Worldchanging Molten Salt Nuclear Energy

Many countries have built nuclear reactors and different nuclear technologies have been successfully commercialized over the past six decades. There will be multiple winners with new nuclear fission technology and new reactor designs.

The best new nuclear fission technology is molten salt nuclear. This is because reactors would be far more compact than current nuclear reactors. Molten salt reactors can be 20 to 100 times more compact for the same power generation level. If are building something 20 times smaller then you can usually build it much faster and at much lower cost.

Multiple new molten salt and pebble reactor designs will be built. There will be a competition to see which reactor designs will get scaled up to large numbers of units.

Molten salt and pebble bed reactors will both be able to make walkaway safe reactors. This is because they will have freeze plugs at the bottom. The physical plugs will be designed to melt when the temperature goes higher than what is designed. This will then let gravity drain the fuel into holding tanks where the fuel will naturally cool down. This design does not need any computers or other equipment or human technicians to do anything. It will be automatic safety.

The two reactor designs reviewed here are by Seaborg Technologies of Denmark and Thorcon (American company looking to build in Indonesia). Both companies plan to build molten salt reactors in ships or barges. This will mean they float on water and can easily access water for cooling and operations.

Thorcon is planning to mass-produce 100 nuclear reactors every year from shipyards.

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36 thoughts on “Worldchanging Molten Salt Nuclear Energy”

  1. I’m always curious why this tech can’t be built on some island close to the US but outside of the reach of US regulators. It seems if companies really wanted to test and build these reactors, that would be the place.

    I guess Malaysia is better, because Thorcon has talked that government into funding the project in addition to being guinea pigs.

    I sure hope this technology turns out as Brian describes. It would be a huge advancement for mankind.

    • “why this tech can’t be built on some island close to the US but outside of the reach of US regulators”

      Because access to nuclear materials is controlled by nation states. The US government literally owns all the “special nuclear material” in the USA.

  2. Let me get this right. In thousands of ports, in some of the most dangerous, least ‘First World’ protected countries, we’re going to be OK with having floating nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors that can be made to inconveniently sink … with homemade underwater explosive devices. Millions of bucks, down the drink.

    Right? OK, OK, OK, maybe too harsh. Maybe we’ll put hundreds of them on barges, and float them in First World (protected by Coast Guards) ports. You know, to make a bunch of electricity for all the electric vehicles that the First World seems highly inspired to purchase and operate. What could go wrong? Oh yah … homemade explosive devices. Well, with enough ‘sandbagging’ (because they REALLY don’t need to float, right?) one can certainly put up an impermeable berm that’d take no end of homemade explosive devices. Still, the things definitely need the cooling water to do their jobs. Pipes. Grates, grills, barriers. Easy enough. Just gotta keep them clean.

    Which then becomes the next part of the problem. Keeping the systems clean. Dunno abou all y’all , but I’ve been boating — salt water — long enough to know that seawater spray alone is a terribly corrosive and machinery-defeating factor for ‘boats and barges’. Horrible stuff. I suppose the whole power barge could be made out of silicon bronze, or other sea-resisting material. But you know, there are a lot of oh-heck, we didn’t see that coming interconnects that still will hopelessly rust away.

    Just saying. Its hard enough for nuclear power plants — land based — to coexist with a coolant-ocean to start. Floating them? Sheesh.


    • Nice to you have comment again, GoatGuy. There are 30,000 large passenger planes. There has already been three incidents where they were flown into buildings and killing many people. Many more people than have died with 60 years of commercial nuclear power. There has also been many incidents where the plane was purposely crashed or destroyed and killed everyone on board. There have been over one hundred nuclear-powered ships and submarines. Again very few incidents over 70 years. The Kursk is the main one with 14 lives lost. We have to manage different risks. The known energy risk is over 4 million outdoor air pollution deaths per year from coal, oil and natural gas usage. There are about one thousand staff at each 1 GW nuclear power plant. I think three squads of military personnel to secure each Thorcon molten salt nuclear ship is perfectly reasonable. Also, having a regiment of rapid deployment ready to go to any ship can also support safety. Also, having onsite trained staff and rapid deployment technical support is a good plan. Having thousands of molten salt nuclear reactors generating power at half the cost or less means there is a lot of margin to work in additional maintenance and security.

