But there are a lot of forces allied against Thorium in both the government, energy companies and the current nuclear industry.
Senator Hatch (R) Utah with support from Harry Reid (D) Nevada has introduced a bill annually for five years to fund $200 million to research to commercialize Thorium power. Yet every year the bill never even gets voted on.
What is stopping Google itself from funding this I don't know? Our country should make this a major initiative similar to the race to the moon and get us off coal, oil and gas.
http://juwel.fz-juelich.de:8080/dspace/bitstream/2128/3136/1... [50+ page PDF outlining the problems]
The moment management knowingly blamed accidents on Russians with oversight from the authority, they played away their authority to the right of running such experiments: be it solid fuel or liquid.
People (rightly) assume, that the blatant lies were independent of the phase of the fuel
(AVR and HTR as separate projects make no difference in this respect either). And this is what is biting TEPCO: the series of "white" lies.
Even in India (which has 25% of world's Thorium reserves), it is a mystery to many, as to why the Govt. chose not to invest more heavily in Thorium based research, rather than going for traditional ones.
"The country is involved in the development of nuclear fusion reactors through its participation in the ITER project and is a global leader in the development of thorium-based fast breeder reactors."
The reactors he presented appeared to be much simpler (so... they'd likely be cheaper).
The industry dismissed liquid reactors because of the problem extracting weapon grade material. Uranium based reactors where not as safe nor as cheap. During the cold war this made sense but not today.
It has also been about people protection their jobs. The uranium based industry can't say that something else is better because then they might lose their jobs. And who do you think the politicians ask when they want advice?
Or perhaps you've been swept up by the breathless prose of popular science articles?
As far from peak uranium as we appear to be, there is simply no need to explore alternative fuel sources. Fuel is not scarce. The capital (political and financial) to build infrastructure - both power plants and reprocessing plants - is.
In that climate, the (never-been-built-or-licensed) LFTR is only a game-changer if its construction (and licensing and R&D) costs are an order of magnitude lower than those of current-gen reactors. This I highly doubt.
(To be more specific, it's the absence of nuclides with mass number greater than 238 in Thorium waste that makes it less problematic than Uranium waste. These nuclides dominate the long-time, i.e. millenium, radiation profile of the waste. The short-time, i.e. decade/century, radiation profile of the waste is dominated by lower-mass-number fission products, abundant in both types of waste)
Reprocessing plants are extraordinarily expensive to build and operate, more so even than reactors themselves.
And the cost of fuel is still important, uranium isn't getting cheaper.
And what calculations are those?
It would be better for all of us if Google stays focused in software development.
I think focusing on power is a mistake for Google (unless founders are having fun toying with power).
If energy costs are eating into their bottom line and they have the cash, why shouldn't they invest into new energy tech.
Seems like a good business decision to me
Because amount of attention that top management have is limited.
Google would be better off if they focus on their core products.
For example, Search.
$280Million just in june.
I don't know anything about Bussard, but seems like he unfortunately passed away before completing his research (which admittedly was underfunded). However I wonder if part of the reason for it being underfunded is that it promised power that was TOO cheap. Too cheap to profit at the same scale as coal etc.
1. political , which Kirk mentions (it is no coincidence, that the pellets that the rods contain are as standard as the NATO bullet) -- the industry and power has a very different interest
2. technical: Kirk always mentions, that the fuel is not solid. It is liquid. The latter means, that you do have higher concerns about corrosiveness, hence (useful) reactor lifetime...
Also, the issue of scale, which tends to lie between 1. and 2. Uranium "won", because you got the real stuff with it (weapons as in actual projection of power, or the capability of threat to project power) and because you could make it work on a massive scale (current reactors are an order of magnitude larger than any LFTR design, and capitalism is based on the leverage of and concentration of power).
... besides China, India, France and (even) Czechs.
 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/03/a_is_for_atom.... -> see Seaborg interview part
It rather seems to be the lack of irresponsible megalomania, which actually fuelled the GE/Westinghouse frenzy. And I can hardly blame anybody for the lack of it, because for all the better... Our planet has became smaller in the last 50 years, and running (tea)pot operations would be a tough sell, even on Fox. But obviously (offshore) oils rigs and gas are no better either, though people are still happy with oil running their cars and data-centres.
