water is released into the Thorium. The reaction is stopped. The East Coast has the oldest fleet of reactors. They’re located in valuable fish spawning rivers and coastal locations. The advancement to a deliverable, Thorium design would be worth billions and would be environmentally positive.

Reply to  Robert Doyle
August 27, 2014 10:16 am

Whether it uses uranium, thorium, or antimatter, the end result is heat. Water is heated and needs to be cooled, or replaced with cool water. Dumping water onto a pile of thorium sounds like a recipe for a steam explosion.

Reply to  larrygeary
August 27, 2014 10:28 am

Wrong. It doesn’t use water in the reactor itself. Molten salt cools the core. That’s why it’s called “molten salt.”

D.J. Hawkins
Reply to  larrygeary
August 27, 2014 5:00 pm

jim2, nuclear power plants don’t consume cooling water in the nuclear cycle, but in the steam cycle. The steam cycle is the same, regardless of the source of heat. You will still need large quantities of cooling water to condense the steam on the low pressure side of the turbines.

michael m.
August 27, 2014 10:30 am
Robert Doyle
August 27, 2014 10:32 am

Here’s a YouTube video on Thorium. Your concern is addressed in the first minutes.

August 27, 2014 11:34 am

The Greens will oppose this not because it is bad, but because it is good. They are anti-growth and civilization, and if safe nuclear energy promotes economic growth, they will oppose it.
Besides, remember the progressive motto,”never let a good crisis go to waste.” If the energy “crisis” is solved, the Greens’ political importance will fall even lower than it already is.

August 27, 2014 11:37 am

“Wrong. It doesn’t use water in the reactor itself. Molten salt cools the core. That’s why it’s called “molten salt.””
I didn’t say it uses water to cool the reactor. It uses water turned to steam to turn a turbine. That water has to be cooled.

Greg White
Reply to  larrygeary
August 27, 2014 12:18 pm

I think they are hoping to combine this new technology with a supercritical CO2 Brayton cycle turbine, no steam or water needed. https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/brayton-cycle-turbines/#.U_4t5vldVgg

Joe Wooten
Reply to  Greg White
August 28, 2014 12:37 pm

Most brayton cycle gas turbines still ahve an exhaust temperature high enough to make quite a bit of steam.

August 27, 2014 11:39 am

Attn: This technology is known by the State of California to cause cancer, inattention, lethargy, obesity, autism, ADHD, and all of the same diseases and complaints caused by vaccination, jet contrails, GMOs, and cell phones.
Attn: This developing technology is known to the State of Texas to be a potential addition to present power mixes, and we will produce larger plants at a fraction of the cost of any Australian territory. Did you hear that we built desalinisation plants in Texas for 10 million dollars, and the Australians spent several billions of dollars on a similar plant? We will do this again. Drive friendly. Texas.

August 27, 2014 11:53 am

I thought the barrier to re-processing SNF was the non-proliferation treaty the Carter administration signed the US up to?

August 27, 2014 12:32 pm

Too bad they couldn’t retro fit the San Onofre nuclear plant here in San Diego for this design. The plant is sitting idle ready to be decommissioned.

Reply to  sinewave
August 28, 2014 4:26 am

They should put modular reactors on the site.

August 27, 2014 12:40 pm

The risk is 100% financial. It will cost $50 billion to commercialize this technology. The same as any other nuclear fission technology. South Africa folded on the pebble bed modular reactor not because of a any technical problems, but because a sober analysis of the costs to commercialize convinced them they could not afford it.
The MSR might be a great idea, and in 30 years there might even be one operating. But claiming there are no risks is foolish.

Reply to  sm
August 27, 2014 1:43 pm

During the ’60s and even into the ’90s I repeatedly encountered people who repeatedly talked about the risks and costs of space craft development as if the end result was a craft loaded with cash that was shot into space and would never return. One hundred percent of all spending took place here on earth. That is, in effect, no true “cost” was incurred. Quite the contrary, the research and development costs created new wealth in many forms from things as abstract as new knowledge leading to new medical developments or wages that went to simple spending money that kept a local bar operating. It is no coincidence historically that periods of intense research and development are also typically periods of intense prosperity.

Stephen Richards
August 27, 2014 1:08 pm

Aren’t the chinese reserching this already? If I were Beuchert and still needed work I would be off.

Stephen Richards
August 27, 2014 1:10 pm

Just read Conrad’s link.

August 27, 2014 1:12 pm

Greg White August 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm
I think they are hoping to combine this new technology with a supercritical CO2 Brayton cycle turbine, no steam or water needed. https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/brayton-cycle-turbines/#.U_4t5vldVgg
Oh oh, CO2, I’m sure this will contribute to CAGW!

