VI. STATUS OF MSBR TECHNOLOGY
H. Codes, Standards, and High Temperature Design Methods
Codes and standards for MSBR equipment and systems must be developed in conjunction with other research and development before large MSBR's can be built. In particular, the materials of construction which are currently being developed and tested would have to be certified for use in nuclear power plant applications.
The need for high-temperature design technology is a problem for the MSBR as well as for other high temperature systems. The AEC currently has under way a program in support of the LMFBR which is providing materials data and structural analysis methods for design of systems employing various steel alloys at temperatures up to 1200ºF (920 K). This program would need to be broadened to include MSBR structural materials such as Hastelloy-N and to include temperatures as high as 1400ºF (1030 K) to provide the design technology applicable to high-temperature, long-term operating conditions which would be expected for MSBR vessels, components, and core structures.
[No comment. – CB]
VII. INDUSTRIAL PARTICIPATION IN THE MSBR PROGRAM
Privately funded conceptual design studies and evaluations of MSBR technology were performed in 1970 by the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Associates (MSBRA), a study group headed by the engineering firm of Black & Veatch and including five midwest utilities. The MSBRA concluded that the economic potential of the MSBR is attractive relative to light-water reactors, but they recognized a number of problems which must be resolved in order to realize this potential. Since that time the MSBRA has been relatively inactive.
A second privately funded organization, the Molten Salt Group, is headed by Ebasco Services, Incorporated and includes five other industrial firms and fifteen utilities. In 1971 the Group completed an evaluation of the MSBR concept and technology and concluded that existing technology is sufficient to justify construction of an MSBR demonstration plant although the performance characteristics could not be predicted with confidence. Additional support for further studies has recently been committed by the members of this group.
In addition to these studies, manufacturers of graphite and Hastelloy-N have been cooperating with ORNL to develop improved materials.
There has been little other industrial participation in the MSBR Program aside from ORNL subcontractors. At the present time, there are two ORNL subcontracts in effect. Ebasco Services, Inc., utilizing the industrial firms who are participants in the Molten Salt Group is performing a design and evaluation study. Foster-Wheeler Corporation is currently performing design studies on steam generators for MSBR application.
[Another disingenuous argument. We are pointed to evidence of industrial interest in the MSR concept. Then we are told that there is little industrial participation in MSR beyond ORNL contractors. In fact, interested industries in the early 1970's included, Babcock & Wilcox, Byron Jackson, Cabot Corp., Continental Oil, and Union Carbide. Other industries had approached ORNL informally. Because the viability of the MSR concept had not been established prior to the MSRE, industrial interest was premature prior to the late 1960’s. The MSRE had changed that. The Black & Veatch study had demonstrated that the MSR was potentially economically attractive to utilities relative to light-water reactors. There is little doubt that Shaw would have regarded this as a threat to his intention to direct US nuclear development towards the light water reactor. The LMFBR would have complimented the LWR, while the MSR had the potential of competing successfully against it. – CB]
A number of factors can be identified which tend to limit further industrial involvement at this time, namely:
1. The existing major industrial and utility commitments to the LWR, HTGR, and LMFBR.
2. The lack of incentive attractive relative to light-water reactors, for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services such as those required for solid-fuel reactors.
3. The overwhelming manufacturing and operating experience with solid-fuel reactors in contrast with the very limited involvement with fluid-fueled reactors.
4. The less advanced state of MSBR technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the MSBR concept.
[The formula of industrial involvement is used to object to the MSR project. Here the term refers to manufacturer involvement. No one is yet interested in building a commercial MSR. Yet the AEC has not encouraged manufactures to do so, indeed as WASH-1222 demonstrates, quite the opposite was the case. Because the AEC was in effect discouraging manufacturer interest in the MSR, manufactures were largely withholding interest. The lack of manufacture interest was then used to justify the AEC’s attempt to suppress MSR technology.
Yet if there was customer interest in MSR technology, as an earlier paragraph of this section reports, there was potentially manufacturer interest.
The second point of this argument at first seem to be obvious. The MSR, by using fuel far more efficiently would seem to create disincentives for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services. But this could be a case of Jevon’s paradox. By greatly increasing the efficiency of nuclear fuel use, the MSR might actually create as situation in which more rather than less fuel was in demand. Thus the objection is short sighted, and assumes shortsightedness on the part of suppliers as well.
The third objection could be raised against any new technology. In 1952 manufacturers had had very limited involvement Light Water Reactors. Demand had led them to explore the new technology.
The fourth objection is circular. In effect, “the less advanced state of MSBR technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the MSBR concept,” is used as an argument against advancing the state of MSBR technology, and finding solutions to the major technical problems. – CB]
It should be noted that these factors are also relevant considerations in establishing the level of governmental support for the MSBR program which in turn, to some extent, affects the interest of the manufacturing and utility industries.
