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Dr. Strangelove’s Base Load Energy Solution

27 April 2012
Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb and the essence of the charater Dr. Strangelove, may have left behind a genius solution to the "Peak Oil" delima.

Thorium reactor technology addresses the problems posed by running out of oil and gas supplies and the environmental problems that are due to greenhouse gases by suggesting the use of the energy available in the resource thorium, which is much more plentiful than the conventional nuclear fuel uranium. Teller and others working at the Livermore Labs proposed the burning of thorium dissolved as a fluoride in molten salt in the minimum viscosity mixture of LiF and BeF2 together with a small amount of 235U or plutonium fluoride to initiate the process to be located at least 10m underground. The fission products could be stored at the same underground location. With graphite replacement or new cores and with the liquid fuel transferred to the new cores periodically, the power plant could operate for up to 200yr with no transport of fissile material to the reactor or of wastes from the reactor during this period.

Advantages that include utilization of an abundant fuel, inaccessibility of that fuel to terrorists or for diversion to weapons use, together with good economics and safety features such as an underground location will diminish public concerns. We call for the construction of a small prototype thorium-burning reactor.


Thorium reactor technology brings together many known ideas for nuclear power plants. Teller et.al, proposed a new combination including nonproliferation features, under-grounding, limited separations, and long-term, but temporary, storage of reactor products also underground. All these ideas are intended to make the plant economical, resistant to terrorist activities, and conserve resources in order to be available to greatly expand nuclear power if needed as envisioned by Generation IV reactor requirements.



Teller proposed the adoption of the molten salt thorium reactor that uses flowing molten salt both as the fuel carrier and as a coolant. The inventors of the molten salt reactor were E. S. Bettis and R. C. Briant, and the development was carried out by many people under the direction of A. Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The present version of this reactor is based on the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment 2- 4 that operated between 1965 and 1969 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory at 7-MW~thermal power level and is shown in Fig. 1. The solvent molten salt is lithium fluoride ~LiF, 70 mol% mixed with beryllium fluoride (BeF2, 20%), in which thorium fluoride (ThF4, 8%) and uranium fluorides are dissolved ~1% as 238U and 0.2% as 235U in the form of UF4 and UF3, UF3/UF4 0.025. This mixture is pumped into the reactor at a temperature of 560oC and is heated up by fission reactions to 700oC by the time it leaves the reactor core, always near or at atmospheric pressure. The materials for the vessel, piping, pumps, and heat exchangers are made of a nickel alloy. The vapor pressure of the molten salt at the temperatures of interest is very low ~10-4 atm, and the projected boiling point at atmospheric pressure is very high ~1400oC. This heat is transferred by a heat exchanger to a non-radioactive molten fluoride salt coolant with an inlet temperature of 450oC and the outlet liquid temperature of 620oC that is pumped to the conventional electricity-producing part of the power plant located aboveground. This heat is converted to electricity in a modern steam power plant at an efficiency of ~ 43%.

Source: THORIUM-FUELED UNDERGROUND POWER PLANT BASED ON MOLTEN SALT TECHNOLOGY, RALPH W. MOIR and EDWARD TELLER
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, August 9, 2004
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