Greg White
Reply to  John The Cube
August 27, 2014 1:34 pm

With the new format you can reply directly to a comment without having to quote.

August 27, 2014 1:28 pm

This design has my attention. Their strategy of concentrating on the spent uranium fuel rods as a resource is practical and pragmatic.
My problem with the Thorium reactor concept is that no matter how save the nuclear side of the engineering, it is an enormous chemical/metallurgical refining engineering and operations problem. I have seen estimates that 10% of a Thorium core needs to be continuously reprocessed per day
Chapter 8 of their White paper discusses Thorium reprocessing, particularly in regard to the removal of the poison Pr-232 which decays to U-233 (weapons grade) which can then be fed back to the core. But they do not discuss the reprocessing cycle.

Reactivity in a TAP reactor is primarily controlled by online refueling and fission product removal…..
In TAP reactors, however, fuel can be added to the core continuously to counteract fuel depletion, and fission products are extracted – either continuously or in batches – to minimize the accumulation of fission product poisons. TAP reactors can therefore operate with very little excess reactivity. [sec 3.1]

I see no mention of amounts extracted per unit time or salt reprocessing throughput.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
August 27, 2014 1:46 pm

Correction: In regard to the Thorium reprocessing cycle, the poison is Pa-233, not Pr-232

The process for doing this yields relatively pure protactinium, which then decays into pure U-233. By design, the pure U-233 is sent back into the reactor where it is burned as its primary fuel. The drawback, however, is that U-233 is a weapons-grade isotope that is much easier to trigger than plutonium.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  Stephen Rasey
August 27, 2014 5:17 pm

Really just more FUD to support their favorite technology. Chemical processing is far easier than isotopic processing, so getting the 233Pr out of the salt isn’t that big a deal. 232Pr comes along with it (chemical not isotopic) which is important as we’ll see in a moment. The proliferation risk is relatively low (233 BOMBS KILLZ US ALL!!) since it is mixed with 232U which is a hard gamma emitter that is easily detected globally as well as very hazardous to anyone who wants to make said bomb. And we already touched on how difficult isotopic separation is relative to chemical separation.
All of that would say problem solved, but it’s not quite that easy. The half life of 232Pr is different from 233Pr, so if you’re willing to let your extractions sit for a while and pull out all of the Uranium (mostly 232U) for the first few half lives, you’re left with mostly pure 233Pr which you can allow to decay to 233U. The answer to that is to dump some 238U in the mix either to poison the extract if something suspicious is going on, or continuously if you’re willing to take the efficiency hit as it absorbs neutrons. It will be most entertaining to read how this couple thinks they can run their reactor with SNF containing a significant chunk of 238U that they will have to breed to 239Pu to burn and yet somehow THAT does not pose a proliferation risk…

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
August 28, 2014 12:34 am

Tsk Tsk: do you want to revise your reply to Rasey? As Rasey corrected, it is Pa-232 & Pa-233, not Pr-232 & 233 as you post. Pr is Praeseodymium, Z=59 and not a fissile material.
Another mistake you make, U-232 is an alpha emitter, not a hard gamma emitter. U-232 emits some gammas but the intensity (number of emissions from lots of decays) is very low and the energies are relatively low. The four primary gamma emissions energies and intensities are* : 58 KeV/0.21%, 129 KeV/0.082%, 270 KeV/.0038%, and 328 KeV/0.0034%. You would have to be handling a LOT of U-232 to receive any harm from these levels of gamma emissions and they are easy to shield and most would be easily shielded by the uranium where they are produced. To help explain intensity further: with a given quantity of U-232, you will only see these gamma emissions at any one time in accordance to the percent noted. So, if at the same moment a thousand U-232 atoms decay (alpha decay), you will only see the about two 58 KeV gamma emissions along with the 1000 alpha emissions. The other gamma emissions are much less.
*data from an old handbook and there may be slight difference from newly measured data.

August 27, 2014 1:29 pm

… It’s hard to imagine anyone having any objections to this nuclear reactor design. …
Not so hard when you’ve met folks who are either afraid to open a microwave, or refuse to use one because the microwaves might “escape.” No joke.

