A LFTR deployment plan for Australia

Below is a guest post by Alex Goodwin, which canvasses the idea of a large-scale deployment of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) to clean up Australia’s power generation sector. On the Energy from Thorium forums, he’s known as fnord.

Alex refers to himself as “the finance grad they keep in a deep dark hole”, reflecting the master of business in applied finance he earned at QUT in 2007. Thus, although he’s often been mistaken for a nuclear engineer or other nuclear industry professional, in reality he’s merely an interested amateur and communicator [we need more people like this]. He joined Toastmasters (a public speaking club) in October 2008, completed a Competent Communicator course in November 2009, and most of his speeches promote the LFTR concept in one way or another.

In this post, Alex is being pragmatic. For instance, one may argue over whether his subplan to upgrade lignite using LFTR process heat and so add value to our exports is a good idea, from a climate change perspective, but ultimately we’ve got to have some transition plan, and at least the one he proposes is probably more realistic than the Government’s dreams of a world powered by coal with carbon capture and storage. In the end though, we, and other coal-rich nations, will just have to face the fact that most of the coal must be left in the ground.

You can download an 8-page printable PDF of Alex’s article here.


Clean electricity, cheap electricity, safe electricity – pick any three

By Alex Goodwin

The federal government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme signals its desire for Australian carbon emissions (currently 28.3 tonnes per capita, yearly) to drop to 60% of 2000 levels by 2050, after allowing for population growth.

If it’s business as usual, I can see some difficulty meeting that goal.

However, we don’t have time for business as usual – climate change slowly parboils us all.  For those of you skeptical of global warming, there are still plenty of reasons to go full throttle nuclear – economic development, saving Australian lives from reduced air pollution, and energy/water security, to name three.  Energy and water security vastly reduces the need for Australia to undertake foreign policy adventures to secure oil and clean water supplies, saving yet more lives.

It makes sense to go after the biggest source of carbon emissions first – which, in Australia’s case, is the power generation industry.  Power generation emits nearly 14 tonnes per head, and it’s fairly concentrated, unlike agriculture (4.2 tonnes) and transport (3.8 tonnes).

Clean power generation up, and we can meet, and beat, the CPRS goal.  We can’t cut our own economic throats cleaning up our act, so we need reliable, emission-free power to avoid disrupting the Australian economy.

This can be done, for roughly the cost of Mr Rudd’s stimulus package, inside ten years, benefiting Australian national security, the power generation industry, the coal industry, and the Australian consumer.

Enter the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).  As the name suggests, it is:

A liquid-fuelled nuclear reactor;

Running on thorium;

Toothpaste and table-salt safe;

On top of that, it’s cheap and quick to build, allowing us to have our cake and eat it too.

Table Salt and Toothpaste

What does high pressure in a pressure vessel want to do?

I put it to you, why do conventional reactors put their fuel there, at the highest pressure?

The LFTR doesn’t do this- it puts its fuel at the lowest pressure in the reactor – and if we have a leak, it leaks in, not out. We simply don’t need the massive, expensive, pressure vessel that is a conventional reactor!

I put it to you, how do you melt a liquid?

How do you melt the already-liquid water in your morning cup of tea or coffee?

Meltdown is simply not a problem in the LFTR.

Any leaking fuel drips out of the reactor and into dump tanks below, where it freezes solid. These tanks are so effective at putting the brakes on, that if the entire fuel load at full throttle dumped into those tanks at once, it would freeze solid inside 48 hours, as it sat there.  These tanks only need to be 100 cubic metres in size for a 1 gigawatt reactor.

This combination of low pressure and inherent safety, results in an inherently safe reactor that is simple enough to be mass-produced in a factory, saving 75% of the cost of a conventional reactor.

Two real prototype reactors have shown these safety benefits: the original 1968 test reactor at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and more recently in 2008 at the Nuclear Research Institute Rez at Prague, Czech Republic.

The Bit Left Over

Since we brush the ash out of the nuclear fission fire as we go, the thorium-uranium cycle can completely extract all the energy available – like a slow combustion stove, leaving only the ash, no half-burned fuel as happens now in conventional reactors. Thus, we use a hundred times less fuel than a conventional reactor, to generate the same amount of raw heat energy.

Out of every hundred heavy metal atoms we start with, the conventional uranium-plutonium cycle leaves 30 atoms unburned, but the thorium-uranium cycle leaves less than 3. That’s more than 10x less heavy metals left over per kilo of fuel used, combined with using a hundred times fewer kilos, for a thousand fold reduction in heavy metals left over per kilowatt-hour, before we take advantage of the LFTR’s full-burn nature.

Finally, the LFTR operates at much higher temperatures than conventional reactors – high enough that we get an extra third more power out of the same amount of heat. That’s at least 130x less fuel used and 1300x less heavy metal left over per kilowatt-hour, meaning 130x less so-called “waste”. Since the processing cycle can keep all but 0.3% of the heavy metals in the salt, we have 400,000x less heavy metal going to so-called “waste” per kilowatt-hour.

1300x less heavy metal per kilowatt-hour;

330x overall reduction in heavy metal to “waste” from recycling;

429,000x less heavy metal to “waste” per kilowatt-hour.

Too much?  Simply process the leftover ash again.  Then, there will be more heavy metal in the ground you sit above as you read this, than in the ash.

You can think of LFTR as a heavy metal “roach motel” – heavy metal checks in, but it doesn’t check out.

If we take Australia’s total electricity generating capacity (48 gigawatts), double it (allowing for growth), and convert the lot to LFTR running flat out all the time, it would take 620 years for the combined ash from all those plants to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. As natural processes compost the ash, it becomes less radioactive than the ground you’re sitting above in 300 years.  Europe has many buildings that have been continuously used longer than that, so the compost heap can be kept secure.

And in that ash, the so-called “waste”, are valuable minerals, such as platinum (catalysts), neodymium (permanent magnets), caesium (food sterilisation), xenon (light bulbs), strontium (space probes) and gold.  Is it really “waste” if people will buy it off you?

Get Ready To Launch

Like all engines, the LFTR needs a spark plug to get going.  Merely 500 kilograms of uranium enriched to just under 20% (keeping it in the low-enriched range) gets each hundred-megawatt core going.  That’s 100 litres of uranium, not even one and a half car fuel tanks, in the exact chemical form that the LFTR uses.

After that, no uranium needs to be loaded – that hundred megawatt reactor will tootle away on the smell of an oily rag, munching one hundred kilograms of thorium per year, year in, year out.  That’s 20 litres of thorium – about half of one of those car fuel tanks.

Australia is right for the thorium – 450 thousand tonnes of the stuff, and we haven’t looked too hard.  We are similarly right for the raw uranium – 700 thousand tonnes cheaply minable.

Yes, to power that 100 gigawatt LFTR build (double Australia’s current power generation), we would need 100 tonnes of thorium each year.  Assuming absolutely no further exploration, Australia has over 4,000 years of fuel available to power itself.

To get that spark plug, we send 25.4 tonnes of raw uranium to someone like Urenco, USEC or AREVA and pay them to enrich it to 20%.  The ideal would be for Australia to develop its own enrichment capabilities, under a program like the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, allowing it to not only enrich its own spark plugs for its LFTR fleet, but add value to the uranium it currently exports.  However, Urenco, USEC and AREVA all have enrichment plants operating now.

To decarbonise Australian power generation (48 gigawatts) would take 12,200 tonnes of raw uranium – less than 2% of our uranium reserves. [Ed: We would need this once. After that, it would be 48 tonnes of thorium per year].

Money for short

It costs 2000 dollars per kilowatt, and takes four years, to build a conventional reactor, on-site. This has already been done repeatedly in both Korea and Japan.

For 500 dollars per kilowatt, taking two years to build, we can mass produce the much-simpler LFTR in factories. A good size for Australia, with a big export market, is 100 megawatt reactor units, instead of the gigawatt behemoths common in the USA, Europe and Asia.  This has the following benefits:

– develops Australian heavy manufacturing capacity, as 480 units would be needed to convert all current Australian power generation plants

– smaller LFTR unit size mean more units are produced, speeding progress down the learning curve (getting cheaper, better, safer faster than bigger units)

– plenty of places are big enough to need a hundred megawatts but not big enough for a gigawatt

– right size to convert existing plants, using multiple units per plant site

– smaller units can be built quicker and trucked on-site, ready to install

– reduces risk for both buyer and seller

– builds capability to rapidly adapt and produce a variant for naval or spacegoing use etc

Converting existing powerplants can be done at low cost to any other alternative – we’re only changing the heat source, and using the rest of the old plant.  This includes the turbines, the switch yard, the power supply contracts – everything but the hot bit.  The conversion would then work out to three hundred dollars a kilowatt.

