Mit ClimateColab Proposals Portlet Mit ClimateColab Proposals Portlet

Pitch

Safe, clean nuclear power has been available for decades, because of the 1960s molten-salt reactor (MSR) research & operation at ORNL in TN.

Description

 

Executive summary 

Before the world understood many global implications of our unrelenting combustion-fuel emissions, President Kennedy asked for and got a report from the Seaborg Commission (October 1962, http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa) on how to stop burning valuable/polluting coal, gas and oil, and how to build sustainable nuclear power so that by 2000 the US would have low cost, abundant electricity (700GWe est.) generated by safe, emissions-free reactors that bred their own fuel internally; that created little waste; and that solved the world's fresh-water needs — all effectively as cleanly as 'renewable' solar power.  
 
Anyone wishing to address our now tragic environmental dilemma needs to read at least a few pages of that report.  Had it been followed, the invaluable research & development at Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) from 1954 to 1974 would have eliminated most of the CO2 & pollutant emissions burden that we, all industrialized countries, now lay upon billions of innocent people around the world -- people who had little part in creating unnatural climate change, sea rise, ocean acidification, etc.
 

Decades ago, other reports about the effects of excessive and unnatural carbon emissions on economies & climates were also given to Congress and our administrations.  These concerns go all the way back to papers by Nobellist Svante Arrhenius in 1896 and 1905* -- papers written before we burned just a fraction of the 3 cubic miles of oil equivalence per year we now do.  No effective solutions were funded.  Our 1962 clean-power debt could have met the Seaborg goal of 700GWe by 2000 with just one new 1GWe reactor switched on per week.  Today, we cannot even close in on that goal by 2050, even by switching on a 1GWe plant per day.

China, realizing the unsustainability of their combustion power sources, has this year begun to exploit our bureaucratic gridlock & make use of ORNL’s suite of work and intellectual property in the field of liquid nuclear power.**.  The Chinese Academy of Sciences has allocated $1B to apply our now public R&D and deploy operational, Thorium-fed, molten-salt breeder reactors (LFTRs) by 2020.  Various other countries and organizations around the world have similarly agreed that our passed-over inventions & operational successes merit new life.  A new NGO has even been created in the U.K.:  www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/

And, there are other established groups, promoting what we could have already achieved...

 www.thoriumenergyalliance.com ,   www.itheo.org,     www.energyfromthorium.com.

 

Nations beyond China also realize there are true renewable energy sources, such as local solar and nuclear breeders, not just subsidized, land/sea-hungry sources, such as wind, wave & solar thermal farms.***.

Unfortunately, subsequent US funding and development did not favor the safe kind of nuclear, though its benefits were understood by elite US scientists and became well established by invaluable research and development at Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) from 1954 to 1974. Had the decision been otherwise, the world might have lessened its dependence upon fossil fuels, avoided much Middle Eastern conflict and eliminated most of the subsequent decades' CO2 and pollutant emissions burden that the US and all industrialized countries have released into the atmosphere.  We now know the extreme costs of this wrong decision — including strong consumer mistrust of nuclear power as a form of energy — as well as added decades of accelerating fossil fuel emissions that now threaten billions of innocent people around the world, people who had little part in creating unnatural climate change, sea rise, ocean acidification, the likely extinction of innumerable animal and plant species they may depend on for life, now all facing heightened environmental stress and risk.

The environmental reason for considering nuclear power is that it has high power density -- little land or material is needed to produce many times the wattage that burning fuels produces -- a million to one better, in fact.  Coal is exceedingly damaging to the world and people, in its extraction, combustion and ash storage.  Burning it for power not only emits about 2lbs of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of raw thermal output, it emits mineralized pollutants entrained by Nature within the coal itself -- sulphates, oxides, volatiles (Mercury, Radon...), etc.  Coal ash is actually a good source of Uranium, but an extreme environmental burden for disposal.  Coal & other combustion mining & generating companies are also exempt from radiological regulations, as defined by NORM (Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials) -- coal/gas/oil extractors/plants can emit, and do emit, 100 times the radiation in their exhaust than any nuclear plant is allowed to emit.  So if the Seaborg Commission's advice in 1962 (49 years ago this month) had been followed, our populace would not only be exposed to negligible chemical and particulate emissions from power plants, but far less radiation as well -- a total medical expense estimated by EPA in billions of dollars.

