Thorcon: Safe nuclear power?

By | January 9, 2015

Think for a moment: where do you see small-scale nuclear power sources with a strong risk-benefit argument in favor of nuclear technology? Naval vessels. Medical technology – including implants. Space exploration vehicles.

Of these technologies, naval vessels are particularly interesting: they are designed to undergo regular inspection and part replacement, and are designed to house people – next to their nuclear power source – for lengthy periods of time, as they traverse the seas. So why can't we apply that same concept of designing nuclear technology that can be regularly inspected and maintained to nuclear power generators?

That's what Thorcon Power has done: applied ship-building practices to nuclear power generator design. Now, I'd say that there isn't such a thing as a fail-safe system: the universal law of idiocracy says that if you build a good system, then nature will build an even bigger idiot. For example, a major earthquake and tidal wave could damage the building structure and drain tanks and simultaneously trigger reactor overheating, resulting in potential radioactive leakage through the damaged structures. But, the system certainly appears safer than the conventional nuclear reactors we see today – if we're going to have nuclear power, then let's at least make it as safe, as modular, and as maintainable as possible.

/via +Jack Stanley

Thorcon Power | The Do-able Molten Salt Reactor
Safe. ThorCon is a simple molten salt reactor. Unlike all current reactors, the fuel is in liquid form. If the reactor overheats for whatever reason, ThorCon will automatically shut itself down, drain the fuel from the primary loop, and passively handle the decay heat.

7 thoughts on “Thorcon: Safe nuclear power?

  1. Charlie Lund

    +Sophie Wrobel I know Alvin Weinberg was a proponent of the molten salt reactor because he did not feel it was safe to scale up a light water reactor for commercial use. This is what nuclear power should have been.

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  2. Charlie Lund

    +Per Siden​ its a resurrection of the molten salt reactor experiment built at oak ridge in the 60's. It was the design that we should have gone with instead of solid fuel water cooled reactors, but wasn't chosen because of our desire to get plutonium from a fast breeder reactor for weapons. It doesn't need to be by an ocean either, it runs hot enough to run a gas turbine instead of steam.

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  3. Michael Gebetsroither

    This sounds exactly like the thorium molten salt reactor. It's not specified anywhere what fuel is used (at least i couldn't find it) but from the http://thorconpower.com/features/walkaway-safe Section "Four Loop Separation of Steam and Fuel Salt" it reads like they are using the LFTR two fluid reactor design (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_fluoride_thorium_reactor) which has a separate breeding blanket and does not mix the neutron provider (U233 + starting fuel) and thorium.
    What sounds so innocent on their part "Every four years the entire primary loop is changed out" is a real problem, because the LFTR design uses a graphite core which has a lifetime expected to be in the single digit years with till now unknown recycle problems.
    Don't get me wrong i really think this is absolutely great! And i really hope that their deliberately scaled down device is only to have a good starting position and getting the thing out the door!
    In the end you want that thing scaled up to >900°C reactor temperature and directly coupled into everything that needs heat in our industry. For power generation a closed cycle gas turbine is also a much better power source for the future.

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  4. Ian Rumbles

    Interesting post +Sophie Wrobel Wind, solar and geothermal play a role for energy in the future. However, replacing coal with efficient, safer and better managed nuclear is a better option until the less hazardous sources get more efficient.

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  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Per Siden Agree completely – the power generation concept isn't exactly revolutionary. What I do like, however, is the design concept of replaceable modules, meaning that maintenance of every component and membrane is simplified and easier. Sure, it doesn't solve all the problems that nuclear technology has, but I think the principle of modularizing power generators is worth spreading.

    I'd also expect that smaller-scale, non-nuclear power sources within individual households – solar panels, small wind turbines, geothermal heat sinks, etc. – are the type of energy-generating technology which is more likely to flourish in the next two decades. Already, energy companies in Germany are trying to sell off their loss-making nuclear power plants (granted, politics plays a major role in why they are losing money), and do-it-yourself tax guides include steps on 'how to maximize income tax filing returns from the power generator in your house if you sell to the grid'…

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  6. Per Siden

    Sounds like the ASEA (now ABB) Secure reactor concept from the 70's reinvented. It never made it back then, nor in any of it's later 'new' iterations. Feels like nuclear ideas are running in circles. 😉

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