For a concrete example, consider Hazelwood, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. A world leader in carbon emission per megawatt, Hazelwood is rated at 1600 megawatts of electrical output.  It would take 16 one hundred megawatt LFTR core units to convert Hazelwood.  Total cost 572 million dollars, 30 million dollars per core, with startup fuel costs of 6 million dollars per core. This would remove 17.6 million tonnes of annual emissions permanently, at just over $4.90 per tonne of avoided carbon.

What is LFTR worth to the coal industry?

About 40 dollars per tonne dug out of the ground.

The LFTR operates hot enough to supply what is called ‘process heat’, which can be used to upgrade coal to higher, more profitable grades.  This cheap, abundant process heat can be used to push coal upgrading to new heights, while reducing the upgraded coal’s ultimate emissions by 20-25%.

Victorian brown coal, currently considered barely worth the cost of taking it out the front gate (which is why the Latrobe Valley plants each have a dedicated mine), can be upgraded to high-rank bituminous coal for powerplant or steelmaking use.  High quality thermal coal sells for around $130/tonne – as brown coal is 50-60% water, the upgraded coal gets 52 dollars per tonne dug up.

Low-rank, sub bituminous, black coals are somewhat drier (20-30% water) but still benefit from aggressive, LFTR-powered, coal upgrading.  White Energy claims, on the basis of their pre-production results, a 42 dollar per tonne increase in the upgraded coal’s value.

Since coal-fired power generation currently makes up 80% of Australia’s generating capacity, that’s 11 tonnes per head of annual emissions avoided by converting existing coal plants to LFTR.  The coal previously burned to emit that 11 tonnes per head (226.8 million tonnes annual emissions) can then be upgraded and exported, displacing a further 2.2 tonnes per head of Australian population (45.4 million tonnes annual emissions avoided by coal upgrading).

Natural gas-fired power plants also need to be converted – natural gas is far more valuable turned into petrol than burned.

That is at least 140 million tonnes of upgraded, high-grade, coal product exported instead of burned – how does an extra 5.5 billion dollars, yearly, sound?

What is LFTR worth to the power industry?

About 10 dollars per megawatt-hour of electricity generated.

High-temperature operation means more efficient power generation.  For example, Callide C power station, in Biloela, Queensland, operates at a thermal efficiency of 39%.  That means, for every megawatt-hour of electricity generated, it has to get rid of 1.6 megawatt-hours of waste heat.  Callide C gets rid of that waste heat through cooling towers that use lots of water – 1500 litres of fresh water turned into a white, cloudy plume for each megawatt-hour sent to the grid.

On the lower end, Hazelwood power station, in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, operates at a thermal efficiency of 24%.  For every megawatt-hour of electricity, it has to get rid of 3.1 megawatt-hours of waste heat, through water-hungry cooling tours.  3000 litres of water turned into that cloudy plume.

By contrast, the LFTR runs at a thermal efficiency of 44%, using dry cooling – much like your car’s radiator, on a slightly bigger scale.  Dry cooling means a LFTR unit doesn’t have to be sited near a water source, and can go where the power is needed.  An existing water-using power station, after being converted, can then sell the water it used to draw for its own use

An intriguing possibility for coastal and barge LFTR sites is cooling them by desalinating seawater, resulting in overall production of fresh water.  Using a simple membrane distillation process, an all-coastal LFTR fleet could produce enough fresh, drinkable water to fill Sydney Harbour every 5 months, as an afterthought of generating Australia’s 2007 power consumption, 240 million megawatt-hours.  That’s half of Australia’s total drinking water consumption made independent of drought, putting a dent in the Murray-Darling’s problems.

How does an extra 2.4 billion dollars, yearly, sound?

What about the jobs?

That’s part of the beauty of converting existing powerplants – no one needs to lose their job.  In fact, more people are needed, at coal mines, to tend the LFTR cores dedicated to coal upgrading and run the coal upgrading equipment.  These added jobs are at the high end of skilled and professional labour – $100k and up per year.

Yes, we need factories to build the 500 units needed to convert Australian power generation and provide process heat.  Three such factories, building 40-50 units per year each, would each employ roughly 2000 people to build the reactors, 500 to 600 supporting the factory, and that again for mobile crews to install the reactors.  Again, this is skilled and professional work (pipefitters, electricians, engineers), with the obvious effects on the local area’s economy (250 million dollars yearly from salaries alone per factory, before counting any indirect effects).

The jobs at each onshore unit simply cannot be exported, and will be around for the next two to three plant lifetimes – 250 to 300 years of highly skilled, highly paid Australian labour really kicking the economy along.  Similarly for the factories – high tech, high value centres of excellence and heavy manufacturing, employing thousands of people and bringing in billions of export earnings – keeping that all onshore, benefiting Australian wallets.

This effort then places Australia in an excellent position for tens of billions of dollars in export earnings each year.  Supplying and installing preassembled LFTR units, taking advantage of the Australian fleet build to form centres of excellence, and operating exported LFTR units under contract, keeping the Australian Safeguards Office happy.

Just as an afterthought, we could repeat that performance (48 gigawatts of LFTR, 480 more reactor units, on Australian-flagged and crewed barges, at twice the cost of land-based versions) to clean up the world’s top 12 bad boys of carbon.


Plant City Country CO2 output (tonnes/yr)
Taichung Lung-Ching Township Taiwan 41.3 million
Poryong Poryong-gun South Korea 37.8 million
Castle Peak Tuen Mun China 35.8 million
Reftinskaya Reftinsky Russia 33.0 million
Tuoketuo-1 Tuoketuo China 32.4 million
Mailaio Mailaio Taiwan 32.4 million
Vindhychayal Sidhi District India 29.0 million
Hekinan Hekinan Japan 28.9 million
Kendal Witbank South Africa 28.6 million
Janschwalde Peitz Germany 27.4 million
Suralaya Serang-Merak Indonesia 27.2 million
Tangjin Tangjin-kun South Korea 26.9 million

Thanks to for the compilation and CARMA for the raw data.

After we’ve cleaned our own backyard up, cleaning up the 12 bad boys would stop a further 380 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.  Australian know-how, sweat and ingenuity would then be responsible for stopping nearly three quarters of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, at a cost of $9.85 per tonne of avoided carbon.

What’s in it for me?

I thought you’d never ask.

Cleaner air is a slam dunk – fossil fired power plants are well known as large sources of air pollution.  Convert them to LFTR, and that air pollution goes away.  And your health care costs also go down since you’re now breathing that cleaner air.

Lower energy prices follow from conversion, in two parts.  Firstly, decarbonising power generation means no carbon is emitted to produce electricity, thus no carbon tax needs to be paid or emission permits need to be bought. As a result, the standing ETS costs that would be passed onto the customer aren’t there.  Secondly, you aren’t paying for over-hyped, under-delivering “renewable” power, such as solar or wind – they have their place, but it isn’t delivering reliable power for millions of ordinary Australians.  (Germany, despite its much hyped renewable build-out, has some of the highest power prices in Europe, well above current Australian levels.  France, getting 80% of its power from conventional nuclear, has Europe’s cheapest power).

And finally, job creation.  Those factories mentioned earlier will create more than 6,000 jobs – only counting their direct effects.  An entire industry will need staffing, and the education system will need to be vastly expanded to meet the demand for qualified people, such as nuclear-qualified plumbers, pipe-fitters, engineers, chemists and electricians.  By accepting LFTR technology, you solve the ETS dilemma while benefiting from the economic side effects of high paying, permanent, job creation.

Why haven’t I heard of this?

The LFTR was originally prototyped in 1968; the US Government ultimately pulled the plug on it because there were so many ways to more cheaply produce less contaminated material usable in a nuclear device! The very reason that damned it in the USA, saves it this time around for Australia.  The Americans got it off the ground, and did a lot of the basic research, while other groups, such as Professor Hideki Furukawa at the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum in Kanagawa, Doctor Jan Uhlir at the Nuclear Research Institute Rez in Prague, and Kirk Sorenson at the University of Tennessee, have filled in the gaps since.  It’s up to Australia to take the LFTR beyond the speed of sound.