Present LWR (light-water reactor, or convertor) generation provides high power density but is extremely inefficient in fuel use -- wasting >99% of mined Uranium.  And, because it depends on a rare Uranium isotope (fissile 235U), fuel production itself is energy intensive.  These realities led nuclear science toward making fissile isotopes within a reactor during its operation -- breeding.  Our LWR fleet also produces significant volumes of waste,  because solid-fuel assemblies are used.  Solid fuel rods cannot stay in a reactor long enough to consume all the fissile material they hold.  The other source of reactor 'waste' was not originally waste at all -- Plutonium was needed for weapons.  Plutonium and other elements heavier than Uranium (the transuranics) are made (bred) by successive neutron capture within a reactor during operation.  Transuranic production is no longer desirable, especially in civilian reactors operating all over the world.  Yet light water reactors that contain uranium-238 in the fuel generate long-lived radiotoxic transuranic elements.  Fortunately, by using the pure Thorium breeding cycle (to 233Uranium), this is avoidable (e.g., 1st talk here:  http://gordonmcdowell.com/).
 
LWRs were the first patented reactor designs and the first available for use in naval vessels.  The influence of the industrial nuclear capabilities that supported the Manhattan Project and Cold-War weapons needs is largely why LWRs existed beyond what the Seaborg Commission envisioned.  Cold-War needs for naval propulsion drove LWR design and even initial civilian reactor construction...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shippingport_Atomic_Power_Station
 
The MSR, however, was designed to do three main thingsa) operate safely (perhaps in aircraft); b) reduce waste & allow fuel breeding; and c) increase overall thermal efficiency:  http://tinyurl.com/ye6leml
 
That the head of ORNL reactor development at the time (Alvin Weinberg) also shared the patent for the LWR suggests that the LWR was not considered a completed technology for safe civilian nuclear power...

The Molten Salt Reactor Adventure, H. MacPherson, Nuclear Science and Engineering: 90, 374-380 1985;

The Proto-History of the Molten Salt System, A. Weinberg, Journal of Accelerator and Plasma Research ISSN 1225-9896, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1997;

The First Nuclear Era, the Life and Times of a Technological Fixer, A. Weinberg, AIP Press, 1994.
 
 
 

To make an MSR a breeder, some 'fertile' element simply is added to the liquid-fuel salt mix.   Fertile elements can be transmuted (bred) into fissile elements (e.g., 233U, 235U, etc.) by capture of a slowish (thermal) neutron.  Thermal neutrons are readily available inside a reactor core from previous fission events, if some moderating material (water, graphite, etc.) is also present in the core.   Add Thorium or natural 238Uranium (99% of Uranium from ore) and the reactor now makes a new fissile atom from each fertile atom.  In an MSR, fertiles are added as chloride or fluoride salts (e.g., as Thorium fluoride).   The reactor then makes only as much fuel as it needs to run its thermal load (e.g., gas turbine, desalinator, etc.).  All fuel and fission products stay in the reactor fluid, or are removed as liquids/gasses, thus, no need for spiking of solid fuel with extra fissile materials to compensate for neutron-hogging gasses, such as Xenon.  What goes in after reactor start is simply benign Thorium or Uranium salt.  What comes out naturally are fission products, in gas or liquid salt form, that can be safey stored or sold.  The latter include all the various medically-important radio-nuclides, such as 213 Bismusth or 99 Molybdenum — all increasingly in short supply.  All can be chemically processed out of the liquid fuel, to serve both science and industry.  Since transuranics are avoided, and fission products have relatively short half lives, safe, compact storage is easily accomplished.  If desired, it's possible to irradiate undesired products further and make them stable.

