Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor has the Security, Economic Efficiency, and Environmental Cleanliness to Supply the World’s Energy Needs; Solar Photovoltaic, Solar Central Receiver or Concentrated Solar Systems Could Potentially Augment It

--Source: Terrestrial Energy Canada and USA

Daniel A. Nelson


This paper explores the environmental and economic trade-offs of the available electricity producing medium. After review, it appears that the The Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor (MSR) has the security, economic efficiency, and environmental cleanliness to supply the world’s energy needs. 

It also appears that solar photovoltaic, solar central receiver or concentrated solar systems could potentially augment the electricity produced by the molten salt nuclear reactor in regions with ideal conditions.

“I’m helping Terrestrial Energy build a uranium burning, molten salt reactor, because it’s a ‘real’ reactor, built by ‘real’ scientists and ‘real’ engineers that will produce ‘real’ power and will solve many of today’s ‘real’ problems.

John Kutsch, VP of Business Development for Terrestrial Energy

“I have a favorite molten salt reactor. My reactor is free. It's in the sky, 93 million miles away. You can store its energy in molten salt. It is being done today. You can generate electricity for 24 hours a day. So the impermanency problem has been solved.”

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

Keywords: molten salt nuclear reactor, solar photovoltaic, solar central receiver, concentrated solar systems, wind turbine, natural gas turbine, energy production, electricity production, environmental impact, environmental trade-offs

The Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor has the Security, Economic Efficiency, and Environmental Cleanliness to Supply the World’s Energy Needs; Solar Photovoltaic, Solar Central Receiver, or Concentrated Solar Systems Could Potentially Augment It

In Earth Science Biology class at College of Lake County Illinois, the Professor, a retired scientist, explained trade-offs to the class. He started one of his lectures by saying that “everything has a trade-off,” in other words, every benefit has a cost. It was explained that the trade-offs that have come from energy production are a cost to the environment, in air, water, underground water, and soil pollution. (Schmidt, L 2014)

The Professor taught in a pragmatic way. His assertion was that there is still plenty of oil, natural-gas, and coal available on Earth, but that the environmental cost of getting to it is high and has been increasing: Because drilling has to go deeper and farther horizontally into the Earth’s mantle to reach fossil fuel resources. More than half of America’s oil is now being extracted from sand, 90% of our natural gas is being extracted from horizontal fracking; and coal ash contains toxic heavy metals. And tons of it, from hundreds of years of coal burning, is spilling into American rivers. He went on to say; “But this is what we have to do unless an adequate alternative is found.” (2014)

A review of today’s lectures and literature on the environmental trade-offs of the choices in energy production was made to either support or refute the professor’s claims. If the Professor’s claims were found to be supported, this would provide a motivation to search for an adequate alternative.


The Environmental Trade-Offs of Oil

Two examples of the environmental trade-offs of current oil extraction are:

The first example is the destruction of the boreal forests, and the vast amounts of water and natural gas that is used for the extraction process of oil from sand. An expanding area, currently the size of Florida, in Northern Alberta Canada is now toxic, along with hundreds of billions of gallons of once pristine water, above and below ground. Environmentalists claim that this area, and the contaminated water, will likely remain toxic for thousands of years. In 2008, ducks were filmed dying thousands at a time, while landing in the toxic lakes that span for miles throughout the area. The outcry from this video being seen by the public caused a veil of secrecy to be put up around the site, and new video or pictures of it are difficult to find. A spike in rare cancer rates has also been noted amongst the indigenous Cree Indians, who were the original owners of the land. (Thompson, N, Radford, T 2011)

In the extraction process, natural-gas is burned underground, over hundreds of square miles, for seven years or more, in order to get the sand hot enough to separate the oil, and then fresh water is pumped under extreme pressure to extract the oil. As the oil level drops; more and more water is needed to extract it. The oil companies can use all the water they need, because they are not charged for it.

Estimates claim that America now receives 54% of its oil this way, more than it receives from Saudi Arabia. (National Wildlife Federation 2016; NRDC.org 2016; Thompson, N, Radford, T 2011)

The second example of the environmental trade-offs of current oil extraction is the 4 million barrels of oil, (168 million gallons) that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. (NOAA Educational Resources 2016) It was explained by one scientist spoken to, that drilling from the Horizon went so deep and so far horizontally, that the leak is still flowing and will likely never be fully sealed. 

The Environmental Trade-Offs of Coal

Build coal fired power plants to keep people warm and turn the lights on for billions of people in China and India and particulate matter changes the weather patterns over America’s West; this is an apparent intensifier of California’s drought. (Smithsonian.com 2016) Burning coal (and oil) also pumps carbon into the atmosphere, which is absorbed by the oceans, turning them acidic; this in turn erodes everything made of calcium, and is now a serious concern of scientists worldwide. This erosion of calcium has been observed to soften the shells of the sea creatures and diminish the coral reefs of the world, and has the potential to destroy the food chain at its base. This in turn would likely starve everything else, eventually affecting the human race in a negative way. (NOAA.gov PMEL Carbon Program 2016)

As read in a paid-for report from the Heritage Institute; the carbon left in the atmosphere allegedly changes weather patterns globally. And apparently; although the Earth is still on the cool side of normal globally, temperature shifts are becoming more extreme in major geographic areas; causing devastation to crops.

