All parties agree that we need a reasoned strategy for a carbon-free economy. Wind power and solar have considerable downsides: windmills kill large numbers of birds and bats and there is also the problem of intermittency and expense with both. There is a much better answer for sustainable and carbon free energy and it’s been around and ignored since the 1960s: it is molten salt nuclear reactors (MSRs).

In today';s nuclear reactors, the fission reaction takes place at very high pressures due to plutonium pellets stacked in sealed rods, which are cooled with water. This produces radioactive gases, caesium and iodine (the ones that caused the problems at Chernobyl) under extreme pressure. The safety measures that this necessitates makes them prohibitively expensive.

Molten salt reactors (MSRs) are chemically stable and can operate at high temperatures at atmospheric pressure, which means there is no need for costly pressure domes. The pellets are replaced with molten salt, which is both the coolant and carrier of the reactive elements. If the temperature gets too high, the reactivity goes down; and furthermore the salt can be automatically drained into sump tanks below the assembly.

MSRs use fuel far more efficiently than conventional reactors and the fuel is abundant and virtually free. With conventional reactors, only one to four per cent of the fuel (uranium or plutonium) is used and the remainder is stored as waste. This remains radioactive for thousands of years, thus presenting many problems now and for future generations. With MSRs, however, virtually all of the fuel is used, thus making it far safer alternative.

MSRs can also use thorium, which is easily turned into uranium 233. Thorium is four times as abundant as uranium and at present is a harmless waste by product of rare earth mining. Nevertheless, at present, thorium is stored at great expense, as if it were as dangerous as uranium.

This is not new technology. It’s originator, Alvin Weinberg’s original molten-salt reactor experiment at the Oakridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, went critical in 1965 and ran until 1969 before being shut down by Richard Nixon. This is the inspiration behind the numerous present-day developments promoted by the Thorium Energy Alliance, such as Moltex Energy, Thorcon and Elysium Industries.

Serious interest is being shown for this technology in several countries, including Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia and most importantly, China.

Some interest has been shown in the UK but this great opportunity has so far been missed, which is a tragedy in view of today’s environmental concerns.

Speedy adoption of this technology, which could be cheaper and easier to build than coal fired power stations, would transform Britain and the world.

We would not only survive the new challenges of the 21st Century, but survive with style!

Anthony Kerstein

Crown Road, Barkingside