2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang voiced support of Advanced Nuclear, specifically for development of Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors.

Andrew Yang and Cory Booker's statements regarding regarding nuclear power remain true, and are still worth considering.

Now would be a great time for Senator Bernie Sanders to acknowledge that closing Vermont Yankee nuclear plant increased emissions.

Most people are unaware Nuclear Power is low-carbon... even lower than solar power. Nuclear power is incredibly low-carbon. Nuclear power is America's single largest source of low-carbon electricity. It is not even close.

In 2020, misleading "fact-checks" were created by some strongly anti-nuclear organizations. Because any candidate taking a pro-nuclear stance can expect to receive failling grades on the environment from anti-nuclear organizations such as Greanpeace, it is worth inspecting what a 2020 "fact-check" looked like, when it comes to Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors.
Thorium is a mildly radioactive metal which can be turned into nuclear fuel inside a Thorium Reactor, and then fissioned to produce both energy and valuable isotopes.

This reactor would be different from today's reactors in almost every aspect. Different fuel. Different coolant. Different approach to safety. Different approach to fissile security. What goes into the reactor is different. What comes out is different.

This gives people a new perspective on nuclear. What people assumed was the only approach is no longer the case. We can start asking, what do we want from nuclear power? ...instead of take-it or leave-it.
Perhaps the starkest contrast with conventional reactors is how the Molten-Salt in a Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor helps us replace engineered-and-redundant safety systems with passive ones which always work. Passive safety systems based on the laws of physics, not robust and redundant equpiment.

Statistically, over the 60 years we've had civilian nuclear power, it has always been the safest form of energy production. By raising "safety" as a feature of Thorium Reactors, many supporters of nuclear power see Thorium as a solution to a problem which does not exist.

But I'd ask you to dive into the safety-case regardless. We've had 3 major nuclear accidents in those 60 years. In all 3, the conventional reactor choice of water as coolant played a role.
To summarize the downsides of using Water as a coolant:
  • Water boils into ineffectual-for-cooling steam at a mere 100°C. (TMI&Fuku.)
  • Steam reacts with fuel rod cladding into explosive gases: Hydrogen and Oxygen.
  • Steam occupies 1000x volume of water. Large pressure vessels are costly result.
  • Steam or Hydrogen explosions spread radioactive material. (TMI&Chern&Fuku.)
  • Thorium is insoluble in water, excluding any "Fluid Fuel Reactor" concepts fueled by Thorium.
To summarize the advantages of using Molten Salts as coolant:
  • Salts held together by ionic bonds. Broken bonds repair themselves.
  • Molten Salts can have a liquid range of over 1,000°C.
  • Thorium can be dissolved in salt, enabling a "Fluid Fuel Reactor" which can be designed to operate extremely efficiently when powered by Thorium.
We have less experience with Molten Salts than with water, but we do have experience.
The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment was designed in 1961, was constructed and began operating by 1965, operated at full power in 1968 and completed operation in 1969. That's 50 years ago.
China began pursuing Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors in 2011.
China's SINAP are currently building a 2MW "TMSR-LF1" pilot plant. Building it.
The United States has once again begun funding Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor research, starting in 2016.
In the United States, over time, Molten-Salt Reactors have been taken more and more seriously. First solid-fuel versions which only use salt as coolant. Then, research into liquid-fuel variants (like the MSRE and like China's pilot plant) began receiving DOE funding as well.

Even Bill Gates who referred to liquid-fuel reactors as "hard" in 2010, now has TerraPower developing a liquid-fuel Molten-Salt Reactor.

But Thorium-specific Molten-Salt Reactors were the very last to receive funding. Even as the 1965 MSRE had been built as a stepping-stone towards a (more complex) Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor.
Just as safety isn't seen as a "problem" by the nuclear industry (because the current fleet is statistically safe) some of the Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor's features are also seen as solving problems which aren't really problems.

To-date, civilian nuclear waste has sat in cooling pools and dry-cask storage. It harms no-one, but there it is. Those spent fuel rods contain Uranium, Plutonium and Fission Products. Many people find this to be troubling.