August 27, 2014 1:53 pm

I wonder if/how they recover if an incident occurs and the freeze valve causes the fuel to drain into the containment tank. They indicate the reaction stops nicely and the tank cools automatically. Seems like the containment tank then contains a huge blob of solid salt. Is this the end of the reactor or can it be restarted?
Gas cooled reactors can be quenched quickly by injecting boron dust into the coolant gas. However, my understanding is that it is generally impossible to remove enough of the dust to ever restart the reactor. So pushing the panic button on a gas reactor costs several billion…

Bruce Cobb
August 27, 2014 2:04 pm

There is also something called a Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) being investigated by the Bill Gates-chaired company TerraPower. They are also looking into MSRs. However, it could be a couple decades or so before they (either TWR or MSR) become commercially viable.

more soylent green!
August 27, 2014 2:13 pm

Universally acceptable with the word “nuclear” in the name? No way. Rebrand it.

Mark Bofill
Reply to  more soylent green!
August 27, 2014 2:39 pm

That’s a good point. Let’s start calling it evergreen. Evergreen Power, powering the world for eons to come!

Robert Doyle
August 27, 2014 2:44 pm

RE: Conrad’s “Reuters” link.
Reuters starts out xenophobic and then moves into the actual relationship.
Our countries are working on more near term relationships in nat. gas & COAL “OMG” as well.
Here is one of the joint presentations. As noted in my first response, at last we have a horse race. So, I’m hopeful that acceleration will occur. Utility scale programs require partnerships, I.P. sharing and contracts to drive prices down. No country or company has a silver bullet, winning solution.
I apologize up front. I do not understand why WordPress automatically linked to the previous post, but didn’t in this case.

August 27, 2014 3:37 pm

Very knowledgeable comments here immediately–impressive.

August 27, 2014 3:43 pm

Incidentally (speaking of breakthroughs), here’s a new fuel cell design in testing that runs on natural gas (hit page-down five times once there) (story is from June 26, 2014):
Redox Power believes it’s ready for its first serious commercial test in the wild. The startup is a spinoff from the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC). Launched in Aug. 2013, the company continues to collaborate with the Univ. of Maryland.
Redox Power’s founder, Professor Eric Wachsman, is an instructor at the university and is director of UMERC. He holds key patents on the technology which he claims will offer 100 times the density per cost of current cells, including Bloom’s Energy Server. He claims his cells are 1/10th the cost of commercial alternatives and are also 1/10th the size.
One strength of Redox Power’s cell design is flexibility. It is designed to primarily run off natural gas, but can also generate power using propane, gasoline, biofuel, and hydrogen. At its maximum efficiency, when processing natural gas and doubling as backup heaters, the cells can output heat and electricity at 80 percent efficiency (and 70 percent efficiency for electrical generation only).
That’s a good deal higher than Bloom Energy Servers, which are 60 percent efficient at optimal conditions.

August 27, 2014 4:27 pm

But will it power my car?

August 27, 2014 4:29 pm

A quick tutorial for those not familiar with neutron interactions with matter. Neutrons do not interact electromagnetically with matter like other radiation emissions do. They have to bang into something to dissipate their energy. As a neutron crashes into molecules, eventually it loses its energy and either becomes a hydrogen molecule (by collecting an electron) or it can get captured by the nucleus of an atom. In the latter case it changes the atom, is called neutron activation, and is the source many radioactive contaminants in a reactor.
Besides heat being generated during fission of a Uranium atom, the interaction of a thermal neutron with other atoms will also generate heat. Heat is the layman’s term for the excitation of molecules which we experience as warmth (or lack thereof). In the TAP reactor, fission produces heat which is transferred to the LiF based salt. Additionally, thermal neutrons generate heat by interacting with the salt.
There are four basic neutron classifications: thermal neutrons (a very low energy of approximately .025 to .038 electron volts or eV); then slow, intermediate and fast neutrons indicating higher energy ranges. As a uranium (or other fissionable atom) fissions, it will release neutrons in any of the classification ranges. Because heating occurs principally in the slow and thermal ranges, for a power reactor the idea is to slow all of the neutrons down to the thermal range. This is where the moderators come into play. Some materials are quite good at slowing down neutrons, and other materials are nearly opaque to higher energy neutrons. For example, hydrogen, water, heavy water, boron, and beryllium are good at slowing neutrons. Lead (Pb) is poor at slowing down neutrons. Physicists use the term cross-section to indicate a material’s ability to slow down neutrons; a high cross section material is a desirable material to slow neutrons. Apparently Zirconium Hydride (I’m unfamiliar with it) is fairly good at slowing down neutrons.
Further fission will occur if a uranium atom captures a neutron. The moderators are adjusted to increase or decrease the number of neutrons being slowed down thus increasing or decreasing the number available for uranium to capture.
I hope the above helps a few. Understanding the basic underlying principles can help to understand the implications of the TAP reactor. The principles have been applied to molten salt reactors for a long time, but the engineering problems associated with the salts (principally Sodium) have been daunting. The use of LiF based salts looks most promising if it solves the corrosion problems. The press release and white paper are correct in pointing out the advantages of a molten salt reactor, and those advantages are huge.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  aGrimm
August 27, 2014 5:26 pm