So the inventors of the LWR knew better was possible and did it -- the MSR Experiment ran one such 6MW reactor for 4 years at ORNL (figure above), uneventfully.  A wonderful natural property of salts is that they expand as temperature rises & contract as it falls.  If a salt contains atoms looking for neutrons to split or breed them, cooler salt will be denser, making it more likely a neutron will find such an atom -- so the reactor will heat up if its load (turbine...) has extracted more heat from the salt, returning it cooler to the core.  Or, if the load hasn't taken much heat, the salt coming back to the reactor will be hotter & less dense, making fission events less likely.  The MSR throttles itself to its load.  The simple design is now referred to as "walk-away safe", meaning passive, natural mechanisms control power output and can cause shutdown of fission when needed.  ORNL operators of the MSRE mythically “could go home for a weekend” by simply turning off a fan that kept a salt drain plug solid -- the plug would melt, allowing all reactor salt to exit the core for cellar storage tanks, where fission stopped.   The salt plug & fan existed, but weren't exploited until final project shutdown, after 4 running years.  Similar, automatic shutdown can be achieved by magnetic drain plugs, whose magnetic force fades at undesired temperatures (the Curie Point), independently of operators or control systems.  In present terminology, an MSR can safely handle Station Blackout unattended. Liquid fuel can be neutralized and stabilized in a matter of minutes having been drained from the core by the force of gravity alone after heat melts a plug or a magnetic valve’s curie point is exceeded.

MSR safety is enhanced by its lack of pressure -- LWRs heat water to higher temperatures than water boils, so must do it under very high pressures >60 atmospheres.   This means an LWR must have containment about 1000 times the size of the reactor's water volume itself, and capable of holding an explosive steam release of over 100 atmospheres.  That's an expensive, big structure with expensive plumbing.  An MSR runs at atmospheric pressure and only has pumps to move the liquid salt fuel between a core and heat exchangers.  There's no need for emergency core cooling, which not only adds cost, but hurts overall thermal efficiency.  And, salts are extremely stable, so that non-gaseous fission products remain trapped (e.g., as fluorides) even if the reactor's plumbing ruptures because the salt becomes solid at a temperature of 400 or so degrees C.  For non-proliferation of weapons production, the MSR/LFTR offers unique protections, such as denaturization of the fissile fuel by simple introduction of natural (e.g., depleted) Uranium fluoride, easy detection of bred fissile (e.g., 233U) diversion, etc. (see comments #6).  The LFTR diagram below indicates the flow of bred fissile salt through the simple extraction path that keeps the whole 1GWe plant running with much less than 1/2kg of fissile atoms per hour.  The core only ever contains exactly the fissile load needed for output power, so diversion of bred fissile at >700C is not only extremely difficult, but easily detected. If a major diversion of fissile liquid fuel happened the reactor would cease to produce heat.  The MSR/LFTR offers operational choices that can optimize different aspects, such as efficiency, diversion resistance, etc.  The DMSR, for instance, runs continually with a fractional 238U content, thus demanding occasional (annual) fissile salt addition, but making its entire fuel load unusable for weapons diversion.  LWRs have no such flexibility. 


MSR efficiency is higher because it delivers molten salt above 700 degrees C, rather than water at about 330 degrees.  The higher the working fluid's temperature, the more thermal energy can be extracted by a subsequent thermal engine, such as a gas turbine.  So MSRs run at efficiencies equal to the best fossil-fuelled plants, while LWRs are limited by water properties and run at about 30% efficiency.  So, a de-commissioned LWR could retain its containment, but have its innards replaced by perhaps 3x capacity MSRs.

Thorium-fluoride salt can be the fertile 'fuel' for the MSR breeder called LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thermal Reactor) & cost very little -- Thorium is a waste product of rare-earth mining & fluorination is a standard industrial-chemistry process, already used for Uranium fuel processing as well.  So a LFTR has use of an input 'fuel' that's 4 times as abundant as 238Uranium, costs almost nothing, and avoids >99% of the waste produced (Plutonium & transuranics) when natural, 238Uranium is used as the fertile input.  The fissile bred from Thorium is 233Uranium, which long ago decayed from Nature.  It also improves reactor efficiency because it fissions more readily than 235Uranium, now used in LWRs.  Some LWR fuel, however, has included Thorium, but it retains issues of solid fuel's entrapment of undesired fission products.

