Skip to comments.Thorium To Be Used In a Working Reactor
Posted on 11/26/2012 10:05:27 PM PST by Kennard
A Norwegian company led by Alf Bjørseth will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reactor owned by Norways government with help from U.S.-based nuclear giant Westinghouse.
Bjørseth is now running his private company Scatec AS, and establishing new companies within Scatec based on the latest technologies in the areas of renewable energy and advanced materials, including a thorium fuel effort through a holding company called Thor Corporation.
Thor Corporation owns Thor Energy and also has shares in businesses related to thorium fuel, thorium mining and separation of rare earth elements. Fen Minerals holds the mining rights to the Fen deposits in South Norway, which are rich in thorium and rare earth elements. The third company is Norwegian Separation Technology, a company in the process of developing a novel separation method for rare earth elements.
Natural Thorium Ore. Click image for more info.
The company has completed a 2-year thorium fuel cycle feasibility study which concludes that thorium-based nuclear fuel has several advantages over uranium-based fuel, including better waste characteristics, improved proliferation resistance, and abundant raw material supply.
Thor Energy has established a consortium that will fund and run a 5-year thorium irradiation project to be conducted at the Norwegian government owned Halden Nuclear Reactor. Halden, typically described as a test reactor, also provides steam to a nearby paper mill. The move should bring thorium closer to replacing uranium as a possible safer and more effective nuclear power source.
Thors chief technology officer Julian Kelly explained Thor Energy will deploy a mix of solid thorium mixed with plutonium a blend known as thorium MOX.
The plan isnt the one most thorium enthusiasts have been hoping for. Many professionals believe thoriums advantages are most pronounced in alternative reactor designs such as molten salt reactors and pebble bed reactors, rather than todays conventional solid-fuel water-cooled reactors.
Some thorium fans have realized it may be best to insert thorium into the energy scene by first putting it to use in reactors that already have regulatory approval.
Halden Heavy Water Reactor Flow Diagram. Click image for the largest view.
Best or not, Thor is testing the thorium fuel in a conventional reactor at Halden cooled by heavy water. This is not the same as regular light water reactors built commercially around the world. The cooling is by deuterium or water with an isotope of hydrogen.
With plutonium seed in the fuel mix, the reactors would not only generate power, but they would also eliminate dangerous waste left over from other nuclear operations and thus help address the problem of what to do with that waste.
The consortium reaches pretty far. Thor will fabricate some of its own thorium MOX in partnership with Norways Institute for Energy Technology. Britains National Nuclear Laboratory owned by the UKs Department of Energy and Climate Change will also provide some, as will the European Commissions Institute for Transuranium Elements.
Westinghouse is helping to fund the project, as are other of Thors industrial partners including Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd., a South African company that is developing a thorium-fueled pebble bed reactor. Other partners include the Finnish utility Fortum and the French chemicals company Rhodia.
That news ought to cheer all the thorium enthusiasts.
Yet Westinghouse doesnt like to discuss its thorium activities publicly. It is likely the firm believes working alternatives could undermine the companys conventional nuclear business. Rumors have it Westinghouse has at least a few thorium-connected and alternative nuclear projects in the works. One is out now and it isnt a direct competitor as such.
Westinghouse is also known to be the commercial adviser on the U.S. Department of Energys collaboration with China on developing a molten-salt cooled reactor. Westinghouse has also helped organize many of the alternative nuclear sessions at the American Nuclear Society convention just held in San Diego California.
This is great news worthy of Norway and her citizens. The element thorium was named by the regions ancestral God Thor, they have rich deposits, and a great deal of competency and intellectual prowess. The test will very likely work out and that could offer reactor operators an alternative to uranium and ever more plutonium.
It will be fascinating to see the results. The wait will be long though; it takes quite a while to burn through nuclear fuel.
1 Comment so far
Matt Musson on November 26, 2012 7:49 AM
The greatest problem with adopting Thorium fuel is not technical. It is financial.
When GE designs and helps to build a reactor, it is configured to run on GE machined fuel rods. That is like Kodak selling a camera and then providing film in perpituity. There is an ongoing revenue stream and a clear business plan.
In a molten salt reactor, thorium is not machined but comes in as a pure chemical. The ongoing revenue stream is not there.
I suspect there is no equivalent to the EPA in china, thus fewer hurdles through which to jump when designing and testing uncertain science projects.
Interesting. As I understand it the White House is going to use a Thorium back-up system. Currently it’s running on a Delirium Reactor. /s
Using Thorium in a conventional solid fuel reactor is akin to trying to use deisel fuel in a conventional gasoline engine. You might be able to make it work... poorly, but seems smarter to use it in a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor(LFTR).
There seems to be less uncertainty in thorium, which does not as easily as uranium or plutonium lend itself to catastrophic melt downs. Also it’s harder to breed bomb material with thorium.
It’s a thorium/plutonium mix. Looks like it isn’t a pebble bed unit or one of the saner thorium designs after all.
Thorium can be extracted from coal. The power generated by the LFTR can be used to transform the leftover coal into synthetic fuel oil and gasoline. Since the US has the largest coal reserves in the world, building LFTRs could completely solve our energy problems.
Oh that’s right, coal is evil...nevermind.
Was going to say the same. It’s not been used to date because it’s not useful in a military capacity. Any country making nuclear reactors also want to availability for double use. If the motive is simply creating energy, then it’s perfectly suitable.
Because we owe them a trillion dollars?
An LFTR pilot plant should not have a significant environmental impact. This appears to be a licensing process/delay issue; still EPA-related.