50th anniversary of MSRE shutdown

Fifty years ago, the era of operating molten-salt reactors came to a prolonged conclusion with the shut down of the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment. In a personal interview in 2012, Paul Haubenreich had told me the story of the Christmas shutdown of the MSRE. He had described how Milton Shaw, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Division of Reactor Development and Technology (AEC-RDT), wanted the MSRE shut down so more funds could be devoted to his pet project, the Liquid-Metal Fast Breeder Reactor. Others have described to me how it was even more than that: that Shaw wanted molten-salt thoughts driven from Weinberg’s mind, believing that he would then devote his considerable talent to the LMFBR. Shaw was sadly mistaken, but Haubenreich, the director of MSRE operations, was in no position to try to realign Shaw’s thoughts.

In the MSRP semi-annual report that covered these events (ORNL-4548) the sterile conclusion of the adventurous MSRE project is duly reported:

“The system conditions for the interim period between operation and examination were planned, reviewed, and approved before Christmas, and on that day, for the first time in over five years, the reactor was left unattended.”

Haubenreich shared his profound regret with me at the way the MSRE ended. He described advice from other with operating reactors, who said, “when you have an operating reactor, you have a program, but after you shut your reactor down, it’s just a matter of time until you’re cancelled.” Paul reluctantly agreed with them, for that is the way that the MSRE, and later the MSRP, ended.

Floyd Culler, who was ORNL’s assistant lab director, wrote to Shaw on December 3, 1969, and said:

“As you know, we are shutting down the MSRE with great reluctance. Information obtained from the reactor in recent months has indicated that additional experiments on the chemistry of the fuel salt and on the behavior of fission products would be valuable. In addition, because plutonium appears to be an attractive fuel for molten salt converter reactors and for starting up breeders, we believe a complete fueling of the MSRE with plutonium is desirable. Consequently, we have postponed the shutdown as long as we can, but discouraging news about the budget forces us to move rapidly to limit over-expenditures in the molten salt program.”

Culler then informed Shaw of the layoffs in staff that would follow the MSRE shutdown. We have no record of a response from Shaw.

13 thoughts on “50th anniversary of MSRE shutdown

    1. It is long past time for all our attention to be concentrated on LFTR for our national energy needs! Way to go Kirk!

  1. I am perplexed as to the lack of data or information either for or against MSRE.
    I expect some conclusion to this very important piece of history, and not just a side line article here and there.
    I hope I come across articles which clarify and explain exactly why and what happened to shut the program down.

  2. After listening on my computer to very many Thorium nuclear experts over a series of a number of weeks, so that I developed a little understanding of the potentials of Thorium power, I now thoroughly second Mr. John Laurie’s remarks made Christmas Day 2019.

  3. Another example of government special interest power to stifle innovation. We can’t have a 100% electric, clean energy supply because coal, natural gas and oil would only be used for airplane fuel, lubrication, and a few products.

  4. It would be easy,and interesting to learn how much governmental and private funds and resources are used in order to be able to develop massproduction scale energy out of Thorium in comparison to climate change “research”. By comparison it is easier to see what is going to help future generations when they face the energy crisis. We all know that the funds are not the real issue but the alternatives and risks grow in countries which possess high nr of nuclear plants which can lengthen this prosess and distance people from understanding the real potential of Thorium. The time of second Chernobyl is coming close and the media/mob will destroy more than the catastrophe…

  5. I am an Engineer down to my toenails. I have been involved with HVAC for the last 40 years. Made a difference. LFTR tech is literally the Model T of Nuclear Power Reactors. It is safe, reliable, and versatile beyond belief. It is Cool. As for all the naysayers out there. Too Bad, life will go on without you, you will greatly enjoy the fruits of all our labor, and throw Thorium under the bus the entire time. You will be forgotten, Thorium , and the people who made it real – will be remembered, by people who are not cooking the planet. Living in a world with no poverty, no disease, universal suffrage, a better future. Yeah, that is something worth being remembered for.

  6. President Eisenhower tried to warn us in his 1961 farewell address to the nation of the dangers of the emerging military-industrial complex (“-congressional” was dropped from the final draft). Allowing politicians to make such important (and poor) decisions in the face of better science seems like something we would have learned to prevent by now, but sadly, it seems we haven’t.

  7. I am on board, but what can I do now?
    Where can I invest to help make this possible.

    PS-Suggestion: most people never heard of Thorium, remind them the old original transition sunglasses that changed darker where made from Thorium or the Silk Coleman lantern mantles were made with Thorium to help burn very white.

  8. You’re the man Kirk. If you ever get to the point that you’re building a reactor. Count me in. I’ve been in construction for twenty years and would love to build a reactor for you. I’ll work dirt cheap. Thanks for your drive and commitment to the cause.

  9. Discovered a show on Amazon Prime called Thorium remix back in March, was hooked on LFTR. Since then have spent $100’s on books researching thorium and other nuclear technologies. This is the future of “green energy” as the “Green New Deal” is a fantasy. Of course leaving a comment on a year old thread is a bit like taking a pee in a dark suit… it makes you feel good but no one notices. Was disappointed to see the “Myths vs Facts” was a dead link, guess I’ll just have to go watch Thorium Remix for the sixth time. Capt. Kirk was a hero of mine now it’s a different Kirk.

  10. Big Oil shut down electric cars and the trolley systems in cities so oil petroleum was consumed for transportation. Scientists should guide the people not Corps Wall Street only lead to GREED unattainable infinite growth of Capitalism on finite planet woke me up immediately when I took Econ 101 in 1980 at 30! Another system needed now!

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