But useful lifetime/economics of scale/TCO does matter, because ROI in the strict and sole monetary sense is the only metric of success. Note, that most reactors have been rubber-stamped to operate beyond their design lifetime.
And imagine the powerlines in a play, where Seaborg himself feels he can only act as a puppet -- randian rationalism doesn't work in society. (I do not agree/disagree with all of the comments above, just note)
you see now too -- the alloy is not the problem.
Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes a really good idea never gets used because... well... because nobody really picks it up and runs with it. It's that simple sometimes.
But sometimes there's some hidden gotcha.
LFTR proponents figure the simplest approach is to just go ahead and use U233 to seed the reaction. The U.S. has one ton of U233, which it currently plans to dispose of.
The advantage of Thorium is that you can maintain the reaction subcritical. That means it is much easier to shut down by simply removing the neutron source. In a critical reactor, you have to physically inject control rods containing a neutron sink (usually Halfnium or Boron). These elements can jam or be ejected under certain unlikely conditions (this is one of the things that happened at Chernobyl, and has happened at a handful of military test reactors in the US that no one has ever heard of).
In practice, however, modern reactors are designed to take this type of jamming into account. There is no known failure mechanism where it would become an issue.
FWIW, I was an engineer on a nuclear submarine.
Molten salt can be passively cooled (much better thermal conductivity) and can be moved from core to containment by gravity. Also it expands when its hot, which slows the reaction, and it's chemically stable and doesn't crack like uranium fuel pellets.
At this point, NRC regulations assume solid fuel, and the nuclear industry makes most of its money from selling complex fabricated fuel rods.
However, there was a small liquid-fluoride reactor actually working back in the 60s.
The main technical objection I've seen is corrosion from the liquid-salt fuel. Sorenson claims there's an alloy that makes it a non-issue.
The real reason we never went to Thorium is the best reason to go to Thorium. It creates U233, which is not usable for nuclear weapons. (Or at least, no nuclear weapon has ever been built with it.) This would have made it great for exporting to countries without worrying about proliferation. That's the reason we're seeing it become discussed so much more often now.
Pb (actually Pb-Bi eutectic) isn't a moderator, just a coolant. Alfa-class submarines' reactors were fast reactors (no moderator).
You're right that Pb is only the coolant. I got typing too fast.
Plutonium: The First 50 Years (chapter 9)
The US did not build a heavy-water plutonium production reactor before those at the Savannah River Site (South Carolina), which did not start until 1953. These are all the plutonium production reactors the US has built (ref. DoE): 9 graphite-moderated light-water cooled reactors at Hanford, and 5 heavy-water moderated/heavy-water cooled reactors at Savannah River.
In the Manhattan project, there were also tiny amounts of plutonium sourced from the X-10 reactor at Oak Ridge (also graphite-moderated):
Separately, there was highly-enriched uranium produced at Oak Ridge (Tennessee), which was used in 'Little Boy'.
And, CP-3 was a research heavy-water reactor (Chicago), built in 1944, which was not used for breeding plutonium.
Hope this clears things up...
The other issue is building a new reactor of any type right now is a giant pain in the ass, which doesn't help either.
LWRs are resupplied every year with expensive fabricated fuel rods, which are non-standard and can only be purchased from the company that sold the reactor. The fuel rods are complicated because they have to withstand a thousand-degree temperature gradient, and the fuel pellets are prone to cracking from the production of xenon gas. Xenon and other reaction products prevent the use of more than one percent or so of the energy potential of the nuclear fuel, another reason the rods are frequently replaced, and the reason we have so much nasty nuclear waste.
The nuclear industry makes most of its revenue from selling those fuel rods.
LFTRs operate at atmospheric pressure. No super-strong steel, no containment dome, no ice. It's a liquid fuel, so no proprietary fuel rods. Xenon just bubbles out of it.
The fuel has a strong "negative coefficient," meaning the reaction slows down as it gets hotter. If it nevertheless gets too hot, a salt plug melts and all the fuel drains into a passive cooling tank. No need for all those active cooling systems.