There have been seventy thousand operational nuclear devices constructed since 1945, and not one from thorium.  Yes, it is so difficult that out of the ten countries with nuclear arsenals (USA, USSR/Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, South Africa and North Korea), none have bothered.

In Summary

Using LFTR, we can:

– solve the current ETS “problem”

– convert all our coal and natural gas powered plants, cutting their carbon emissions by 99%

– eliminate 275 million tonnes of annual emissions, forever

– upgrade coal for export (made possible by the LFTR) and eliminate another 55 million    tonnes – the coal industry pocketing 5.5 billion dollars of export earnings yearly for its trouble

– revitalise power generation, freeing it from worries about carbon emissions

– quit worrying about safety – no meltdowns, boiler explosions, etc

– power Australia while producing merely 48 tonnes of by-product per year (12 bathtubs of valuable, reusable and recyclable by-product, for such uses as lightbulbs, catalytic converters and jewellery)

Thanks are due to Professor Barry Brook (University of Adelaide) and three anonymous commentors, whose combined feedback has improved this article immensely.


Appendix A: Benefits of converting Hazelwood Power Station to LFTR

15% more electrical generation

17.6 million tonnes less carbon dioxide emitted (allowing for associated emissions) for 15% more power

Remaining plant life extended from 25 years to at least 80 years

Makes 25 million tonnes of low grade brown coal available to upgrade to 10 million tonnes yearly of high grade upgraded coal product available for export


Item ($ per megawatt-hour) Now Converted Difference
Capital costs 11.81 22.73 10.92
Decommissioning 0.00 0.011 0.01
Fuel 11.14 0.015 -11.125
Carbon permit cost 10.86 -4.840 -15.710
Operations & maintenance 4.28 6.2 1.92
Total 38.09 24.12 -13.98


Appendix B: Benefits of converting Callide C Power Plant to LFTR

20.5% more electrical generation

4.8 million tonnes less carbon dioxide emitted annually for 20.5% more power

Remaining plant life extended from 35 years to at least 80 years

Makes 2.6 million tonnes of mid-grade black coal available to upgrade to 2 million tonnes yearly of high grade upgraded coal product available for export.


Item ($ per megawatt-hour) Now Converted Difference
Capital costs 14.76 24.81 10.05
Decommissioning 0 0.008 0.01
Fuel 18.14 0.02 -18.12
Carbon permit cost 3.85 -4.93 -8.78
Operations & maintenance 4.08 6.20 2.12
Total 40.83 26.11 -14.72

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

75 replies on “A LFTR deployment plan for Australia”

What I’d like to know is
– if LFTR is so good why isn’t anyone (except India) building them ?
– Why are the new proposed plants in the US Gen 3 plants ? Why do they cost so much – and is so risky that nuclear lobby wants govt gaurantees on loans ?
– How many years will it take to get to a point where you can “mass” manufacture LFTR in 2 years for $500/kw ? How much will the research cost ?


Why do they cost so much – and is so risky that nuclear lobby wants govt guarantees on loans?

I don’t understand where all the money is supposed to go either, but government guarantees on loans reduce the risk that government will find ways — “public protest”, frequent rule changes — of harrassing nuclear construction projects until they are cancelled, and — oh look what happened by accident — being stuck with a lot of fossil fuel revenue from the un-harassed natural gas projects that end up producing the electricity instead. Historically, the creditors of the cancelled projects were just screwed, but now the government has to pay some or all of its ill-gotten gains to them.

Require your nuclear regulators to live within a mile of major gas pipelines and all kinds of nuclear plant will turn out to be quite easy to get into service. Recall how quickly Shippingport came, after the Nautilus.

(How fire can be domesticated)


@ evnow – Since when has being the best idea automatically meant that it would win? History is full of good designs that fell by the wayside because of shortsighted decisions that were made at some critical cusp in a technology’s development.


LFTR is a very elegant, very efficient, very cool piece of technology.

However, with regards to statements like this… “Thus, we use a hundred times less fuel than a conventional reactor, to generate the same amount of raw heat energy.”:

To be honest, I see this a lot from LFTR and thorium proponents, and I don’t feel that it is fully productive in helping the public develop a good understanding of nuclear energy technology.

You’re making a side-by-side comparison between a LFTR and a generation-II light water reactor with once-through inefficient use of LEU fuel with no recycling. For the most part, the enormous increase in fuel efficiency is equally true for something like IFR as well as LFTR, and this should be mentioned.

In that comparison, of course LFTR is far superior… but any Gen. IV technology and efficient fuel cycle is far superior to conventional enrichment and once-through LWR.

It kind of implies – if you have a public audience who aren’t experts – that uranium itself is intrinsically limited to the very inefficient utilisation that we see with conventional once-through LWR use, and the only way to change that is with thorium.

If we want to decide what the best Generation IV nuclear energy technologies are, then let’s have a side-by-side comparison of LFTR and IFR, as well as uranium-burning liquid-chloride MSR, PBMR/HTGR, liquid lead-bismuth fast reactor, ADS, etc. We know that any one of them is distinctly superior to LWR.


We know that any one of them is distinctly superior to LWR.

… which is itself distinctly superior to coal, oil and gas (from an emissions and fuel supply perspective) and renewables (from a reliability, cost, materials and land area perspective [and emissions if backup from gas is used]).

Bottom line, LWRs are a you-beaut technology, yet cursed by poor public perception regarding a mix of imagined and real problems with waste, fuel supply, safety and historical cost overruns due to anti-nuclear/pro-fossil-fuel interests. IFR, LFTR and other Gen IV designs are pathways to smoothing many of these barriers.


@Luke – This is a sales job for LFTR, in which fnord must and should put the product in the best posible light. It’s up to you to present arguments to the contrary, if you have them, not ask the pitchman to find fault with his product. :)


Well, this was a fun essay on LFTR. I would of written it differently, but this effort is sort of better for eliciting comments, I think.

The LFTR advantages over II, III and some IV gens can not be understated. And, it doesn’t come down the thorium per se but the liquidity of the fuel mix. I think that the distinct advantage of a liquid fuel reactor *because* of reprocessing makes the LFTR the premier choice.

Clearly, this has to be practically demonstrated in a full run R&D LFTR. But the clear ‘caveat’ to all other forms of reactors that they have solid fuels and thus require solid fuel reprocessing puts the LFTR out ahead and why it’s so attractive.

To wit, the garnering of enough U233 is clearly a big issue and initial stumbling bloc. This is why the chatter, mostly visiably by Charles Barton, on the Indian three phase IFR/PWR thorium reactor project needs to be addressed and why LFTR is tied, organically, to the success of the LWR and Indian thorium projects: we will need them to generate enough starter U233 for the LFTRs if we are develop a true phase in…and then phase out of LWRs (IFR development notwithstanding).



David, we don’t need starter U233, we just need starter fissile — whether that fissile is used to start LFTRs or IFRs. My next IFR FaD post will be on the ‘sparkplug’ problem (I loved this analogy) and the one after will be on its implications for roll out.

uncle pete – I fear the politics will only be solved by either (a) economic pain in trying to do it other ways first, or (b) copycat political switching after watching what happens with nuclear power in Asia (principally India, China and South Korea).


Seems like a no brainer to me.
When do we start?
Oh sorry I forget, Bob Brown and his greens won’t have a bar of nuke power in any shape or form.
Come to think of it , last time I looked Labor was not too keen either.
So we are stuck with a political problem, question is how to solve it. :(


I would drop the brown coal upgrading byline and go for desalination instead. In Victoria that suggests the in-progress site at Wonthaggi not Hazelwood. They want 102 MWe for reverse osmosis to be ‘offset’ by as yet unbuilt wind farms. I’m not sure what the thermal requirement would be for flash distillation that uses waste heat plus a much lower electrical input. I have another huge problem with Hazelwood; it has bad vibes with ash dumps, tar, heavy metals, scarred earth and general grime. NPPs should be clean and austere looking like military bases.

I’m inclined to agree that governments who want to get re-elected simply won’t put a high enough price on carbon (tax or cap) to make coal uncompetitive. If a baseload capable technology could undercut coal on levelised costs (interest, depreciation, carbon taxes, fuel, wages) then that would be great.