This proposal seeks to engage several related actions aimed at continuing ORNL & other MSR research & development to the point of implementing a demonstration ~100MWe-scale LFTR in the USA before 2020.  Work will necessarily include more than engineering.  The authors of this proposal are fully aware that nuclear power is a difficult topic for some, so a key part of the needed work is to be performed by experts in related social, political, environmental & economic issues, as viewed by the general population.   This proposal includes tasks for facilitating education about and acceptance of the technology by individuals and organizations. 

-----------
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius
   www.globalwarmingart.com/images/1/18/Arrhenius.pdf
 
** http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/  (ORNL archives)
 
*** "Sustainable Energy – without the hot air", David J.C. MacKay (free download);
       "A Cubic Mile of Oil", H. Crane, E. Kinderman & R. Malhotra, Oxford University Press, 2010;
       "The Nuclear Imperative", J. Eerkens, Springer, 2010.
 

 
The Thorium breeding blanket shown above in blue was the next step in the MSRE project, but funding was not continued in 1974.
 
 

Team

 

Dr. Alexander Cannara, 650-400-3071;  cannara@sbcglobal.net
Stephen Colvin, Colvin Communications. 847-577-2924; colvininc@sbcglobal.net
Stephen Boyd (PhD cand.), 516-312-3168; stephen.boyd@orlygroup.com (Chem)
Cavan Stone MS, (PhD cand.) 978-808-1437; cavan.stone@dartmouth.edu (phys, math)
Dr. Ralph Moir, Vallecitos Molten Salt Research, 925-447-8804; ralph@ralphmoir.com  www.ralphmoir.com/
Dr. Darryl Siemer, 208-524-2479; d.siemer@hotmail.com  (salt chemistry & wastes)
Dr. Eli Seggev, 561-271-6276; eli@orlygroup.com (marketing)
Dr. Ondrej Chvala, 203-444-7828; ondrejch@gmail.com (phys)
Mike Rosenow, 954-673-1993; mike@orlygroup.com (capital)
Mike Conley, 213-359-4969; mikeconley99@sbcglobal.net (copy/marketing)
Dr. John Palumbo, 917-297-7047; dr.j.palumbo@gmail.com  (Chem)
Sergio Tunes MS, 619-866-9761; stunes@comcast.net (cmptr modeling/phys)
Russell Tunes BS, 858-943-1731; russell.tunes@gmail.com (geo & nuc engr)
Pete Alcure MBA, 516-233-5002; optiontrader00@gmail.com (finance)
Russ Hodgson - international law firm (already retained)
Dennis Peterson, 980-428-1945; dennisbpeterson@gmail.com
Ryan Lober, 706-207-2430; rlober@gmail.com
Kim Johnson PCE, 651-329-7092; klawrencej@gmail.com
Dr. Douglas Danforth, ; danforth@greenwoodfarm.com (phys & software)
Gordon McDowell, ; GordonMcDowell@gmail.com (videographer)
Rusty Holden. ; rusthold@mindspring.com (govt. affairs, comp. dev.)
Stan Scott MS, 650-325-0279; scottbird9@sbcglobal.net (mech engr)
David LeBlanc, ; d_leblanc@rogers.com (phys & chem)
Robert Orr, 615-790-8087; thoriumsilverbullet@gmail.com  (legal)
John Kutsch. 312-303-5019; whole.iphone@gmail.com (promo)
Dr. Lars Jorgensen, ; lars@ti.com (systems)

Dr. Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar, 208-569-9915; mldg@isu.edu (nuc engr)
Valerie Gardner, ; valerie@tiemann.net (presentation review, enabling aesthetics to work for you, translating techno-speak into language laymen understand when dealing with non-scientific constituencies, shortening materials to better meet attention span)

Selected university scientific research groups known to have related interest in nuclear technology: (Being added)

Specific university research groups with interest in public policy, environmental/energy issues, economics, business law, political science & public psychology.  The purpose of non-reactor research is to determine the most effective ways of explaining MSR/LFTR advantages to members of the public, members of Congress, media, environmental organizations & non-scientific members of administrative organizations that will hold sway over the print & bureaucratic issues surrounding research & policy development & funding.  The bureaucracies include DoE & NRC, whose funding & actions are Congressionally circumscribed.

