LFTR: Energy too Cheap to Meter? Part 1

LFTR: The moment has arrived

It’s time to choose

I sincerely believe that this is a pivotal moment in United States History. The decisions, or non-decisions, made in the the next 10 to 15 years will produce 2 results.

We can lead ourselves away from the petroleum age into the next millennium of mankind. We could use the BP leak as a starting point for a united “race to the moon” national goal.

Or we can go out like a trembling addict, taking everything down around us. Because the fact of the matter is that we ARE addicted. Addicted in the worst way.

The present course offers nothing but more environmental disasters due to greater risks, more resource wars for flimsier reasons, and general decay of what most people think America should stand for.

Strong words?

Think about the last 30 years. Honestly think about what has happened. Now take oil completely out of the picture and ask yourself, “Would those same events have happened? Would we be in a battle to save the Gulf of Mexico right now?”

Think about that phrase, “SAVE THE GULF OF MEXICO”. It doesn’t even seem possible.

It requires a complete change in the country’s energy policy. Change away from this drug, oil, and the companies that are dealing it to us.

Massive amounts of dollars are needed to go into research of alternate energy sources. Not just millions but billions. NASA was created to grant JFK his dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Why couldn’t the same thing be done for alternate energy?

I am confident that technology in several areas such as wind and solar could be improved to such a degree that it will be economically feasible to supply all of our needs if given a chance.

But until those technologies are developed, one particular technology that is already proven could be used as a stop gap measure.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor or LFTR

This technology is called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor or LFTR. Now I am the first to be against Nuclear Energy because of it’s dangers but this is something completely different. It has already been done in a megawatt facility so it is proven to work. At the very least it deserves a look.

Compare a LFTR to the current Uranium fuel Reactors

Uranium reactor: (the current method)
1. It takes 250 tons of natural uranium with 1.7 tons of U-235 for a gigawatt year of energy. We do this by turning this uranium into 35 tons of enriched uranium containing 1.15 tons of U-235. This is the actual fissionable fuel.

2. This leaves about 215 tons of “depleted uranium”, the stuff called “DU” used in weapons. It has very low radioactivity but is dangerous as a heavy metal. This 35 tons of enriched uranium creates 1 gigawatt, (GW), of power for a year.

3. It leaves after generation of this power with the current crop of Generation II reactors (all the commercial reactors now used in the US) about 35 tons of spent fuel or what people who oppose nuclear energy call “waste”. This waste must be stored eventually in a Yucca mountain depository for about 10,000 years for safety. Very radioactive!

Thorium reactor: (LFTR)
1. For the same 1 GW year of energy, we use 1 ton of natural thorium. This is introduced into the liquid fluoride core of a LFTR. ONE ton folks, or about 7 lbs a day. That’s it…equals 1 GW a year of electricity.

2. This one ton of Th in turn produces 1 ton, IN A YEAR, of waste. This waste can be isolated from the fuel salt and contains no uranium, plutonium or other long-lived actinides.

3. Within 10 years, 83% of this waste can be sold to metal recyclers and used in other products. In only 10 years. The remaining fission products can be stored for 300 years after which it is less radioactive than natural uranium ore. There would be no need for the Yucca storage or the hazards of transporting to that location

4. There are 3200 metric tons of thorium nitrate, already processed, sitting buried in the Nevada desert. This Th can be used AS IS in a LFTR. It is enough to power 32 1 GW LFTR’s for 100 years each. In other words, the fuel is already available to start the initial phase of converting our economy to a thorium energy economy.

5. There are at least 160,000 metric tons of economically usable thorium in the US with reserves of up to 600,000 to 3 million tons.

6. The LFTR cannot runaway or meltdown like a Uranium Reactor. If you stop supplying it fuel, it will die out. Also the process operates with a pressure of 1 atmosphere. so a huge pressure vessel is not needed. Terrorists cannot steal the fuel, because it is basically molten salt, and bombs cannot be made from any part of the fuel or waste.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the energy produced by a LFTR would be 3 cents per KWHr, which is about a third of the cost of coal and natural gas.