In contrast, a Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor can be designed to produce nothing more than Fission Products. Thorium goes in. Fission Products come out. Per unit of power, an incredibly small volume of waste compared to today's reactors. Also, valuable. Because for all the valuable materials trapped in today's spent fuel rods, they're trapped with Plutonium which many people would prefer remains trapped in those spent fuel rods.
What could we be doing with our spent fuel rods, our "Nuclear Waste?"
We could keep spent fuel rods in Dry Cask storage. Already, many nuclear power plants feature a collection of dry casks near the reactor. They sit there, doing nothing. But they do present a barrier to remediating retired power plants. (Assuming a new reactor can't simply be built right next to the retired one, making the very same site suitable for continued housing of the dry casks.)

We could move spend fuel into a geological repository. California prohibits the construction of new nuclear power until the question of spent fuel has been addressed. So this is one way to deal with political challenges facing nuclear power, deal with non-fuel-rod nuclear waste (such as radioactive hardware like pipes), and deal with the actual spent fuel rods themselves. Yucca Mountain storage is opposed by Nancy Pelosi (and Nevada voters), so the only way to remove the political risk from this approach is to pursue multiple geological storage sites in parallel.

Or, we could, if we so wanted... recycle the spent fuel rods. In fact, spent fuel pellets are mostly (93%) un-fissioned uranium. This neither dangerous, nor valuable, nor fuel for a Thorium Reactor. It simply constitutes the bulk tonnage of what is nuclear waste, making the problem seem bigger than it really is. The useful stuff, and the hazerdous stuff, is diluted by the uranium. Without unfissioned uranium, we'd have a waste story that looks more like France.
France's decision to build a nuclear fleet was made in 1974, and by 1990 they succeeded in decarbonizing their electricity supply (as well as transitioning most household heating from fossil-fuel to electricity). Would you like to address Global Warming? This is how you address Global Warming... with 1980s technology.
So what could we do with 2020 technology based upon the long-neglected Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor concept? Reprocess our fuel, without the hassle of reprocessing.

The reason France's nuclear waste takes up so little space, is because they chemically reprocess their fuel. Their spent fuel (just like ours) consisted of spent fuel rods... solids. To reprocesses they dissolve the solid fuel into liquid form, and then separate the materials. Most of what can be fissioned goes back into the reactors.

In the French version of this, enormous amounts of transport and infrastructure are involved. France (just like us) uses a fuel form-factor not well suited for recycling. In fact, any solid-fuel nuclear power plant is ill-suited for recycling. That is why Oak Ridge National Lab built the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment: to validate the concept of dissolving nuclear fuel into a liquid, so we could finally add online chemistry to our nuclear toolbox.
It is the development of such chemical tools, for a Molten-Salt environment, which makes the Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor unique. The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor, to run exclusively on Thorium fuel, absolutely depends on the development of online chemistry tools. That was the concept behind ORNL-4528 in 1968, and it wasn't until 2016 that those challenges finally started to receive funding.
Andrew Yang proposed that with $50 Billion in federal funding we will see such reactors brought online by 2027. This has been challenged as unlikely, although such best-case projections have already been made by both let's tackle-the-chemistry-now Flibe Energy and less-effecient-plants-for-Indonesia ThorCon Power.

Yang's 2027 date serves as an indicator how serious he is about seeing Thorium Reactors through. Any further into the future, and he would be trusting his successor to continue funding development. Any further into the future, and he would be communicating "this will be someone else's problem to ultimately solve." There's an implication here, that a President Andrew Yang will monitor progress, and help ensure bureaucratic delays are minimized.

Perhaps the most decisive factor as to whether Thorium Reactors are built during Yang's time in office, is how quickly the first $10 million (million, not billion!) are allocated. That is because much of the chemistry research is...
  • Inexpensive. Ridiculously inexpensive.
  • Not involving Plutonium or Enriched Uranium (is why so inexpensive).
  • Possible to run in parallel (same time), not in series (one after the other).
  • Of immense future value beyond development of Thorium Reactors.
The seemingly overlooked aspect of Yang's plan to fund Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors, is that the $50 Billion is also to be shared with Fusion Power research as well. Molten-Salts are the technical overlap. Salt pumps, monitoring of salt chemsirty, salt purification, salt heat exchangers, and power conversion systems to turn hot salt into electricity... this R&D budget for advanced atomic power solutions (Thorium and Fusion) doesn't just move us forward on the most exciting concepts. There's a world of Molten-Salt approaches (which are closer to commercializaton) which also benifit.

Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors by 2027? Quite possibly... if experiments exploring some online chemistry approaches show success. But, a President making Molten-Salt research a national priority is a prerequesite for any 2027 Thorium goal. Regardless how easy/hard some challenges prove to be, by pursuing Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor research, 2027 will see very exciting, passively safe, high temperature and carbon-free energy solutions.
At UCB, Dr. Per Peterson and Kirk Sorensen discuss the use of FLiBe Molten-Salt in Molten-Salt Reactors. They focus on Dr. Per Peterson's favored approach: Solid-Fuel with Molten-Salt coolant. Insead of solid fuel rods, this approach uses "pebbles" (2-inch spheres) as fuel. The pebbles float in the Molten-Salt, the salt being twice as heavy as water.

UCB's Compact Integral Effects Test (CIET) was constructed to simulate FLiBe Molten-Salt's heat transfer properties, by using Dowtherm (at lower and easier temperatures) and scaling time.

The choice of solid (pebble) fuel was made so to avoid the need for online chemical processing. The trade-off is fuel effeciency, an inability (or impracticality) of using Thorium as fuel, and also a spent-fuel scenario nearly identical to today's reactors.
Despite the creation of spent-fuel pebbles, the solid-fuel molten-salt approach still gets us...
  • Beyond water coolant, H2O which dissociates into explosive gasses.
  • Coolant (salt) that chemically traps radioactive isotopes should any escape the fuel.
  • High temperature process heat for creating carbon-neutral fuels, and replacing all large-scale combustion-for-heat applications.
  • Advanced Reactor designed for low-cost factory construction and assembly.
  • Ultra low-carbon nuclear power. Far lower than today's low-carbon nuclear.
Solid-fuel molten-salt research helps (liquid-fuel) Thorium Reactors. Thorium Reactor research helps solid-fuel Molten-Salt Reactor development. They are all Molten-Salt Reactors. Yang's $50 Billion is well targetted to a long underfunded area of basic research.
Fusion power is hard. In fact, to say we want to "replicate our Sun in a bottle" is to vastly understate the problem.

The Sun is hot, but not so hot we can't create 15,000,000°C here on Earth. What we can not replicate is The Sun's 250,000,000,000 Earth-atmospheres of pressue. And if we could extactly replicate "The Sun in a bottle", keep in mind our Sun emits enough radiation to heat Earth only because it is large enough for 1,300,000 Earths to fit inside. The actual energy density of our entire Sun is 1/400,000th of the 1965 Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment. The Sun is powerful because it is large, not because of its energy density.

Should we ever be capable of a net-positive sustained energy production from a Fusion Reactor, then we'll need to fuel it (by creating Tritium), and we'll need to protect the vessel from neutron radiation. FLiBe Molten-Salt offers a solution to both looming challenges.

Both the Thorium Reactor and a Fusion Reactor make use of a "breeder blanket". This is a surrounding layer of FLiBe Molten-Salt used to absorb the neutron radiation and turn some of the salt content into fuel.

Thorium Reactors do this by dissolving Thorium in the blanket salt. Thorium, once struck by a neutron, evolves into Uranium-233. On-line chemistry moves U-233 from the blanket salt into the core salt, refueling the core so that nuclear fission can be sustained.

Fusion Reactors do this by using FLiBe salt with identical chemical properties, but a different isotope of Lithium. This Li-6 isotope neede for Fusion Reactors is more likely to be struck by neutrons than the Li-7 in Thorium Reactors. It is the Li-6 (and Beryllium) in the Fusion-salt-blanket which create Tritium (fuel for Fusion) when struck by neutrons.

Many objections raised to The Thorium Reactor: Creation of Tritium, expensive Hastelloy-N vessel material, and the need for online chemistry... those challenges could have been raised against Fusion Reactors. On the other hand, they're also the low-hanging-fruit of atomic R&D... if we want the very best Nuclear Reactors, and we want Fusion Power, then let's solve our looming challenges in parallel. Starting now.
The following video featuring Dr. Charles Forsberg does not mention Thorium Reactors, instead focusing on solid-fuel Molten-Salt Reactors. It does however, give us an insightful look into the overlapping technologies involved.
Despite Yang's foresight in targetting Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors, organizations opposed to nuclear power have crafted some significant articles challenging his plan. Let's take a look at the claims Andrew Yang has made about Thorium Reactors.
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