Molten salt reactor (MSR), as one of the six systems selected by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) for future advantaged reactors research and development (R&D), has excellent performances such as high inherent safety, desirable breeding capacity, low radioactive waste production, flexible fuel cycle and non-proliferation. Meanwhile, thorium, as an appealing alternative nuclear fuel to uranium, is more abundant than uranium in the earth’s crust. Realization of thorium fuel cycle in MSRs will greatly contribute to sustainable energy supply for global development. The objective of this paper is to analyze and evaluate thorium fuel utilization in a program in which MSRs are expected to be developed step by step. The program can be described as follows:
1 The first stage is a converter reactor fueled with low enriched uranium. With limited processing based on current chemical partitioning technology and fuel-feeding techniques in the generation-I MSR;
2 The second stage is a 233U production reactor. By using the enriched uranium, it can produce 233U which does not exist in nature;
3 The third stage is a thorium breeding reactor. It is a breeder reactor with Th/233U fuel cycle, and sustainable thorium utilization for energy production is expected to be eventually realized.
By employing an in-house developed tool based on SCALE6.1, the performance of MSR fueled with low enriched uranium is firstly assessed. It is found that MSR is attractive regarding conversion ratio when compared with light water reactors. Then we illustrate the feasibility of 233U production in MSR. Enriched uranium with two enrichments are used as driver fuels to start MSR and produce 233U. The results show that 233U production can be achieved and the double time is about 79.1 years for 20% enriched uranium and 28.3 years for 60% enriched uranium. Finally, the performance of MSR based on pure Th/233U fuel cycle is evaluated. It is found that breeding fissile material is possible in MSR and the breeding ratio is desirable (1.049). Comparison of the three-stage MSRs is also conducted and the results indicate that the resource utilization efficiency is much higher in stage-III than that in the first two stages and much less minor actinides is produced in MSR operating on Th/233U fuel cycle than that in traditional light water reactor.