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Offline JMS

Thorium-based nuclear developments - Safe?
« on: Aug 22, 2012, 10:03 »
Hi there, and as this is my first post here I just want to say that this is a really nice forum.

Anyway, I was doing some research about using Thorium for nuclear power generation. Basically I would like to know your thoughts, which would help me massively with my paper.

I know Thorium is a less well developed nuclear technology. Early implementations are going to be as prone to design errors and engineering failures as early uranium designs.
A power technology article recently ( describes its superiority to plutonium/uranium -powered plants.

But is there anything called safe nuclear power generation? Is thorium a clean, green and safe as its supporters claim it to be?  ::)

Offline Bradtv

Re: Thorium-based nuclear developments - Safe?
« Reply #1 on: Aug 22, 2012, 03:57 »
Short Answer: While it is worth pursuing, anything nuclear is a political fiasco.

Although there have been accidents, I think we have safe nuclear power generation already.  There are problems and risks with all methods of power generation.  Nuclear has been cited to have the lowest death per unit of energy, but people will believe what they want to (case in point: Todd Akin).

A large majority of those on the power generation side of this forum deal with generation 2 reactors.  Some might not even be up to date with solid uranium based technology (it pays the bills and more).  The reactors being planned now for future construction are generation 4 reactors (six concepts) that incorporate passive safety features and other desirable aspects (higher operating temperature, greater fuel burnup, etc).  There are a few generation 3 (or Gen 3+) reactors being constructed in the US known as the AP1000.  The improvements of the design are essentially guaranteed, but whether or not it can be built for the estimated cost is still a question.

As to thorium... I would personally like to see thorium based molten salt reactors and regularly check for updates from Sorensen and the TEA (both cited in your article).  You will find thorium backers somewhat like Ron Paul libertarians: passionate about the message, but lacking the political and financial strength to carve out a serious niche.  Not meant to offend, as I support both RP and Th.

Even without getting into thorium, the political issues with nuclear seem like enough of a challenge.  Most recently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the suspension of issuing operating licenses to new and license renewals for existing nuclear power plants until they decide what to do with spent fuel.  I won’t go into the politics of spent fuel, but you can look into Dry Cask Storage, Yucca Mountain, the blue ribbon commission, Jimmy Carter and reprocessing.

Can it be done?  It has been done.  Alvin Weinberg was the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 60s while the Molten Salt Research Experiment operated for something like five years… using thorium.  The political/financial interests however chose solid uranium fuels for further development.  The corrosive properties of the molten salts was held in check by a Hastelloy metal alloy.  I think chemistry control will be the most challenging aspect of creating a working prototype of an updated Thorium MSR. 

Yes there are risks, yes there are technological issues, and yes it would be expensive up front.  What do I like about Thorium MSR technology?  Abundance of fuel, reduced fuel processing, less waste generated, desirable elements produced (science and medicine), thermal properties of molten salt with corresponding effects on reactivity, atmospheric operating pressure, walk-away shutdown capability, and higher operating temperatures to be utilized as process heat or power generation with a higher efficiency brayton gas turbine cycle.  Water would not be needed for an Ultimate Heat Sink, yet the waste heat could be used for desalination.  Many of these benefits (of varying degrees) could be provided by Gen 4 technology.  Thorium MSRs could provide all these and more. 

Due to the energy density of nuclear power, we are still going to be using nuclear power (whether Uranium or Thorium) after fossil fuels become too scarce for normal use.  In the long run, its renewables and nuclear fission.  In the extremely long run, its renewables and nuclear fusion (can’t beat those economics).

As long winded as this seems to be, it’s still up to you to do more research into it and determine for yourself.  Apologies for any errors, they are not intended but I have other things to get to.  If you’ve got 2 hours for your mind to be blown, watch Thorium Remix.
"Life is pleasant.  Death is peaceful.
It's the transition that's troublesome."  -Asimov

Offline Marlin

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Re: Thorium-based nuclear developments - Safe?
« Reply #2 on: Aug 22, 2012, 04:18 »
If you’ve got 2 hours for your mind to be blown, watch Thorium Remix.

The first 5-10 minutes are worthwhile if you don't have two hours.

 +K Thanx good post


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