In 2008, a dam made of earth broke, spilling 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry into the Emory River in Tennessee. A passage taken from the Physicians for Social Responsibility explains the toxicity of coal ash: “Coal ash – the waste material left after coal is burned – contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic. And disposal of the growing mounds of coal ash is creating grave risks to human health.” (2016)

This is only one of three major spills in the U.S., the latest spilling 39,000 tons of ash into the Dan River in North Carolina in 2014. (Watchdog.org 2015)

The Environmental Trade-Offs of Natural-Gas

Author Gregory Zuckerman, speaking at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, stated that 90% of Natural Gas extraction in the United States utilizes hydraulic fracking, and that methane migration into the water tables, caused by fracking, is a concern, but is manageable. He also stated that the sensational videos of people lighting explosive natural-gas from the faucets in their sinks, is a natural phenomenon that has occurred for hundreds of years, in various regions in the United States, and that there are three towns in America named Burning Springs for this reason. (Zuckerman, G 2014) 

Zuckerman also states that: the (undisclosed to the public) chemicals used in fracking could eventually rise from extraction points to the water table, but that it is unlikely. Tremors do happen, but aren’t severe. Fracking can be done properly, but often isn’t. And that the casing surrounding methane wells have to be re-done or ‘remediated’ from time to time to keep them from leaking. This is a concern. (2014) Who will remediate the wells when they’re no longer producing and turning a profit?

The Environmental Trade-Offs of Wind Turbines

Put up wind turbines to create power and birds get killed by blade strikes. The American Bird Conservancy claims 600,000 bird strikes in 2012 and projects numbers into the millions as more wind turbines are built. Some estimates discovered are lower, claiming around 375,000 bird strikes per year. There were no articles discovered claiming that bird strikes do not happen. (American Bird Conservancy 2016)

In addition to the cost in wildlife, new natural gas turbine power plants have to be built along every new run of wind turbines to manage ‘load-based economics.’ Load-based economics explains that you can’t ramp up and wind down a large power plant fast enough to manage the wind surges and lulls that happen. The only kind of turbine that can be throttled up and down fast enough to keep power up when there is no wind, and throttled down when the wind picks up, is a natural gas turbine. So with every new tract of wind turbines built, the amount of constant power coming out of the main plant is dropped further and further to keep overloads from happening. (Wind Wise Massachusetts 2011)

The power that’s not coming from the main plant then comes from natural gas powered plants. These kinds of plants were never meant to run 24 hours a day, but now they do. According to Wind Wise:

“The newer natural gas turbines called Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) are about 60% efficient. This is about twice as efficient as the older Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGT). But when CCGTs are used to balance the fluctuating wind energy, they are forced to run as OCGTs cutting efficiency in half.” (Wind Wise Massachusetts 2011)

With every new tract of wind turbines built, a State now spends millions of dollars a year more than it had to before on each new natural gas turbine operation and fuel, which pollutes the air with heat and nitrous oxide. In Illinois, its nuclear power is still running, but has to produce less power than it used to, in order to maintain load-based-economics. The rest now comes from nitrous oxide emitting, natural gas plants. If this is not inefficient and a waste of resources, an adequate explanation as to how it is not, has not yet been discovered.

Here is a quote from National Geographic dot com that sums up wind turbines:

“Some people think wind turbines are ugly and complain about the noise the machines make. The slowly rotating blades can also kill birds and bats, but not nearly as many as cars, power lines, and high-rise buildings do. The wind is also variable: If it's not blowing, there's no electricity generated.” (Society, N. G. 2016)

Would you want to look at one from your living room window every day? Could you sell your house if a track of them went up next it? How do you feel about wind turbine tracks requiring the use of natural-gas turbines to support them?

The Environmental Trade-Offs of Solar Photovoltaic and Central Receiver

The manufacture of solar panels in China is toxic.   The BBC reports that 500 people protested at the Zhejiang Jinko Solar company because of dead fish in the river. (2016) Students in International Business Class at Depaul, from Zhejiang; that this author has talked with, have said that they get sick from air pollution when they go home.

Solar Facts and Advice dot com explains that the films in solar panels that generate electricity are made of cadmium telluride. Cadmium telluride is toxic if eaten, inhaled or handled without gloves. The author who wrote the article for Solar Facts and Advice also writes that mining web-sites he has read, state that telluride and tellurium supplies have reached their maximum output. (2016)

Thousands of rare birds are flying into solar panels and are being incinerated, possibly many more than strike wind turbine blades.

J. Upton, in his article; “Solar Farms Threaten Birds - Certain avian species seem to crash into large solar power arrays or get burned by the concentrated rays,” written for Scientific American dot com and Climate Central, explains the ‘Lake-Effect.’

“Much of the problem appears to lie in the “lake effect,” in which birds and their insect prey can mistake a reflective solar facility for a water body, or spot water ponds at the site, then hone in on it. Because of the power of the lake effect, the federal investigators described such solar farms as “mega-traps” in their report.” (2014)

The article also explains that a 550 MW facility in Southern California takes up 4,400 acres. 4,400 acres is 6.9 square miles. (ScientificAmerican.com Upton, J., & Central, C. 2014) In comparison, a 600 MW uranium burning, molten salt nuclear reactor will take up 1/3 the space of a light water reactor or a fossil fuel burner; about the size of small factory building. (LeBlanc, D 2015)

What will happen to the millions of toxic solar panels when they wear out? If the supply of cadmium telluride panels increases exponentially to meet worldwide demand, how much more toxic will the increased manufacturing be? How much more avian death will occur as solar panels begin to cover tens or hundreds of thousands of acres?

The economy of solar photovoltaic power also came into question. Warren Buffet, in a letter to his investors, stressed that the only reason solar photovoltaic power is profitable is because of government subsidies. Anshuman Sahoo, in a lecture he gave on The Rapidly Changing Economy of Photovoltaic, confirmed this. Even so, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet have invested billions of dollars into solar. (Lacey, S 2016; Sahoo, A 2016) 

Sahoo explains the cost competiveness of solar PV in three parts:

1. Upfront capital costs
2. Periodic operating costs
3. Applicable tax rules

The upfront capital costs of solar PV are much higher than those of fossil fuels; however the periodic operating costs are lower. The tax factor and subsidies are then the deciding factors as to whether or not solar is cost competitive. (Sahoo, A 2016)

Lectures and literature suggest that solar photovoltaic panel developers have recently improved photovoltaic efficiency. But the panels aren’t the only issue or even the primary issue when dealing with solar photovoltaic power, electrical storage is. An article written by Joshua A. Krisch Jan 21, 2014 for Popular Mechanics dot com has a paragraph that sums up this paradigm.