Advocates, such as:  iTheo.org, ThoriumEnergyAlliance.com, the-weinberg-foundation.org/

Participating corporations, in and out of the USA.  This will require a structure for intellectual-property protection, as well as disposition of any costs & revenues ascribed to each participant.  This, in itself, is a project that an economic team will attend to, perhaps in novel ways, and will proceed in parallel with engineering & political work, as particpants are recruited.

 

What

 

The issues around present nuclear power systems, based on solid fuel, and delivering heat via water to low-temperature turbines is not what JFK and the Congress were advised to continue -- by 2000, we wereto have breeders & no more convertoers (utility LWRs).  In 1965, ORNL, under Weinberg, designed and operated the MSR, specifically intended to provide safe, efficient, compact nuclear power and the ability to use Thorium as input, thus no dangerous fuel to corral or dispose of.  This is what the Chinese and others are now running with.  Due to historical Cold-War politics, we're is behind in using our own inventions and the world is suffering from emissions that would not all have occurred had we indeed proceeded to deploy breeder reactors, like MSR/LFTR, when we had the opportunity.  Millions around the world have been endangered by our delay.  If we act now, more need not be endangered.  

There's hope that the US Congress and the administration can work together to support a stable energy future for the US, the global environment and the billions of people now at risk.
 
This proposal can be fulfilled by group actions of cooperating individuals, businesses & institutions.
 
Group Actions...
 
1) Establish cooperating groups of engineers & researchers who will concentrate on specific tasks proposed below, yet be actively in communication across groups to speed realization of the proposal's main goal -- MSR/LFTR prototype operation by 2020.  This involves working to recruit individuals as well as universities & interested corporations.
 
2) Educate media, administrators & politicians on all important details of this proposal, including technicalities of MSR/LFTR and their social & environmental implications.  Here, "social" includes everything from the economic to the psychological.  This group and the Attitude-Study Group must work closely.
 
3) Study attitudes of the general public, media, relevant politicians and administrators regarding environmental and energy issues, focusing on nuclear power perceptions and the potential benefits of MSR/LFTR.  This group and the Education Group must work closely.
 
4) Establish industry concerns and competition that may be offered by the existing nuclear industry, especially by those in LWR fuel-cycle businesses and plant operation.  This includes industry-funded groups, like EPRI.
 
5) Establish DoE's realistic plans for MSR in Gen-IV and determine what is needed to increase their support now.  And, if a program were to be funded, what would the scope of their research be, whether done at DoE facilities or by outside contractors.
 
6) Work with Congress and the Obama Administration to pass the legislation that will accelerate and facilitate this transformation and motivate those willing to invest in a safe nuclear future.  In particular, for starters, we envision the passage of a Th-Rare-Earth bill that will free Thorium from its current interference with RE companies and allow it to be properly handled for future fuel use.  This will likely also require work with administration officials.  
 
7) Study the ORNL archive** and other relevant sources to establish a plan for engineering and scientific work that needs sufficient characterization for design, prototyping and regulatory definition.  This will involve some contact with DoE & NRC, perhaps even with IAEA & US Representatives.
 
8) Establish the detailed functional chemistry for LFTR operations, including all aspects of salt, fuel and  fission-product management.  This is a more focussed area than 7) and includes economic aspects of fluid management and possible salable products.
 
9) Define how participating businesses can work under this proposal with proper legal protection for intellectual property brought into this effort and for fair future economic benefit. 
 
10) Secure funding & site(s) for subsystem and prototype construction -- 9) is closely related to this.
 
11) Construct a plan for both group actions and prototype development through initial operation and performance evaluation.
 

12) Document everything.

Others are acting on tasks like these now.  If we fail to proceed seriously, others will service the world market for efficient, safe nuclear power & fresh water. 
 

 

 

Why: Rationale for the proposal

 

The report to IPCC Copenhagen (Fall 2009) made clear that global CO2 emissions had by then placed at least 160 million people in danger of loss of land, livelihood, food & life, even if emissions were reduced by 4% per annum. beginning January 2011, and achieved equivalent of 1 ton CO2 per capita per annum by 2050:  http://download.copenhagendiagnosis.org/default.html (p51, 1st edition).

