Reactors (small & safe) provide Cheap Ener

When I was working as an electronic engineer for the Arizona Highway Patrol in the mid-1970s, the State of Arizona sent me to a seminar to learn project planning. The instructor asked the class to tell him if we knew a word that meant: “Progress that is intelligently planned and directed.” Hint: No one did. The reward for a correct answer was a $20 bill which he pulled from his pocket and showed everyone in the class. I have never forgotten that demonstration, which fuels my frustration over idiocy.

Long-time readers of my columns in The County Compass may remember several years ago I proposed using Small Modular Reactors for solving the energy crisis. This has now become an actual CRISIS, not one trumped up by progressives and so-called environmentalists. Just ask Europeans now that Russian natural gas is no longer available. The Germans should feel especially foolish since they shut down their nuclear power plants in pursuit of politically expedient so-called “Green Energy” from solar and wind farms. German businesses have to pay outrageous costs for electricity. Power from wind and solar sources has become so expensive, the government had to divert money to subsidize electrical power for its citizens. Now Germany is reopening its nuclear power plants to solve its budget crisis. France is the smartest country as it has almost 100% of its electricity generated by nuclear power plants. Clean, abundant power!

Typical nuclear reactors such as those in Japan and the US have fuel rods which drop into a graphite block to control the fission reaction. Water is circulated around the graphite block to absorb heat. If water is lost due to a pump failure (either mechanical or electric), the reactor has to have the control rods dropped into the graphite to halt the reaction and the resulting heat build-up that would cause a meltdown. This requires operators to manage the controls to shut down the reactor quickly.

Apparently high levels of radiation cause concrete to fail after many years. A few years ago, I contacted a company in Washington state that made a material that the US Department of Energy was testing to extend the life of concrete reactor enclosures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee did some research work on the molten salt system and proved it was feasible with 1960s era materials. I had used an earlier version of that cement to build my model rocket engine nozzles back in the 1950s.

Republican Senator Tom Tuberville from Alabama has a really great idea. He and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia are co-sponsoring the Thorium Energy Security Act of 2022, S.4242. The two Senators are proposing that we use Molten Salt reactors, which cannot melt down, as a way to provide the US with an abundant amount of electric power that costs significantly less than current nuclear power, which is even cheaper than wind and solar power.

Thorium Molten Salt Reactors are the more reliable and improved version of the Small Modular Reactor concept I previously proposed. Thorium is a radioactive metallic element used in vacuum tubes because it has more electrons to be generated when heated than copper or steel, which extends the life of the tube.

Think tubes in microwave ovens, in old radios and television sets, and old CRTs in computer monitors. None of these products are required to display radiation warning signs.

The Thorium Energy Alliance says the US has abundant resources that depend neither on China nor Russia. The Alliance predicts these resources will last 100 years at the present power levels. No subsides needed! Lower taxes than solar or wind farms.

The problem with getting this technology to market is the need for international regulations. It is a Catch 22 situation. World regulators require a blueprint for the total system and demand demonstration that the system is safe. Engineers need a guideline to build a molten salt reactor. With well-crafted regulations, the door would be wide open to producing a safe, reliable system.

The Dutch have a High Flux Research Reactor in the Netherlands that would allow testing of the thorium components with 2020 materials to speed up the design finalization process. The safety factors come in where the molten salt is cooled by an electric fan. When the fan fails or the reactor stops producing power for whatever reason, the reactor shuts down automatically. No human or computer controls are needed. The molten salt carries the reactor fuel which is also the reactor coolant in the thorium reactor. A “salt plug” is inserted into the molten salt path so if the salt gets overheated, the plug melts and dumps the salt into a container, which cools it down and the reactor stops working. Again, no human or computer controls are needed. No more Three Mile Island or Chernobyl!

Now here is where the intelligent planning comes in. Each county will have one or more thorium reactors to produce power locally. This means the Power Grid will carry power only when large counties and cities need extra power. So the 15% hit for distribution charges because of line losses that our power bills take can be lowered or eliminated. Small counties could sell excess power to large cities to lower the power costs to the small and poorer counties – cheap power! Terrorists would have to destroy thousands of reactors to shut down power to the nation. Reactors could be built underground to make them non-targets. When depleted nuclear fuel rods must be removed from nuclear power plants, they can be reprocessed for use in the thorium reactors. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

The thorium reactor’s time has come. Did I mention, thorium reactors can run for 75 years without refueling? Would you believe the thorium molten salt reactors can work with wind and solar to generate power when the wind fails and the sun don’t shine. How do you say, “Bye, bye, batteries”? After all, electrical power is a non-inventory product!

Here is a completely “green” power source that generates power and plays nicely with solar voltaic systems and wind power. Sounds like the trifecta to me.

Oh, the word defined at the beginning, progress that is intelligently planned and directed, is telesis.