Imagine I’m an energy executive in Australia.

I’ve expended a lot of energy and used my status in lobbying to extract huge amounts of money (tax payers money) out of the government for the CPRS. Along comes a solution that is far cheaper. What am I going to do? Stay with the path of assured income or change course and go with a new system that I am not locked into technologically and have no ‘ownership’ of’……


What’s the point of upgrading lowgrade coal and then indulging in doubletalk about cutting CO2 emissions ? Who’s fooling who here ?

If we don’t leave the coal underneath the ground, we’ll ultimately reach a point when the climate tipping points of atmospheric ppm of CO2 will be passed. It doesn’t matter when, it will happen either a decade from now or 4 decades from now.. That time is immaterial when what we’re planning for is a safe future for our grandchildren.

Coal has to die. That is the real objective. It is as simple as that. Whether we do that by capping CO2 emissions, by carbon tax, or by a straightforward moratorium is secondary. But if the means are not achieving the end, then the means are utterly useless.

This article is quite a read ,and very well-written. A full-hearted advocacy for a very neat reactor design.. But the propaganda for increased coal usage has ruined it all. As they say, all it takes is a drop of poison to convert an innocent glass of milk into a deadly potion. Please take back this campaigning for coal and I’ll embrace this article whole-heartedly..



India is not buillding an LFTR (though I wish very much it is doing so). It is developing a fast reactor design akin to the IFR advocated on this blog.

The problem with India is that its resources are meagre and it makes sense to champion one reactor design and go full throttle on it. I’m proud to say India is doing quite a decent job on that..

The same can’ t be said about developed countries, especially the USA. The next-generation reactors are all prototyped and tested. But the actual development and deployment are facing severe bureaucratic hurdles.. none technical all political.

Shameless politicians are being sold out for lobbyists. This is the truth.


evnow, You ask several good questions, and the answers may not be simple.
You ask, “If LFTR is so good why isn’t anyone (except India) building them ?”

Answer: Molten Salt Reactor research was stopped in the United States during the 1970’s, basically for political reasons. Reasons that had to do with the politics of energy in the United States. I discuss this history in Nuclear Green. American government investments in nuclear technology have steadily declined since, and the United States Department of Energy has not made a serious attempt to review MSR potential. There is interest in MSR technology in Russia and Japan, but funds have not been made available for development. There are active MSR research projects in France and a couple of other European countries, but they are taking a business as usual approach to development.

We will not have LFTRs until some one pays for their development.

You ask, “Why are the new proposed plants in the US Gen 3 plants ? Why do they cost so much.?”

Answer, at the current moment Generation III plants are the best that are available. Most of the costs of operating a Generation III nuclear plant are paid up front. This is one reason for adopting LFTR technology, the upfront cost are lower. But even with the high up front costs, electrical costs from nuclear are lower than electrical costs from renewables. Today I have offered a post that suggests that electricity produced from conventional reactors will have lower costs than electricity produced any other generating source.
If you doubt my post, then take a look at the source of my ellectrical cost information.

Click to access WellsFargoPresentation.pdf

You ask, “and is so risky that nuclear lobby wants govt gaurantees on loans ?”
Answer, we are talking about perceived risks, not real risks. The electrical utilities that would be borrowing the money are relatively small businesses, so the cost of a nuclear investment looks huge on their books. Banks tend to shy away from that. There are no such problems in China and India, both of which plan to make enormous investments in nuclear power during the next few decades. A government loan guarente is like the government cosigning the loan application. The signature costs the government nothing, and the utilities will actually have to pay the government for it. Banks are more confident about government loan repayments than they are about utilities.

You ask, “How many years will it take to get to a point where you can “mass” manufacture LFTR in 2 years for $500/kw ? How much will the research cost?”

During the 1970’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory wrote up a detailed research plan for LFTR development. A 2009 price tag for the plan would be 2.5 billion dollars. The ORNL plan assumed a business as usual approach to development, but under the present circumstances it would be very desirable to speed up development. It would probably be possible to develop to the point of production for $15 billion in a 5 year time. The Airbus 380 aircraft cost close to $15 billion to develop, so that sume is not unreasonable for a complex manufactured object. Development would include development of the manufacturing process, as well as resolution of any siting problems and the development of decommissioning technology.


Luke, arguably the LFTR is less complex and will require fewer materials and less labor to manufacture. The LFTR core is smaller than an IFR core, so it will be more easily transportable. The IFR has some coolant safety problems, which means that additional safety features will be needed, and that will add to expenses. The LFTR will require a smaller start up charge, and than means that more LFTRs can be built and started quickly. Arguably fuel reprocessing with the LFTR is simpler, and less costly. Curent IFR fuel reprocessing technology losses as much as 3% of plutonium to the waste stream. The LFTR fuel reprocessing will be far cleaner. Do you need more reasons?


The one fly in the ointment I can see for Australia is the same one that will keep LFTR off the Canadian radar for the foreseeable future and that is the availability of uranium in both these countries. Thorium is very attractive to India, (and should be for the States) because they have more indigenous Th than U. Australia and Canada just don’t need to go down the LFTR path at the moment.

I’ve said it before: the future will have a place for several different reactor types depending on the application and the economics for each case. It’s not a zero-sum choice here. Having said that I do hope LFTR is one of the winners after all has been shaken out.



Unlike you, I am no genius, doing the impossible three times before breakfast without turning a hair. My sights are set a few orders of magnitude lower, in the realm of the possible – ie, closer to politics.

Rod Adams, among other bloggers, have noted AU Big Coal’s opposition to nuclear. Similarly, (I think) DV82XL et al seem to be of the opinion that the risk of not using nuclear exceeds the risk of using it.

Since change is happening, why not make it jingle in their pockets as well as your own?

John Newlands – I did mention desalination, but only in passing – the 1 Sydharb every five months from cooling an all-coastal fleet.

Luke, Charles, DV8 et al – I wrote what I did to address the so-called “concerns” often raised about safety, cost and “waste” in a manner that aimed to be non-technical, although Prof. Brook’s comments via email and yours here indicate I overshot my goal.

Jeremy – You could flog those carbon permits the government gave you and turn them into yet more cash.


Curent IFR fuel reprocessing technology losses as much as 3% of plutonium to the waste stream. The LFTR fuel reprocessing will be far cleaner.

Now, now, Charles, you can’t take the results of FOAK lab-scale reprocessing and assume it will always be so, and yet in the same sentence be assured that an alternative form of reprocessing that is good in theory has not been tried at scale either, will be far superior.

Anyhow, I’ll be doing a post about this point (and the “coolant safety problems” and “smaller start up charge”) in future IFR FaD posts.


I hope you did not intemperate my remarks as criticizing your post Alex, my comment on the applicability of LFTR designs in Canada and Australia were apropos to nothing, only an observation that our countries’ vast uranium reserves make that type of reactor a secondary choice to develop.


Barry, If the plutonium loss problem is so trivial, why have IFR advocates been trying to hush the problem up? At any rate there will not be a plutonium loss problem with the LFTR for obvious reasons, although there is a theoretical potential for a small amount of U-233 to be lost in the fission product stream. The two fluid approach to LFTR design means that any protactinium or U-233 that is not recovered from the blanket salt gets returned to the blanket salt, from which most of it can be recovered on the next go around.


Barry, I look forward to your “Sparking” entry. It’s true that U235 or Pu239 can be used for a LFTR but it reduces for several generations the doubling rate extensively, or so I’m told. I’m certainly no expert.

My point about India is that they will be producing U233 via LWRs and the first phase (I think) PHWR scheme they are pouring money and plans into. What I’m advocating is that the current generation of Gen III plants be used for the same purpose, with a thorium blanket around the U235 core to produce U233 for the LFTRs. As LFTRs get going, they won’t need this and the LWRs can cease being used as U233 breeders for the MSR.

It’s unfortunate the Indians are not into developing the LFTR, I agree.

The big tech issues for LFTR are, IMO, two fold.

Part of LFTRs appeal is the ability for dispatchable loading from minimum to maximum and back again very quickly. As I understand this its because Xe and other neutron poisons can quickly be fluoridated out via the same chemical train used to fluoridate out the protactinium. My issue with this how long this would take? What part of the fluoride/U233 inventory actually gets processed? On a nuclear submarine with very HEU (over 90%) they use temperature control to control poison build up.

