Posted by Mark Halper

Moniz OakRidge Y12

Hot on nuclear. Secretary Moniz says that advanced reactors could furnish clean industrial heat. He also backs President Obama’s point that new and safer nuclear improves energy security and reduces proliferation risks. The Y12 sign in the background reminds us of the proliferation connection. Y12 is a defense related unit at DOE’s Oak Ridge facility, where Moniz spoke in this June photo.

IRVINE, CALIF. – The notion that nuclear reactors could provide clean, CO2-free heat for industrial process – and thus expand nuclear power’s role beyond electricity generation – got a big boost here when U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz endorsed the idea.

Speaking via a video link last Friday to a nuclear power and medicine conference, Moniz said that reactors currently under development – often called “advanced” or “fourth generation” reactors and typically small in size – could safely operate at much higher temperatures than conventional models and would be key to broadening nuclear’s role.

“Small modular reactors, especially high temperature ones, may have a particular role there essentially as heat sources,” Moniz told delegates at the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies gathering organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Keck Futures Initiative. He outlined a number of possible applications, including “process heat, water desalination, hydrogen production, petroleum production and refining.”

At the moment, the U.S. lags behind at least one country, China, in supporting the development of advanced reactors such as molten salt and pebble bed reactors. Jiang Mianheng, who heads the development of molten salt reactors (MSRs) in China (Jiang is the son of China’s former president Jiang Zemin), has stated that China plans to use them for hydrogen production, gasifying coal, methanol manufacturing and other purposes. China recently released revised timelines for two of its high temperature reactors. It hopes to build a 2-megawatt pilot pebble bed by around 2015, and a 100-megawatt pebble bed demonstrator by 2024, among others.


Moniz’s remarks came as the U.S. Department of Energy prepares to select a winner for the second tranche of its total $452 million funding award for small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs represent potential cost savings over large conventional reactors because manufacturers could build them in more of an assembly line fashion, and users could purchase modules in increments and thus reduce upfront capital costs.

Many SMR designs also support operations at temperatures ranging from around 600 degrees C to 900 degrees C, considerably higher than conventional reactors. A number of high temperature reactor developers are vying for the DOE award, including San Diego’s General Atomics. X-Energy Inc., a Greenbelt, Maryland-based company that is developing a pebble bed reactor based on older South Africa designs, is also believed to have submitted. So, reportedly, have a number of standard temperature SMR developers, including NuScale of Corvallis, Wash., and Westinghouse.

DOE granted its first round a year ago to Babcock & Wilcox for its mPower reactor, a scaled down version of a conventional reactor that does not operate at the high temperatures that could supply industrial heat. Days before Moniz presented at last week’s conference, Babcock announced that it wants to sell up to 70 percent of the company in order to continue building the SMR. The company is hoping to install four of the reactors at the Clinch River site in Tennessse, in partnership with construction and engineering giant Bechtel and with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a power provider.

The winner of round two won’t necessarily be a company developing a high temperature reactor.


Despite Moniz’s public endorsement for advanced reactors, the DOE trails China’s concerted efforts. Those include a two-year-old collaboration with three DOE-backed U.S. universities – the University of California Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin –  in molten salt coolants for solid-fueled high temperature pebble bed reactors. DOE has provided the three universities with $7.5 million.

I asked Moniz after his presentation what measures DOE might take to step up its commitment to advanced reactors and bridge the gap with countries like China.

“I can’t say too much specifically,” he said. “But let’s just say we are trying to marshall some resources to increase our focus in that area.”

High temperature reactors provide other power benefits in addition to supporting industrial processes. For example, they support a more efficient electricity generating process, which cuts the cost of electricity.

And like all nuclear, high temperature reactors emit no CO2 during the generating process while having a very low CO2 footprint over the lifetime of a nuclear plant including mining fuel and constructing reactors.


Addressing nuclear in general, Moniz said that nuclear is “very clearly part of the solution set” in President Obama’s strategy to mitigate man-made climate change by shifting to low CO2 technologies.

“There is no one low carbon solution,” Moniz said, noting that nuclear is “not a silver bullet” but that “neither are any of the other technologies.”

Moniz cited a recent open letter by four renowned climate scientists calling for nuclear power to help stave off the ravages of man-made CO2 induced climate change. In that letter, signed by long time climate campaigner and Columbia University professor James Hansen among others, the scientists push for the deployment of new reactor types.

“I would argue that the discussion about whether we need to respond to climate change is largely over,” said Moniz, coming down squarely on the “respond” side.

The energy secretary also quoted Obama in urging continued development of nuclear energy for a multitude of reasons.

