Since thorium energy is becoming a part of the political agenda in Denmark at the moment, we decided to compile a list of its pros and cons. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments and share this with your friends and colleagues.
Good things about thorium molten salt reactors (TMSR)
No greenhouse gas emissions and no polution.
Produces more energy than traditional nuclear, fossil, wind and solar power plants. Traditional nuclear reactors use up only 5% of the fuel, with molten salt reactors we can achieve 98% of fuel utilization.
Solves nuclear waste problem. Thorium can be mixed with existing long lived nuclear waste and burned one more time. The storage time of the waste after being burned again in TMSR is decreased from 100,000 years to 300 years.
Molten Salt Reactors can be mass produced on an assembly line and thereby reach a much lower price point than any traditional nuclear power plant. Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner design fits inside a shipping container.
- TMSRs passively regulate their own temperature. If the reactor overheats, then reactivity in the core automatically slows down,
- A TMSR operate at atmospheric pressure and doesn’t use pressurized water, thus eliminating the risk of a steam explosion or need for a huge containment building,
- The fuel in a TMSR is already in liquid form, it cannot melt down and in an emergency situation it can be quickly drained out of the reactor into a passively cooled dump tank.
Eliminates threat of producing nuclear weapons. No need for Uranium enrichment, that can be maliciously modified for nuclear weapons’ material production
Thorium supply is plentiful. It is believed that there is three times more thorium than uranium.
Eliminates war and poverty. Just imagine how the world would look like if every person and country would have access to inexpensive plentiful energy, which does not harm the Planet.
Challenges related to thorium molten salt reactors (TMSR)
Main thing is that fission product processing is complicated by the presence of thorium. More research needs to be done in this area.
Toxic and radioactive elements need to be handled in a proper way. The molten salt mixture is toxic, corrosive, and radioactive, and requires materials able to withstand it affects for a long period of time. Testing and development of better physical models to predict the material’s behavior are needed.
No countries have an approval agency who is ready to approve Thorium Molten Salt Reactor designs. Approval agencies typically do not even have enough knowledge about TMSRs to approve a design before much more research results are available:
- In the beginning it is highly likely that different countries will have very different requirements for approvals and it will take a long time before such rules get standardized across the world,
- Maybe some countries will be reluctant to allow Thorium Molten Salt Reactors to start on a mix of Thorium and spent nuclear fuel. Answers from governments are needed.
Online reprocessing* of the salt in some form is needed to get the most efficient TMSR reactors. But it is still unclear what can be approved and how efficient the different design variations will be. Much more research is needed in this area.
Political power. Thorium Molten Salt Reactors are a new generation nuclear reactors. Nuclear energy research in Denmark is currently restricted. Political will is needed to support the development and research of this very promising energy source.
Let us know what you think and add your pro and cons in the comments below.
* Online reprocessing can be a number of processes, which are performed during reactor operation, such as chemical separation of fission products, for later storage, and helium bubble extraction of noble gases, for improved neutron economy. These tend to utilize the fluid nature of the salt mixture to better the reactor characteristics.
We have got inspired by these sources: