Energy shortages such as occurred in the 1970s have been consigned to history, thanks to the fracking boom and other technological developments in oil and gas production. Renewable Energy technology, particularly solar power, has improved steadily but has not yet cracked above a small fraction of electricity generation in the United States. A recent article in ZME Science suggests that an old technology may be about to create a revolution in nuclear energy that will change the world. The technology in question is molten salts reactors.

Conventional nuclear reactors use solid fuel rods to create a fission reaction Molten salts reactors (MSRs) use fuel such as uranium-235 dissolved in molten fluoride salts.

The molten salts reach a temperature of 700 degrees and then settles into a stable fission reaction.

The advantage that MSRs have over conventional reactors is that they cannot meltdown, as happened at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. A breach of the reactor due to a terrorist attack would leak the liquid fuel after that it would solidify before it spread into the surrounding environment. Spent molten fuel is only radioactive for 300 years, a relatively brief time, compared to nuclear waste from conventional reactors. Indeed, nuclear waste from conventional reactors can be recycled and used in MSRs.

MSRs were first developed in the 1950s as part of a project to create a nuclear-powered bomber.

When that idea proved to be impractical, Oak Ridge built a model in the 1960s that ran successfully for four years. Despite the fact that MSRs have distinct safety advantages, creating them for civilian use was vetoed by President Richard Nixon for reasons that remain obscure.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and NASA hit upon using MSRs to provide power for future lunar bases.

Even though going back to the moon is on hold, for now, thanks to a decision made by President Barack Obama, modern engineers are beginning to see the technology’s utility for Earthbound uses. Concerns about climate change, well-founded or not, is causing a revival of interest in this kind of nuclear reactor.

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