Sodium cooled reactors are not MSR’s. They have had lots of problems and are a bad choice given Sodium’s reactivity. The salts used in MSR’s are chemical stable and basically inert, so even if they were to leak out of the reactor, there would be no explosions are fires. You would still have a mess to clean up, but there’s no risk of a hydrogen explosion like there would be with a Sodium cooled reactor (a remarkably BAD idea would be to put such a thing on something like a submarine like the Soviets did).
These reactors are breeder reactors so the moderator exists to ensure that the neutron energies are appropriate to the cross section of the fuel. Pu breeders require fast neutrons. Thorium requires slow (thermal) neutrons, which is a point that this press release fails to note.

Reply to  Tsk Tsk
August 27, 2014 6:42 pm

I hadn’t looked up the LiF salts’ reactivity, so thanks for filling me in that it is inert. Concur that Sodium reactors were a bad idea. I did get to visit the Fast Flux Test Facility at Hanford and despite the sodium problem, it was pretty darn cool.

Tsk Tsk
August 27, 2014 6:14 pm

There’s definitely some bias in the white paper. The discussion about not using Be salts because it’s toxic to 10% of the population is just silly. CuBe is used in lots of places and Be is used in other alloys. So that doesn’t help their case.
Then we have this example when being critical of Thorium:
“Therefore, even with U-232 mixed in with U-233, it may be possible to chemically extract any decay products produced from U-232 before they become gamma emitters, thereby leaving weapons-grade uranium that is not protected by high energy gamma radiation.”
So chemically extracting 233Pr (with a half life measured in weeks) is hard, but chemically separating the hard gamma emitters from the 232U decay chain, some of which have half lives measured in minutes or seconds is feasible. Yeah, your bias is showing.
Finally they make a claim that a thermal spectrum reactor can function just fine with 238U. If it were that easy we could run our PWR/LWR’s today in thermal mode, but we can’t. CANDU’s can do that, but that’s a very special environment. I’m skeptical of their claims as a result and think they really need to be running in a fast mode if they want to stay with a Uranium breeder fuel cycle contrary to their claims, or they simply get more efficient burn up of the fissile rather than fertile materials. That is certainly plausible in an MSR.

August 27, 2014 7:11 pm

There is no such thing as a universally acceptable power plant. The communists who commandeered the environmentalist movement don’t want safe, clean energy. They want to destroy capitalism. A safe, clean energy source doesn’t help them.

August 27, 2014 11:56 pm

The fundamental problem here is the same problem trying to commercialize anything other then a light water reactor.
The thorium fans, fast breeder fans and fans of this design all face the same daunting hurdler.
There is a fuel fabrication manufacturing facility to be developed and someone will have to foot the bill to establish the fuel cycle fabrication facility.
(Justifying government funds was easy for light water reactor fuel fabircation…we needed the plutonium waster for bombs)
This is a difficult financial case to be made unless an order for ‘dozens’ of a reactor type are pending.
Of course…no one is going to order ‘dozens’ of anything until the first one has a bit of a track record.
Nice design…I wish them well. They problably should chat with the Chinese and Indian’s about maybe some ‘knockdown’ pricing for an order of a dozen in exchange for fuel fabrication facility funding.

August 27, 2014 11:58 pm

Hey, throw a few billion this way, Obama!

Reply to  rogerknights
August 28, 2014 12:25 am

No. It might work

greg holmes
August 28, 2014 2:15 am

Hell this is old news, if you wish to LEARN about LFTR technology check out Kirk Sorensen on Youtube and watch the long versions, he tells it all and has been advocating this for years.