The result of that warning was no action.  Instead of any reduction, emissions increased by 5% in 2010.  In addition, ocean acidification began to evidence itself in Nordic waters, causing deformations in organisms that form the base of oceanic food chains around the world.  Since 70% of human food protein comes from the sea, this may well portend a far more disastrous & proximate effect of emissions than climate change or sea rise.  In any event, the need to eliminate greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions is today critical:  http://tinyurl.com/2a7lswe  http://tinyurl.com/3cw4rkc

Since our energy production worldwide now generates tens of giga-tons of GHGs, we are clearly far away from the <9Gt 2050 target for a population of 9 billion.  The challenge is to deploy an operational, zero GHG-emission, full-scale (1GWe) power plant every week from now until 2050.   Only high power-density technologies can hope to meet this requirement.  It indeed would have been met by 2000, had the 1962 AEC report been followed.  We are thus today, hundreds of giga-Watts behind in the US alone.

There are only 3 sizable 'renewable' energy sources on Earth -- efficiency, solar & nuclear.   Engineers and environmental organizations easily advocate the first two, specifically, distributed generation (DG) for solar on existing structures.  Those sources build a robust power grid, without large transmission losses and without environmental impacts or sensitivity to climate change -- for example, wind-power suffers all those disadvantages and consumes fossil fuels for processing ~700 tons of material per installed MW peak (~1/3 MW average).  China has already begun experiencing negative climate-change effects on some wind 'farms' and they can't move them to follow the wind.

Wind/wave/hydro are derivatives of solar input and are developed at very low efficiency, so direct solar PV or hot-water DG is far more efficient, sustainable, and improving as others can't.  Tidal is gravitational in source, but only exploitable in very limited realms.  Geothermal is nuclear energy seen as heat, just as from any radioactive-decay generator or a nuclear reactor — the source of geothermal heat is, in fact, ~60% due Thorium's slow decay in Earth's core.  Biofuels of any kind fail to meet environmental safety and sustainability requirements, because of land, water and nutrient demands and economic stress — corn-ethanol subsidies, for instance, more than doubled worldwide corn prices, driving worldwide hunger higher. 
 
And, the reality is that biofuels net less than 1% of the sunlight energy incident on their source crops, while consuming many times more water than petroleum fuel production.  In contrast, solar DG nets >20%, with improvements to >40% clearly possible (military/space concentrating solar PV already exceeds 40%).
 

Even if we are to achieve 1GWe clean new power per week, it can only be done with power sources of density near that of fission -- several GWHr/lb of fissile material.  And, if this is to be done safely and cheaply, fuel processing and waste must be reduced by orders of magnitude below the amounts associated with solid-fuelled, LWRs today. This, of course, was part of the logic behind the 1962 recommendations to JFK and Congress. 

Only fission-fuel breeding, via Thorium or 238Uranium can approach the fuel-cost need.  Only breeding from Thorium in molten salt can meet safety, cost and waste requirements, while providing many thousands of years of sustainability.  And, LFTRs find fuel as easily on the Moon and Mars as on Earth.  Fission's energy was, after all, stored within new heavy nuclei by neutron-rich stellar events (e.g., supernovae shocks) billions of years before our Sun existed.  We have, in effect, nuclear 'batteries' charged with amazingly dense mechanical and electromgnetic energy just awaiting our wise exploitation by fission.  In LFTR, a neutron, slowed by a Carbon (graphite) moderator, is called a "thermal neutron."  It moves at a few miles/second — just right to fission another nucleus or to breed a Thorium atom into a 233Uranium atom (picture below).  The reaction continues as long as there's enough fertile Thorium and fissile Uranium (233U or 235U) in the salt.

Only high-temperature reactors can operate at thermal efficiencies competitive with our best combustion plants.  MSR/LFTR systems are exactly of that class and can drive turbine systems using inert gases for superior safety, eliminating the need for cooling water taken from the environment.  The Brayton Cycle is a fully gas-turbine cycle, allowing standard, multi-stage turbine generators which exhaust to ambient air rather than bodies of water.  This means that MSR/LFTR plants can be placed anywhere (not just on coastlines) and can deliver waste heat to processes such as desalination and fuel production from atmospheric Carbon and Hydrogen (CO2 and water):  http://tinyurl.com/28pcvns  http://tinyurl.com/25mgqkd