“While engineers build cheaper and more efficient solar panels to soak up more of the sun's rays, it's storage that needs a breakthrough so that solar energy can be used when the sun's not shining. Batteries, at least those we have today, just aren't cutting it. "We need to find a way to store massive amounts of electrical energy," says Michael Aziz, a professor of energy technologies at Harvard University. "That's the single biggest obstacle to getting a large fraction of our electricity from solar power."
(Krisch, J. A. 2015)

Mr. Krisch’s article also sheds some light on Dr. Arjun Makhijani claim, stated farther down in this paper, that molten salts are being used to store solar heat, and that this has solved the solar photovoltaic impermanency problem. (NPR.org 2016)

“Other methods of storing solar power for a rainy day involve converting the sun's energy into heat, which is then captured in thermal storage tanks. Abengoa, a renewable energy firm based in Spain, has already built several solar plants that store excess energy in molten salt, which can absorb extremely high temperatures without changing state. Abengoa recently secured yet another contract to build a salt-based 110 mega-watt solar storage plant in Chile, which should be able to store 17 hours of energy in reserve.” (Krisch, J. A. 2015)

This sounds promising and warrants further study.

A Better Solution?

After examination of the lectures and literature on today’s energy choices, information suggesting that the molten salt reactor’s benefit in energy output is greater than its environmental trade-offs was discovered.

The Molten Salt Reactor, according to John Kutsch, Kirk Sorensen, Stephen Boyd, David Leblanc, and Richard Martin, is apparently an emission free, nonexplosive (zero pressure), nuclear power that produces a fraction of the waste of the old designs, and is proliferation resistant. The molten salt reactor is apparently also capable of producing an enormous amount of electrical power, with almost no use of water resources.

The Environmental Trade-Offs of the Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor

The original Molten Salt Reactor Experiment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was shut down in 1969, and the radioactive fluoride salts were left to sit in drain tanks till 1997. After 28 years, the Department of Energy was forced to study the feasibility of re-melting the salts in order to partition the uranium from the salts or leaving them in solid form. A question arose as to whether or not salts that had been sitting that long could be re-melted safely. If the uranium salt mixture was still stable and could be melted, then a process called fluorination could be performed on the molten salts. Fluorination uses a fluorine gas to achieve a chemical separation of the uranium from the salts. This appeared to be the preferred option. Options also existed of hydroflourination and electrorefining. These options required further study to be deemed feasible. (National Research Council, 1997 P. 45-53)

On page 83, the National Research Council Panel determined that long term storage of the recovered material was the best option. Radiation produced fluorine gas was a worry, but the panel determined that in the absence of water, the salts could be stored safely.

From the lecture videos, the inherent safety of the Molten Salt Reactor appears to come from two primary factors of operation. First, the MSR runs at atmospheric pressure, therefore it is not explosive. And second, the molten salts used for fueling and cooling are held together by ionic bonds and not chemical bonds, so they remain salts while being exposed to great temperatures and neutrons. According to David LeBlanc, CTO of Terrestrial Energy in Canada, this means that there are nearly no chemical reactions inside the reactor; creating elements such has hydrogen, which can cause problems. This, and the heat transfer properties of molten salts, makes them ideal for cooling and fueling a reactor. (Boyd, Dr. S 2015; Sorensen 2, K 2014; LeBlanc, D 2015; Kutsch 2, J 2015)

Stephen Boyd, John Kutsch, Kirk Sorenson and David LeBlanc, all experts on the Molten Salt Reactor, unanimously state in their lectures, that the Molten Salt reactor is proliferation resistant. Proliferation resistance means that the MSR isn’t effective at making nuclear weapons. Although proliferation is not impossible, Stephen Boyd states that he thinks the use of the radioactive molten salts could be monitored and metered, to the point of making its theft and misuse close to impossible. (Boyd, Dr. S 2015)

Dr. Boyd also explains that the molten salt reactor’s industrial use benefit can be more lucrative and environmentally beneficial than from producing electrical power alone. His lecture explains that the 700 degree Celsius temperature that the MSR runs at is perfect for producing ammonia, cracking petroleum products, and making cement. Sorensen points out that this temperature is also perfect for desalinating water.

Because the heat used in industrial production would no longer come from burning fossil fuels, and the production of electricity would also no longer come from burning fossil fuels, CO2 emissions would drop worldwide by more than 60%.

The economy of having a reliable, cost stable, heat source in industrial production would be worth trillions of dollars in reduced fuel cost and reduced waste and emissions management.
(Boyd, Dr. S 2015; Sorensen 2, K 2014)

David LeBlanc, in his lecture to the Thorium Energy Alliance TEAC7 conference, explains that the Molten Salt Reactor is ideal for burning up Transuranic Waste into useful energy. Transuranic is defined as any element having a higher number than Uranium, which is 92. (LeBlanc, D 2015) Transuranic waste is defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s glossary as: “Material contaminated with transuranic elements—artificially made, radioactive elements, such as neptunium, plutonium, americium, and others—that have atomic numbers higher than uranium in the periodic table of elements.”