[False premises lead to false conclusions. This is the money statement as far as Milton Shaw was concerned. Given the weakness and contradictions of the arguments WASH-1222 offered against “industrial interest” in the development of MSR technology, the case most certainly had not been made against continuing government support of research directed at the development of MSR technology. Milton Shaw had thus erected his case in favor of discontinuing development of MSR technology of the most insubstantial grounds. – CB]
The Molten Salt Breeder Reactor, if successfully developed and marketed, could provide a useful supplement to the currently developing uranium-plutonium reactor economy. This concept offers the potential for:
- Breeding in a thermal spectrum reactor;
- Efficient use of thorium as a fertile material;
- Elimination of fuel fabrication and spent fuel shipping;
- High thermal efficiencies.
H. G. MacPherson listed the advantages of the MSR as:
- The fuel handling system will be much simpler.
- The molten salts have a much higher heat capacity per unit volume than sodium, so that the physical size of pumps and piping will be smaller.
- There is no threat of a "core disruptive accident" with the MSCR, so that safety-related equipment can be simpler.
- The molten salts have a much lower thermal conductivity than sodium, so that sudden coolant temperature changes will provide less thermal shock to system components.
- The coolant is more compatible with water than is sodium, so that there should be fewer problems in the design and maintenance of steam generators.
Eric Ottewitte listed some salient advantages of an unusual type of MSR, the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) as:
1. Simplicity: no control rods, fuel handling mechanisms, fuel elements or associated structures. Very uncluttered: should maximize test space and facilitate access thereto. Fluid fuel can be transferred remotely by pumping through pipes connecting storage and reactor.
2. MSRs don't refuel or reprocess, just add fuel and process out wastes. Continuous processing and refueling would minimize reactor downtime. Can usefully consume all fuel forms, simplifying fuel supply while simultaneously solving other people's problems.
3. MSR is the safest concept of all due to very strong negative temperature coefficient. No gaseous hydrogen can possibly evolve from fuel or primary coolant. Fuel already molten and handled by system. Simple design technique makes boiling impossible. Continuous removal of fission products reduces their heat source by two orders of magnitude; consequently, natural circulation suffices for emergency cooling, thereby greatly reducing the designated evacuation area. Also, under any off-normal conditions, the liquid fuel can be channeled to a continuously cooled drain tank, in a short time.
4. Very fast neutron spectrum in an annular core engenders high neutron fluxes, driving inner and outer thermal neutron flux traps, each variable in size and neutron energy spectrum by means of molten salt composition. Elimination of fuel cladding and structural material significantly improves the neutron economy of the reactor: more neutrons are available for applications.
5. Elimination of pressurized and pressure-evolving components inside the containment, reducing risk of containment failure.
6. Potential additional missions for an MCFR BATR could include
A. Sr and Cs waste transmutation because of very high neutron flux
B. Useful consumption of fissile fuel from dismantled weapons because of the flexibility in fuel form
C. Process heat R&D due to high temperature capability
D. A 6LiD or 6LiOD shell for generation of a 14 MeV fusion neutron trap.
Ottewitte also notes some disadvantages of MSRs and MCFRs. - CB]
Notwithstanding these attractive features, this assessment has reconfirmed the existence of major technological and engineering problems affecting feasibility of the concept as a reliable and economic breeder for the utility industry. The principal concerns include uncertainties with materials, with methods of controlling tritium, and with the design of components and systems along with their special handling, inspection and maintenance equipment. Many of these problems are compounded by the use of a fluid fuel in which fission products and delayed neutrons are distributed throughout the primary reactor and reprocessing systems.
[Here we have Shaw's attempt to nail the lid on the coffin of the MSR. The claim that "this assessment has reconfirmed the existence of major technological and engineering problems affecting feasibility of the concept as a reliable and economic breeder for the utility industry" is domonstrably untrue. The assessment had not established anything other that MSR technology requires further development. WASH-1222 does not established that MSR developmental problems are unusually difficult and certainly has not established that developmental problems are in any way insurmountable. Many of the so called principal concerns were close to resolution when WASH-1222 was written, as the author must have known. The final sentence provides us with yet another example of Swift boating, turning the MSR primary steregnth - its fluid core, into a weakness. - CB]
The resolution of the problems of the MSBR will require the conduct of an intensive research and development program. Included among the major efforts that would have to be accomplished are:
- Proof testing of an integrated reprocessing system;
- Development of a suitable containment material;
- Development of a satisfactory method for the control and retention of tritium;
- Attainment of a thorough understanding of the behavior of fission products in a molten-salt system;
- Development of long-life moderator graphite, suitable for breeder application;
- Conceptual definition of the engineering features of the many components and systems;
- Development of adequate methods and equipment for remote inspection, handling, and maintenance of the plant.