An ongoing concern with present LWR power is radioactive waste disposal.  The MSR/LFTR has no spent fuel, because nearly every atom of fissile material is consumed inside the reactor.  The Japanese FUJI Project, for instance, indicates that a full, 1GWe LFTR, run for 30 years, could produce under 100 lbs of wastes that could not be sold for medical or other uses.  And, its production of Plutonium would be under 10lbs, most usable by NASA for missions neyond Mars.  These are 4% and 0.1%, respectively, of the waste left by an LWR over the same period.   Under long-term operation, the specific architecture & fuelling of an MSR influence other wastes, such as damaged graphite core material, but the amount of such waste per GW year is subject to design, engineering and operational choices.  And, if mining/enrichment waste were included, the benefit of LFTR use would rise by orders of magnitude.

Finally, valuable products, not available otherwise, are part and parcel of LFTR operation and chemistry.  For example, 213Bismuth only arises in the final decay stage of 233Uranium, and it forms an essential anti-cancer agent when linked to antibodies.  A similarly critical medical isotope is 99Molybdenum, which is used for millions of body scans each year.  More general needs for Tritium and 3Helium are limiting fusion science and Homeland Security.  All such isotopic products are in shortening supply due to their sources in older reactors now reaching end of life.  An MSR/LFTR makes these easily, and its liquid fuel allows chemists to work with their favorite substances -- liquids & gasses (e.g., http://flibe-energy.com/products/ )

Liquid fuelling not only makes a better, safer reactor, it makes a more efficient and profitable one as well — a 1GWe MSR can make about $4M worth of Tritium per year.

 

Americans . . . and the Human Psyche

 

Americans can be trusted to make the right decisions but only after exhausting all other possibilities.  

                                                                  — Winston Churchill

 

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old order of things, and lukewarm defenders in those who may
do well under the new.

                                                                  — Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli often gets a bum rap -- he was in fact a learned, serious student of man and cared for mankind. His words above just signal his awareness and sharing of real human weaknesses.  We’re the species with both opposable thumbs & obdurate minds – the “not invented here” syndrome, for instance.  Or, the "If it's so good..." question — answered by reminding the questioner of how well governments work and asking the person to look at his/her very modern phone/computer keyboard & explain:  "QWERTY..."!  Why MSR was defunded in 1974 in favor of bombs then gets a response like:  "Typical!"

Overall global economic and environmental governance framework...

As a nuclear-energy initiative, this falls under the IAEA and international treaties.  Because the MSR design has already operated at ORNL for several years, the technology itself is stable and well understood, even with regard to detailed chemical processes** -- "Fluid Fuel Reactors", Addison-Wesley, 1958 and "Molten-Salt Reactor Chemistry", W. Grimes, 1969.  The regulatory standards, however, will be different from those now imposed by NRC and duplicated in most of the world.  This is an expensive task for US DoE or other foreign regulators.  The economics of MSR/LFTR technology is itself much better than that for present LWRs, matching fossil-fuelled power easily, especially if fossil-fuel emissions, extraction costs and waste are fully accounted for.  Present estimates are at or below the standard estimate for coal-fired power of $2/Watt:  "Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors". R. Hargraves & R. Moir. American Scientist, July-August 2010.

Mechanisms for financing required investments...

This is a continuation what DoE's Gen-IV MSR reactor effort has designated as desirable.  The Gen-IV class includes 5 other reactor types, variously related to advantages of both molten salt and fuel breeding.  However, only one (not MSR) has significant, funded effort ongoing.  Thus funding will require specific DoE and Congressional appropriation, if work is to be done by the US government.  Other sources are actively being sought by groups who may wish to assist with this proposal.  Thus it may well be that resulting progress will occur across country bounds, with various business & researcher involvement.  Organizing this is one of the main actions listed for the proposal to move forward.

Role of new energy technologies and technology transfer...

Most significant technology is in the public domain, as represented by the ORNL archives.**. However, there's great opportunity for physical & chemical R&D investment, to optimize MSR/LFTR efficiency and materials and to modularize operations that are part of overall system management.  These include fuel & salt chemistry, product extraction, optimizing reactor architecture and the power module driven by core fluid (e.g., turbine design choices).  Much industrial-grade processing gear supports an operating MSR.  MSR/LFTR also allows compatible combustion-fuel production, but done renewably, from atmospheric carbon (e.g., http://tinyurl.com/4x4bpob), which provides a smooth transition for those systems now (perhaps always) dependent on hydrocarbon combustion fuel.