LeBlanc also explained that engineering will have to be developed to deal with:

  • Online fission product removal - small amounts of plutonium will develop
  • Tritium control - a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that can pass through metal walls; difficult but manageable
  • Reactive temperature coefficients - are negative, which is a good thing
  • Use of highly enriched uranium - eliminated in the final IMSR400 design
  • Off gas handling - understood and manageable
  • Nobel metal plate out in exchangers - an engineering challenge
  • Long term corrosion or radiation damage - an engineering challenge
  • Graphite replacement options - understood and manageable

The Molten Salt Burner Reactor, Terrestrial Energy in Canada is developing, is claimed to burn 1/6th as much nuclear fuel as current reactor designs, and generate 1/9th the waste. Multiplying 1/6 x 1/9, the IMSR400 is expected to produce 1.85% the waste of current designs.

One reactor core in the IMSR400’s life cycle will have to be disposed of every 13 years. After seven years, the old core will go offline and the fuel will be pumped to the new core. The old core will then remain in its housing to cool down for six more years. The old core will be used to store removed graphite that has to be replaced from the plant’s operation, as well as the materials inherent to the core that were not recycled to the new core. A reactor core is about the size of one semi-trailer for a 300 MW design, to two semi-trailers, side by side, in size for a 600 MW design. (LeBlanc, D 2015; Irish, S 2015)

Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy in Canada, presented the concept of ‘The Energy Trilemma’ in his speech on the economics of his company’s product, the Integral Molten Salt Reactor 400. The Energy Trilemma asks the question; does the Integral Molten Salt Reactor provide the security, economy, and environmental cleanliness to provide the world’s energy needs? According to Irish, the economic justification for the Molten Salt Reactor stems from the growing demands of six billion people wanting to achieve the Western middle-class life style. And that goal can no longer come from the energy sources that the Western world used; because those sources are too environmentally destructive and dwindling in supply. (2015)

Irish claims in his speech, that Small Modular Reactors, which include the Molten Salt Reactor, can be built at the same cost as fossil fuel burning plants, but once made, will be cheaper to run, because nuclear fuel isn’t subject to the same commodity market fluctuations as Gas, Oil, and Coal. He also claims that these plants will be cleaner and safer to operate than fossil fuel burning plants. (2015)

A Brief History of the Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor

In 1968, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Alvin Weinberg, the creator of our current nuclear technology; the light water nuclear reactor, created an apparently safe, clean, proliferation resistant, method of producing electricity, with his team’s development of the Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor. (Hoglund, B 2016; Sorensen 2, K 2014) This technology, if utilized worldwide, would apparently; reduce carbon emissions by 60% or more, could not explode as light water reactors have done, and would produce an estimated 1.85% the waste of the current light water reactor technology. (Irish, S 2015; Kutsch 2, J 2015; LeBlanc, D 2015)
Yet this technology was eliminated by President Richard Nixon, and ignored by President Ford and Carter. Nixon killed the original Oak Ridge National Laboratory MSRE (Molten Salt Reactor Experiment), because Nixon mandated jobs to go to California, where the Light Water Nuclear Reactor was being developed, and not Tennessee, where the MSRE was running. The actual conversation he had with the first director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can be heard at source. (Sorensen 2, K 2014; que to 20:00) More detail as to Ford and Carter’s decisions can be found at source (Sorensen 1, K 2011), although Carter’s and Ford’s actual reasons for ignoring the technology can only speculated.

A decade after the first MSR was shut down in 1972; Alvin Weinberg’s research was accidently re-discovered by Kirk Sorenson in a closet at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, about to be thrown out by janitor. Kirk Sorenson saved this material and had NASA digitize it. Since then, China and Canada have been franticly developing this technology. (Kutsch 2, J 2015; Sorensen 1, K 2011; Sorensen 2, K 2014) China is in the lead and planning to run a two megawatt test in 2018 and a fully functional system by 2025. (Kutsch 1, J 2015) Terrestrial Energy in Canada and ThorCon are both developing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Both companies plan to have Molten Salt Reactor prototypes working by 2020. Canada’s Uranium Burning Integral Molten Salt Reactor appears to be significantly further along in development than ThorCon’s fully modular Thorium MSR. ThorCon is a startup company with eight members as of this writing. (World Nuclear Association 2016; LeBlanc, D 2015; Thorcon Power 2016)

The Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor vs. Solar Photovoltaic and Central Receiver

The only dissenting opinion to the molten salt reactor being the most effective energy producing medium available with the fewest trade-offs found, came from a proponent of solar.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, debated Richard Martin, author of the book "SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future," on National Public Radio’s show; Science Friday with Ira Flatow. (2016) Thorium is one of the two most likely fuel sources for the molten salt reactor, the other being 2-4% grade unenriched uranium. (LeBlanc, D 2015)

Makhijani’s arguments were that the Molten Salt Reactor could be less proliferation resistant than claimed and possibly produce more waste than claimed. These arguments were rebutted by Martin, and Martin’s rebuttals are nearly verbatim to the information obtained from the resources reviewed.

An interesting claim made by Makhijani was that the use of molten salt has been developed to help solve the impermanency problem of storing solar generated heat. This claim was supported in an article by Joshua A. Krisch about solar heat power in Chile and warrants further study. (Krisch, J. A. 2015) Makhijani’s final claim is that it is solar power that we should be pursuing and not the molten salt reactor, and that America should be following Germany’s energy producing example. (NPR.org 2016)

John Kutsch and Eric Sorenson, both proponents of the molten salt nuclear reactor, main arguments against solar, are that solar isn’t capable of producing enough power to meet electrical power demands across varying environments, worldwide. John Kutsch also expressed concern about the environmental cost of solar panels being manufactured in China. And even proponents of solar, like Anshuman Sahoo; admit that the solar photovoltaic economy is supported by government subsidies. (Sahoo, A 2016)

In researching Makhijani’s claim that Germany’s energy producing example should be pursued by the U.S., the following information was discovered: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration: 55% of Germany’s energy comes from fossil fuel, 15% come from nuclear, and 31% come from wind and solar. That adds up to 101%. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 7% of the 31% of Germany’s alternative energy comes from solar photovoltaic. That leaves 24% to wind turbine power which, in America, uses natural-gas turbines to maintain electrical load. This could imply that more fossil fuels are being used in Germany than stated. And according to the MIT Technology Review and the World Nuclear Association, Germany’s decreased use of nuclear reactors, from 17 down to 8 has caused an increase in carbon emissions and a substantial increase in energy costs. Also, there are articles explaining Germany’s growing intolerance to ugly wind turbines and the complete economic failure of Germany’s solar photovoltaic program. Makhijani’s claims would seem to be less than supported.

