Kirk Sorensen, President of Flibe Energy, recently addressed the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) inaugural conference in London, discussing the evolution of nuclear energy while emphasizing the significant role that molten salt reactors will play.
Clean, affordable, reliable energy is at the heart of economic growth. Fossil fuels have powered the ascent of civilization for centuries, but a replacement energy source is needed and we believe that it will be nuclear energy, but not as you’ve known it up to this point.
Today’s approach to nuclear energy uses mined uranium as its fuel and pressurized water as its coolant. Thermal power is converted to electricity by giant steam turbines. Condensing that steam requires access to a lot of cooling water and limits where we can build plants. Today’s nuclear has terrible fuel efficiency: only about one-half of one percent of the energy content of the mined uranium is extracted as useful energy. What remains ends up as nuclear waste that has been the potent focus of political opposition. These disadvantages have soured the public on the potential of nuclear as a solution to future energy needs.
We believe there’s a better story. Reactors don’t have to use so much water, they can be more efficient, and we can eliminate nuclear waste production. The solution is the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, which we’re developing at Flibe Energy. It’s based on thorium, the world’s greatest source of stored energy, three times more abundant than uranium and present everywhere in the world. Our reactor uses thorium so efficiently that it can power human industrial civilization for millions of years. The salt we use is a liquid mixture of lithium and beryllium fluoride salts called flibe and that’s where our company gets its funny name.
Flibe salt is superior to water as a nuclear coolant in every respect, operating at high temperature yet at low pressure, impervious to radiation damage, and storing more heat in its volume than water. Flibe is perfectly suited to drive advanced gas turbines based on carbon dioxide instead of steam to generate power.
At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s they built a small experimental nuclear reactor based on flibe salt. Meltdowns and other potential nuclear accidents were eliminated by design. No emergency response was required because the reactor could drain itself into a passively-cooled configuration.
Our modern designs couple Oak Ridge technology with CO2 gas turbines to create safe, compact, affordable systems that use little to no water which means they can be built just about anywhere. Our designs also produce materials that can generate remote power, image the internals of the body, and fight cancer. Variant designs can also permanently destroy existing nuclear waste, generating billions of dollars worth of electricity while reducing the costly burden of nuclear waste liabilities on governments. They can also generate new fuel to start more thorium reactors.
We are working to deploy small modular thorium reactors with electric cooperatives in rural communities across the United States. From there we plan to power global shipping, an area where a single large ship makes as much air pollution as millions of cars. Then we will replace shuttered coal and nuclear plants, repowering communities often devastated economically by their loss while taking advantage of existing power transmission infrastructure. We believe that the result of our efforts will be reliable, affordable, sustainable energy for the whole world.