Knowable: Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook

In this recent article in Knowable magazine, my early efforts to promote molten-salt reactors were described:

This defensive crouch lasted well into the new century, while the molten salt concept fell further and further into obscurity. That began to change only in 2000, when Kirk Sorensen came across a book describing what the molten salt program had accomplished at Oak Ridge.

“Why didn’t we do it this way in the first place?” he remembers wondering.

Sorensen, then a NASA engineer in Huntsville, Alabama, was so intrigued that he tracked down the old Oak Ridge technical reports, which were moldering in file cabinets, and talked NASA into paying to have them scanned. The files filled up five compact discs, which he copied and sent around to leaders in the US energy industry. “I received no response,” he says. So in 2006, in hopes of reaching somebody who would find the concept as compelling as he did, he uploaded the documents to energyfromthorium.com, a website he’d created with his own money.

That strategy worked — slowly. “I would give Kirk Sorensen personal credit,” says Lou Qualls, a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge who became the Department of Energy’s first national technical director for molten salt reactors in 2017. “So Kirk is one of those voices out in the wilderness, and for a long time people would go, ‘We don’t even know what you’re talking about.’” But once the old reports became available online, “people started to look at the technology, to understand it, see that it had a history,” Qualls says. “It started getting more credibility.”

Later these advocacy efforts led me to start Flibe Energy:

That April, Sorensen launched the first of the molten salt start-up companies, Huntsville-based Flibe Energy. His goal ever since has been to develop and commercialize a Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor — pretty much the same device that was envisioned at Oak Ridge back in the 1960s.

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