However, PVTech.org explains that India’s Chinese manufactured, solar photovoltaic module imports are expanding dramatically and that India’s solar photovoltaic usage is growing exponentially. Perhaps this supports the hypothesis that the effectiveness of solar photovoltaic varies by region? Also; claims that solar heat, central receiver power in Chile, collected with molten salts, seemingly has promise.

(U.S. Energy Information Administration 2016; Solar Energy Industries Association 2016; World Nuclear Association 2 2016; PVTech.org 2016; Krisch, J. A. 2015; NPR.org 2016) 

The Conclusions of Peer Reviewed Studies on Photovoltaic Solar, Central Receiver Solar and Ivanpah’s Concentrating Solar

“Calculating data from the paper; Environmental, technical and financial feasibility study of solar power plants by RET Screen, according to the targeting of energy subsidies in Iran;” based on the papers costs projected for a 12 kW solar photovoltaic power plant. A 600 MW solar photovoltaic power plant, which would be equivalent in electricity output to Terrestrial Energy’s largest molten salt nuclear reactor construct, would have an estimated initial cost of 5.5 billion dollars, and estimated operation and maintenance costs of $20,400 annually (in Iran), and a 10.8% annual cost inflation rate. The plant would have a projected lifespan of 20 years. In all three of the papers projected scenarios, the cost of electricity was projected at 17.5 Cents per kWh. Comparatively, Simon Irish of Terrestrial Energy claims a cost $40 to $50 per MWh, which calculates to 4 to 5 cents per kWh for their IMSR400 molten salt nuclear reactor. (Mirzahosseini, A. H., & Taheri, T. 2012 P. 2809; Irish, S 2015)

A study done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) claims solar panels can retain 88% of their original capacity after 25 years. This calculation uses the mean degradation rate of solar panels of .5% per year. For this reason, long term warranties for solar photovoltaic panels are usually written for 25 years. (Jordan, D. C., & Kurtz, S. R. 2013 P. 22)

This potentially explains the 20 year projected lifespan for a solar plant in the harsh desert environment of Iran, as the projected panel degradation in this environment is likely higher than the mean.
The conclusion of the study; “Greenhouse-gas emissions from solar electric- and nuclear power: A life-cycle study,” is that traditionally nuclear has had an advantage in Greenhouse-gas emission reduction over solar. However solar and nuclear are projected to be equivalent in reducing Greenhouse-gas emissions in the future. (Fthenakis, V. M., & Kim, H. C. 2007 P. 2556)

“The Evaluation of the potential of central receiver solar power plants: Configuration, optimization and trends,” explains solar heated, molten salt power plants closely equivalent in their scale to the molten salt nuclear reactors being developed by Terrestrial Energy in Canada. The solar central receiver plants studied were 290 to 500 MW in scale, and those being developed by Terrestrial are 300 to 600 MW in scale. (Avila-Marin, A. L., Fernandez-Reche, J., & Tellez, F. M. 2013 P. 287; LeBlanc, David 2015)

Late in this review, official specification on California’s Ivanpah CSP system was discovered and added here. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station is the largest solar thermal tower system in the world. Ivanpah is a concentrating solar power (CSP) system, and not a central receiver system, as it does not use molten salt storage to maintain heat when the sun is down. It is located on the California Side of the Nevada border, just off of US 15, in America. Ivanpah consists of a total of three units; Ivanpah 1 has a total capacity of 126 MW, Ivanpah 2 and 3 are both 133 MW each, for a total production of 392 MW. Its mirror field spans 3,500 acres. (Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System 2016)

Official specification on the plant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory lists the Ivanpah’s concentrating solar system at 28.72% annual solar-to-electricity efficiency as of 9-9-2016, and the plant utilizes a natural gas backup system. Surprisingly, the article; “Exegetic analysis and economic evaluation of central tower receiver solar thermal power plant,” shows that this efficiency is high compared to an average of 24.15% to 25.08%, and their highest recorded efficiency of 26.10% to 27.10% at the Jodhpur Solar Plant near Nandia Kalan village in Rajasthan. Calculating Indian rupee to U.S. dollar, electricity costs for Jodhpur are claimed at 8 cents per kWh. (Reddy, V. S., Kaushik, S. C., & Tyagi, S. K. 2014)

Would adding a molten salt storage system eliminate the need for a natural gas backup at Ivanpah? Would a molten salt storage system increase the systems efficiency?

J. Upton’s article in Scientific American and Climate Central cites official U.S. government studies on the avian death caused by large scale solar fields in California and Utah. This would imply that Ivanpah was very likely one of the solar killing fields being described.

Cost per kWh for either central receiver solar power plants or Ivanpah’s concentrating solar power plant could not be found in peer reviewed studies or in official government resources. Outside of scholarly works, the cost per kWh of large scale central receiver solar plants is estimated at 12 to 15 cents per kWh and projected to eventually fall to around 5 cents per kWh. Most of the discovered peer reviewed data on central receiver solar power dates back to the 1980’s.