Secondly, the turbine, if we go Brayton cycle. The S. Africans have given up trying make a Brayton cycle GT of the closed paradigm because…it’s almost a from-scratch development process. No one has really done the R&D on closed cycle Brayton turbines, it’s all been open cycle jet turbines. Westinghouse’s representative to the PBMR project in S. Africa noted that this was the single biggest PBMR stumbling block.


@Charles While I certainly hope we can do a better waste stream cleanup, we cannot assume at this stage that the difference will be large. Yes, IFRs process far more plutonium than LFTRs, but for any chemical separation the difficult part of the process is not the first 90% of the removal, but the last 0.1%. Even a pure thorium cycle LFTR will produce traces of plutonium, and the first pass (online) reprocessing will let some of this into the waste stream along with the rare earth fission products. Both IFR and LFTR waste streams after first pass reprocessing are a solution of fission products and some actinides in a molten salt. Any cleanup technique you can apply to either can be applied to both. There isn’t enough information, at least in the freely available literature, to determine whether the lower input concentration of plutonium (and other actinides) in the LFTR waste stream translates into a plutonium leakage rate that is ten times better than IFR or only twice.

What really worries me about IFRs is sodium fires. The inertness and inherent safety of molten salt coolant makes the safety case for LFTR much easier to prove, and that should allow simpler and cheaper plant.


In my opinion the prudent path for Australia to follow is to build Gen III plants with desalination at several greenfield coastal sites. The sites would have enough acreage for onsite waste storage, later reprocessing and whatever Gen IV design becomes economic. Those sites would be open ocean frontages, not gulfs, and somewhat isolated. The cost of new boilers, new transmission and of pumping desalinated water perhaps 200km or more would just have to be taken on the chin.

I suggest the first Australian site should be on the SA west coast to supply water and electricity for Olympic Dam as well as local businesses. If that goes well then the public may accept Gen III-desals closer to the big cities in each State. When Gen IV and reprocessing are ready those sites can be upgraded.


I wonder if anyone can suggest some objections to LFTR and how one can honestly respond.

I ask this seriously, because having energetically put the case for LFTRs to friends, the answer comes back :

well if they are so good and proven and if they can reduce nuclear waste, why isn’t everyone using them? You’d think they’d be everywhere but I’vwe never even heard of thorium until now

I didn’t quite know what to say, which for me is odd. I suggested it might be because governments like Pu239 because it keeps the nuclear weapons option open, but that didn’t really seem plausible if we are talking a place like Australia which has no nuclear weapoins and doesn’t aspire to them


Luke, there should be almost no plutonium produced by a thorium cycles LFTR, provided neptunium is continuously removed from the salt stream. The neptunium can of course be burned in a fast neutron reactor. The since fission products are either chemically bound or suspended in fluoride salt liquid, removing them is much easier than processing a solid fuel. Once the FP are removed, they have to be reprocessed anyway, since they need to be purified prior to sale. If you use plutonium in a start up charge things are more complex, but plutonium burn up works better in a thorium rich environment.



Barry, If the plutonium loss problem is so trivial, why have IFR advocates been trying to hush the problem up?

Who’s been trying to hush what up? Conspiracy theories are not befitting of this topic or community.

Regarding Pu loss in LFTR, of course this is trivial, but the relevant quantity I’m talking about, for either system, is total actinide loss.

I’m not sure what you mean here by doubling rate for LFTR — I assume you mean conversion ratio, but I don’t see why it would have an effect what fissile isotope was used to transmute Th-232. LWRs more readily breed Pu than anything else when their core is a U-235/U-238 mix (which it must necessarily be).

Regarding the closed Brayton turbine and a molten salt coolant, this is a strong focus of Per Peterson’s AHTR work: I agree it’s a high research priority.


@Barry: yes, I saw the Peterson paper when it went up on the site. he notes: “…multi-reheat helium Brayton (gas-turbine) cycle”. But that is it. He makes a big assumption (for this kind of paper I agree that it should be assumed) about the availability of these kind of turbines. It is a major area of research that needs to be done. Too many researchers assume that the R&D is simply a matter of GT re-engineering, as the Brayton cycle is already deployed in it’s open cycle form; the closed cycle form…not so much. In fact the S. Africans *dropped* it as the Chinese looked once and never went back. Westinghouse noted it was their *single biggest financial concern* for the PBMR. It’s a big deal and it’s been avoided.

I actually think the reactor itself will be the *easiest* R&D-to-deployment part of the entire LFTR project. Liquid onsite processing train and the turbines will be the most difficult and expensive parts.

By doubling, yes, I meant the breeding ratio. Breeding in the LFTR to get more U233 of course, not Pu. Everything I’ve seen for the LFTR makes this ratio a lot harder to achieve when the spark plug is U235.


BTW, Rob Hargraves sent me an interesting presentation which spruiked the need (very effectively I might say) for an RD&D programme for multi-reheat helium Brayton cycle.

I don’t think we can expect a CR > 1 in a LFTR, at least not if we wish to keep the fissile inventory low. Even with LeBlanc’s most optimistic BR of 1.13, we’re talking about very long doubling times due to a combination of a low BR and increased fissile requirements. In my humble opinion, LFTR models should focus on ensuring a CR = 1, and leave the breeding job to the metal-fuelled IFRs running on hard spectrums.


I agree…I wasn’t thinking, and we hardly discuss IFR/FR ratios of breeding. I’m talking, really, 1 = 1 ratio or, better, 1.1. To be effective, the 1 to 1 is perfect. We still will need that spark plug, however.

It would be interesting to come up with an Indian style plan incorporating a LWR–>IFR/LFTR scenario.


Charles, I appreciate where you are coming from but after months of wondering why we, on this forum, were not talking about the LFTR, now Barry has put an essay up on it, and we should focus on this, not the IFR.


@Jade Peters:

I didn’t quite know what to say, which for me is odd. I suggested it might be because governments like Pu239 because it keeps the nuclear weapons option open, but that didn’t really seem plausible if we are talking a place like Australia which has no nuclear weapoins and doesn’t aspire to them

Hi Jade. Perusal of the first link should provide some answers to your question. The second is a link to a wealth of technical papers on Kirk Sorenson’s site.


Having read through the first link I’m none the wiser, Finrod.

Perhaps you could summarise the main constraints (political, trade, technological, economic?) to the rollout of thorium reactors?

It wouldn’t be the first time a superior technology has been delayed for one reason or another.


Perhaps you could summarise the main constraints (political, trade, technological, economic?) to the rollout of thorium reactors?

When the LFTR was dropped in the US in the early seventies, it was based on a paper presented by a guy called Milton Shaw. This paper was a collection of spin, half-truths and outright lies about the perceived difficulties of developing the LFTR. The truth was that the LFTR was not capable of breeding the material the military needed for nuclear weapons or for future fuel needs. In the cold war atmosphere of the arms race and an uncertain supply of Uranium, this was a critical concern. Also, the proponents of the LFTR, kept raising concerns about the safety of the LMFBR and LWR models and Shaw did not take well to their criticism. This paper and the problems outlined in it are still at the core of many officials’ objections to developing the LFTR. When US energy secretary Chu recently noted his reasons for not considering MSR technology as part of the gen IV program, they were very much the same issues articulated in Shaw’s paper.

The other main problem is regulation. Given the thirty-odd year dormancy of the LFTR, the nuclear regulatory system has moved on and cannot cope with a reactor so radically different in design as this. A whole new regulatory framework would have to be developed to cope with a reactor with a molten core. Here is where Australia has an advantage. As we, alone in the developed world, have no planned or existing power reactors, we could start from scratch and develop a framework for reactor design which incorporates fluid fueled reactors from the start. All we have to do is convince the government its a good idea.


“Like all engines, the LFTR needs a spark plug to get going. Merely 500 kilograms of uranium enriched to just under 20% (keeping it in the low-enriched range) gets each hundred-megawatt core going.”

That depends on the particular design. Some designs wouldn’t need any enrichment at all, though those might not be suitable for the later phases burning fuel bred from thorium.

“To get that spark plug, we send 25.4 tonnes of raw uranium to someone like Urenco, USEC or AREVA and pay them to enrich it to 20%. The ideal would be for Australia to develop its own enrichment capabilities, under a program like the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, allowing it to not only enrich its own spark plugs for its LFTR fleet, but add value to the uranium it currently exports.”

