The Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) is probably the most exciting alternative nuclear reactor design as it offers:
- inherently safe design (passive components)
- operates in atmospheric pressure so no need for pressure vessel
- no CO2 emissions with only a fraction of dangerous waste (volume and containment period)
- ample availability of fuel (thorium)
- higher efficiency in terms of size flexibility, deployment, temperature/steam/turbines
I have no doubt that the efforts in renewables, like wind and solar, will have its limitations, at least with the current technology. With the growth in energy demand seen from the emerging markets it is evident we will still have to rely heavily on fossil fuels, with negative implications for the environment. Therefore nuclear will also certainly play a role in the future, despite decisions by e.g. Germany to abandon this energy source.
Therefore we will, and are seeing, efforts being made to develop new and safer nuclear reactor types that can provide a substantial base load of energy supply in the future. I believe the MSR is a very promising technology (that is based on an already proven reactor type built by the USA in the 1960ies). In the meantime Light Water Reactors (LWR) and other traditional reactor types are being built around the world.
There is vast information on liquid salt reactors; most commonly termed MSR (Molten Salt Reactor) or LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor), available on the web. I don't know how much time you want to spend on this, so I suggest you do it in steps and go as far as you want.
Step 1 - intro:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbucAwOT2Sc - first five minutes give snapshot of LFTR by Kirk Sorensen (nuclear engineer) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Sa
fe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html - Telegraph article http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/04/thorium-nuclear-power
See also the New Scientist article attached.
Step 2 - starting to dig in:
When digging more into the MSR, you might see there is a lot of talk about Thorium as a fuel source and a potential savior of our energy future. I believe the clue is the MSR technology and not the thorium fuel. As Canadian physicist and MSR designer says to people developing an interest in the subject: Join for Thorium, Stay for MSR. David [LeBlanc] was part of our MSR project team last year.
The Weinberg Foundation (UK foundation led by Baroness Worthington, House of the Lords) provides a good web site with information that is well organized and fairly easy to go through: http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/ . Here you can play around to learn more about MSR and Thorium.
An interesting article is this one:
The UK has an All-Party Parliamentary Group looking into alternative energy and has produced this paper on MSR/Thorium:
Step 3 - really digging in:
Resources with articles, videos, news:
Presentations on the subject (also linked on websites referred to above):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F0tUDJ35So - Google Tec talk by David LeBlanc Kirk Sorenson also has lots of presentations on YouTube.
A more in-depth study of nuclear innovations is available at a price:
Eoin Treacy's view Here
are links to an article by David
LeBlanc in Mechanical Engineering Magazine dated 2010, an additional informative
report by the same author
and a table offering
a comparison of competing nuclear technologies, all of which were forwarded
by the same subscriber.
Also see David's piece on nuclear energy in yesterday's Comment of the Day. I last commented on Thorium reactors and potential investments in that metal in Comment of the Day on March 21st 2011.