Unlike Nuclear fusion which has never had net generation of power, molten salt nuclear fission power had 2.5 megawatts of net power generation from a US nuclear prototype back in the 1960s. The US government had major work on molten salt nuclear reactors form the 1950s through the 1970s.
There is now a multi-billion race from many US companies and China and Canada and European countries to develop molten salt nuclear power.
* Molten salt reactors can produce one thousand times lower volume of radioactive waste of existing nuclear reactors because of deep burn. More complete conversion of the nuclear fuel. The unburned uranium and plutonium can be used and what is left would be products with half-lives of 100 years or less.
* Molten salt reactors can have designs that are proof against nuclear meltdowns
* The chinese reactors could use thorium. China has some of the world’s largest reserves of the thorium metal.
* Molten salt reactors can be lower cost than coal and natural gas
* Molten salt reactors could be factory mass produced or mass produced at shipyards to scale to 100 gigawatts per year of production.
* They can be smaller and enable a completely nuclear navy and long duration drones and massive power for spacecraft craft and space stations
There are many companies, countries and designs in the race but there will be multiple winners. China will build and buy their own reactors for strategic reasons. Various countries will buy the winning designs for energy production that are lower cost.
China’s $3.3 billion projects
Both Chinese test reactors will be underground and the heat they generate will reach 12 megawatts. The heat will be channeled to a power generation plant, several factories and a desalination plant by the lake to produce electricity, hydrogen, industrial chemicals, drinking water and minerals. After the experiment, China will move on to commercial or military use of the technology on a larger scale.
China also plans to use these reactors which can be a hundred times or more compact than existing pressure water nuclear fission reactors to make all of their navy nuclear powered and for large long duration drones.
“We are now developing new materials for warships. The materials must come with relatively low cost for mass production and they must be compact and light, otherwise the reactor won’t fit in a ship.
Chen Fu, a thermal physicist at the Harbin Institute of Technology involved in the development of new power generation systems for China’s navy, said the heat generated by a thorium molten salt reactor could be perfect to help generate power on a warship.
A military drone researcher in Beijing said a molten salt reactor could be used on a new generation of large, endurance drones operating at very high altitudes because it could be made very small and its operation did not require water.
Bill Gates and a leading US energy company Southern Company
TerraPower is backed by Bill Gates and is developing molten salt reactors. Southern Company, a leading energy company in the United States, is partnering with TerraPower to develop a molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) that uses liquid salts as both a coolant and fuel.
They expect to begin testing in a $20 million test loop facility starting in 2019. The team is also scaling up their salt manufacturing process for testing in the loop. Data generated from the test loop will be used to validate thermal hydraulics and safety analysis codes for licensing of the reactor.
Southern Company and TerraPower plan to develop and license a test reactor before developing a 1,100-megawatt prototype reactor by 2030.
Bill Gates has a joint Venture with a chinese nuclear company on a traveling wave nuclear fission reactor. This is not a molten salt reactor but a different modular nuclear reactor. They hope to a have a prototype working by 2025.
Terrestrial Energy – Integrated MSR (IMSR) in Canada and USA
The Terrestrial Energy Integral MSR is also based on the MSR Experiment but has been modified to have a more sealed, passive approach. The design team is based in Canada with international involvement and support.
In June 2017, Terrestrial began a feasibility study for the siting of the first commercial IMSR at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Chalk River site. It has also said it intends to submit an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a design certification or construction permit in late 2019.
Terrestrial plans to bring IMSR power plants to market in the 2020s.
Terrestrial Energy is developing a 190 megawatt small modular molten salt reactor that will cost less than $1 billion to build. This will result in kilowatt-per-hour costs of less than 5 cents, a price competitive with power from natural gas.
Terrestrial Energy of Canada has signed a contract for technical services with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Karlsruhe, Germany. JRC will perform confirmatory studies of the fuel and primary coolant salt mixture for Terrestrial’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).
Recently, Terrestrial Energy Inc.’s (TEI) announced completion of the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) pre-licensing vendor design review.
They submitted the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) design to CNSC in the fall of 2016, taking the first step in a several step process leading toward the construction and operation of power generation units. As promised, the CNSC completed its non-binding review of the design information within a year of the application submission.
