LeBlank: Ballistic missiles killed molten salt reactor research

One of the more surprising aspects of the current “renaissance” in nuclear innovation is that its genesis is as old as nuclear itself. David LeBlanc, the founder of Terrestrial Energy and one of the leaders of today’s advanced nuclear movement, described the history behind the original molten salt design work done in the 40s and 50s, motivated in part by Cold War concerns, which saw the testing of a nuclear-reactor equiped airplane and the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), an 8 MW reactor which ran for 5 years before being shuttered, possibly because the advent of ballistic missels changed the Air Force’s strategy for national defense.

Molten Salt Reactor Experiment
(Click to enlarge)

Nevertheless, years of testing has left a treasure trove of data on the performance and engineering issues associated with molten salt reactors, which can be used to hasten certification of several new design implementations being developed by a handful of ventures.  And while the early work was prematurely abandoned by the federal government and never commercialized, there are many nuclear experts, including Ralph Moir, who claims to have convinced Edward Teller, to regard the molten salt design as the alternative fission design with the best long-term potential.

David LeBlanc’s 2010 review of the history of the molten salt reactor is sure to surprise those not familiar with it and provide support for both pros and cons but he follows a long line of brilliant engineers whose conclusion after evaluating all of the historic data was:

Molten salt or liquid fluoride reactors will also take a large effort, but every indication points to a power reactor that will excel in cost, safety, long-term waste reduction, resource utilization, and proliferation resistance. As we move deeper into a century that portends financial instability, political uncertainty, environmental catastrophe, and resource depletion, this technology is too valuable to once again place back on the shelf.

Read Mechanical Engineering’s reprint of Too Good to Leave on the Shelf, by David LeBlanc, May 2010, hosted by Ralph Moir.