Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I Would Do, If I Were Kirk Sorensen

Kirk Sorensen has kept his cards very close to his chest since he and a business partner established Flive Energy. Officially, Kirk is as committed to the LFTR, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, as much as always. Long term, I would not expect that to change, but in the short term, if I wanted to make money, I would not focus much attention on LFTR development.

Before my illness, I focused a good deal of attention on uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors with or without added thorium. Such reactors might require much less research and development than the LFTR. Uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors have significant commercial potential. They probably can be build at a lower cost than commercial Light Water Reactors and can be housed underground saving on building costs. Small Molten Salt Reactors can be factory built and can largely be based on technology that has already been successfully tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratories' Molten Salt Reactor experiment.

Using successfully tested technology is the key to getting a new reactor concept on the market quickly and at a reasonable cost. Were I Kirk, I would be working towards the development of a uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor that has potential for commercial sales. The uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor has the potential for factory production and underground siting. This in turn could lead to a low cost reactor option that could be cost competitive with Light Water Reactors. The aim would be a relatively small reactor, something between 60 Mw and 250 Mw, that would be produced in factories and could be housed in abandoned salt mines,  underground silos, and other underground facilities and would be safe enough to site close to large cities.

Production of the first generation uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor would lead to greater understanding of the MSR and could serve as a launching point for a more advanced Molten Salt Reactor design such as the LFTR. A successful profit making reactor business could finance its' own LFTR research through reactor sales, but the goal is not to produce LFTRs as much as to make nuclear power more competitive as a replacement for coal and natural gas in stationary generating plants. Therefore, were I Kirk Sorensen, I would not be working on the development of the LFTR, but on the development of uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors.

Should Kirk then abandoned the use of the LFTR as the symbol of the Molten Salt Reactor? I think not. The uranium Molten Salt Reactor is likely to be only a bridge between the commercial Light Water Reactor and the LFTR. The LFTR offers several advantages over Light Water Reactors. One of the most significant being a solution to the problem of nuclear waste. Uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors do not solve the problem of nuclear waste, but LFTRs can largely solve it. In addition, the most promising form of uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor, the Denatured Molten Salt Reactor, operates with many times more thorium than uranium and is in effect a thorium-uranium hybrid. It produces a lot of nuclear waste, but less nuclear waste than a pure uranium Molten Salt Reactor.

At one time, I did not think that the DMSR was a good idea, but I now think that it is. The supply of thorium in the earth's crust is virtually unlimited and thus people can rely on energy from thorium for a very long time to come. This means in the discussions of the sustainability of nuclear power the supply of thorium is not likely to run out before the sun passes into the stage of solar evolution that does not support life on earth. The problem will in no way ever be a threat to the biosphere or human existence.

A number of years ago, Kirk and a couple of his fellow students in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee developed a pre-design of a small truck mobile Molten Salt Powered Reactor that could be used as a mobile electricity generation source. The design included the building of an underground silo in which the reactor would be lowered. Truck mounted generation units could  be located on the surface above the reactor. I believed, up until yesterday, that the small mobile reactor concept was the path that Kirk was following, but yesterday, April 1st 2013, I learned to my astonishment, that Kirk and NASA are designing small Molten Salt Powered drones which will be America's primary weapon in any future war.



Charles, glad to see your back in business. Though your body may have some maintenance problems, your mind is working fine.

I agree with most everything, except that there is no waste problem, there is an education problem regarding waste and other things. Deep seabed disposal is totally safe and inexpensive.

Smilin Joe Fission said...

This has been my attitude as well. LFTR is not what should be aimed at for a first iteration, but should be the evolution of a uranium fueled molten salt reactor design.

There is still much information to be gathered from running these liquid fueled reactors. A basic uranium fueled reactor provides a much simpler design and running on basic LEU U-235 fuel makes it more approachable for regulatory bodies. Getting one of these built is priority at this point and to do that within a reasonable time-frame, it needs to be kept as simple as possible - single fluid, LEU salt core, minimal online processing.

A reactor akin to Dr. David LeBlanc's denatured molten salt reactor would be a legitimate first stepping stone.

Anonymous said...

So glad to see you regularly posting again Charles. Keep up the great work. I'm curious about a couple of your statements...

Uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors do not solve the problem of nuclear waste, but LFTRs can largely solve it.

I'd disagree with that statement. When the DSMR was designed in 1979 they didn't have enough concerns of nuclear waste so they planned to simple dispose of any leftover transuranics in the salt when they finished a batch. It would be straight forward to pay for a single treatment to recycle all transuranics into the next salt and you then have just as good a waste profile as a pure Th-U233 MSR. As well, DMSRs can use up existing spent fuel to help there as well.

Also, you commented about MSR powered drones? I don't see that anywhere else, an April Fools joke perhaps? If not a joke I sure wouldn't want them flying around anywhere...

David LeBlanc

Anonymous said...

April Fools Day to you, as well!

Kirk Sorensen said...

Hi Charles, you are mistaken. Neither I nor my company is doing any work on molten-salt powered drones, nor do we have any intention to.


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