Skip to comments.Why is nobody talking about safe nuclear power?
Posted on 05/17/2011 1:33:00 PM PDT by ckilmer
Why is nobody talking about safe nuclear power? By Julian Cribb - posted Wednesday, 4 May 2011 Sign Up for free e-mail updates!
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the most extraordinary thing is the lack of public discussion and the disturbing policy silence here and worldwide over safe nuclear energy.
Yes, it does exist.
There is a type of nuclear reactor which cannot melt down or blow up, and does not produce intractable waste, or supply the nuclear weapons cycle. It's called a thorium reactor or sometimes, a molten salt reactor and it is a promising approach to providing clean, reliable electricity wherever it is needed. Advertisement
It is safe from earthquake, tsunami, volcano, landslide, flood, act of war, act of terrorism, or operator error. None of the situations prevailing at Fukushima, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island could render a thorium reactor dangerous. Furthermore thorium reactors are cheap to run, far more efficient at producing electricity, easier and quicker to build and don't produce weapons grade material.
The first thorium reactor was built in 1954, a larger one ran at Oak Ridge, USA, from 1964-69, and a commercial-scale plant in the 1980s so we are not talking about radical new technology here. Molten salt reactors have been well understood by nuclear engineers for two generations.
They use thorium as their primary fuel source, an element four times more abundant in the Earth's crust than uranium, and in which Australia in particular is richly-endowed. Large quantities of thorium are currently being thrown away worldwide as a waste byproduct of sand mining for rare earths, making it very cheap as a fuel source.
Unlike Fukushima, these reactors don't rely on large volumes of cooling water which may be cut off by natural disaster, error or sabotage. They have a passive (molten salt) cooling system which cools naturally if the reactor shuts down. There is no steam pressure, so the reactor cannot explode like Chernobyl did or vent radioactivity like Fukushima. The salts are not soluble and are easily contained, away from the environment and public. This design makes thorium reactors inherently safe, whereas the world's 442 uranium reactors are inherently risky (although the industry insists the risks are very low).
They produce a tenth the waste of conventional uranium reactors, and it is much less dirty, only having to be stored for three centuries or so, instead of tens of thousands of years.
Furthermore, they do not produce plutonium and it is much more difficult and dangerous to make weapons from their fuel than from uranium reactors. Advertisement
An attractive feature is that thorium reactors are 'scalable', meaning they can be made small enough to power an aeroplane or large enough to power a city, and mass produced for almost any situation.
Above all, they produce no more carbon emissions than are required to build them or extract their thorium fuel. They are, in other words, a major potential source of green electricity.
According to researcher Benjamin Sovacool, there have been 99 accidents in the world's nuclear power plants from 1952-2009. 19 of these have taken human life or caused over $100m in property damage. Such statistics suggest than mishaps with uranium power plants are unavoidable, even though they are comparatively rare. (And, it must be added, far fewer people die from nuclear accidents than die from gas-fired, hydroelectric or coal-fired power generation.)
But why have most people never heard of thorium reactors? Why is there not active public discussion of their pros and cons compared with uranium, solar, coal, wind, gas and so on? Why is the public, and the media especially, apparently in ignorance of the existence of a cheap, reliable, clean and far less risky source of energy? Above all apart from one current trial of a 200MW unit by Japan, Russia and the US and a recent pledge by China to start why is almost nobody seeking to commercialise this proven source of clean energy?
These are not easy questions to answer but the situation appears to hold a strong analogy with the stubborn refusal of the world's oil and motor vehicle industries for more than 70 years to consider any alternative to the petrol engine, until quite recently. Industries which have invested vast sums in commercialising or supplying a particular technology are always wary of alternatives that could spell its demise and will invest heavily in the lobbying and public relations necessary to ensure the competitor remains off the public agenda.
It is one of the greatest of historical ironies that the world became hooked on the uranium cycle as a source of electrical power because those sorts of reactors were originally the best way to make weapons materials, back in the 50s and 60s. Electricity was merely a byproduct. Today the need is for clean power rather than weapons, and Fukushima is a plain warning that it is high time to migrate to a safer technology. Advertisement
Whether or not it ever adopts nuclear electricity, Australia will continue to be a prominent player as a source of fuel to the rest of the world be it uranium or thorium. So why this country is not doing leading-edge R&D for the rapid commercialisation of safe nuclear technology is beyond explanation. There is good money to be made both in extracting thorium and in exporting reactors (we bought our most recent one from Argentina).
As a science writer, I do not argue the case for thorium energy over any other source, especially the renewables that is for engineers, the electricity market and policymakers to sort out. But it must now be seriously considered as an option in our future energy mix.