The Conclusions of Peer Reviewed Studies on the Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor

“The molten salt reactor (MSR) in generation IV: Overview and perspectives,” concludes: “Molten salt fluorides as coolants offer interesting features such as chemical inertia, very good transport properties, strong irradiation resistance, high thermal stability and boiling points. They share some advantages with liquid metal coolants like reactor operation at low pressure. This constitutes a significant safety and cost advantage.”

(Serp, J., Allibert, M., Beneš, O., Delpech, S., Feynberg, O., Ghetta, V., Heuer, D., ... Zhimin, D. 2014 P. 317)

The risks for the molten salt reactor they conclude are:

“~risks of corrosion by the impurities (oxygen, water mainly) dissolved into a molten salt coolant or by the fission products present in fuel salt are a significant issue in MSRs that has been the subject of R&D work since the 1950s.” (Serp, J., Allibert, M., Beneš, O., Delpech, S., Feynberg, O., Ghetta, V., Heuer, D., ... Zhimin, D. 2014 P. 317)

“Recommendations for a restart of molten salt reactor development,” projected the costs of producing power from the molten salt reactor in the late 1970’s at 3.8 cents per kWh. The materials expected to be used in its construction were nickel alloy and carbon composites with graphite moderation. David LeBlanc of Terrestrial Energy mentioned using similar building materials. (Moir, R. W. P. 1856-1857; LeBlanc, D 2015)

Moir’s conclusion stated: 

“The MSR has so many favorable features, many discussed here, that one is at a loss to explain why the reactor has not already been developed.” (Moir, R. W. P. 1856-1857)


China and Canada are investing the resources to definitively find out if the molten salt nuclear reactor is markedly better in environmental cleanliness, economic efficiency, and safety; and as manageable in security, as the current power producing medium, and it appears they will both know by the mid 2020’s.

During review of the literature on today’s energy producing choices, consistent information was discovered supporting the claim that extracting and burning oil, coal, and natural gas, have trade-offs that come from damage to the environment, in the form of; soil, water, underground water, and air pollution.

Proponents of the use of alternative power generating medium, support this assertion to various degrees, enough so, that the assertion of environmental harm coming from the use and extraction of fossil fuels is considered by many to be commonly accepted knowledge.

Accepting that environmental harm does in fact come from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and that these environmental trade-offs are increasing in severity, the use of fossil fuels will be excluded from the selection of possible future energy producing medium.

Also during the review, it was discovered that the use of wind turbine power increases the use of natural-gas, as every track of wind turbines requires a natural-gas turbine power plant to run twenty-four hours a day, in order to maintain electrical load balance. Because wind turbine use increases natural-gas consumption and because their operation has seemingly significant environmental trade-offs of their own, wind turbines will also be excluded from the selection of possible future energy producing medium.

The two remaining energy producing options are solar power and the molten salt nuclear reactor. After review, it appears that the molten salt nuclear reactor is the most efficient power generating medium with the fewest environmental trade offs. Although solar power may be an effective augmentation to the molten salt nuclear reactor power in regions with ideal conditions.

If you build a 600 MW uranium burning, molten salt nuclear reactor in the Arctic Circle or the Sahara desert, you produce 600 MW of power and have 1 core of waste every to dispose of every 13 years; a core that is about the size of two semi-trailers side by side. The materials used in the manufacture of the reactor aren’t inherently toxic. The environment around a reactor; the air, soil and water, are all left remarkably clean, especially when compared to other types of power plants. It is likely the environment surrounding the MSR reactor will be pristine. It’s important to remember that the MSR is NOT the light water nuclear reactor the public is used to. The molten salt nuclear reactor doesn’t use the water resources of current designs, and any off-gassing will be cleaned before leaving the plant.

If you build a 600 MW solar photovoltaic, central receiver or concentrated solar power plant in the Arctic Circle or the Sahara desert, you will produce however much power environmental conditions will allow, often much less than 600 MW. The Sahara may seem a better choice than the arctic, until you consider sand storms covering the panels or destroying them. Different regions will wear out panels at different times. The manufacture of solar photovoltaic panels and the cadmium telluride in the panel’s film is toxic and the panels will eventually be discarded; millions of them. The environment surrounding a solar panel farm is harsh; with thousands of acres of panels that will prevent anything from growing. Also, the scientific community has become aware of the ‘Lake Effect;’ where vast numbers of birds and insects dive into solar panels thinking they are a body of water, and are incinerated.

However, there may be new technologies that make solar power more efficient and potentially less hazardous, and countries like India claim solar is working for them. Also; new information that solar central receiver power in Chile, collected with molten salts, shows promise. For this reason, solar will be kept in consideration for future energy producing medium.

There are no research studies to compare the molten salt nuclear reactor with an equivalent molten salt solar central receiver system, because the molten salt nuclear reactor is still under development. So an actual side by side comparison of the two mediums power output/cost per megawatt, safety and security, and generated waste/environmental harm, can only be done be done virtually, based on the best data experts can provide. An actual side-by-side comparison of a molten salt nuclear reactor with a molten salt solar central receiver system would certainly be scientifically beneficial and would likely be one more, small step for man and one more giant leap for mankind.

After review, it seems the human race has a viable, tenable, energy option with the molten salt nuclear reactor. And that the molten salt nuclear reactor could possibly be augmented by solar in regions with ideal conditions.

It is also concluded that due to the increasing environmental harm caused by our current energy producing medium, “failure is not an option.” 

