Molten salt reactors (MSR) have the potential to produce carbon free energy that is cheaper than coal, safer than natural gas and more efficient than renewable. MSR’s have properties that make them the potential game changer in our energy landscape. Well, that is what they said 50 years ago and it didn’t happen then for a variety of reasons that I have already expressed in prior articles. Basically, it was about political interference and not about the science and technology. Nothing new there and you can read all about it at www.kralspaces.worpress.com where all my previous articles are available.
That was then and this is now and we still have a tremendous opportunity to change the energy landscape today because nothing else came along in the last 45 years to change it otherwise (except OPAC). Fossil fuels are still burning up into the atmosphere as CO2 and renewable is just churning up the landscape with their clutter.
MSR energy production figures are quite remarkable. Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource (whew!). Read that again because it is very important to understand. For example, 1 KwH invested in solar, you get back about 10 KwH of usable energy. For wind, this is about 20. For fire, coal and gas, it is about 40. For the nuclear option, it is about 1200. As you can see, there is a huge increase in usable energy from nuclear over all other fuel source investments.
A major concern of nuclear energy is the production of ‘waste’. The current light water reactor (LWR) design produces 96% waste form the uranium it uses but that waste is completely contained and never reaches the atmosphere by design (yes, there have been 3 commercial accidents with minimal radiation). The good news is that once MSR’s come online, they can fully use this waste appendage of today’s reactors. A single MSR can generate electricity for about 250 years with a single year’s ‘waste’ of a present day nuclear reactor. That fuel is just sitting there stored in protective canisters waiting to be used.
Then there is thorium which is the ideal fuel for molten salt reactors. Natural thorium is safe and easy to handle because it’s actually less radioactive than a banana. However it is fertile and not fissile, so how can it be used as a nuclear fuel? After catching a neutron in the reactor core, thorium transmutes to a very good nuclear fuel (fissile U-233) and produces even more neutrons (breeder) making it consistently fissionable. More neutrons mean efficient burning (99%), so good that you can mix in the leftovers from the fuel of present day reactors. Instead of storing waste for thousands of years in expensive depositories, we can just burn this liability and transform it into a valuable asset – energy.
The greatest characteristic of the MSR designed nuclear reactor is that it uses liquid fuel. The biggest risk for conventional solid fuel reactors is the melt-down of their core if they get to hot. Molten salt reactors have a core that is already melted, and that’s what they’re built for. MSR’s are not under pressure so there’s no risk of a hydrogen explosion (Fukushima) – there is simply nothing that can explode.
Molten salt reactors offer the real possibility of energy independence for all nations. Thorium, as an element, is everywhere. Every country has some and the MSR requires so little fuel to produce tremendous amounts of heat that it is considered sustainable for many thousands of years.
The Thorium Musical Video: https://youtu.be/by9MnngGz3k Enjoy!