Also, Geoscience Australia estimates Australia has 485,000 tonnes of thorium, nearly a quarter of the total estimated world reserves. Currently they are worthless - but could be worth billions.
There is a strong argument for Australia to invest some of our current coal and iron ore prosperity in developing a new safe, clean energy source for our own and humanity's future.
Interesting. I’ve never heard of these. I need to do some fact-checking, but if they are as much the perfect energy source as you say, then I’m going to start asking “why not” too.
That's the very last thing that they want.
They want to turn the country into a pristine wilderness, with them in their lakefront dachas and all the smelly peasants herded into urban prisons where they can be controlled and culled more conveniently.
Maybe someday the Left will allow us to aspire to be as great as France. *rolling eyes*
The answer to this guy’s question is buried in his analysis:
Why isn’t the world using Thorium (article doesn’t say this, but there’s at least 4 times more Thorium in the world than Uranium)?
“Furthermore, they do not produce plutonium . . .”
Adm. Rickover made this call back in the 50’s.
If you use a cup of Uranium in a reactor, you get about 3/4 cup of Plutonium out.
This is the same as saying, “If I use a cup of silver to produce power, I get 3/4 of a cup of gold, plus the power.”
This was a no brainer call for Rickover. We put in Uranium and we get Hydrogen Bomb flour out the other side? Thorium may be cheaper and safer, and the waste is nearly zero, but I can turn silver into gold with a Uranium reactor and get power for free.
The equation is changing now, of course. Any shit hole country declaring they want nuclear power is declaring they want to build bombs, and it is an open secret in diplomacy that this is the case.
Iran, Venezuela, and others have made the same calculation. If they wanted nuclear power, they’d have pursued Thorium as both India and China are doing today in all due haste.
The average wage slave is too ignorant or preoccupied to get this, and no politician dare raise this in public discourse.
It’ll take AQ wasting Denver or Seattle or San Diego before anybody does anything about it.
Ever wonder why Japan uses Uranium instead of Thorium? Not a stupid person in Japan, but they use Uranium too knowing all the risks. They have declared never to produce or use a nuke, but here they are making Plutonium by the bushel.
You and I may be the only two Americans who really get it, there is a powerful conspiracy that wants to enslave us by taking away everything we need to be prosperous.
I did a google search and got a half million hits. I have been reading about these for a couple years, still haven’t seen the negatives other than original design cost.
This thorium reactor thing sounds AWESOME! I’m going to remove the “Tornado” from the air intake of my car and replace it with a thorium reactor. I’m sure I’ll get 100 mpg then!!!
If Thorium can be produced in the U.S. and requires digging in the ground, 0bama and the other Demonrats will oppose its use. End of story.
Even Obama recently touted nuclear... although, like most of his words, they were apparently empty rhetoric.
One would think that the greenies would like to go from millions of tons of pollutants (including 48 tons of mercury) per year, to zero... their own propaganda says, "Out of the entire US electric industry, coal-fired power plants contribute 96% of sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2), 93% of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), 88% of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and 99% of mercury emissions. (Clean the Air, Power Plant Air Pollution Problem, Fact sheet)."... but then, they'd have to be honest and consistent, or else reveal the truth that they simply want America to be less prosperous.
Thorium, US energy independence and Obama´s Sputnik moment
By Coach Collins, on May 17th, 2011
When stacked up against the energy costs associated with various sources, thorium is stunning. One lb. of Thorium according to Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia is equal to 200 lbs. of uranium, or a breathtaking 3.5 million lbs. of coal.
Fuel costs for thorium are a tiny $0.00004/kWh versus coal and natural gas at less than 10 cents/kWh; conventional nuclear at approximately 10 cents /kWh; wind appx. 14 cents /kWh; solar thermal about 26 cents/kWh and solar photovoltaic a hefty 40 cents/kWh.
The U.S.G.S. estimate of 915,000 tons of high quality thorium ore (just considering holdings in Idaho and Montana) establish the U.S. as arguably the #1 thorium holding nation in the world.
Now if Obama is known for anything it is for his majestic non-sequiturs. His 2011 State of the Union proves the point. He stated: At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. Its whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. Later on, he claimed This is our generations Sputnik moment.
While Obama curiously mentioned Oak Ridge in his address he did so highlighting efforts to basically tweak existing nuclear technology and ignored thorium reactors and the (if I can plagiarize his speech a bit) hard work and industry of our people (plus the millions of dollars already spent) to develop them.
Obama also seems to be oblivious to the fact that a Chinese delegation visited Oak Ridge in the autumn of 2010 and expressed interest in thorium fuel to scientists there. Americas economic crisis demands a quantum reduction in energy generation costs through thorium based power and the spectacular job creating dynamics these massive savings entail.
