December 06, 2016

The other cleaner, cheaper and safer nuclear energy technology that can potentially transform the world

I repeat some contextual information about molten salt nuclear reactors for those who are finding out about molten salt nuclear for the first time. Molten salt reactors have been built and operated in the 1960s. Unlike nuclear fusion, which has not had reactors built that operate for more than a few hundred seconds and have not produced net power (more power out than is input) Compared with solid-fuelled reactors, MSR systems with circulating fuel salt are claimed to have lower fissile inventories, no radiation damage constraint on fuel burn-up, no requirement to fabricate and handle solid fuel or solid used fuel, and a homogeneous isotopic composition of fuel in the reactor. Actinides are less-readily formed from U-233 than in fuel with atomic mass greater than 235. These and other characteristics may enable MSRs to have unique capabilities and competitive economics for actinide burning and extending fuel resources. Safety is high due to passive cooling up to any size. Also, several designs have freeze plugs so that if excessive temperatures are reached, the primary salt will be drained by gravity away from the moderator into dump tanks configured to prevent criticality.

Molten salt nuclear represents a technically achievable breakthrough in lowering energy costs on a global scale while improving safety.

* initial early simpler molten salt designs can be cheaper than coal and natural gas. ITER would not achieve energy breakeven and the tokamak path will not achieve energy that is lower cost than existing energy
* advanced designs could be several times cheaper
* units would be more compact and could be several times smaller than submarine nuclear reactors for the same power. This would transform nuclear powered ships and vehicles
* would use uranium or thorium in a far more efficient way. This would mean less unburned fuel (aka waste)
* this is a technically and commercially viable technology for transforming the world to abundant, cleaner, cheaper and safer energy

China is making a few 2-10MW prototype reactors. There is a chinese thorium molten salt reactor project. China plan is to use these systems to close the uranium fuel cycle (aka no nuclear waste).

There was a recent Molten salt nuclear reactor conference. There was information about improvements and advancement of the different designs and projects.

China's MSR has the biggest budget. China seems to have the will and funds to deliver on the "All of the above" development of energy options. (Molten Salt - yes and two types, pebble bed - yes, super-critical water -yes, breeder reactors - yes, advanced pressure water - yes, various solar, various wind, ultracritical coal, gas, hydro, etc...)

Terrestrial energy has raised about C$20 million in funding and grants which is enough for the engineering design. Funds are being used to support the Company’s pre-construction and pre-licensing engineering, and further engagement with industry, governments and nuclear regulators. Terrestrial Energy design and project choices are all towards simplifying the development of a first commercial device and the regulatory approval. Terrestrial Energy looks like they could achieve the first successful commercial system

Transatomic TAP also has $2.5 million in funding

In January 2016, the United States Department of Energy announced a $80m award fund to develop Generation IV reactor designs. One of the two beneficiaries, Southern Company will use the funding to develop a Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR), a type of MSR developed earlier by British scientists. Thorcon is working on a feasibility study with Indonesia.

There is enough money and separate interests (energy needs of different countries, security needs, military needs) to see various options built.

The European Union has a 5 million Euro molten salt project which is mainly looking at theoretical safety and design refinement. There are several European molten salt reactor startup companies (Moltex, Copenhagen Atomics ...)

SOURCES- Terrestrial energy, ORNL,

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