Individual Resources

1. American Bird Conservancy. Bird Collisions. Retrieved 2016, from https://abcbirds.org/threat/bird-strikes/

2. Avila-Marin, A. L., Fernandez-Reche, J., & Tellez, F. M. (December 01, 2013). Evaluation of the potential of central receiver solar power plants: Configuration, optimization and trends. Applied Energy, 112, 274-288 Retrieved 2016


3. BBC.com News. China: Villagers protest at Zhejiang solar panel plant. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-14963354

4. Bloomberg.com. Chile Has So Much Solar Energy It's Giving It Away for Free. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-01/chile-has-so-much-solar-energy-it-s-giving-it-away-for-free

5. Boyd, Dr. Stephen. G. (2015) High-Temperature Chemistry with Molten Salt Reactors. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpSUX-g7Jug

Dr. Stephen Boyd, (Salt Chemist) PHD and CEO of Havelide Inc. 118 Division Avenue, Blue Point, NY 11715; explains that more money can be made using an MSR’s heat exchangers in chemical processes, such as: The Haber-Bosh process for ammonia production, Catalytic Cracking for hydrocarbon chains and Fractional Distillation for all petroleum based products, than for making power. These are 2 Trillion dollar a year industries and as much as 50% of these industries costs are for maintaining heat. This heat is currently produced by burning emission heavy, fossil fuels. Dr. Boyd also alludes to his confidence that MSR tech is highly proliferation resistant and that molten salt use is trackable.

6. Fthenakis, V. M., & Kim, H. C. (April 01, 2007). Greenhouse-gas emissions from solar electric- and nuclear power: A life-cycle study. Energy Policy, 35, 4, 2549-2557. Retrieved 2016


7. Hoglund, Bruce. http://moltensalt.org/
a. The Development Status of Molten Salt Breeder Reactors, (1972) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Downloaded 2016

b. Part II MOLTEN-SALT REACTORS H. G. MACPHERSON, Editor. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Downloaded 2016


d. Bruce Hoglund WHY THE MOLTEN SALT REACTOR (M S R) WAS NOT DEVELOPED BY THE USA (2010) Downloaded 2016

A source for dozens of PDF articles on the original molten salt reactor built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as some current information.

8. Idaho National Laboratory. (2007) [Idaho Falls, Idaho]: Molten salt reactor (MSR). Retrieved from Carli - I Share 2016

A widely accepted basic MSR design schematic

9. IMSR 1. H. (2016). IMSR Fly-By. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bFe8Eqrjio

A computer model of the basic IMSR400 design.

10. IMSR 2. H. (2016). IMSR Life Cycle. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCIbVAmTC7s

A computer model of the IMSR400 refuel and core disposal.

11. Irish, Simon. G. (2015) Value of Molten Salt Design in SMR Innovation. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfsl2hoLlC4

Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy explains the value of our current supply of ‘above ground’ fuel, and the other economic values of the efficiency and safety of using liquid fuel as opposed to solid fuel. His conclusions are that the MSR will beat coal and oil in both cost and convenience.

12. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=62

Official Government Resource

13. Jordan, D. C., & Kurtz, S. R. (January 01, 2013). Photovoltaic Degradation Rates—an Analytical Review. Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications, 21, 1, 12-29. Retrieved 2016

14. Krisch, J. A. (2015). 3 Clever New Ways to Store Solar Energy. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a9961/3-clever-new-ways-to-store-solar-energy-16407404/

15. Kutsch 1, John. (2016) VP of Business Development for Terrestrial Energy, founder of the Thorium Energy Alliance, my Depaul Professional Advisor and Mentor. Interview 7-16-2016

16. Kutsch 2, John. (2015) Thorium Energy Alliance Conference #7 - Welcome to TEAC7. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nnDHCF4Wtg

John Kutsch and Jim Kennedy of the Thorium Energy Alliance are good acquaintances of mine. I’ve been a member of the Alliance since 2013. Their website is an invaluable source of information.

I joined the Thorium Energy Alliance in late 2013 while researching Thorium and MSR design for Earth Science Class at College of Lake County, IL. I have been acquainted with John Kutsch since then, and he has become a mentor and a friend, as well as a priceless source of information on MSR technology, Thorium, and Rare Earths.

Mr. Kutsch is working with Terrestrial Energy Canada in developing a Practical, Unenriched Uranium Fueled, Molten Salt, Burner Reactor.

17. Lacey, S. (2016) Warren Buffett: Solar and Wind Could ‘Erode the Economics of the Incumbent Utility’. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/warren-buffett-warns-about-solar-and-wind

18. LeBlanc, David. G. (2015) IMSR: Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor -by Dr. David LeBlanc @ TEAC7. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgTgV3Kq49U
Dr. David LeBlanc, CTO and President of Terrestrial Energy, speaking to The Thorium Energy Alliance at conference number seven; explaining history, design safety and the cost and operational benefits of the uranium burning IMSR400.

19. Mirzahosseini, A. H., & Taheri, T. (June 01, 2012). Environmental, technical and financial feasibility study of solar power plants by RETScreen, according to the targeting of energy subsidies in Iran. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 16, 5, 2806-2811. Retrieved 2016


20. MIT Technology Review. Martin, R. (2016). Germany Runs Up Against the Limits of Renewables. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601514/germany-runs-up-against-the-limits-of-renewables/

21. Moir, R. W. (July 01, 2008). Recommendations for a restart of molten salt reactor development. Energy Conversion and Management, 49, 7, 1849-1858. Retrieved 2016


22. National Research Council. Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy's alternatives for the removal and disposition of molten salt reactor experimental fluoride salts /Washington, D.C. (1997): National Academy Press, Retrieved from Carli - I Share 2016

Verbatim Summary of Material:

“Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Energy's alternatives for the removal and disposition of molten salt reactor experimental fluoride salts / Molten Salt Panel of the Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes, Board on Radioactive Waste Management.”

I purchased this book. It should be fascinating to see what concerns the DOE had about molten salt disposal 

10 years before Kirk Sorenson and the Thorium Energy Alliance began their quests for the development of the Molten Salt Reactor.

