02 July 2012

En Route To Building The First-Of A Kind LFTR In The UK!

PRISM is not the only reactor that 
can 'burn' our 

What a chance this would be to get some molten salt reactor experience. We could scale up the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) from 1964 to 1969, under the Directorship of a true doyen of nuclear energy, Alvin Weinberg. In the last few months of operation, the feasibility of 'burning' plutonium, as a fuel in the reactor core, was put to the test.

For a pittance of a Government investment, we could get this operationally proven technology up and running in 5 years - after all, in 5 years from funding approval, the MSRE was designed, manufactured and 'switched on', in the days of slide-rules, tee-squares, protractors and compasses - what could we do now, with CAD/CAM and 3D computer modelling and planning?

Has Paul Howarth, The Director of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), charged with assessing the likely effectiveness of GE Hitachi's PRISM, got the vision and the guts to at least mention this to Ed Davey as a possible alternative?  

This hot salt reactor plant is just 'glorified' chemical plant and the UK has the design and technological expertise and manufacturing capacity to produce this reactor in its entirety. If we could get a couple of years of operational experience on a plutonium 'burning' unit, we'd be within a shout of getting the first-of-a-kind Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) built and, for the UK, this would mean manufacturing jobs, growth and prosperity we have not seen in 3 generations; plus, as a little aside, operators could halve the price of electricity to domestic and industrial users and still make a handsome profit - because you get twice as much bang for your bucks from a LFTR 'fired' power station.


  1. I am pretty sure that a LFTR wouldn't actually burn much plutonium and transuranic isotopes. I think a liquid chloride fast reactor would actually be needed to achieve that goal. A thermal/epithermal spectrum LFTR would seem to be much more suited to a wide-scale deployment, rather than being used for the somewhat limited purpose of dispositioning "waste" plutonium.

    1. I'm sure you're right once we've got LFTRs in place for our electricity + process heat, and we require U233 to 'seed' new LFTRs. 'Energy from Thorium' details this as part of the 'grand plan': http://energyfromthorium.com/plan/us/

      However, MSRE reports do mention the prospects of 'burning' plutonium in the core, so it probably is feasible - my idea would be to keep it simple and get UK Government investment in molten fluoride salt technology, instead of spending the money on PRISM, with a view to 'upgrading' to a LFTR.

      PS: I'm going to put your Blog on my Blog Roll - any chance of you reciprocating?

  2. I'm only trying to put the case for the UK Government funding of a MSR for 'burning' plutonium, as a scaled up version of the operationally-proven MSRE (just a core, with no thorium breeding blanket), instead of spending the money on a PRISM. If only we could convince the powers that be, to dip our toes into MSR technology, we'd be in with a shout for UK manufacturing to have a pop at the first-of-a-kind LFTR.

    PRISM is based on EBR-II and is infinitely preferable to PWRs, for our 16 GW of 'New Nuclear'. Have a look at this Post: http://lftrsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/1986-us-medias-coverage-of-chernobyl.html

  3. I think they key, unfortunately, is to prove that MST technology is commercially viable and develop the live-salt-reprocessing system that would be needed to achieve the highest fuel burning efficiency and minimise the waste. Once that's done, I know of no fundamental reason that an MSR design couldn't be modified into a fast reactor configuration to burn plutonium and uranium-238, but that'd require a new reactor design, with all the problems that entails.

    I'd really love for plutonium-management to be a key route to MSR technology, but thanks to the data from Oak Ridge, LFTR (or equivalent) is likely to be a far simpler way to prove it commercially.

  4. This is the post from Kirk Sorensen, one of the many professionals spending their time and energy on LFTRs. As was mentioned above, the best MSR configuration for plutonium/legacy waste 'burning' is the Liquid Chloride Reactor, but it is sure to maintain the unique atmospheric pressure/high temperature combination which makes LFTR so special. Kirk is also proposing a breeder blanket for generating U233, to seed new LFTR installations. This would be 'Phase II' after the first plutonium burning MSR is in place: http://energyfromthorium.com/2006/04/23/getting-out-from-between-mox-and-a-hard-place/