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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.

21 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!

    2. Yes , I agree. The intention by and for the LMFBR was to create material to build nuclear weapons. How that could override energy for USA citizens staggers beliefs. Surely both could have been implemented.
      The ridiculous amount of money going into wind and solar could have been invested in the MSRE technology. I think it is in places. Kirk would know.

    3. I feel that man. Molten salt reactors are a beautiful creation and can really solve our energy crisis alongside renewables in tandem. It’s great to have other energy platforms too but this technology can save us from climate change in the long term. Imagine living in peace and nature and each other alongside without destroying wild life habitats and wars. Not to mention clean energy for a more decentralised and and technological world as more people use VR with clean and safe energy.

  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!

  11. Just a farmboy, retired police officer, construction worker Social worke4, and somewhat intelligent guy who wonders who wants to take the lead on this and take mine a a million others investment money and provide clean abundant safe energy for our grandkids….?. Does big oil and the military industrial complex own every scientist out there…?.?

  12. It is a revelation of sorts that such things could happen in one of the most developed countries

  13. Thank you Kirk Sorensen. I have been telling all my friends and family about thorium for 30-40 years. I am not a scientist, don’t particularly fancy physics, and have never been a great student. But something caught my eye about thorium many years ago and I have followed the lack of progress ever since. About every 5 years I take a look and see if anything is happening. I recently caught the 2016 remix on youtube. What a pleasant surprise. Good work. Just out of interest I have been looking at the zero impact green energy that everyone expects from solar and wind. I have been looking at the real cost of solar and wind. It loses it’s appeal the more you learn, and it’s ugly. I have always asked why isn’t anyone looking at thorium. Let me know when you get a portable Thorium unit I can install in my back yard.

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