23. National Wildlife Federation. Tar Sands. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Energy-and-Climate/Climate-and-Energy/Reduce-Fossil-Fuel-Reliance/Tar-Sands.aspx

24. NOAA Educational Resources. Gulf Oil Spill. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.education.noaa.gov/Ocean_and_Coasts/Oil_Spill.htm

Official Government Resource

25. NOAA.gov. PMEL Carbon Program. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F

Information on ocean acidification from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. 
Department of Commerce

Official Government Resource

26. NPR.org. Is Thorium A Magic Bullet For Our Energy Problems? Retrieved 2016, from http://www.npr.org/2012/05/04/152026805/is-thorium-a-magic-bullet-for-our-energy-problems

27. NRDC.org. The Dirty Fight Over Canadian Tar Sands Oil. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/dirty-fight-over-canadian-tar-sands-oil

28. Physicians for Social Responsibility. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/code-black/coal-ash-toxic-and-leaking.html

29. PVTech.org. Chinese module suppliers increase share in Indian market to 75%. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.pv-tech.org/news/chinese-module-suppliers-increase-share-in-indian-market-to-75

30. Reddy, V. S., Kaushik, S. C., & Tyagi, S. K. (August 01, 2014). Exergetic analysis and economic evaluation of central tower receiver solar thermal power plant. International Journal of Energy Research, 38, 10, 1288-1303. Retrieved 2016


31. Rice, A. (March 01, 2002). The ultimate safe nuclear reactor: the molten salt reactor. South African Journal of Science, 98. Retrieved 2016


32. Riesz, J., & MacGill, I. (2016) 100% Renewables for Australia? Challenges and Opportunities,” “Quantifying Key Uncertainties in the Costs of Nuclear Power,” Retrieved from Google Scholar 2016

Read in an earnest attempt to find arguments against the MSR, I ended up discovering well researched reasons for it.

33. Sahoo, Anshuman. The Rapidly Changing Economics of Solar PV Power, Solar Mini-Series. (1 of 2). Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzF-F-jMFpM

34. Schmidt, Lawrence. Lecture (2014) Biology Professor at College of Lake County; Grayslake, Illinois

35. ScientificAmerican.com Upton, J., & Central, C. (2014). Solar Farms Threaten Birds. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solar-farms-threaten-birds/

36. Serp, J., Allibert, M., Beneš, O., Delpech, S., Feynberg, O., Ghetta, V., Heuer, D., ... Zhimin, D. (November 01, 2014). The molten salt reactor (MSR) in generation IV: Overview and perspectives. Progress in Nuclear Energy, 77, 308-319. Retrieved 2016


37. Siemer, D. D. (March 01, 2015). Why the molten salt fast reactor (MSFR) is the “best” Gen IV reactor. Energy Science & Engineering, v3 n2 Downloaded from Depaul Library 2016

Siemer describes an: “isobreeding” version of the molten salt fast thorium breeder reactor (MSFR) recently developed by the European Union's EVOL program” This is a different design than the Uranium burning, IMSR 400 being designed by Terrestrial Energy.

Using Uranium in the first of the Gen IV reactors solves the initial problems caused by cost and politics. Once MSRs get up and running, Thorium will be the ideal, long-term fuel.

38. Smithsonian.com. Air Pollution in China Is Spreading Across the Pacific to the U.S. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/air-pollution-china-is-spreading-across-pacific-us-180949395/

39. Society, N. G. Wind Power Information, Wind Power Facts - National Geographic. Retrieved 2016, from http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/wind-power-profile/

40. Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar Energy Support in Germany: A Closer Look. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-energy-support-germany-closer-look

41. Solar-facts-and-advice.com Cadmium Telluride: Advantages & Disadvantages. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.solar-facts-and-advice.com/cadmium-telluride.html

42. Sorensen 1, Kirk. G. (2011) The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn't This Happen (and why is now the right time?). Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI

Sorensen’s presentations provide me with data as to why the MSR was terminated, and the history of the original MSR.

43. Sorensen 2, Kirk. G. (2014) MSRE: Alvin Weinberg's Molten Salt Reactor Experiment - "Th" Thorium Documentary. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knofNX7HCbg

44. Thompson, Niobe and Radford, Tom. F. (2011). To the Last Drop: Canada's Dirty Oil Sands - Part 1. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61X4IQqnmd0

A powerful documentary on the tar sands of Alberta Canada.

45. Thorcon Power. Retrieved 2016, from http://thorconpower.com/team

46. Tucker, William. (2008) Terrestrial Energy: how nuclear power will lead the green revolution and end America's energy odyssey Savage, Md.: Bartleby Press, Purchased 2016

William tucker is a 30 year veteran journalist who spent most of his career writing about energy. His book argues that Nuclear Energy will lead the green revolution.

47. U.S. Energy Information Administration- EIA. Independent Statistics and Analysis. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=26372

Official Government Resource

48. Watchdog.org. Two coal ash spills, two very different penalties assessed. (2015). Retrieved 2016, from http://watchdog.org/205178/two-disasters-penalties/

49. Wind Wise Massachusetts. Myths of Wind Energy. (2011). Retrieved 2016, from https://windwisema.org/about/myths-of-wind-energy/

Verbatim from web site: “Wind Wise Massachusetts is a statewide alliance of grass roots organizations and individuals who are concerned about the negative health, environmental and economic impacts of poorly-sited wind turbines.”

Their website corroborates what was explained to me about wind turbines needing natural gas turbine backups.

50. World Nuclear Association. Molten Salt Reactors. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/molten-salt-reactors.aspx

51. World Nuclear Association 2. Molten Salt Reactors. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/germany.aspx

52. Zuckerman, Gregory. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. C. (2014). Fracking & Environmental Concerns. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHxH6FmbgdE

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