Given that the idea is to move onto a thorium breeding basis, there would be no enduring local need for enrichment. Also, it would be practical to bypass a “spark plug” stage of operation, if the LFTRs started by using fuel bred from thorium in reactors of more conventional designs, which would work better with CANDUs that also don’t need enriched uranium rather than LWRs that do (I suspect you could run a CANDU inefficiently using supercritical CO2 or fluidised sugar charcoal as a moderator, so you might not even need heavy water). These starter reactors could be overseas or local, with local ones providing generic training for LFTR operating staff.

“An intriguing possibility for coastal and barge LFTR sites is cooling them by desalinating seawater, resulting in overall production of fresh water. Using a simple membrane distillation process, an all-coastal LFTR fleet could produce enough fresh, drinkable water to fill Sydney Harbour every 5 months, as an afterthought of generating Australia’s 2007 power consumption, 240 million megawatt-hours.”

The first sentence is workable if you use thermal distillation, the second is just silly because that method isn’t an afterthought – it takes mechanical power to do it, i.e. it doesn’t use waste heat, it uses the actual useful power output.

“How does an extra 2.4 billion dollars, yearly, sound?”

It sounds like confusing saving with earning. Sometimes the overall effect is the same, but not always, as you will find if you try to pay the rent with savings made by going to the New Year sales (it only works if you would have made those purchases anyway – but you weren’t necessarily going to put in and run desalination plants anyway).

My current thinking is that there is a problem area from the neutron economy of a straightforward thorium breeder, since even under ideal conditions the overall neutron economy is only just ahead of break even. That means LFTRs would need careful design, construction and operation to beat break even in practice, which in turn means lots of expensive R & D and training. For these reasons, my current thinking is that a fast/slow thorium breeder reactor with beryllium chloride as the solvent salt and no separate moderator would work better; the beryllium would provide some moderation and some neutron multiplication (so getting further ahead of break even), while the chloride wouldn’t slow neutrons too much for a material amount of multiplication to happen. Thorium would be bred in an outer jacket, say of fluidised powdered thorium fluoride that could be ripened outside the jacket, then sparged with more fluorine to get the bred uranium.


thank you for noting this about the infamous Shaw papers on the MSR (it was MSR then, now LFTR).

It goes back to a longer philosophical and historical perspective on the so-called “Atoms for Peace” program initiated by the US military and the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s.

I think Rod Adams my disagree with me here but here is my take on this…

“Atoms for Peace” was a marketing scam by the US Dept of Defense. There WAS peaceful intent for this program with the development of civilian commercial grid available power but this was not the motivation for it, far from it.

There were always two wings: the military side and the civilian side. A. Wienberg, a loyal and patriotic American genius was on the ‘peace’ side and saw the potential for nuclear energy early on. The other side, eventually represented by Shaw, was a military oriented bureaucrat.

What did this mean early on, however? It meant that the military, even with the very quiescent buy-in from the American voters, wanted passive support for something socially progressive, like nuclear energy. Behind this though was a massive Pu garnering infrastructure that was going to use the civilian and peaceful side of the nuclear energy to supply the Pu feed stock for all the marvelous bombs the USAF wanted to blow up Russia about 100 times. Unfortunately the brilliant Edward Teller was part of this.

Atoms for Peace was a publicity cover for the Pentagon to build bombs. The complete layout was the plant to deploy hundreds of Fast Breeder Reactors to produce Pu for both more reactors on the civilian side and atomic WMD for the military side. Same source. It’s the real orgin of the “Civilian nuclear = Nuclear Bombs”. Fermi I was part of this and is the only real reactor in the US I know of that was part of this plan, this dual-use plan envisioned in the 1950s.

More. Kerr-McGee where OCAW organizer Karen Silkwood was murdered (In everyone’s opinion who studied this case, especially the union) by management, was actually the plant that was set up to produce initial fuel for Fermi I and a spate of military reactors on the drawing board. They produced the fuel that melted down part way later on, detailed in the book “We Almost Lost Detroit”.

So…Shaw comes out of this military-uranium industrial complex. Stephen is 100% correct that he wouldn’t put up with a reactor design that lead away from non-Pu producing reactors. He only tolerated the LWR because they could provide public acceptance of nuclear energy while the military-breeder program tried to get off the ground, which as we know, was way too expensive in the way planned for in the 1950s and 60’s. Thus he killed a reactor that could of literally handled 100% of our energy needs…really, 100% if you consider electric vehicles or synthetic fuels.



Thanks Stephen T … so, if I get it rightly, the principal contemporary restraint is a regulatory/administrative one — that the design opf the reactors implies certification and compliance costs that, in addition to bureaucratic inertia, prejudice implementation.

It seems seems incredible that this is all the stands in the way.

How do you see progress towards at least a discussion of feasibility at the level of government occurring?


In my opinion, one of the best approaches to Molten Salt Reactor success is the one proposed by a group led by Dr. Kazuo Furukawa. Their proposal is to start with Mini FUJI reactor and then progress to full scale reactor. Mini FUJI is similar in design to MSRE in ONRNL
You can view the document at:

Click to access A%20ROAD.pdf

There is also a presentation document at:

Click to access CurrentMSRJapan.pdf

Mini FUJI reactor is intended to verify and improve on what was already done in ORNL.
Choosing steam turbo machinery to extract power from Fuji reactor is also very wise decision.
It is foolish to introduce two new technologies at the same time, hence Japanese shy away from Bryton cycle.
A little lower electrical efficiency in steam cycle is totally unimportant in a reactor that runs on super cheap Thorium fuel, when waste heat can be used to desalinate water.
There was some corrosion problem in original MSRE heat exchanger. It is claimed that 1-2% addition of Niobium (formerly Columbium) to Hastelloy-N is supposed to eliminate the problem, however, it need to be verified in actual working reactor circulation loop. Building Mini JUJI would accomplish this task.

I am watching the division in argument between fast breeder and MSR for over 30 years now and it is still going on. Even in this blog the division is evident.
What I would like to see is some unity in the direction we will take.
We need to go with both systems, IFR and LFTR. Both have their place in nuclear energy picture.


I find the discussion about Gen IV is too technical, reinforces the view that there is a long way to go before it is commercial, and presents a lot of partial information that could be interpreted to support the belief that nuclear weapons can be derived from civil nuclear power stations.

The focus needs to be on the cost of electricity.

If we want to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation we have two options:

1. Increase the cost of electricity from CO2 emitting electricity generators, or

2. Reduce the cost of low emission technologies until they generate electricity at equivalent or lower cost than the high emissions technologies.

If we increase the cost of electricity – e.g. with an ETS – then we will slow the rate of electricity uptake. In the Developed countries this means a slower rate for electricity displacing gas for heating and oil for transport. So emissions will be higher and for longer. In the Developing countries, higher electricity prices will slow the up take of electricity. Development will be slower and emissions will be higher for longer. Therefore, raising the cost of electricity is not a desirable solution.

If, instead, we reduce the cost of clean electricity, then electricity will displace gas for heating and oil for transport – both directly as in electric vehicles and indirectly via synthetic fuels produced using electricity. If electricity can be supplied at lower cost, its take up will be accelerated in the developing countries. Electricity brings enormous benefits to everyone. Clean electricity will reduce the emissions that these countries will produce as they develop.

Current estimates say that the settled down cost of electricity from nuclear power in Australia would be some 25% to 50% more than electricity generated from coal.

The focus should be on how we can implement nuclear power at costs similar to or less than coal.

1. Can Gen IV play a role in this in the foreseeable future? If so how? Let’s have some well substantiated estimates for the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) generation from Gen IV.

2. How can we implement Gen III in Australia so we avoid the enormous cost impacts that are imposed on it elsewhere.

3. How can we get Australia’s population to consider implementing a regulatory environment for nuclear in Australia that is based on the same level of risk that we have long accepted for other industries?

The focus needs to be on the cost of electricity


Does anyone have a view about the proposed construction of nuclear facilities in Java not far from active volcanoes and the plate boundary?

I suspect we are going to have to be ready to answer a flood of disinformation and panic-merchanting on this issue?

Does anyone know what style of plants are being considered?


Charles Barton,

Thanks for your detailed answers.