Following up, no doubt, on their visit to Oak Ridge, the Chinese announced within days of Obamas 2011 State of the Union Address that they intend to not only develop a research & development effort to create molten salt thorium reactors, but also to develop and control intellectual property rights to thorium for their own advantage! The Sputnik moment indeed has arrived.
Who does one pay for the fuel cost of wind and solar?
Nobody talks about nuclear power because if you so much as whisper it, youll be clubbed to death by Birkenstock wearing former hippies. Even if you could get the various permits from the Obama machine (never happen) youd still be picketed and sued into oblivion. No politician in the current circumstances would risk so much as proposing a committee to research the possibility of building more nuclear reactors. It would take a sea change in Washington and a power company with deep pockets to pull off one tiny new reactor.
Id like to see legislation preventing lawsuits once a project is permitted. (Snail darters, anyone?)
“Nobody talks about nuclear power because if you so much as whisper it, youll be clubbed to death by Birkenstock wearing former hippies.”
Mention damming a river for hydroelectric, and see what THAT gets you. The cheapest form of energy we have, and it’s even RENEWABLE AND CLEAN, but the left HATES IT.
Not enough graft to spread around.
Environmentalism is a luxury — the only time when you can afford environmentalism is when you have a prosperous economy and people are not freezing and starving.
The best “shovel ready” reactor designs we have today are called Generation III. Japan already has four such reactors in the field. Thorium designs are classed as Generation IV, designs which still need some development before first deployment.
India and China are the leaders in thorium reactor research. Watch them carefully.
Nuclear? No way. See Japan.
Hydro? Nope. Might hurt some little fish.
Coal? On Obama’s hit list. Forget it.
Nat Gas? See coal above.
Wind? Solar? Yeah right. Like those are going to power your big screen TV, iPod, PS3, PC, toaster and your cool greenie electric car.
Also do a search on another neat new inherently-safe technology “pebble reactor”. (Currently being constructed in China.)
They call that conspiracy project watermelon. :)
they can be made small enough to power an aeroplane
As it happens, I was involved with the nuclear powered aircraft project in the late 1950s (guidance, not propulsion), so I'm familiar with the problems of putting a reactor in an airplane. To begin with, reactors must be shielded, and shielding is heavy. Most of the designs for nuclear powered aircraft had a heavily shielded crew compartment, and just enough shielding on the reactor that, when it was on the ground, you could approach it in a shielded tractor. However, that meant that the airframe was bombarded by lots of neutrons, which created dislocations on the crystal structure. That would rapidly lead to crack growth, meaning the airframe would have a short useful life, and would be radioactive. Big disposal problem. Another problem was that the temperature possible in a nuclear reactor is limited by the properties of the reactor structure. No matter what you do, this is going to be lower than the gas temperature in a fossil-fueled jet engine. Lot of power in the reactor, but transferring that to a jet exhaust is tough. The laws of thermodynamics work against you (nuclear powered rockets have the same problem).
In short, a nuclear powered airplane was a loser back then, and I don't think going to a thorium reactor is going to change that.
For stationary power plants, though, and possibly for ship-board power plants, we ought to be investigating the thorium reactor. If necessary, we need to get away from the not-invented-here types in the Department of Energy.
How does a thorium reactor compare with a modular pebble bed reactor?
Who does one pay for the fuel cost of wind and solar?
The costs for solar and wind are capital costs and maintenance costs
Fuel costs for thorium are a tiny $0.00004/kWh versus...wind appx. 14 cents /kWh; solar thermal about 26 cents/kWh and solar photovoltaic a hefty 40 cents/kWh.
Why would you compare "fuel costs" of thorium to capital costs of solar and wind? Does thorium not have any capital cost?
Of course, this is one of the reasons the Greenies cite when they're smearing coal (radioactive elements...).
The pebble bed reactor uses uranium that's encapsulated in "pebbles." I'm not sure about the exact size, but think of them as tennis balls or softballs. In operation, an inert gas such as helium is passed through the "bed" to transfer the heat to a turbine or heat exchanger. I don't know whether thorium can be used in place of uranium. In any case, the "pebble bed" refers to a structure, not to the fissile material used.
All the discussion of thorium reactors revolves around liquid thorium fluoride. That's probably not the only way to utilize thorium in a reactor, but that's the way it's been looked at in the past. This approach seems to have many advantages over the way we now build uranium-fueled reactors, so should be investigated.
Meanwhile, the scientifically illiterate, sentimental Gaia-worshipping lawyers and career politicians are locking America into their fantasy of wind and solar power.
It is. The Chinese have been buying up mineral rights across the mountain west.