stas peterson
August 28, 2014 2:47 am

I have worked in power systems and [worked] with the NRC.
Mr laarrry Geary’s post is quite correct.
The cost to commecialize [this] technology would be immense and very time consuming,having nothing ot do with other then paper studies and safety reviews of every [conceivable] and even inconcievable failure possibilities. Plus a substantial number of the voting commissioners are characterized as rabid Green eco-loons placed there by politics and the green community, to ensur [another] test or study be conducted to delay the process. Starting today, and nobody is really doing so, I’d wager that a Fusion [powerplant] not even begun to design yet will be adding power to the grid before such an MSR plant could do so.
The primary technical problem has always been the [materials] to contain and transport the corrosive MS working fluid. Then there is the problem of contamination from leaks between the MS and the turbine working fluid. Leaks will develop.MS and H2O do not mix well.
I recall reading of problems in early MSR reactors, with the MS as pockets of unevenly mixed actinides could result in occasional hot spots of enriched fuel leading to spots or regions of increased output and possible critical mass being achieved. All these problems could eventually be solved
But the real problem is politics and delay.
As he so aptly says:
“I’m concerned that the political/regulatory regime will effectively kill this like they have conventional nuclear reactors. They could take decades to approve the design. (Visit the website of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and see their level of urgency for getting anything done.) Environmental lawsuits could prevent start of construction for another decade, and continuing lawsuits mandating construction halts and design changes could stretch out construction to 10-12 years beyond that. Reason does not rule in this area. The average age of a nuclear reactor in the US is 39 years, and the last one was built in the 1990’s. The same people complaining about CO2 and coal emissions work their tails off to prevent nuclear power from solving those issues. And most people seem to think nuclear = bomb, so they are easily swayed by green propaganda. The company may have to go to Russia or China to actually get anything built.”

August 28, 2014 4:33 am

Terrestrial Energy is working on a simplified MSR based on the ORNL design. China has a crash program underway. The problem is our US government. The NRC hasn’t allowed a new reactor design in 40 years. MSRs are the way to go and will be built anywhere but here in the US where we invented it…and I am pissed!

Rod Everson
Reply to  Walter J Horsting
August 28, 2014 7:30 am

Leadership does matter. Hopefully the U.S. is in the process of changing ours. We’ll see.

Jim Arndt
August 28, 2014 10:56 am

Someone should tell Gov. Brown and spend the money for his $25b Delta tunnel and make these reactors to power desalination plants for So Cal.

August 28, 2014 3:06 pm

Molten salt reactors have been around for quite a while. EBR2 was used in a 1986 loss of cooling accident demonstration, and it passed with flying colors. Another descendant of EBR2’s design was the Integral Fast Reactor. IFR never got built, but its design had many of the passive safety features that this new one has, plus it had a built in reprocessing plant on site. The idea was that all the fuel it would ever need could be delivered at the end of construction, and it would breed and recycle its own fuel for at least 40 years with minimal waste.

August 29, 2014 8:38 am

@Tsk Tsk 8/27 6:14 pm
Finally they make a claim that a thermal spectrum reactor can function just fine with 238U. If it were that easy we could run our PWR/LWR’s today in thermal mode, but we can’t….. they really need to be running in a fast mode if they want to stay with a Uranium breeder fuel cycle contrary to their claims, or they simply get more efficient burn up of the fissile rather than fertile materials. That is certainly plausible in an MSR.
On page 14 of their White Paper, they very briefly mention that they use two zones in their reactor, no doubt with the salt flowing between them, with different neutron spectra.

To achieve the high burnup in a compact reactor size, we have configured the TAP reactor in two zones. The moderator at 50% volume is provided one zone, where it achieves the highly efficient moderation and actinide breakdown behavior described in Figure 8. The second zone is free of moderator. Here the spectrum is primarily epithermal (see the unmoderated line in Figure 8). Recall that the LiF-UF4 salt dissolves 27% molar mass uranium (mostly U-238) – a far higher uranium level than is considered in the design of thorium molten salt reactors – so there is copious fertile material available. In the unmoderated region, fission neutrons accumulate in the epithermal energy range, where they are preferentially absorbed by U-238, which has large cross-section resonances at epithermal energies. Upon capturing a neutron, fertile U-238 nuclei are transmuted into fissile nuclei. This epithermal transmutation raises the conversion ratio of the combined regions above that of moderated region alone. For more discussion on fuel utilization and conversion ratio, see Addendum B.

I’m just speculating here, but imagine a donut shaped reactor, with fluid salt flowing clockwise. in one part of the donut is moderated for fast neutrons (the Zr-H) for fission and actinide removal. It is this area in which the poison production is a problem (hypothesis). But in time the flow moves into the unmoderated section where (and here I’m really speculating) the fast-neutrons poisons are less of a problem and have time to decay or transmute in the thermal and epi-thermal neutron spectrum.
Rather than attempt to reprocess 10% of a Thorium LFTR core per day to remove poisons by chemical and electrochemical brute force, You move the TAP salt into a different neutron environment to breed the U-238, and wait out the poisons. All that mess stays within the hot donut. Elegant! In fact, there is no reason to limit yourself to two zones if a third zone neutron spectra could be advantageous.
Mind you, I’m not sold yet. They mention the need for poison removal. Perhaps their two-zone methods have greatly reduced the processing volume rate. Maybe they have reduced the number of elements and isotopes they need to remove — all good. But they are relatively silent on the details. It is what people don’t tell you that you must watch for.

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