A philanthropic individual or group, who can put up a piffling £300 million to launch the first prototype/pre-production Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), will witness the start of the worldwide adoption of the cheapest, safest and cleanest method of electricity generation of all time. Bill Gates is doing just for the Travelling Wave Reactor (TWR), which is sure to prove inconsequential.
Does anyone have a pathway through to such an individual or group? Give the £300 million to a company like Roll-Royce and within 5 years they would design and develop the first 100 MWe unit. Within 10 years, production units, at £150 million each, could be rolling off production lines at the rate of 1 per day, to replace all of the UK’s fossil fuel burning power stations in 1 to 2 years. Export potential, considering that even the poorest of countries could utilize such technology, would run into the tens of thousands of such units.
Some of the staggering advantages to humankind, our planetary environment and its ecosystems, are demonstrated by comparing methods of generating 1 GWyear of electricity, to supply a city of 1 million people for 1 year:
1. LFTRs require the mining of 200 tonnes of ore to produce the 1 tonne of thorium fuel required. By comparison: Coal – 3,200,000 tonnes has to be burned. The proposed new-build Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) – 800,000 tonnes of ore needs to be mined, to produce 35 tonnes of enriched uranium fuel.
2. LFTRs produce no greenhouse gasses. Coal – 8,500,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses and airborne pollution. PWRs – produce no greenhouse gasses.
3. LFTRs produce 170 kgs of ‘long-lived’ radiotoxic waste, which decays to background radiation levels in 300 years. Coal – 600,000 tonnes of toxic/radioactive fly-ash. PWRs – 35 tonnes of radiotoxic waste, some of which takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay to background radiation levels.
4. The estimated average cost of electricity from LFTR generation is the lowest of any form of generation. This is the average levelised cost, including all costs of construction, financing, fuel and all other operating and decommissioning costs.
5. The land area occupied by LFTR installations is only 2 to 5% of that occupied by coal or PWR power stations.
Some of the worst problems facing humankind can be solved or greatly mitigated by abundant cheap electricity from LFTRs and by the use of the high temperature waste heat from their gas turbines:
6. A hydrogen economy can be created, from which carbon-neutral fuels (from atmospheric carbon dioxide) for all forms of transport can be manufactured.
7. Ammonia can be made from the hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen, as feedstock to maintain adequate levels of nitrate fertilizers for the high levels of food production we enjoy today.
8. Potable water can be produced from the desalination of seawater or brackish groundwater, using waste heat and/or off-peak electricity, during the night.
9. Waste heat can be used for district heating, or industrial process heating, both of which dramatically improve the overall efficiency of an installation.
Other wonderful advantages of LFTRs are:
10. Load-following capability so that, apart from supplying base load, when the kettles are switched on and off during TV adverts, the reactor simply powers up and powers down. Coal-fired and conventional nuclear power stations are for base load supply only and need gas-fired or hydroelectric power station back-up.
11. Intrinsically safe, because the reactor vessel operates at atmospheric pressure and there is no driving force to expel any leaking radioactive material into the environment, such as steam in a PWR, or highly reactive sodium in a Liquid Metal Fast Reactor (LMFR).
12. Needing start-up fissile material, LFTRs can ‘burn’ the existing nuclear ‘waste’ from military and civil reactors and eliminate long term storage of radiotoxic materials.
13. Far more proliferation resistant than reactors using conventional uranium fuels.
14. There is enough thorium to supply the energy needs, at developed-world standards, of everyone on the planet, for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of years.