But this gave me a pause …. a big pause. I’m not exactly a finance novice.

A government loan guarente is like the government cosigning the loan application. The signature costs the government nothing

I think the facts are simple
– Pvt companies and investors are pouring money into PV etc
– Nuclear needs Govt gaurantees, otherwise no pvt investor touches it
– Recently many nuclear power plants (canada, turkey etc) were cancelled because of extremely high costs

I’d like to see the costs of an actual nuclear plant that has been built recently compared to a utility scale renewable plant.

I like the idea of LFTR – since it can use vast amounts of nuclear “waste” we have. Unfortunately, it looks like LFTR is years away. It has not even been built at larger scales anywhere (and there are no concrete plans to do so) – and thus I’ve to say all costs/prices given are speculation. So are the # of years it will take to commercialize “mass” production.


@jade – a NPP is not any more vulnerable than most power generating facilities, and in some cases in intrinsically safer. I would prefer to live next to a earthquake hardened NPP than in the floodplain of a hydro dam in the same place.

Proper building techniques are well known and understood for NPP construction, complements of the Japanese. They have had stations suffer earthquakes, and have learned much that others can draw on in this matter.


P.M. Lawrence,

That’s the reason I picked membrane distillation – can work with a hot side down to 20-30C and electricity is only required to move the feed saltwater, product fresh and waste brine streams.

Re the XB AUD yearly, I was referring to the combo of savings and increased revenue – primarily revenue delta for upgraded coal, more a combo of revenue and savings for power.

Going the “spark plug” route would obviate the need for a local CANDU fleet, but I see your point about thinking forwards to provide a half-used nuclear fuel recycling capability (DUPIC, then incinerate the remaining non-U actinides in LFTR while charging customer for tipping fees, cleanup, and the recovered U). I personally would prefer to avoid any type of PxWR.


How do you see progress towards at least a discussion of feasibility at the level of government occurring?

There needs to be an acceptance by the public, and hence pressure on government, to at least consider the benefits of nuclear power in general and molten salt technology in particular. To consider the option of MSR technology, the Australian government would have to feel confident enough to go in a direction which America has rejected. A grass roots campaign is the essential first step in this process. The MSR concept has been sidelined by vested interests and political agendas and needs to be considered on its merits. The technical issues quoted as reasons not to proceed are engineering problems which have largely been solved, or which can be solved with minimal research. The original MSR project went from concept to criticality in 5 years. With the necessary political will, a prototype LFTR, that is a MSR with the addition of a breeder blanket to convert thorium to fissile fuel, could be achieved in a relatively short time. The worst outcome would be to think, in 15 years, ‘I wish we’d started this 15 years ago’. I feel we need to find a way to initiate the debate and to open people’s minds to the possibilities.


Peter Lang, you have asked three very good questions. I have addressed the first question in past Nuclear Green posts.
1. Can Gen IV play a role in this in the foreseeable future?
Answer:Yes, the first Generation IV commercial prototype is starting operation in India next year.

Question: If so how?
Answer: In the near term it would require big institutional changes. For example, buying turn key reactor installations from the Indians.

Question: Let’s have some well substantiated estimates for the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) generation from Gen IV.
Answer: I have made some preliminary estimates, bast on old ORNL estimates, and I will post on those estimates soon on Nuclear Green.

2. How can we implement Gen III in Australia so we avoid the enormous cost impacts that are imposed on it elsewhere.
Answer: The same as above, buying turn key reactor installations from the Indians.

3. How can we get Australia’s population to consider implementing a regulatory environment for nuclear in Australia that is based on the same level of risk that we have long accepted for other industries?
Answer: Actually, as far as accident risks, the world standard for all current nuclear technology, and this includes Indian technology,

Q: The focus needs to be on the cost of electricity.
Answer: I have always focused on the cost of electricity on Nuclear Green.


Alex G:

I’m not an engineer and have a finance background.

Just so I understand it, the generation system, you’re proposing obtains it’s fuel from coal, is that correct? In other words the reactor isn’t uranium based but it’s coal based. Do I understand it correctly?

Thanks in advance.

Peter Lang’s comment

I find the discussion about Gen IV is too technical, reinforces the view that there is a long way to go before it is commercial…….

I think there is a good point there, Peter.

However I would argue that necessity is the mother of invention.

I would suggest my plan with some obvious input from others :-)

The fact is that the modern world is heading towards reactor based energy and with time, say over the next 10 to 20 years, the price of reactor installation will fall dramatically as the structure moves away from essentially bespoke type installation to relatively large off the peg, which is when you begin to see economies of scale and competitive pressures push the price dramatically down.

We have seen evidence of this all through economic history since the advent of the industrial revolution. Cars were once transport for the rich until Henry Ford showed up. Recently we have seen this in action with large-scale plant installation with the Chinese steel furnace. The Chinese developed a no frills furnace that cut the capital cost by 60% and they are busily installing these in China and around the world now. The Chinese have revolutionized the installation of steel furnaces believe it or not. The same will happen with reactors: I have no doubt.

Why don’t we roll the 1st phase of the ETS into a plan to install X number reactors by 2030 that will be equal to the targeted emissions reductions at that point in time planned under an ETS. We should begin seeing a drop in price from about 2015 onwards. The bulk of the installation should be between 2020 and 2030 to take advantage of the drop in the capital costs. From then on proceed methodically to adopt the last phase of conversion getting us to zero emissions by 2050.

The other interesting thing I have heard was from a BMW engineer in that BMW along with the other 3 large German carmakers are betting strongly that hydrogen will be the fuel of choice beyond 2025 and they see hybrid engines as basically an interim solution. BMW expects their engines will be hydrogen based from 2025 onwards.

By 2050 our electricity production and nearly all our road transportation could really be emissions free without any huge reduction to our growing living standards.

One other thing I have been told and this could be corrected, as I have no way of knowing. The ETS in its current structure is unworkable (forgetting of course the large inefficiencies it would create with rent seeking all through industry. Government s don’t do rent seeking very well).

The problem I’ve heard is that the combination on renewables with coal-fired plants makes it impossible to reach the targets they set by 2020. The problems are several.

1. Unlike the US we essentially have a north/south grid presenting problems in terms of where you place renewable installations.
2. Our weather/climate is experienced in a very large radius, which means renewable would have to be placed very diffusely and away from the grid further adding to the cost of energy.
3. Renewable energy is of course transient which means that affects the ratio of renewable to conventional energy production.

The last point is important as coal fired plants reactivity is very slow which means the maximum amount of renewable energy that can be put into the grid is far lower than the ETS planned. It’s more like 7% max rather than 20%. Other places have nuke energy where reaction time is basically almost equal to the flick of a switch.


One point worth noting, which I don’t think has been pointed out yet, is the ability of the molten salt reactors to load-follow. This means that, as the demand on the reactor drops and less heat is removed from the salt loop, the reactivity drops due to the expansion of the fuel salt. This means that the current use of gas-fired generators to provide peak power would not be necessary. Although it has been noted that it would be most economical to run the reactor flat out all the time and use the excess energy for desalination or transport fuel production in the off-peak cycle, the load-following capability is still an important feature of molten salt reactors.


Jc, on December 21st, 2009 at 0.14 Said:

Just so I understand it, the generation system, you’re proposing obtains it’s fuel from coal, is that correct? In other words the reactor isn’t uranium based but it’s coal based. Do I understand it correctly?

The reactor in question runs on thorium. Thorium is a fertile fuel, not fissile, which means that in its natural state it will not fission. To convert thorium into a fissile fuel, it needs to be exposed to a source of neutrons. By circulating a blanket of thorium salts around the reactor core, the excess neutrons produced in the reactor are absorbed by the thorium in the blanket salt, which converts it to U233, the fuel used in the reactor. Its a very neat and beautifully balanced process which gives excellent neutron economy and complete fuel burnup. A 1GW power station would use a bit less than 3Kg of fuel per day.



Unless you’re sitting on a process to reliably extract the uranium and thorium present in coal, then no, it doesn’t obtain its fuel from coal. As I said, LFTR relies on the Th-U cycle, not the U-Pu cycle of more conventional reactors (xWR, Prof Brook’s beloved IFR, LMFBR, et al).

Such standardisation as you advocate is behind the gains in reactor cost and time seen in Korea and Japan, and starting to be seen in China.


