Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview with Ralph Moir: Part III,

Questions on Edward Teller

1. Edward Teller remained a controversial figure at the time of his death. Since you worked with Teller, what do you think the public should know, in order to better understand him?

He was brilliant, multi-dimentional and focussed. He promoted action via the political process that gave him fame and infamy but most importantly gave results. His writing and that written about him tells the story. It is most inspiring and I recommend its reading to anyone interested.

2. My own understanding of Teller was that he was a complex person. Can you give us some insights?

Yes he was complex but getting to know him told you he was in depth on many axis. He focussed on one topic at a time. Sequentially he could switch to another topic but preferred to stay on the topic at hand and work it hard. He treated science as having fun. It was a joy to him to discuss ideas.

3. Teller appears to have had a long time interest in the molten salt reactor. How important did Teller think the development of the Molten Salt Reactor was?

Teller had a long term interest in seeing fission reactors built for man kind's benefit. His interest was to encourage that end rather than work directly in pursuit of reactor development. He strongly favored thorium and thermal reactors and undergrounding them. He periodically over the past 25 years of his life would call on me to review the characteristics of various reactor types. I always treated all of them but ended by saying I preferred the molten salt reactor. He finally agreed with me and we wrote the paper together. In other words he was not a strong advocate of the molten salt reactor over a lot of years. He thought the program must have been terminated for good reasons. After examining the reasons for terminating the program he came up with the phrase, "it was an excusable mistake." He believed building a small molten salt reactor to get the development going and get deployment going was most urgent because our energy options are running out (especially natural gas).

4. Did Teller have any time frame in which he anticipated to molten salt reactor development?

At a spending level of $100 M per year for R&D and $100 M per year for construction, such a program could have a ~10 MWe unit operating in a decade and be well on the way towards a large scale power plan.

5. Teller was interested in setting up reactors underground. Why did he prefer underground placement, rather than using conventional containment structures?

He used the word "obvious" safety. Bomb tests conducted underground contained the radioactive products very well. It was this fact and the fact that waste are to be stored underground both suggest building the reactors themselves underground. I repeatedly brought up the point that under grounding increases the cost and if the cost increase is too much, perhaps over 20% the reactor will most likely not be built. He accepted the idea that 10 m underground was a good compromise between the safety benefits of undergrounding while keeping the cost add on small enough to not preclude the deployment.

My web site (www.geocities.com/rmoir2003) gives links to downloading my paper with Teller on the Thorium fueled underground power plant based on molten salt technology. Also there are papers on cost of electricity compared to other reactors and recommendations for a aresatart of molten salt reactor development.

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