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Clean electricity, cheap electricity, safe electricity

By Alex Goodwin - posted Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The federal government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) signals its desire for Australian carbon emissions (currently 28.3 tonnes per capita, yearly) to drop to 60 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020, after allowing for population growth.

If it’s business as usual, I can see some difficulty meeting that goal. However, we don’t have time for business as usual - climate change slowly parboils us all.

It makes sense to go after the biggest source of carbon emissions first - which, in Australia’s case, is the power generation industry. It emits nearly 14 tonnes per head (PDF 88KB), and it’s fairly concentrated, unlike agriculture (4.2 tonnes) and transport (3.8 tonnes). Clean power generation up, and we can meet, and beat, the CPRS goal. We can’t cut our own economic throats cleaning up our act, so we need reliable, emission-free power to avoid disrupting the Australian economy.


This can be done, for roughly the cost of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s stimulus package, inside ten years, benefiting Australian national security, the power industry, the coal industry, and the Australian consumer.

Enter the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) (DOC 3.1MB). As the name suggests (PDF 768KB), it:

  • is a liquid-fuelled nuclear reactor;
  • runs on thorium; and
  • is toothpaste and table-salt safe;

On top of that, it’s cheap and quick to build.

Table salt and toothpaste

What does high pressure in a pressure vessel want to do and why do conventional reactors put their fuel there?

The LFTR doesn't do this: it puts its fuel at the lowest pressure in the reactor so if there is a leak, it leaks in, not out. We simply don’t need the massive, expensive, pressure vessel that is a conventional reactor (PDF 2.83MB)!


How do you melt a liquid? How do you melt the already-liquid water in your morning cup of tea or coffee? Meltdown is simply not a problem in the LFTR.

Any leaking fuel drips out of the reactor and into dump tanks below, where it freezes solid. If the entire fuel load at full throttle dumped into those tanks at once, it would freeze solid within 48 hours. These tanks are tiny: 10 cubic metres for a hundred-megawatt reactor.

This combination results in an inherently safe reactor, simple enough to be mass-produced in a factory: a quarter of the cost of a conventional reactor.

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About the Author

Alex Goodwin

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