“When we enhance nuclear security, we’re in a stronger position to harness safe clean nuclear energy,” said Moniz, quoting from a speech that the president delivered at South Korea’s Hankuk University in March 2012, which continued, “When we develop new safer approaches to nuclear energy, we reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.”

That includes the development of advanced, high temperature reactors.

Photo is from Lynn Freeny, U.S. Government, via Flickr

Note: I’m in the midst of 10-day swing visiting various advanced nuclear initiatives up and down North America’s west coast. Stay tuned for more reports. – MH



  1. Peter G Cullen says:

    Really Good News!
    Well at last it seems that there is a turn around coming from the DoE… The only mistake they got the letters round the wrong way…. Small Modular Reactors (SMR’s) is good ….. But MSR’s (Molten Salt Reactors) would be so much better….

    There is, despite what Secretary Moniz says:- One Singular Low Carbon Solution – MSR – LFTR – FLIBE…. (Molten Salt Reactor – Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor – Fluorine Lithium Beryllium)…. It has already got 20000hrs operational time from the 60’s when it was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory… Trouble was it didn’t make Plutonium…. Not good when Nuclear Weapons is the Dominant Driver!…. Now so Good because the Plutonium from De-Commissioned Nukes can be used as a Fuel in the MSR – LFTR, as can all the other Nasty wastes being produced by the Present Conventional Nuclear Reactors which are Good ( they don’t Produce CO2!) but bad because they rely on Engineered Safety mechanisms, which we have already seen from Chernobyl TMI and Fukushima Daiichi , amongst others; Nature seems to find a way of defeating. Engineered Safety Solutions are not required with MSR – LFTR The Operating Temperature (700+ Deg C) is High but not above the Boiling Point of the LiFlBe Salts…. The Core Salts…. Freeze below approx. 450 Deg C and that’s the trick, There’s a Drain Pipe out the Bottom of the Core which has a section of it Cooled by a Fan Powered by the Generated Electricity from the Plant, which Keeps this section of Pipe below the Freezing Point of the Core Salts – If the Power Cuts out for any reason the Fan stops the Frozen Plug Melts and the Core Drains into a Sump which is designed to put the Core Salts into separate Cells within the Drain Sump so that the Core is no longer capable of Being Critical…It stops reacting at its High Temp and is passively Cooled…. So Nothing to Fail but The Fan which unfreezes the Plug and drains the Core Safely…No capability of a Melt down….

    Now ..the Carbon Foot Print!…. The best way to describe this and give you some pictures as well is to check out this Video Presentation:-
    Thorium Remix 2009 – LFTR in 16 Minutes.mp4
    Particularly, for the Footprint check out the Video section starting at 04:30 mins into the Video…..

    The Video is very intense in presenting information.. Great for making copious notes… but a bit mind boggling if you are new to MSR – LFTR Technology…. The Video is only about 16 mins long….

    To get slightly more information in a slower and more thorough Lecture Format I would recommend this Video… which unfortunately doesn’t have such a good Slide showing the Comparison between the Mining Footprint for the Uranium Fuel Cycle Vs the Thorium Fuel Cycle for the same amount of Energy (1GWth.Yr)
    Cheap,abundant & very safe nuclear power…..Thorium

    Now that’s why The LFTR HAS to get the Go Ahead in front of any other 4th Generation Nuclear Power Plant Propposal….. Its only what You would Call 1st Generation Nuclear with Safety of Design already beating the 4th Generation Proposed Conventional Nuclear Industry Propositions….

    Sorry Mr. Secretary Moniz; but Thorium MSR – LFTR – FLIBE Fuel Cycle is The Singular Low Carbon Solution for Future Nuclear Power Generation.

    So get The USA Act together and give this Technology the Boost That it has always deserved for the Peaceful Use of The Atom for developing Power without CO2….

    Alvin Weinberg The Inventor of the Present Conventional Nuclear Power Cycle…. (Patent issued in 1947) Had already seen that the LWR Reactors were not the right way to go forward and that the Molten Salt Reactors were the Way Forward…. So how’s that for Irony…Weinberg got sacked because he was questioning the Inherent Safety of the Reactors that he had Invented…. That of course was hushed up…. He was convinced that The way forward for Nuclear Power was the MSBR The Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (Thermal Neutron Breeder) and NOT the Plutonium Fast Breeder Reactor…. (Fast Neutron Breeder!)…How right he was!

  2. Peter G Cullen says:

    That should have been 1GWe. Yr (Electrical Power) as opposed to 1 Giga WAT of Thermal Power for a year….

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