Skip to comments.Rare Earth China Syndrome, Pt. 3
Posted on 12/26/2012 6:34:17 AM PST by frithguild
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory ran a Molten Salt Reactor for over 22,000 hours in the late 60's and early 70's. It used molten thorium fluoride salts as fuel, which in its liquid state is a clear liquid. Thorium is fertile, not fissile, so the Oak Ridge reactor achieved criticality with the introduction of U-239 and later U-233 as a source of neutron radiation. A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) operates at atmospheric pressure, maintaining a peak temperature of 1,300 degrees F.
A LFTR will not go kerpow like Fukushima Daiichi because you do not need power to cool fuel rods kept under multiples of atmospheric pressure. Barbarella's China Syndrome is not possible. With a loss of power in the Oak Ridge MSR, the liquid fuel in the hot tub melts a freeze plug. The fuel drains into a cooling tank where the nuclear reaction comes to a stop and the fuel becomes solid, containing radioactive materials. You can then put the frozen fuel back into the hot tub, starting the nuclear reaction anew. If the reaction becomes too hot, the liquid expands and boils, taking away the geometry you need to sustain fission. The reaction will stop if you do noting, because of spent fuel in the liquid. A LFTR is walk away safe.
A LFTR burns nearly all of the dissolved thorium rocks you put into it, rather than the best case scenario 5% of the solid fuel in a light water reactor like the mPower modular that helped win Pennsylvania for Obama. Misshapen ceramic pellets with 95% of the fuel still remaining do not need to be trucked to Yucca Mountain with a LFTR, because the liquid fuel just keeps bubbling and burning burning until it is more than 90% consumed. What can you do with a hot tub that maintains a 1,300 degree F temperature all by itself? Jiang Mianheng has a few ideas about that.
This year, Xu Hongjie spoke at the International Thorium Energy Organization in Shanghai. He described that his Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) presently employs over 300 scientists and engineers with a five year budget consisting of $500 million.
The CAS research involves the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) a high temperature, low pressure, clear liquid salt reactor, as Xu describes. Their research includes the development of reactor core design, neutron physics and thermal hydraulics. The disciplines include engineering design and the deployment of key technologies and construction techniques.
The CAS will additionally develop Molten Salt loop technology, for use in solid fuel pebble bed designs. Their work will include design and construction of molten salt loops, development of key components of molten salt loops and techniques for purification of fluoride salt such chemical separation of actinides from fuel.
The CAS has developed and tested their own formulations for Hasteloy-N, a high performance Nickel based alloy that the Oak Ridge National Laboratories very successfully employed to contain molten fluoride salts. The CAS will also develop and study the use of carbon fiber based materials for use in molten salt reactors.
It might seem puzzling why the Chinese published so much information about their work with thorium based fuel. We are used other governments acting in secret regarding nookyulur energy and only crowing about great achievements. The presentation of Xu Hongjie at the International Thorium Energy Organization meeting seemed positively mundane.
The heart of the establishment of intellectual property is a legal determination that and idea is patentable. An inventor gains the right to profit from an idea by establishing it is unique or novel. Once you have protection, you publish the idea. Once the idea is published, it is no longer unique enough to be patentable. If you have patented a good idea, people, business organizations and governments may want to use it. Then comes negotiation or litigation over whether or how much royalty the licensee must pay.
The words of Xu Hongjie is the sound of the decline of the United States. When, and I do not believe if, the time comes to build a LFTR on American soil, we will ask Jiang Mianheng how much of a royalty we will need to pay. Because right now here in America, Thorium is bad.
If the Oak Ridge lab built a molten thorium salt reactor in the 60’s, why does the author believe it is patentable by the Chinese? Maybe the reason the Chinese speak so openly about it is because we already built one decades ago.
First the patents on the Oak Ridge design expired 20 years ago and Second, the chinese probably made some patentable improvements on that design.
Another factor of the US government’s fixation on reactor design is how deeply it is in designs that can be used to feed our making of nuclear bombs. Even as that has largely passed, the institutional momentum is such that this is the only general design that industry and the regulators are comfortable with. It is a mindset that appears to have far less problems with massive spend fuel pools upwind of urban zones than with new reactor designs, even walk-away-safe ones.
If improvements in existing technology represent a significant enough advancement themselves, they can be awarded a patent.
Do you want to build a reactor that is 20X the size of the pilot-project based on the state of the art 50 years ago, or would you rather pay royalties to the party who worked through all the missing theory and worked out all the thermodynamic parameters?
A regulated nuclear utility would be force by it regulator at the State and Federal level to use the most current operating parameters and technology. All parties know that the increased costs would be borne by the customer anyway. But keep in mind that the regulator’s incentives are that demanding safety doesn’t cost him a thing unless it reaches the absurd.
Not really. Oak Ridge conducted an experiment using liquid fuel. There are thousands of technical solutions associated with commercial use that have not been tried or tested. The Chinese will rent these ideas to us because they are doing the tests, encountering unanticipated problems and figuring out solutions to the problems - all patentable.
For example, the U-233 decay cycle creates Bismuth 213, an alpha emitter with a half life of 35 minutes. It decays into a non-radioactive form. There is no naturally occurring Bismuth 213. You can attach it to a lygand that binds to a cancer cell. Alpha emissions kill the cancer cell. Think, blood cancer, pancreatic, etc.
The technical process to remove and deliver the Busmuth 213 from the liquid fuel is patentable.
We do not have nuclear power plants - we have plutonium factories.
As they are written, regulations do not apply to LFTR technology.
GE and Westinghouse will battle to keep the regulations as they are, because they make a fortune manufacturing fuel pellets. LFTR fuel - Thorium - is abundant and so mildly radioactive, you get more exposure being in Denver than the alpha emissions you will get from Thorium. GE and Westinghouse have no profit model for a LFTR.
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