  3. I guess my comment wasn’t posted due to its pdf link. Basically I wrote that there are concrete reasons why many countries aren’t investing heavily in new nuclear tech. One of them is that there is no hard evidence that the low costs promoted by the industry are at all realistic. For example to see why Australia won’t be investing in SMRs google “CSIRO” and “GenCost 2022”.

  4. You can find the same prophecy going back 15 years on the internet.

    If it is viable, why isn’t Russia developing/building them? And don’t tell me it’s because they don’t have access to the super secret ORNL ‘data’.

    • Russia doesn’t have digital maps in their tanks. Russia isn’t always the bar for viability. Probably putting limited cash in to their sodium cooled reactors.

      • If MSR were the ‘objective truth’ the author claims since 2006, the world’s premier supplier (the RF) would be building them in Egypt, Bangladesh, Turkey, etc., instead of the western knock-off VVER.

      • “the Chinese are trying it”

        At a 3MW test reactor scale, literally under the Gobi desert.

  5. There has only ever been one molten salt reactor in the sixties in oak ridge TN. It had nothing but problems and still costs the government $10 million a year dealing with them to this day. I’m pro nuclear, but this technology isn’t ready for prime time.

    • Navy has the tech it’s called Degausing.. that’s reason they are on ships.

      I was on aircraft carrier they had a degausing system anti-corrosion take the ship made of iron and put huge Zinc Plates on hull of ship then hook them subject them to high current low voltage DC power.

      The electricity reverses polarity zinc Plates attract protons in salt water molecule ships is negative or ground

    • Navy has the tech it’s called Degausing.. that’s reason they are on ships.

      I was on aircraft carrier they had a degausing system anti-corrosion take the ship made of iron and put huge Zinc Plates on hull of ship

  6. The elephant in the room is no one has solved the corrosion problem with Molten Salt Reactors since the first experimental concept MSR went into operation in the 1950’s.
    Other than a materials problem all is golden…

  7. The biggest question for molten salt reactors is long term corrosion. Short term testing looks good, and extrapolating corrosion rates looks good, but the regulators are very reluctant to accept extrapolations. I can’t totally blame them, but the reactors will likely end up running much, much longer than initial projections.

    Well, of course, the regulators have been the problem all along. No surprise there. You’d think we could pioneer this here in the US, but the regulators won’t let us do anything new here.

    • Designs like Terrestrial Energy and Thorcon, where they replace the core every five years or so, seem to get around the corrosion problem.

  8. Freeze plugs are to nuclear reactors like Otis’ elevator design with mechanical default lock in place if the power is interrupted by the cable breaking. They make the safe mode the simple default mode. The Otis design is why elevators were accepted as fundamentally safe.

    Unlike decades ago when fission reactors seemed only of limited future utility because of long term constraints on fuel, it’s now known that uranium can be extracted from seawater at reasonable cost and is effectively renewed by geological processes – so fission reactors could power civilization for hundreds of millions of years. It’s safe, renewable, zero emission, and cheap.

    • The freeze plug is a silly design feature. Intrinsically there is very little excess in the system (only enough to overcome temperature defect); graphite systems can be shut down with a few boron nitride rods. Whatever 1200C proof unobtanium they make the dump tanks out of can be made into tubes and inserted in the periphery of the bucket to remove decay heat.

      • Unless you feel the hundreds of little welds in the pictured dump tank system, outside the vessel, improve the safety case…. carry on. Mind you, things will rupture in creep under gravity if they get hot enough.

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