ThorCon working with Indonesia on a ship based design mass producible at shipyards
ThorCon is a graphite-moderated thermal spectrum molten salt reactor that will produce 250 MWe power. It will be cheaper than coal energy. Coal is 5 cents per kilowatt hour and Thorcon will be 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. The basic concept is similar to the MSRE (Molten Salt Reactor Experiment) in ORNL which was built and operated in the 1960s.
Thorcon is working with Indonesia and could have its first 1 GW commercial unit in 4-6 years.
ThorCon reactor is in a Can, which is simple and safe
• Safety is intrinsic from physics, not add-on safety systems; overheating stops chain reaction.
• Any break will drain reactor fuel to cold shutdown fuel salt drain tank.
• Decay heat is removed by silo cooling wall continuous passive water circulation, even in power blackout.
• Radioactive fuel salt at low, garden-hose pressure can’t disperse in catastrophe.
• Fluoride salt chemically locks up hazardous fission products iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90.
• Can operates for four years, then cools down for four years, and then is changed out.
• Each power module has two Cans housed in silos.
• Liquid fission plant comprises 1 to 4 power modules of 557 MW (thermal) generating 250 MW (electric).
• Four freeze valves will be used to ensure the passive shutdown in case of overheating
Super Low cost and mass production from today’s ship yards
ThorCon avoids three costly LWR issues: low temperature, high pressure, solid fuel.
• Thanks to high temperature, ThorCon uses the same, competitively-sourced, $500 / kW supercritical steam turbinegenerator as a modern coal plant.
• Thanks to low pressure, ThorCon avoids reinforced concrete mausoleum and 9-inch-thick forgings.
• Thanks to liquid fuel, ThorCon can move fuel around with a pump. No exacting fuel pin fabrication. No complex reshuffling refueling systems.
Elysium molten chloride salt fast reactor
The Elysium Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor (MCSFR) is state-of-the-art in its design. Elysium’s technology is unique as it can provide base-load and clean power while addressing the current issues in the nuclear power industry. Based on demonstrated technology in the 1960s, Elysium has adapted and improved the molten salt reactor design for commercial deployment. In addition, the Elysium reactor has the ability to consume spent nuclear fuel and weapons waste transforming it into useful energy.
The Elysium MCSFR will be built utilizing existing code-qualified materials and relies on natural processes. Elysium is simplifying engineering systems saving cost with natural techniques for passive operation and safety.
Everything that Elysium is choosing is to only use what is qualified and working at this time.
The design is barely critical at all times. The flow rate of material controls the power output.
One reactor vessel for all sizes of power plants and power levels.
More piping, more pumps and more heat exchangers increase the power level.
The Loop reactor will be the easiest to get approved in the USA.
The modular reactor will be most efficient and maintainable in the long run.
The Integral reactor will need more work for maintenance. The Terrestrial energy design is integral and will have the entire maintainable section designed to be removed or redundant.
Seaborg a reactor that can fit on a truck
Seaborg is the largest reactor design start-up in Europe. They have a design for a molten salt reactor that is ten times smaller than the Terrestrial Energy IMSR. It would 20 to 30 times smaller than an existing pressure water nuclear reactor for submarines.
Seaborg CUBE reactor can use spent nuclear fuel (SNF) by adding thorium as a catalyst. The CUBE as a waste burner. Current conventional reactors use about 4% of the uranium fuel rods. This is because they use Uranium 235 and cannot use the Uranium 238.
One of the designs fits in a half-length 20 foot shipping container
35 ton MSR Game changer in SMR-MSR size:
cuboid of 2.4 meters by 2.4 meters x 6 meters, and 30 tons Development
Timeline aligned with standard IAEA reactor development method
• 2014-2016: Pre-conceptual Design Phase 1
• 2017-2018: Pre-conceptual Design Phase 2; 1.5 Million Euros
• 2019-2020: Conceptual Design Phase; 10 Million Euros
• 2021-2024 Technical Design Phase; 50 Million Euros
• Ready to build reactor blueprints
Delivered cost for 250 MW thermal MSR in 2025 in the $50 Million to $70 Million depending upon manufacturing scale. They are working towards a 50 MW thermal pilot plant and then would scale to 250 MW thermal for a commercial system.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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