The LFTR technology was first developed in the late 1960’s because of it’s vastly improved safety potential. A megawatt prototype was brought online and was working. Then the LFTR was promptly canceled by the AEC Atomic Energy Commission. Why? A clue is the Cold War and the need for bomb materials from Uranium Reactors. But that is next time on…

Part 2: The history of the LFTR and why it was killed.

This was written by former MMA contributor David Williams.  When posts get new comments, as did this one, they are re-marketed.

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36 Responses to LFTR: Energy too Cheap to Meter? Part 1

  1. osori

    June 17, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Krell, What an amazing and interesting post. I had no idea this technology exists. I can’t wait for Part 2, I’d imagine it would take incredible efforts from use of information technology and even grassroots efforts to overcome the opposition lobbying/corruption of vested energy interests as well as the military interest you indicate.
    Great work.

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:27 am

      Thanks Oso. It does have a very interesting history and possibly a bright future. Who knows…

      • Holte Ender

        June 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

        You’re my man – This is the age of the thinking engineer.

  2. MadMike

    June 17, 2010 at 1:20 am

    I’m with Oso on this one my friend!! How absolutely cool, even if I didn’t quite understand 🙂 🙂

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

      It is a complicated subject and I will be the first to say that I am not the expert in the subject.

      The interesting thing on this is that several people and groups have brought this back in an almost fanatical way. They are the experts and I will mention several links in Part 2.

      There’s even several condensed explanation type videos that may help the more visually inspired thinkers out there.

      Ahhh…the power of the Internet!

  3. teeluck

    June 17, 2010 at 1:28 am

    That is fantastic news…I’m sure one of the rich billionaires will develop this!

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

      actually Teeluck, they hold the promise of being made quite small, not like the huge centralized monsters of before.

      A city or town could have their own power plant just for their region.

  4. justmeint

    June 17, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Excellent article I am now going to search for more information about this. Thanks heaps

  5. Gwendolyn H. Barry

    June 17, 2010 at 3:38 am

    It was a fine education!

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

      Thank Gwen. I think you know my stance on Nuclear Energy in it’s present form. Definitely against it.

      But this technology does hold some promise and I think it should be moved up to the forefront.

  6. justmeint

    June 17, 2010 at 5:28 am

    i AM READING STUFF ON THE http://www……... Have you seen this site? http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html

    I am looking forward to part two of your missive…. soon please

  7. justmeint

    June 17, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Oops… sorry, back again with another interesting link for you.

    So why haven’t you heard more about thorium power? After all, thorium is already widely used for industrial applications such as welding and lending physical strength to magnesium. And its potential use as a fuel for nuclear reactors has been understood for half a century, as Wired reports: in 1958, nuclear scientist Alvin Weinberg, then-director of the US military’s Oak Ridge National Lab published a nearly 1000-page summary of research into thorium-fueled power.

    Despite its theoretical advantages over uranium, however, Weinberg’s advocacy of thorium for nuclear reactors fell onto deaf ears as Cold War-era governments jumped onto the uranium bandwagon. The reason, Wired tells us, is that politicians were just as interested in the weapons-grade plutonium-239 that the process produced. By the time Weinberg left Oak Ridge in 1973, research into thorium-powered nuclear reactors had all but disappeared.


    seems the highest (currently) source of this THORIUM is in Australia……….

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

      Great!! I really like to see someone coming back with comments and links so quickly.

      It means that the post has created curiosity and some intellectual energy.

      I see that you have already got some of the story for the 2nd part. Cool! Made my morning, JustmeInt.

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  9. Tim Waters

    June 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I like this, a proactive response to a major crisis. Seems big money killed the original project. Perhaps now as someone said, they’ll see the profit in it and start it up again. In my mind nothing really gets done in this country unless there’s a substantial profit to be made.
    Nice work Krell.

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Tim for the kind words. It wasn’t only big money that killed it before…. but that is for Part 2….

  10. Actual

    June 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Its LFTR: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      Oops…You are right, I switched the F and the T letters. That’s what happens would you do a 2:00 am edit.


