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A possible alternative to nuclear fission - Using Lithium in a nuclear reactor

In the course of discussions on, my attention was drawn to a paper by Petterson et al dealing with ionic bombardment of molten Lithium using Deuterium. Refer to the paper at 42W.pdf for the paper on the experiments and to for NASA's ideas on fusion occurring in collapsing cavitation bubbles. Note that the Petterson et al paper is a collection of reports, and the same information is often repeated in each paper of the set. Of major interest are the sections on pages 7-8 (Forword) and 13-27 (information on the reaction). I believe that the experimenters may have seen the reaction Li-Li, but discounted it since they were looking for a Li- D reaction.

Some data on surface tension in molten lithium may be found at TBM/Documents/liq_coolant_properties_rev.pdf .

Water has a surface tension of around 70mN/m, whereas molten Lithium at 600K has a surface tension of around 310mN/m. Water has a viscosity of around 0.001 Pa-s at 20°C, but Lithium at 600K is around half this. Lithium is also around half the density of water - under the same force it will have twice the acceleration. If collapse of cavitation bubbles in water has the capability of producing a temperature of 12E+6K and 1E+8 bar (see NASA file), then the temperatures and pressures available in molten Lithium cavitation should be at least an order of magnitude higher.

It is thus possible that cavitation in molten Lithium may attain sufficient energy at a point to initiate a nuclear fusion reaction. This would not produce much radiation in operation, and thus would be safe. The reaction product would be mainly Helium, with minimal production of other possibly short-lived radioactive elements. If the cavitation generation is turned off, then the reaction stops. There is no possibility of a nuclear explosion, though failure of containment would be a chemical problem since molten Lithium is extremely reactive.

The initial exploratory experiment to see if this can be made to work is simple and quick to set up.

Ultrasound generator

fused Alumina transmitter

Lithium is held in a fused alumina bath that has an electric heater of sufficient power to melt the metal. Ultrasound energy is fed from a generator through a fused alumina rod to the top surface of the molten Lithium. Concave indentations on the surfaces of the Alumina will focus the sound at various points within the Lithium. At a certain power-level of input, the Lithium will cavitate. The whole system is maintained in a Helium atmosphere.

electric heater

Molten Lithium Helium atmosphere

If the reaction proceeds as expected, then the Lithium will become hotter than would be expected from the total input electrical/ultrasound power, and Helium will also be produced. The output energy should be in excess of the input energy. Use normal calorimetry methods to measure it.

If the first experiment is shown to work, then a useful reactor may be made by circulating molten Lithium through a cavitation chamber, then through a heat-exchanger to reduce the temperature to the correct value, then back to the cavitation chamber in a cycle. Occasional additions of Lithium will be needed as it is used up. The resultant Helium is also a valuable by-product. Note that there is about 10 times as much Lithium available in the world than Uranium or Thorium. Also note that if there is insufficient energy in cavitation at atmospheric pressure, higher pressures may work.

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 Supercritical Fluid Extraction Lithium_Reactor.pdf Page 001
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