Molten-salt Reactor to Power the World for Millions of Years


The entirety of modern civilization is built on energy demands which have been the foundation of development and the evolutions of our society. Moreover, the 21st century is especially reliant on energy and the demand is expected to be supercharged in the coming decades.

However, the problem is that this increase in energy demand neither the broad demand for energy by the society nor the society’s ability to handle climate change, affluence, poverty or the complexities of the society can be addressed effectively.

With that said, the excess energy available blinds us to the imminent doom surrounding energy and which we may possible witness. Global population is expected to rise by 22% in the three decades—to 9 billion by 2040, and fast-growing countries will inflate worldwide energy consumption by nearly double.

Fossil fuels—category of energy sources formed from archaic vegetation and organism from the Carboniferous period, are at best a temporary fix. By temporary we mean that the current reserves may run dry in one to two centuries from now and use fossil fuels would accelerate global warming.

Our current golden geese are the wind and solar power, but they are only a part of the solution—kind of like a first aid band aid. If we are to meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement by 2050, then we need to find a more viable solution.

Fusion reactors—reactors that use the same mechanisms that light the Sun, show a lot of promise but its not yet feasible, let alone to give a competitive edge or for commercial use. On the other hand, nuclear reactors look ripe for the picking.

They are close-knit, efficient, reliable, don’t emit carbon and contrary to popular belief, they are one of the safest sources of energy on our planet. Currently, they power one-fifth of the U.S, but this is projected to drop by 10% according to report published by the Idaho National Lab.

There is a silver lining from a cold war relic that could is an actual solution and not a silver bullet, but that is we ready to pull up our sleeves and get to work. Which brings us to the Molten-salt reactor a cold war relic that uses a liquid nuclear fuel source.

The molten-salt reactor is far more efficient than any other power technology today and generates a mere fraction of radioactive waste than the current commercial reactors which are solid-fuel dependent.

Furthermore, molten-salt reactors can’t theoretically melt down. According to the Chief Technology Officer of Flibe Energy—a nuclear energy startup, Kirk Sorensen, molten-salt reactors are a clean, efficient, reliable technology that rival fossil fuel sources and create energy without carbon emissions.

But it doesn’t end there, when thorium—a radioactive mining waste, is fed to the molten-salt reactor it will create as much nuclear fuel as it consumes.

According to Alvin Weinberg, if all thorium in the Earth’s crust could be extracted and used in a molten-salt reactor then we could power our entire civilization for billions of years to come. According to INL’s nuclear physicist, Hans Gougar the technology is feasible and has already been demonstrated.

Demonstrated as government scientist created dual-complementary prototypes between the 50s and 60s. However, as they weren’t particularly useful for nuclear weapons government funding was pulled and the last functional prototype closed down in ’69.

Today, foreign governments—the likes of China and India, and entrepreneurs like Sorensen are actively working to revive and refine the technology. Currently, China has set aside more than $350 million each year for developing a variation of the technology.

 


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