We need badly to develop and build Thorium based molten salt fast breeder nuclear reactors to secure our energy needs in the future. Lest anyone should be threatened by the words fast breeder, it simply means it uses fast neutrons instead of thermal neutrons, and breeder means it produces more fissible material than it consumes, in the case of Thorium the ratio is about 1.05.
LFTR is a type of Molten Salt Reactor with equipment to convert plentiful thorium into uranium (U233) to use as fuel. It can also use plutonium from LWR waste. LFTR is not very efficient at using depleted uranium (need a Fast-Spectrum reactor to fission U-238 effectively; in a thermal-spectrum reactor like LFTR or LWR, would convert some U-238 to plutonium which is fissile).
Because a LFTR fissions 99%+ of the fuel (whether thorium, or plutonium from nuclear waste), it consumes all the uranium and transuranics leaving no long-term radioactive waste. 83% of the waste products are safely stabilized within 10 years. The remaining 17% need to be stored less than 350 years to become completely benign.
“LFTR technology can also be used to reprocess and consume the remaining fissile material in spent nuclear fuel stockpiles around the world and to extract and resell many of the other valuable fission byproducts that are currently deemed hazardous waste in their current spent fuel rod form. The U.S. nuclear industry has already allocated $25 billion for storage or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and the world currently has over 340,000 tonnes of spent LWR fuel with enough usable fissile material to start one 100 MWe LFTR per day for 93 years. (A 100 MW LFTR requires 100 kg of fissile material (U-233, U-235, or Pu-239) to start the chain reaction). LFTR can also be used to consume existing U-233 stockpiles at ORNL ($500 million allocated for stockpile destruction) and plutonium from weapons stockpiles.”
FS-MSRs essentially avoid the entire fuel qualification issue in that they are tolerant of any fissile material composition, with their inherent strong negative thermal reactivity feedback providing the control necessary to accommodate a shifting fuel feed stream. Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options,
Some of the pictures are from a slide presentation given by David Archibald in Melbourne Feb 5 2011. He posted it “for the benefit of all” which I have interpreted as waving the copyright of the pictures
Produces electrical energy at about 4 cents per KWh.
The cost to produce electricity with Thorium generators should be about 40% less than Advanced Nuclear and about 30 % less than from Coal (with scrubbers). Solar generation is about 4 times more expensive (without subsidies) Wind power is cheaper when the wind blows, but the generation capacity has to be there even when the wind doesn’t blow, so the only gain from wind power is to lessen the mining or extraction of carbon. In addition, wind power kills birds, the free yearly quota of allowable Bald Eagle kills was upped from 1200 to 4200 during the Obama administration. (https://lenbilen.com/2019/04/12/what-is-more-precious-babies-eagles-or-fighting-climate-change/). Golden Eagles and a few other rare birds has a quarter of a million dollar fine associated with their kills. If wind power is increased without finding a solution to the bird kills, whole species may be extinct. Solar power is, and will be used in special applications such as on roofs for backup and peak power assist. Hydroelectric power is for all practical purpose maxed out, so nearly all future increase must come from Coal, Natural Gas, Petroleum or Nuclear. Thorium powered Nuclear Generators is the way to go.
With Molten Salt Reactors, a catastrophe like Fukushima cannot happen. It began with a magnitude 9.0 earthquake not far from the Fukushima 6 Nuclear reactor complex. The impact was a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and the operators immediately scrammed the safety rods to stop all the reactors. This succeeded! The reactors were designed with earthquakes in mind, and they passed the test. The backup power started up successfully so the cooling pumps could operate. There was one major problem though. The earthquake was so bad that the water in the spent fuel holding tanks splashed out and exposed the spent fuel rods to air.
The water pumps worked for a while, but then came the tsunami. All the reactors were inside a tsunami wall, so far, so good. But the fuel storage tanks for the backup power generators were outside the tsunami wall and were washed away. The batteries were only supposed to last until backup power was established, and with water circulation ended the meltdown started. This disaster was even bigger than Chernobyl and contamination is still spreading.
