Thursday, September 10, 2015

Transatomic Power, How Good the Science?

This all began when I attempted to write profiles of Mark Massie and Lesslie Dewan of Transatomic power.  My quest for information led me to call Ondrej Chvala, at UT, and he indirectly pointed me to a discussion of a Transatomic White paper on the Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum.  This post is an accunt of some of what I learned at the discussion.  i will not offered a detailed account of what was said, but I do offer a link to the discussion, that I hope will help curious readers.

In 2014 the Transatomic team pubished a White Paper on their nuclear trash devouring MSR dessign. This white paper set out exactly how Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie planed to build their reactor and the various claims they made about it, together with the scientific evidence that their claims were true.

There is a place where People who are interested in Molten Salt Reactors review such papers, that is the Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum.  I had a conversation with Ondrej Chev last night, and he indirectly pointed me to a Discussion of the Transatomic Power White Paper on the Energy from Thorium discussion Fo4um.  The EfT Discussion Forum, is devolted to Open Science discussions of Molten Salt Reactor Technology, and related topics.  Many of the discussions participants are nuclear engineers or scientists, who share a knowledge basis riited in the ORNL MSR literature, as well as the scientific bassis upon which ORNL's research rests, and by which it should be interpreted.  Let me suggest that the original ORNL documents, posted on the EfT Document Archieve, constitute the MER/LFTR Torah, and the EfT Discussion forum is its Mishna.  The discusions are the place to turn, if you want to know what are the problems.

When Transatomic Power published its White Paper, a new thread was started with a link to the White paper.  This thread attacked a lively discussion.  Patticipants included a number of old EfT hands, including Kirk Sorensen, who moderated the discusion to keep it on track.  At one time or a number, David LeBlanc, Lars Jorgensen, and Kirk Sorensen, all would be MSR or LFTR developers participated in the discussion.  Unfortunately Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, did not participate as well, although they were probably were aware that the discussion was taking place, and that some of their contentions were being challenged during the course of the discussion. I do not have the slightest idea why Mark and Leslie did not get involved in the discussion, but all I can say, is that their failure to participate was a mistake.  The EfT discussion of Transatomic concepts, was a serious discussion by their peers, of what they thought they could do, as opposed to an endorcement of what they thought they could do.  

In the second post of the thread, Kirk Sorensen commented:
Cladded zirconium hydride as a moderator. What will they clad it with? Hastelloy-N? The thermal neutron flux will rapidly damage the Hastelloy. Other typical cladding materials would be eaten up by the fluorides. The fluoride salt and the hydride are chemically reactive, if the salt gets into the moderator you'll have HF formation and ZrF4 formation.
Seems to me they've traded one set of problems (graphite's poor moderation and swelling) for another set (ZrH reactivity and instability).
This becomes a simi matra during the seven page thread of comments.

Cyril R. summed up the threads discussion:
Here's my main issue of concern with TAP.
They rely on a cladding that does not yet exist. Cladding development, testing, safety testing, safety analysis... will be their critical path to deployment. Its a big gamble. If they can make the cladding work reliably and safely, in a reasonable time frame, and convince regulators of this, then they are in business. If they can't make the cladding work, their ship is sinking.
A number of material issues were touched on and there were undoubtedly other issues confronting MSR designers that could have been mentioned,  Questions were also raised abouta remarkably high fuel conversion ratio, that does not seem to be satisfactorily explained. The fact that the Transatomic power did not put in an apearance when their baby was discussed on EfT, does not bode well for their endeavor, at least for those who are in the know.

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