 Political, educational, or media interventions that can facilitate the transition...

These tasks are key to fulfillment of this proposal & have been assigned as specific actions to groups of individuals, at universities & companies, expert in conveying new technology to varied audiences.  Despite the fact that the MSR is decades old, it's still "nuclear power" and that in itself raises a broad set of questions and sensitivities.  Since the clear goal of Weinberg's ORNL group was safe nuclear power, and the operating result of their work realized much of that goal, the technology indeed has validity that can be conveyed to any audience, even if they're not happy with the present state of commercial nuclear power around the world.  It has, in fact, been proposed (see comments) that all nuclear plants provide public-access monitoring data, real time, as well as remote shutdown capability for strengthened international regulators (e.g., IAEA), according to new treaties that accompany nuclear-technology transfer to treaty signators.

 

Vision of the future under this proposal

 

VisionAbundant power & water anywhere on Earth that lasts for millennia.   (That we already successfully addressed much of the technology 40 years ago helps).

Future directions for US reactor research are dependent on the DoE’s Advanced Reactor Program, specifically the 6 Gen-IV choices for R&D -- MSR is one of these.  It's also dependent on Congressional funding of NRC staffing to develop new regulations & specifications for new reactor designs.   Moving these processes along is part of this proposal's purpose.  However, the rest of the world doesn’t sleep and needs power and water at least as much as we do (e.g., China builds a new city the size of Chicago every several months).  So, given China’s recent (March 2011) announcement of clear plans to follow on from ORNL’s MSR research, we may well see India, Brazil and others quickly follow, particularly those countries advantaged in Thorium. 

The tragic events in Fukushima Japan, in fact, augur for new directions in nuclear-power-system design, as advised in 1962.  Perhaps the US Congress & DoE will change course & emphasis enough to accelerate the Gen-IV MSR plan.  It will serve all countries well to quickly move to LFTR demonstration projects.  Economists often talk about our world’s imbalances (food, water, energy, incomes … ).  Access to abundant power and water is an agreed-upon key to correcting and bettering those imbalances, thus promoting geo-political stability.

Any country embarking on the MSR/LFTR path, will accrue benefits to all levels of society.  In particular, the range of science, engineering, chemistry and other technical jobs inevitably expands — education in nuclear technology that's largely stagnant now suddenly becomes vibrant, attracting young people into good education and jobs designing, building & securing systems that will be seen as vital to human society.  The construction and management of new power systems for new purposes beyond generation will offer remarkable business and employment opportunities.  And, to serve all these new/expanded needs, universities will experience their own growth.  Overall, this proposal offers huge societal benefits.

At the practical, population-needs level, the ability to deploy power and desalination everywhere, at costs less than coal (even as currently subsidized), has revolutionary benefits.  We know the cultural benefits of reliable power, but water is now in such shortening supply around the world that its availability may be more important.  Consider that Pakistan and India share the Indus Basin, which provides food and water to both countries.  Pakistan dislikes India's dam construction in the region.  Both countries are nuclear powers.  If water became an inexpensive issue, peace might become more realistic in the region — any region.

MSR/LFTR provides process heat at low cost without many of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with solid nuclear fuels.  Process heat can be employed to produce low-cost electricity, potable water, irrigation water, synthetic transportation fuels, and thermal input for chemical/metallurgical-plant operations.  Reductions in Carbon-dioxide, volatile & particulate discharges to the atmosphere are necessary worldwide.  For essential combustion, net zero emissions are achieved by synthetic carbon-fuel production. 

The societal benefits of environmentally safe, abundant, cheap, lasting power, via MSR/LFTR, seems likely to be as important a human discovery as any.  It certainly appears to be a necessary part of sustainable living as world population continues to grow beyond the 7 billion attained in October 2011.

 

 

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Proposal Summary
Safe Nuclear Power
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By:  DrAlexC
Contest: Contest 2011: Global
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