Author Topic: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat  (Read 817 times)

Offline Coastal Ron

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I saw this article about terrestrial molten salt reactors:

Nuclear goes retro with a much greener outlook | Knowable Magazine

I'm sure this has been proposed before, but what was new to me was that such a reactor could not only be able to be built small (it could fit in Starship), but it also would be able to provide high temperature "industrial heat" as a safe byproduct.

Of course there are lots of reasons why this won't ever be built.

It was interesting to see that this was a technology that was being pursued in parallel to the fuel cycle all nuclear power plants use today, but their reliance on solid fuel has inadvertently caused the massive problem we have with long-term management and storage of nuclear waste. Now molten fuel is being re-looked at because it's much more fuel efficient, and potentially far more safe - both from meltdowns and weapon-related.

But I don't think anyone will fund this just for Mars, so the only way this will happen is if countries around the world want to adopt this new way of generating nuclear power, AND they are OK with letting it be shipped off of Earth and out of the control of every government.

Any new thoughts on this?
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Online john smith 19

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #1 on: 02/23/2019 08:14 am »
I saw this article about terrestrial molten salt reactors:
It's been discussed on multiple threads on this site.

Search for words like "molten" "salt" "flouride" "thorium" and the thread on power for a mars settlement.


You're right the Mars market wouldn't justify such development alone and as the article you linked to noted at least one MSR startup has already folded.

Conceptually MSR's (Thorium, Uranium or whatever) are attractive. Depending on the mix you've got a reactor, a breeder or a transuranic burner. It's low pressure and allows continuous extraction of most of the serious fission poisons that limit fuel life in solid fueled reactors.

But like all Gen IV designs there is a lot of technology to develop and (one of my personal bugbears) AFAIK it won't run without enriched fuel.

Enriched fuel --> enrichment technology --> nuclear weapons capability or permanent lock in to a supplier (usually another country) with that capability.

For true energy security without proliferation risk you have to have a design that can work with natural uranium.  :( All design work on such architectures was abandoned decades ago.

For low mfg and operating cost you need a design that operates at low pressure. 99% of current designs are PWR's at 200bar to give a (relatively) poor 315c+, while a modern coal fired plant can do 540c using advanced (but well understood) technology. That's not just an efficiency issue. PWR steam turbines are special order items 10x the cost of conventional super critical steam. That's why the British AGR's tried to match the operating conditions of coal fired systems, so the balance of plant costs would be about the same .

And of course you need it to fit onto the BFS.

For Mars you'd be better off looking at reviving one of the civil "nuclear ship" designs from the 60s' Small by commmercial PWR standards but adequate sized for a substantial settlement.
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline Tulse

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #2 on: 02/25/2019 08:34 pm »
There are a number of companies working on small modular reactors, many designed for remote off-grid locations ( like open pit mines and military bases).  Many of these are essentially sealed containers that run for several years then are replaced.  Something like these would be a great option for a Mars base, as they could provide both electricity and process heat, would be largely maintenance-free and walk-away safe, and would be (relatively) light weight.

Online spacenut

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #3 on: 02/25/2019 09:40 pm »
I thought at one time the Russians developed a 20 ton reactor for in space power.  At some point they will need nuclear power on Mars, if nothing else but to meet heavy industry needs for 24 hour operations. 

Offline MickQ

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #4 on: 02/26/2019 04:10 am »
Ten + years ago Hyperion Power Generation Inc , now called  Gen 4 Energy,  was working on
small modular reactor designs.  Self contained, factory sealed units measuring less than
2.5 x 1.5 metres in size and weighing, I think, less than 10 tn fully fuelled.

70MW thermal and 25MW electrical with an advertised 10 year life span.

Worth looking at.

Mick.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #5 on: 02/26/2019 04:49 am »
I thought at one time the Russians developed a 20 ton reactor for in space power.  At some point they will need nuclear power on Mars, if nothing else but to meet heavy industry needs for 24 hour operations.

I wonder...

Would Elon Musk be willing to buy modular nuclear power reactors from Russia to use on Mars?

Could the U.S. Government stop that if Russia launched them into space for Musk to pick up?

Boy, this would be an interesting if it happened...  :D
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Online john smith 19

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #6 on: 02/26/2019 09:50 am »

I wonder...

Would Elon Musk be willing to buy modular nuclear power reactors from Russia to use on Mars?

Could the U.S. Government stop that if Russia launched them into space for Musk to pick up?

Boy, this would be an interesting if it happened...  :D
After 1989 the SDI organization got 2 (non working. No fuel) space reactors from the former Soviet Union for tests and to show US nuclear scientists what the USSR had developed.

When it came to ship them home the State Dept ruled them ITAR related and refused to ship them back to Russia where they  came from in the first place.

That's part of the reason the rest of the world doesn't really trust the US in this area. For US space nuclear the Kilopower project is the only realistic option for putting a space rated reactor on (or even near) Mars anytime soon.

Yes it is small. But there is no reason you cannot have more than one, and the design has been stated to scale from 1Kw to 10Kw and up to 100Kw IE 3 2 orders of magnitude. Not very big when current estimates for to refuel a single BFS is 1MW continuously for 2 years, but it's a start.
« Last Edit: 02/28/2019 10:02 am by john smith 19 »
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline niwax

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #7 on: 02/26/2019 10:49 am »
Yes it is small. But there is no reason you cannot have more than one, and the design has been stated to scale from 1Kw to 10Kw and up to 100Kw IE 3 orders of magnitude. Not very big when current estimates for to refuel a single BFS is 1MW continuously for 2 years, but it's a start.

It might also be useful as a backup power source that in turn disproportionally decreases power consumption for fuel production. Take the issue of continuously powering the base itself. If a reactor can take the night load from 40% efficient fuel cells, you gain some 3kW effective ISRU for every 1kW in reactor power. Plus redundancy for the base that might otherwise cost more mass.
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Online john smith 19

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Re: Molten Salt Reactors For Mars - Electricity And Heat
« Reply #8 on: 02/26/2019 05:45 pm »
It might also be useful as a backup power source that in turn disproportionally decreases power consumption for fuel production. Take the issue of continuously powering the base itself. If a reactor can take the night load from 40% efficient fuel cells, you gain some 3kW effective ISRU for every 1kW in reactor power. Plus redundancy for the base that might otherwise cost more mass.
Possible. But Musk is very negative on the idea of fuel cells and has referred to them as "Fool cells" on various occasions.

That said given the temperatures on Mars I don't think there will be any such thing as "waste" heat for a long time to come.  Keeping warm will be pretty important.
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

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