With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like Chernobyl are impossible. The Three Mile Island accident was bad. The Chernobyl disaster was ten million times worse. Ah yes, I remember it well.
One morning at work, a fellow co-worker, a Ph.D. Chemist working on an Electron Capture Detector, containing a small amount of Nickel 63, came with a surprising question: You know nuclear science, how come the reactors in Chernobyl don’t have a containment vessel? Well- I answered, it is because they are carbon moderated and their failure mode is that they go prompt critical, and no containment vessel in the world can hold it in, so they skip it. He turned away in disgust. A few weeks later my wife’s father died, and we went to Denmark to attend the funeral. The day of the return back to the U.S. we heard that there had been a nuclear incident in Sweden, too much radiation had caused two nuclear power stations to close down. The Chernobyl disaster had happened 26 April 1986, and this was the first time anyone outside of Chernobyl has heard about it, two days later. This was still the Soviet Union, and nothing ever did go wrong in it worthy of reporting.
(Photo Courtesy of EBRD)
(But the carbon moderated Uranium reactors are the most efficient in producing Pu-239 the preferred nuclear bomb material.)
This has nothing to do with anything, but Chernobyl can be translated wormwood. It is mentioned in the Bible, Revelation 8: 10-11 “ And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. ”
Molten Salt Thorium reactors cannot be used to supply bomb material, and they are far safer than even Light water Uranium reactors.
With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like the Three Mile Island disaster will not happen. Ah yes, I remember it well, March 28, 1979. We lived in South East Pennsylvania at the time, well outside the evacuation zone, but a fellow engineer at work took off, took vacation and stayed at a hotel in western Virginia over the weekend fearing a nuclear explosion. My wife went to a retreat just outside the evacuation zone, and none of them so much as heard of any problem, there never was any evacuation. There was concern though, and a disaster it was indeed with a partial meltdown of the core, rendering the installation a total loss, just a big, forever cleanup bill. The cost so far has totaled over 2 billion dollars.
A combination of personnel error, design deficiencies, and component failures caused the TMI accident, which permanently changed both the nuclear industry and the NRC. Public fear and distrust increased, NRC’s regulations and oversight became broader and more robust, and management of the plants was scrutinized more carefully. Careful analysis of the accident’s events identified problems and led to permanent and sweeping changes in how NRC regulates its licensees – which, in turn, has reduced the risk to public health and safety.
The side effect of increased regulation is increased cost and delay in construction of new nuclear plants. Eventually, more than 120 reactor orders were cancelled, and the construction of new reactors ground to a halt. Of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were canceled.
Another side effect of the TMI accident is fear of trying a different and safer approaches, since they conflict with existing regulations. The next Nuclear power reactor came online in 2016, but it is the same type of boiling water reactor as before, not a Molten Salt Thorium reactor with its increased safety.
United States used to be the leader in Thorium usage. What happened?
The 40 MWe Peach Bottom HTR in the USA was a demonstration thorium-fueled reactor that ran from 1967-74. and produced a total of 33 billion kWh.
The 330 MWe Fort St Vrain HTR in Colorado, USA, ran from 1976-89. Almost 25 tons of thorium was used in fuel for the reactor.
However, after 10 years passed and billions invested, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission abandoned thorium research, with uranium-fueled nuclear power becoming the standard. In the 1980s, commercial thorium ventures failed, such as the Indian Point Unit I water reactor near New York City, because of the vast financial costs and fuel and equipment failures. By the 1990s, the US nuclear power industry had abandoned thorium, partly because thorium’s breeding ratio was thought insufficient to produce enough fuel for commercial industries.
Some research and development is still conducted, but it is more concentrated in protecting the U.S. leading position in monitoring and controlling existing nuclear technology. Even the Netherlands is developing a molten salt thorium reactor.