As far as I know, most countries around the world seem more interested in the liquid metal fast reactors running on uranium than the thorium reactors. This is true for Russia, China, Japan, the U.S., and many other nations. Areva says that “our grandchildren” will be using thorium, but it seems like the sodium or even lead or gas-cooled fast reactors are planned before thorium. Advantages include free fuel (in fact better than free, since we “don’t know what to do with” the DU or spent fuel from LWRs) and an unlimited fuel supply if you go to seawater uranium at just $200 a pound. Thorium could take us out millions of years at maybe $14,000 a pound, but that would make it non-competitive with fast reactors.

In my view, the conspiracy theory allegations of hiding facts about the IFR and government cover-ups by some don’t serve this community in what really used to be a common cause to just save the climate as fast as possible, LWRs included, which can form a synergy with IFR (free fuel) and LFTR (U-233 charge breeding).


Although I believe that the molten salt reactors and the thorium fuel cycle offer some compelling advantages over solid fuel reactors and the uranium/plutonium cycle, I have to agree that it serves no-one’s interests to bicker amongst ourselves about the relative merits of one system over another. Damage done to one nuclear technology counts as damage done to all nuclear technologies. The one universal truth is, IMHO, that nuclear energy is the only energy source which CAN offer a solution to climate change. Despite anyone’s loyalty to any one brand of nuclear energy production, the synergy model seems the most likely to be actually capable of bringing about real change. First step should be to build nuclear power plants any way we can. We can afford the luxury of arguing about which system is best when we have climate change under control.


First step should be to build nuclear power plants any way we can. We can afford the luxury of arguing about which system is best when we have climate change under control.

Indeed. It’s like discontinuing a habit of hitting one’s own head with a hammer. Should we stop self-hammering and go to the beach? Stop self-hammering and get a job? Maybe stop self-hammering and start reading a good book … there are many options, and they aren’t as mutually antagonistic as you might think.

(How fire can be domesticated)


“First step should be to build nuclear power plants any way we can. We can afford the luxury of arguing about which system is best when we have climate change under control.”

I disagree. It is precisely that conventional nuclear plants cost too much to construct; that Uranium and Plutonium are weaponizable; that Uranium fuel is growing scarce and is too expensive; that other conventional nuclear plants can “explode” and are therefore feared by citizenry; that waste products have many tens of thousands of years of hazardous existence before becoming safe; etc., etc., that the case for LFTR has to be made now before other nuclear energy plants give the nuclear industry another black eye (or worse)! The time for LFTR is now!


Greg, I think you are missing the point.

First, it’s clear that costs may be high, but not THAT high that it makes it prohibitive. When or if Aust. gets around to building nukes, and since this generation of nukes are standardized, I expect prices to drop, not go up as expertise in construction is accrued, thanks largely to the Chinese.

Secondly, there facts and there are facts. Plutonium is weaponizable. So what? Are we afraid that a country like Australia is going to set up a secret factor in the Outback and turn out nukes? Really? Be serious. This is a straw man argument of Oz.

Thirdly, nuclear power plants can’t “explode” and the new ones are about 1,000 time safer than any in the current fleet of LWRs.

Fourth, I agree, LFTR’s time is now and we should put the bucks toward deploying it. But unfortunately it’s also tied to Gen III reactors, IMHO, and others as well, in order FOR the public to accept LFTR.


My understanding is that the material science is not all there yet for commercial production of the LFTR. Molten anything would likely be VERY corrosive. For a nuclear power plant that is supposed to last for 50 years, making containment vessels and conduits and other handling equipment to handle such in a reliable, repeatable manner, would seen like quite a feat.

Also, what’s going to guarantee that lower cost manufacturers would not take your lunch once you figure out how to do it? The safer course seem to be to involve such low cost manufacturing countries to begin with.


Barry Brook, I find your presentations on nuclear power persuasive. As an action oriented person I want to try to make things happen. It seems to me that president Obama (I live in the USA) has created a situation that is highly favourable to the development of new advanced fission reactors.

By de-funding the expansion of Yucca mountain Obama has released $90 billion for other uses but at the same time he has created a problem because we have run out of space for spent LWR fuel rods. Ergo, we need to get innovative and come up with a way to diminish the inventory of higher Actinides while expanding nuclear power generating capacity . I would like to suggest that instead of putting up loans to encourage the building of LWRs, the Obama administration should encourage new designs.

The US government should invite competitive proposals from private companies to build the following:

1. A 1 GWe reactor which can consume waste that was destined for Yucca mountain. Your website mentions LFTRs that have this capability but there may be other options.

2. A dry re-processing reactor capable of delivering at least 200 MWe of electricity as a by product. I did not see GEM*STAR listed on your web site but that would be a contender.

While I like IFRs too, the US program was de-funded a while ago and the French recently killed the Super-Phenix. The political hurdles may be too high.

Any ideas for getting the band wagon rolling?


Any ideas for getting the band wagon rolling?

Plenty, but I don’t think anything much will happen until the Blue Ribbon Committee reports in. That was Obama’s delaying tactic on used nuclear fuel management. The best short-term hope is to get a LWR-used-fuel recycling plant built in the US, and a metal-fueled fast reactor built in Russia, both within the next 5 years. That is what SCGI is currently working on.


The scientific establishment in the USA is still committed to the “once through” approach based on LWRs. With regard to wet reprocessing we are so far behind the French it would make no sense to make investments in that field.

Using advanced reactors such as IFRs, LFTRs or ADRs to perform some dry reprocessing needs to be looked at but it is unlikely that these ideas will get fair consideration given the views of the entrenched bureaucracy here.

The problem is what I call “Soft Lysenkoism”. Essentially, the government (Blue Ribbon Committee) picks the winners and losers so as to determine the outcome of a “Virtual Race”.

That is why I proposed using a very public and probably messy RFQ process to give exposure to truly innovative companies that nobody has heard of. As things stand, I don’t have much confidence in our government operating behind closed doors in cahoots with the established LWR suppliers.

You are probably right; I need to shut up and leave it to the pros.

I am a retired physicist trained in nuclear radiation safety. The axe that I have to grind is the continued employment of some great colleagues who are still active in this field.

Many thanks for taking the time to respond.


Kirk Sorensen gave a great 16 min interview with Paul Comrie-Thompson on ABC radio yesterday (the Counterpoint programme, on which I’d previously spoken, see here).

Thorium: a future energy source?
Thorium has been promoted as the super safe, green and clean, massively abundant fuel of the future. Kirk Sorensen outlines some of the possibilities that Thorium has to offer.


WHY are Australia NOT involved in The Generation IV International Forum?

YET… we get smashed with Carbon trading taxes under the ‘ever changing face’ of government, due to a clear lack of understanding, knowledge and the scientific “experts”, charged with the duty of educating our fearless leaders?

Wake up Australia, your most precious assets are being used to create weapons to destroy you.


It would be nice if the current capitalist system worked in a way that allows a LFTR, but it doesn’t. Period. It’s broken and I fear it can’t be fixed. The big banks and oil companies own Australia as much as they do the rest of the western world and they have no interest in anybody having energy independence. Even if they do eventually have an interest in LFTR technology, don’t expect a cost savings at all on your end. They will pocket the extra profits, and find other ways to create waste and pollute the earth.


Great discussion! From what I have read LFTR appears by far to be the best technology. What it lacks is an angel that can carry the politics forward. I think we should all read Al Gore’s new book “The Future” and try to get him on board to convince a dysfunctional US government to furnish the seed money for a demonstration plant. You guys are great, but we need some horse power!


The US and other countries with stocks need to use up their SNF first before getting into thorium. The type of MSR needed to be developed is fast spectrum to burn the uranium-238. The reactor grade plutonium, like the stocks held by the UK is a great help.
Thorium could be useful for India and China with low uranium reserves and abundant thorium, they could go for it but only after assuring sufficient supply of fissile fuel.


Fast spectrum MSR means using Chlorides which will require quitea bit more development than Fluoride reactors.

Namely it is expected that corrosion will be worse (but expected to be managable), isotopic separation will be required for the Chlorine (and it isn’t as easy as for Lithium) and reactor stability may not be as good.


I would make 2 suggestions to add to your discussion above;
1) Discussion of the current india research into Th reactors
2) A quote of the greenpeace founders stating that they were wrong about nuclear, and “nuclear is good ok”.


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