  11. justmeint

    June 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    our prime Minister who is not terribly popular and may get taken out next election – Kevin Rudd is pro nuclear…. Aussie per se are anti…… but I see there is quite a lot of research into this mineral… and we do seem to have the worlds most accessible supply on hand…… However we do mine heaps of uranium and it is a big money spinner for the government…… as with most things follow the almighty dollar! IF this mineral becomes a MUST HAVE world wide you can bet your bottom dollar Australia will mine it, gather it and sell it…. lets hope they continue research into using it as well.

    Thanks for the great work…. part two soon I hope?

    Just ME in T (Tasmania)

    • MadMike

      June 17, 2010 at 8:51 pm

      Tasmania? How cool is that. Welcome and I hope you visit often.

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 10:58 pm

      JustMeInT..from Tasmania! Cool! Welcome.

      Also anti-nuclear in a big way. But with this technology and the way it addresses the issues of before, it is worth a try on a national level.

  12. Demeur

    June 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Not to throw a fly in your ointment here but having some personal knowledge in this area I know that most nuclear plants require as much energy to build maintain and then dismantle as you get out of them. And that’s setting aside the costs of waste removal and storage. If these LTFRs require a similar containment facility then it’s a no go.

    • Krell

      June 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm

      I agree completely that ALL present day nuclear plants require more effort and energy to build, maintain, and dispose of the waste produced, than they are worth. The waste disposal with present designs, IMHO, is a deal breaker on just that fact.

      That doesn’t even include the potential of meltdown or accidental radiation leakage.

      But this technology is not like those designs at all. No pressure containment vessel is needed. Almost 100 percent efficient and the waste is does produce, 80 percent can be recycled in 10 years so you have on-site storage.

      The physics of the process will not allow it to runaway or meltdown, and bombs cannot be made from the products.

    • Joel Allen

      June 21, 2010 at 9:01 am

      Hmm. I’d have to ask for a more detailed explaination before I accept this. Something costs more than it returns? Because of subsidies? Because of poor financing? Because of larger-than-projected waste disposal costs? Perhaps there are some figures lying around on the internet that

      As far as the MSR is concerned, the main costs are associated with the reactor vessel, as it is made out of an alloy that needs to withstand probably the most intense environment on the surface of the earth. As a result it’s made of some pretty expensive materials. (http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ORNL-4528.pdf page 11)

      However, fuel fabrication costs are negligible compared to current reactors. there’s no need to process spent fuel. reactor vessel isn’t pressurised and a hell of a lot smaller. It doesn’t need to shut down to refuel. also, there’s the added bonus that it’s ‘waste’ heat can be used for a number of processes, as it opperates at very high temps.

      Kirk Sorensen estimates the cost of building a reactor at half a billion dollars. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZR0UKxNPh8 Roughly 1:10:00 mark) I assume that he’s refering to a 1000mw/e plant.

  13. John Kutsch

    June 17, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Howdy folks!
    My name is John Kutsch – I am executive director of the Thorium Energy Alliance / thoriumenergyalliance.com
    Please visit the site and feel free to contact me for the straight dope on how Thorium will power our future.
    We have lots of ways that you can help spread the word.
    I look forward to helping you all understand the elegant power of Thorium and the real opportunity we have to change the way we get our power.
    John Kutsch
    [email protected]

    • Krell

      June 18, 2010 at 2:08 am

      I have developed a great interest in this technology of the LFTR “Lifter” reactor and the possible solutions it offers.

      So, thanks to Mike and the excellent MMA site, I can get the word out just a little bit further.

      Hopefully, I haven’t mangled the facts too much on my post.

      Thanks for stopping by, John.

  14. Joel Allen

    June 21, 2010 at 8:18 am

    The licencing process in all western nations has been constructed around huge PWR and BWR. Until that is changed, I don’t think there is much of a chance that LFTR/MSR will be developed. Billionaire or no: it’s impossible to make money off anything, no matter what promises it offers, if you’re not allowed to build it.

    However, perhaps there is a chance for countries like Australia (of which im a resident) to develop regulations/licencing procedures from scratch to include all varients of nuclear reactors; existing, theoretical and ones that have not even been thought up. My preference would be completely unregulated, uncapped liability nuclear, but that will never happen.

    Also, Kevin Rudd is not pro-nuclear. Judge politicians by their actions, not their words. There is 0 effort to un-ban nuclear power in australia, thus anti-nuclear.

