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Kirk Sorensen – Why didn’t molten salt thorium reactors succeed the first time?

CTA says Thorium, abundant and safe nuclear power does not produce plutonium for bombs so the yanks do not want it

by Rod Adams on December 23, 2011 in New NuclearPolitics of Nuclear EnergyTechnical History StoriesThorium


Kirk Sorensen is the founder of Flibe Energy. He has been prospecting in libraries for years to learn more about a path not taken (yet). He is convinced that the way forward for energy in the United States and around the world is the molten salt thorium reactor that can produce an almost unlimited amount of power for millennia.

The concept works by starting with an initial charge of a fissile material (U-233, U-235 or Pu-239) and fissioning that in the presence of fertile thorium 232. One of the 2.5 (or so) neutrons produced by fission causes another fission, one converts Th-232 into U-233. The new U-233 is then available to fission to produce heat, neutrons and more U-233 from a small additional amount of thorium. The amount of thorium required to provide all of the energy an American would need for her entire life can fit into the palm of her hand.

Kirk gave a Google Tech talk on December 16, 2011 and shared an explanation of the politics associated with deciding to press forward with the sodium cooled fast breeder reactor as the only national program. That decision resulted in defunding and cancellation of the molten salt thorium breeder and contributed to a decision to remove Alvin Weinberg from his position as the Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

My analysis of the same events includes a wider range of actors, puts some blame on the antinuclear industry, and points to the underlying financial support for all who oppose nuclear energy that is available from the coal, oil and gas establishment, a group for whom the dream of unlimited amounts of clean power is a nightmare of epic proportions.

Perhaps I will have an opportunity in the not too distant future to travel back to Mountain View to share my version of the story about why we have not yet developed molten salt breeder reactors. I would probably expand my topic to include a discussion of some of the reasons why the US has not yet developed the same kind of incredibly creative nuclear energy industry as we have the high tech, microprocessor based industry that made Silicon Valley such a prosperous and dynamic place to live and work.

After all, when it comes to energy, Atom’s Law describes the only innovation curve with any kind of similarity to the curve that Gordon Moore sketched out for the pace of improving transistor-based microprocessors.

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