Written by guest blogger John Laurie
What do the two men above have in common?
Well, they both made great contributions to humanity by proposing a change to the established order in which things are done.
The man on the left was the first to say “Hey, why don’t we cut the bread BEFORE we sell it?”
The man on the right was the first to say “Hey, why don’t we have the meltdown BEFORE we put the fuel in the nuclear reactor?”
In 1927 Otto Frederick Rohwedder successfully designed a machine that not only sliced the bread but wrapped it. Missouri’s Chillicothe Baking Company installed his first machine, and the first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially on July 7, 1928. Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced bread soon became available across the USA.
Alvin Weinberg and his team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) pioneered liquid fission, building and operating the world’s first nuclear reactors to use a liquid fuel composed of molten fluoride salts.
The Molten Salt Reactor Experiment ran successfully at ORNL from 1965 to 1969. Raw materials were prepared using a meltdown furnace, then allowed to cool before being shipped to the reactor site for re-melting and transfer into the drain tanks of the reactor. The word “meltdown”, which has become synonymous with major accidents in solid fuelled reactors, describes a completely normal and safe process in liquid fission.
The ORNL team proved that this technology could be cheaper, safer, more efficient and generate far less waste than solid fuelled reactors, only to see their funding cancelled and the team disbanded, mainly for political reasons.
But advocates of liquid fission should take heart from the story of sliced bread. Rohwedder originally began working on the bread-slicing machine concept in the 1910s. Unfortunately a fire in 1917 destroyed the factory that was to produce the invention, and the original blueprints. It took him 10 years to recreate his invention.
It’s been over 40 years since Alvin Weinberg built his liquid fission machine. Now a new crop of researchers are picking up where he left off. It’s time for his idea to flow.
John Laurie is a bilingual design engineer who found out about liquid fission last year. He has a web site called Energie du Thorium which brings information and news on thorium and molten salt reactors to a French speaking audience.