Thorium and molten salt reactors – full of problems

Thorium: Not ‘green’, not ‘viable’, and not likely   Oliver Tickell, April / May 2012. 1. Introduction ”With uranium-based nuclear power continuing its decades-long economic
collapse, it’s awfully late to be thinking of developing a whole new fuel cycle  whose problems differ only in detail from current versions.” Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, March 2009.
A number of commentators have argued that most of the problems associated with  nuclear power could be avoided by both:
 using thorium fuel in place of uranium or plutonium fuels
 using ‘molten salt reactors’ (MSRs) in place of conventional solid fuel reactor
The combination of these two technologies is known as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium  Reactor or LFTR, because the fuel is in form of a molten fluoride salt of thorium and  other elements.
In this Briefing, we examine the validity of the optimistic claims made for thorium  fuel, MSRs and the LFTR in particular.
We find that the claims do not stand up to  critical scrutiny, and that these technologies have significant drawbacks including:
 the very high costs of technology development, construction and operation.
 marginal benefits for a thorium fuel cycle over the currently utilised uranium /
plutonium fuel cycles
 serious nuclear weapons proliferation hazards
 the danger of both routine and accidental releases of radiation, mainly from
continuous ‘live’ fuel reprocessing in MSRs
 the very long lead time for significant deployment of LFTRs of the order of half  a century – rendering it irrelevant in terms of addressing current or medium  term energy supply need….
…. We therefore see little prospect that LFTRs will present an economic solution if and  when they are ever ready for large scale deployment. Any money invested in LFTRs,
whether by governments, utilities or other investors, is likely to be wasted.
Far better to invest in the renewable technologies that are already shaping our national  and global future, and whose cost is rapidly falling – in the process developing  valuable UK-based expertise and technologies, and accelerating the renewables  revolution.

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