But not all of the premises to the argument are stated, and unstated premises are false. WASH-1222 has already told us that other nuclear technologies, including the LWR and the LMFBR, are so mature that they were beyond the research and development stage requirements which are outlined above. In 1972 this was disputed by scientist at AEC Labs, who correctly argued that LWR safety issues had not been adequately addressed. Many scientist at AEC facilities had well founded doubts about the maturity of LMFBR technology. In addition, in 1972 there was growing public concern about both the problems of “nuclear waste,” and “nuclear proliferation.” Both of these issues were unresolved problems for LWR technology. “Nuclear proliferation,” was and is a significant issue for LMFNR technology. In contrast, the MSR offers attractive solutions to both the “nuclear waste,” and “nuclear proliferation” issues. Thus the hidden premises of the conclusions reached by WASH-1222, were basically false. False assumptions lead to false conclusions, and this was most certainly the case with WASH-1222. – CB]
The major problems associated with the MSBR are rather difficult in nature and many are unique to this concept. Continuing support of the research and development effort will be required to obtain satisfactory solutions to the problems. When significant evidence is available that demonstrates realistic solutions are practical, a further assessment could then be made as to the advisability of advancing into the detailed design and engineering phase of the development process including that of industrial involvement. Proceeding with this next step would also be contingent upon obtaining a firm demonstration of interest and commitment to the concept by the power industry and the utilities and reasonable assurances that large-scale government and industrial resources can be made available on a continuing basis to this program in light of other commitments to the commercial nuclear power program and higher priority energy development efforts.
[This last paragraph requires very careful examination:
- “The major problems associated with the MSBR are rather difficult in nature and many are unique to this concept.” In fact WASH-1222 has not shown that there were exceptional difficulties involved in the development of MSR technology.
- “Continuing support of the research and development effort will be required to obtain satisfactory solutions to the problems.” This is to state the obvious.
- “When significant evidence is available that demonstrates realistic solutions are practical, a further assessment could then be made as to the advisability of advancing into the detailed design and engineering phase of the development process including that of industrial involvement.” Which would have been the case had not WASH-1222 not been used to justify curtailing of MSR research.
- “Proceeding with this next step would also be contingent upon obtaining a firm demonstration of interest and commitment to the concept by the power industry and the utilities and reasonable assurances that large-scale government and industrial resources can be made available on a continuing basis to this program in light of other commitments to the commercial nuclear power program and higher priority energy development efforts.” This last statement is the crowning hypocrisy of WASH-1222, a document intended to discourage further industrial interest in the MSR concept, and to lay down a smokescreen for Shaw’s moved to destroy the MSR project. - CB]
1. US Atomic Energy Commission, “The 1967 Supplement to the 1962 Report to the President on Civilian Nuclear Power” USAEC Report, February 1967.
2. US Atomic Energy Commission, “The Use of Thorium in Nuclear Power Reactors” USAEC Report WASH-1097, 1969.
3. US Atomic Energy Commission, “Potential Nuclear Power Growth Patterns,” USAEC Report WASH-1098, December 1970.
4. US Atomic Energy Commission, “Cost-Benefit Analysis of the US Breeder Reactor Program,” USAEC Report WASH-1126, 1969.
5. US Atomic Energy Commission, “Updated (1970) Cost-Benefit Analysis of the US Breeder Reactor Program,” USAEC Report WASH-1184, January 1972.
6. Edison Electric Institute, “Report on the EEI Reactor Assessment Panel,” EEI Publication No. 70-30, 1970.
7. Annual Hearings on Reactor Development Program, US Atomic Energy Commission FY 1972 Authorizing Legislation, Hearings before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the United States p. 820-830, US Government Printing Office
8. Nuclear Applications and Technology, Volume 8, February 1970.
9. Robertson, R. D. (ed) “Conceptual Design Study of a Single-Fluid Molten Salt Breeder Reactor,” ORNL-4541, June 1971.
10. Rosenthal, M. W., et al.; “Advances in the Development of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactors,” A/CONF-49/P-048, Fourth United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, September 6 - 16, 1971.
11. Trinko, J. R. (ed.), “Molten-Salt Reactor Technology,” Technical Report of the Molten-Salt Group, Part I, December 1971.
12. Trinko, J. R. (ed), “Evaluation of a 1000 MWe Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor," Technical Report of the Molten Salt Group, Part II, November 1971.
13. Ebasco Services Inc., “1000 MWe Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor Conceptual Design Study,” Final Report Task I, Prepared under ORNL subcontract 3560, February 1972.
14. “Project for Investigation of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor,” Final Report, Phase I Study for Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Associates, September 1970.
15. Cardwell, D. W. and Haubenreich, P. N., “Indexed Abstracts of Selected References on Molten-Salt Reactor Technology,” ORNL-TM-3595, December 1971.
16. Kasten, P. R., Bettis, E. S. and Robertson, R. C., “Design Studies of 1000 MWe Molten-Salt Breeder Reactors,” ORNL-3996, August 1966.
17. Molten Salt Reactor Program Semiannual Reports beginning in February 1962.