Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ralph Moir on MSR/LFTR Development

Ralph Moir prepared this "partial list of research topics that could have a substantial improvement in the prospects for a commercially viable (MSR) product".

1. Thermostat negative temperature control. The point of this topic is to end up with a strong negative temperature coefficient even at high temperatures and with low fission product burden.
neutron poison rods are actuated by temperature response need to develop a design that is compatible chemically and good for neutron economy and for waste management

2. All carbon composite primary system. The point of this research idea is to be able to operate at high enough temperature (~900°C) for a direct cycle gas turbine or (~1050°C) to make hydrogen by thermo chemical water splitting cycle. We are speaking of vessel, piping, pumps and heat exchangers.
a, allows higher temperature
b. avoid corrosion of metal alloys
c. better tritium control with SiC layer
d. can SiC be used to improve the neutron damage characteristics of graphite? The problem is thermal stresses and de-bonding due to differential thermal expansion

3. Alternative salt formulations. The point of this research is to avoid the problems listed below with Li and Be.
a. Li results in tritium production and lithium-7 is expensive
b. Be is expensive and hazardous to work with due to inhalation toxicity. Look at NaF, ZrF4, look at solubility enhancement, corrosion, neutron loss.

4. Safeguard and non proliferation analyses in use of Th-U-233 cycle. The point of this topic is to understand proliferation issues.
a. make most or all of fuel once started up (CR~1)
b. maybe start up on reactor minor actinides (Pu and higher); get credit for taking on this material rather than paying for enriched U
c. enhance U-232 production to promote non-proliferation by making diversion of U-233 harder, less desirable and easier to detect. See item 9 below.

5. Centrifuge for noble and semi-noble metal separations. The point of this work is to improve the outlook for extraction and handling of the precipitating fission products to enhance waste management strategies.
a. base on continuous flow contactor
b. incorporate into (fuel salt) pump

6. Waste form and assay study. This topic emphasizes waste management, a vital aspect of nuclear energy.
a. estimate assay (carry over of actinides) with each class of waste, e.g., gaseous, noble and semi-b. noble metals and valence two and three products with reductive extraction. Consider Bi carry over and resulting Po-210.
c. waste form: fluoride for interim and substitute fluorapatite for permanent storage

7. Plant description, size, undergrounding, cost, systems. Economic considerations are important motivators to develop this new nuclear power system.
a. change out time for graphite vs. core size
b. salt formulation
c. underground design considerations
d. cost analysis preliminaries
e. power conversion cycle

8. System assessment along lines of NERI-2002 proposal. What is known about the molten salt reactor is decades old. Bringing up to date the database is vital to resurrecting the molten salt reactor development.

9. U232 proliferation for thorium

A note about Ralph Moir's list
Ralph Moir's list is closely related to Forsberg's analysis of MSR developmental issues. In addition Moir pushes three important developmental issues related to the integration of MSR/LFTR technology into the energy production system, the control of the cost of implementing wide scale deployment of MSR/LFTR technology, and to the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation. We might refer to these as grand scale development issues.

If MSR/LFTR technology is to receive wide spread deployment - and I would argue that this would be our best hope for meeting the twin challenges of peak oil, and CO2 driven global warming - then economic, social, and political issues must be also addressed, as part of developmental research. I have argued in previous posts, that a "full court press" approach to cost lowering in the design, production and deployment of LFTRs could yield significant cost savings. In addition, the introduction of mass production techniques for LFTRs would lead to the ability to quickly build and deploy a very large numbers of reactors in a relatively short period of time. MSR developmental research should include research on cost lowering, mass production, site selection, and power distribution.

I personally regard the word proliferation as a shibboleth. When the words "nuclear proliferation" are uttered, morally proper people are expected to recoil in horror, and stop thinking. Actually virtual blueprints of low cost nuclear proliferation technology already exist in the public domain. Even the technologically backward, failed state of North Korea has mastered it. MSR technology would be far less attractive as a proliferation tool, than a World War II era, easily acquired, and relatively low cost technology, the Graphite Reactor. Unfortunately the value of such knowledge will be undoubtedly lost on politicians, who seldom use their intelligence, and usually lack the slightest capacity for courage. Therefore the existing proliferation resistant features of the LFTR should be assessed, and if necessary enhanced, as a part of LFTR development.

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