Molten Salt, Terrestrial Energy and the ORNL legacy


Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn Seaborg was at the controls of the Molten Salt Reactor during the Oct. 10, 1968 startup of the reactor experiment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Department of Energy archives/Frank Hoffman photo)

There were multiple reports — such as here — in the past week or so about a relationship between Canadian-based Terrestrial Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on development of a new line of molten salt reactors. The news was attractive to a bunch of folks who’ve been pushing for a molten salt revival for years.

Terrestrial issued a news release on the project with ORNL, which said the company had “entered into an initial collaboration” with the lab as part of an effort to advanced the Integral Molten Salt Reactor to the “engineering blueprint stage” in late 2016.

“ORNL involvement in Terrestrial Energy’s work on its IMSR design is most fitting as it was ORNL that built and demonstrated the first molten salt reactor,” the company’s release stated. “ORNL is the site of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), where a 7.4 MWth test reactor operated successfully from 1965 to 1969. Terrestrial Energy’s basic concept builds upon the MSRE operational data generated and then further builds upon ORNL’s Denatured Molten Salt Reactor (DMSR) design, which is the basis of Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR.”

Some reports seemed to indicate that the Department of Energy had made an announcement on the project, but DOE and ORNL actually didn’t do any sort of promotion on the new collaboration.

Asked for comment, ORNL spokeswoman Morgan McCorkle said the lab’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate had entered into an initial agreement to perform “a high-level review of their reactor design.”

Terrestrial Energy is funding the work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, McCorkle said.

ORNL did not release the entire agreement, citing proprietary issues, but provided this statement of work:

“The agreement between ORNL and TEI (Terrestrial Energy Inc.) is a contract executed through DOE’s Work for Others Program that has a singular focus and purpose – that being to conduct at a high-level, a review of TEI’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) design and TEI’s program for its further development. Following this review ORNL will comment on areas that may require additional technical focus, such as heat exchangers and pumps, and will evaluate the selection of structural materials for this reactor concept.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.