[ RadSafe ] LFluorideThoriumReactor -pitch in WSJ

Howard howard.long at comcast.net
Thu Jun 2 12:08:47 CDT 2011

Please comment on this by Michael Conley in WSJ today.
Howard Long

Cucumbers have killed more people in Germany than nuclear power ever has.

Fukushima was awful, but nuclear power isn't the problem. The problem is with the reactors we've been using to produce it. If the reactors at Fukushima had been Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) they wouldn’t have had a disaster on their hands.

Liquid-fuel reactor technology was successfully developed at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s. Although the test reactor worked flawlessly, the project was shelved, a victim of Cold War strategy. But LFTRs have been gathering a lot of attention lately, particularly since the events in Japan.

A LFTR is a completely different type of reactor. For one thing, it can't melt down. It's physically impossible. And since it’s air-cooled, it doesn’t have to be located near the shore. It can even be placed in an underground vault. A tsunami would roll right over it, like a truck over a manhole cover. 

Imagine a kettle of lava that never boils. A LFTR uses liquid fuel - nuclear material dissolved in molten fluoride salt. Conventional reactors are atomic pressure cookers, using solid fuel rods to super-heat water. And that means the constant possibility of high-pressure ruptures and steam leaks. 

LFTRs don’t even use water. Instead, they heat a common gas like CO2 to spin a turbine for generating power. So if a LFTR leaks, it’s not a catastrophe. The molten salt will "pool and cool" just like lava, for easy containment, recovery, and re-use. 

LFTRs burn Thorium, a mildly radioactive material as common as tin and found all over the world. We’ve already mined enough raw Thorium to power the country for 400 years. It’s the waste at our Rare Earth Element mines.

LFTRs consume fuel so efficiently that they can even use the spent fuel from other reactors, while producing a miniscule amount of waste themselves. In fact, the waste from a LFTR reverts to background radiation levels in just 300 years. (No, that’s not a typo.) Yucca Mountain is obsolete. So are Uranium reactors.

LFTR technology has been sitting on the shelf at Oak Ridge for over forty years. But now the manuals are dusted off, and a dedicated group of nuclear industry outsiders is ready to build another test reactor and give it a go. 

Will it work? If it doesn’t, we’ll have one more reactor to retire. But if it does work - and there is every reason to believe that it will - the LFTR will launch a new global paradigm of clean, cheap, safe and abundant energy.

Let’s build one and see. 


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