    Thanks for posting the Australia-specific article, Krell. It’s difficult to find many new articles on thorium (althought they’re becoming more common), let alone thorium in australia.

    Excellent article by the way.

  15. justmeint

    June 23, 2010 at 5:50 am

    Just ME back again… I have been busy with TWO blogs this past week….

    One focussing on Thorium

    The second, on other forms of clean green energy


    I would be very happy for you to read and comment (on the blog) if you felt it worthwhile.

    I have appreciated this group and the conversations.

    Cheer’s from a cold, wintery Tasmania

    Just ME in T

    • Krell

      June 23, 2010 at 11:02 am

      Hey JustME! How are things down in Tasmania? I just commented on your excellent post about the focus on Thorium. We share similar paths and ideas, my friend!

      I hope it is valid technical path taken by Australia, it holds great potential.

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  17. Bryan Elliott

    April 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Points of accuracy:
    “the stuff called “DU” used in weapons”
    Specifically, used as a kinetic hammer in conventional weapons (i.e., it’s heavy and it’s hard; the rest of a projectile falls away, and the DU slug penetrates). We’re in a nuclear context; it might be best to let people know you’re not talking about the big boomy weapons.

    “current crop of Generation II”
    The current crop is a mix of Gen II, Gen III and Gen III+ reactors.

    “Very radioactive!”
    Gram for gram, the waste from conventional reactors is actually less radioactive than the output from LFTR. This is because all LFTR produces is fission products, while 95% of the output of a conventional reactor is depleted uranium.

    Still, that’s a good thing; higher radioactivity means it lasts less time – as you say, after 10 years, about 83% of the mass of the fission products is stable, and the remainder has a 30 year half-life, meaning about 300 years for backgrounding.

    Most of this is 137Cs, which may have applications in betavoltaics, if we can work out what to do about the gammas: 137Cs beta decays to 137Ba, which is metastable with a half-life of a few minutes, and emits a ~662keV gamma ray, powerful enough to use in food sterilization.

    Anyway, the reason we have to store things in Yucca for about 250,000 years (not 10,000) is because of the actinides. They tend to have half-lives that live in the range of 1,000 years to 100,000 years – meaning their backgrounding time is between 10,000 and 1,000,000 years. Now, thankfully, the longer-lived isotopes are, by definition, significantly less radioactive – so most of the isotopes past 25,000 can be considered “backgrounded” after less than a full half-life. That still means storage for 250,000 years if we’re dumb enough to go that route.

    “This one ton of Th in turn produces 1 ton, IN A YEAR, of waste.”

    Theoretically – and, mind, I don’t doubt the theory.

    It’s dead simple math:
    The fission of U-233 produces 200.1 MeV of heat.
    The reation, in sum, takes 234 amu (1 atom U-233 + 1 neutron)
    So, the absolute energy density of U-233 is 0.855 MeV / amu, 22.9 MWh/g, or ~2.6 GWy/tonne; that means to produce 1 GWy / tonne, we only need to be 38.2% efficient. That’s totally doable, re Carnot, at the higher temperatures proposed by LFTR.

    “This Th can be used AS IS in a LFTR.”
    Incorrect; it must be processed into ThF4.

    “The LFTR cannot runaway or meltdown like a Uranium Reactor.”

    A meltdown in a LFTR would not be a melting of the fuel elements; it would be a thermal-mechanical failure of the containment (perhaps best called a melt-through). The primary design concern is that, at anything above the desired operating temperature, the fuel is significantly subcritical, and that (the fuel’s heat production plus the heat production of the maximum safe fission product load minus basic heat losses) is well below zero at a temperature well below the heat tolerance of the weakest part of the system. In the event the freeze plug system fails (i.e., a piece of graphite breaks off from the core and blocks the exit), we need to know how the reactor will behave in a power excursion.

    The way to do this is via, first, careful geometry; second sacrificing a little efficiency for a little safety (i.e., in heat retention), and third, selection of materials such that the math works out realistically.

  18. SagaciousHillbilly

    April 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    WOW! This sounds too good to be true?!?!

    . . . and it probably is.