07 July 2011

Backyard Molten Salt Reactors for Suburban Apocalypse

The suburbs may not seem to be the best place to survive an apocalypse, but some people think it can be done.
Who knows how everything will shake out when the world goes to hell, but the suburbs may be well positioned to thrive with fewer resources, as Brown points out. Suburbs are close enough to the city to be convenient and encourage community building, yet spread out enough to offer yards and substantial garden space. (Suburban soil is also usually less contaminated than urban soil.) The houses are large enough to accommodate multigenerational households and cottage industries, which some demographers predict as coming trends. _CityPaper

But you and I know that to well and truly survive an apocalypse in the suburbs, you are going to need a lot of juice -- in more senses than one. You will need plenty of fluids, true. You will also need plenty of heat and electrical power to survive the winters and power air conditioners through the summer. In a third sense of the word "juice", you will need plenty of clout and respect. And what better way to gain the respect of one's extended neighbors, than to have your own functioning nuclear power plant in your backyard?

Consider the thorium molten salt reactor, pictured above:
The MSR design has two primary safety advantages. Its liquid fuel remains at much lower pressures than the solid fuel in light-water plants. This greatly decreases the likelihood of an accident, such as the hydrogen explosions that occurred at Fukushima. Further, in the event of a power outage, a frozen salt plug within the reactor melts and the liquid fuel passively drains into tanks where it solidifes, stopping the fission reaction. “The molten-salt reactor is walk-away safe,” Kutsch says. “If you just abandoned it, it had no power, and the end of the world came--a comet hit Earth--it would cool down and solidify by itself.”

Although an MSR could also run on uranium or plutonium, using the less-radioactive element thorium, with a little plutonium or uranium as a catalyst, has both economic and safety advantages. Thorium is four times as abundant as uranium and is easier to mine, in part because of its lower radioactivity. The domestic supply could serve the U.S.’s electricity needs for centuries. Thorium is also exponentially more efficient than uranium. “In a traditional reactor, you’re burning up only a half a percent to maybe 3 percent of the uranium,” Kutsch says. “In a molten-salt reactor, you’re burning 99 percent of the thorium.” The result: One pound of thorium yields as much power as 300 pounds of uranium--or 3.5 million pounds of coal.

Because of this efficiency, a thorium MSR would produce far less waste than today’s plants. Uranium-based waste will remain hazardous for tens of thousands of years. With thorium, it’s more like a few hundred. As well, raw thorium is not fissile in and of itself, so it is not easily weaponized. “It can’t be used as a bomb,” Kutsch says. “You could have 1,000 pounds in your basement, and nothing would happen.”

Without the need for large cooling towers, MSRs can be much smaller than typical light-water plants, both physically and in power capacity. _PS
And the advantages of the thorium molten salt reactor go on and on. Even many greenies are on board for thorium MSRs.

It is likely to be touch and go to get Obama's nuclear regulatory commission to license the safer, newer, cheaper nuclear plants, but nuclear engineer Kirk Sorensen has founded a company named Flibe, to build and market the devices. Even if he has to go to China to build the reactors, you can always have one smuggled into your country of choice and installed in your back yard under a small carnival tent -- to hide it from annoying satellites.

Remember, if you have a reactor like this, you will have all the juice you could possibly need. You could even build a giant dome over your entire neighborhood and give it the climate of Tahiti year-round, if you like. Tropical fruits taste quite good, particularly in the middle of typical apocalyptic mass food shortages.

But don't get cocky. Once residents of surrounding suburbs and neighboring cities catch on to the fact that you had the foresight to prepare for the apocalypse, they will want a large piece of what you have. That is where juice -- and knowing how to use it -- truly comes in handy.

More on this topic in a future posting.

Previously published at Al Fin Potpourri

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