My acquaintance with LFTR technology is long standing. My father began to do research on Fluoride Salt coolant/fuels in 1950 and continued to conduct research until 1969. My parents' longtime neighbor, Oak Ridger Editor and publisher Dick Smizer wrote about fluid fuel reactors and vision that Incorporated the LFTR paradigm. The idea of nuclear powered desalination was closely related to the MSR project at ORNL. An even more daring project grew out of the desalination concept, the notion of nuclear powered agro-industrial complexes to be built in the Middle east, An ORNL display on the at the 1964 United Nations Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, represented the high point of the ORNL vision. During the conference President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev viewed the ORNL presentation and commented favorably on it.
During the 1960's Weinberg became increasingly concerned with technological fixes to social problems, especially in contrast to social engineering. But Molten Salt Reactorsof the LFTR type were very much on Weinberg's mind, and were in1966 already influencing his thinkingin another 1966 lecture which became the basis for a National Academy of Science essay that Weinberg wrote with his old Manhattan Project and ORNL associate Gale Young, they explored of the future which the LFTR type reactors would open up. Weinberg's thinking has moved beyond desalinization and middle eastern Agro-industrial complexes to the use of nuclear power in the production of hydrogen, ammonia and other industrial processes. Indeed, Weinberg foresaw
a qualitative change in the world's industrial economy. At this price for prime energy it seems plausible that we can desalt sea water economically, and it seems to us to be at least a plausible speculation that we can produce hydrogen, and thence ammonia, and possibly even fluid fuel from coal at prices that are not much higher than we now pay for these commodities. The great advantage of basing these processes upon nuclear energy is that when breeder reactors are developed, the energy will be available quite independently of the availability of raw materials. Once a breeder reactor is inventoried with its initial load of fuel and fertile material, it can run without requiring any new fuel or fertile material for many decades. Thus the energy economy of a country, and therefore the many parts of its industry that can be based ultimately on energy, becomes decoupled from the accident of local distribution of fuels.We have clearly arrived at the new LFTR paradigm. I was at the time still a young man who was still hanging around Oak Ridge, and very much unsettled on my life course. I was to go on in 1970-71 to work in a year a proto-internship in the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies program. By that time both Weinberg and the Laboratory were in trouble, and thew pull back fromthe paradigm.
One cannot help but be impressed with the vast change in relations between nations that would ensue from this ubiquity of cheap energy. It is one of the most exciting prospects the world can expect from the Nuclear Energy Revolution.
Weinberg's thinking about reactors was still somewhat conventional. In order for the paradigm to be realized, a low cost LFTR would be necessary, and the key to keeping LFTR costs low lay not in economies of scale as Weinberg believed, but in factory production of clusters of small modular reactors such as the design Ed Bettis reported on in ORNL-4528.
Thus in 2007, when I began to cast around for AGW solutions, the LFTR paradigm was already in the back of my mind. ready to be called to service.