Monday, April 9, 2012

Near Unlimited Energy if Only We Used It

Nuclear reactors have made the news a good amount lately, due to the Japanese nuclear disaster. This has been giving nuclear energy a pretty bad name in people's eyes, but did you know that there is a much safer alternative to the current Uranium and Plutonium rectors? One alternative is called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (aka LFTR) and is a considerably better energy resource for many reasons.

A heavy water cooled fuel reactor will use 0.7% of uranium's energy, while a light fuel reactor will use about 0.5%. Thorium can be used over 200 times more efficiently. Since Thorium is almost completely used, this reduces the waste in comparison to other nuclear waste by a factor of hundreds, and in comparison to fossil fuels by a factor of millions.

Thorium is four times more common in the Earth's crust than Uranium. It has so much energy inside of it and it can be used so efficiently that one could hold a lifetime supply of Thorium in one's hand.

The normal boiling point of water isn't hot enough to generate energy effectively, so it is put under 70 atmospheres of pressure in a normal reactor in order to increase the boiling point. This means that if a normal reactor loses pressure it can trigger a meltdown because the water will boil away to steam, and the fuel will no longer be cooled so it will melt itself and release radioactive fission products.

The LFTR uses a liquid fuel, so it is already melted. This means that it doesn't have to operate at high pressure and doesn't have the danger of a pressure loss meltdown. In an LFTR there would be a piece of frozen salt kept frozen by blowing cool gas over the outside of the pipe it is in. If the reactor is somehow without power, the salt plug will melt and the fuel will drain down into an underground sealed tank. This means that there is no way for the nuclear fuel to become a threat to the population, because in the worst case scenario it will be trapped underground.

Upon hearing these reasons for using LFTR, you might be wondering why we aren't switching to it today. The problem is that a prototype would cost a few billion dollars (pocket change in comparison to defense funding) and it would be impossible to weaponize the technology, so the government has no interest in writing grants to further research in LFTR technology. Hopefully sometime in the future funding can be found to work out the kinks and we can use this incredible technology to humanity's benefit.

Mike Selden (C)


  1. It's terrible that nuclear reactors have such a terrible stigma surrounding how they function and the dangers they pose. Contrary to popular belief nuclear reactors are one of the cleanest forms of energy generation, and the foremost precaution is taken to ensure safety. Movies and news networks have a bad habit of making these reactors look much more temperamental and unstable than they really are. LFTR is a step in the right direction to getting people to really realize the benefits that these reactors really posses. If only an efficient way or re-using or disposing of the byproduct came about, we would have a emission free - clean power source.

    Jeff Keating (2)

    1. Definitely, if we could fully find a way to get rid of all of the waste it would be perfect. Althogh the LFTR comes close, the amount of Thorium required to power a person's entire lifetime can be held in one hand, and of that less than 1% of it becomes waste. But still, that adds up, especially with population growth and whatnot.

      Mike Selden (C)

  2. great news. its such a pity that the government wouldn't want to further the research simply because it cannot be weaponized. I mean, think of all the benefits we'll be able to get, and how it'll help the environment. We're looking for greener and more efficient energy aren't we? In all, very interesting and informative article.

    -Hermann Kam