On top of that, LFTRs operate at higher temperature, so the turbine is more efficient, and the waste heat can be used to desalinate seawater. They don't require water cooling. As a bonus, marketable reaction products can be separated from the liquid fuel (http://flibe-energy.com/products/).
Misguided government regulation is the main problem, but Sorenson's company plans to get around that by selling to the military first.
Sorry but is this subtle irony? My apologies if it's not, I don't know anything about this field. It just seems weird that the military wouldn't be subject to the same regulations that the govt. sets? Or in the US are the military able to ignore some of the regulations around this?
The reason that anything new is a pain in the ass is simply because of bureaucracy.
Sorenson's company plans to market initially to the military, which has need of compact energy sources for remote bases and isn't constrained by the NRC.
It's sort of like inkjet printers. Either it's cheaper up front and more expensive in the long run, or it costs a fortune up front but the ink is cheap.
That's exactly my question, too. So I tried to find some alternative view on that topic. Unfortunately, I only found some criticism of questionable quality ...
... as well as a rebuttal of questionable quality:
Clearly, the problem is the political will to do something different. If the nuclear lobby and the anti-nuclear lobby are both against it, it's hard to get traction. Kirk is likely correct. The only way to get this through is via the DoD. I wish FLIBE Energy the best.
1) Weapons-grade fissionable material (233U) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor
2)Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming, so fission stops by default.
The focus with Uranium reactors wasn't to make reaction efficient over time, just violent. What I'm trying to say is the current atomic energy industry is heavily invested in Uranium. No wonder they're resistant to change.
War is an incredible catalyst of the discovery process, but it unearths such discoveries just to throw them into a local optimum.
I'm not sure how credible this guy is, because he talks about thorium-232 as a dangerous nuclear waste, with a terrible 14 billion year half-life. The problems with this are (1) such a long half-life means its hardly radioactive at all, and (2) that's the only isotope of thorium, which means it's the same stuff that exists in large quantities already in natural ore.
Also I'm not sure why he thinks U-232 has to be separated from the U-233.
Aside from that, he raises some interesting objections.
He may be exaggerating the complexity of the reprocessing system. Wikipedia describes it in detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor#On-line_rep...
Now that we have decades of experience with light water reactors it simply is a challenge to propose a solution that unproven on a commercial scale. It may look good on paper but it would be a multi-billion dollar project with multi-billion dollar risks. Visionary politicians who would want to take such risks are in short supply.
One of the main hurdles is that we have poured money into our modern-day reactors, and have constructed hundreds of plants. If we were to switch to thorium, we would have to essentially start from scratch - new research, new plant designs, new training, etc. It is very difficult to justify a complete switch from uranium, as it would be incredibly costly.
In other countries, however, thorium reactors could be very beneficial. Countries using thorium would not be able to produce nuclear weapons, which would give the world great peace of mind. This could minimize risks in unstable countries - we wouldn't worry if Iran was building a thorium reactor, for example.
There are also other types of reactor designs that use nuclear waste to create power. I believe our nuclear future lies with these types of reactors, rather than with uranium or thorium.
Here's the fuel cycle for a CANDU reactor which will support the thorium cycle as well.
I fear that mere engineering heavy talking has no chance solving nuclear’s PR problem.
Actually building a reactor might help. Maybe. Maybe not.
But if we are serious about non-proliferation, then switching to thorium reactors and controlling which new reactors get built is a much more effective strategy then the current weapon-counting efforts. Once a reactor is built and starts creating fissile material, then it is difficult to keep track of and control. But it is much harder to hide a reactor while you are building it - Iran tried and failed.
So it seems to me that thorium reactors, in addition to their efficiency, low cost and low amount of radioactive waste, could also be a useful tool in enforcing nuclear non-proliferation. We've got these reactors that cannot be used to make bombs - why don't we sign treaties saying that they are the only reactors that can be built?
The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be
Aim High: Using Thorium Energy to Address Environmental Problems
Lessons for the Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (from history)
This is by no means cheap and easy, "it's not THAT hard" is a quote that made the cut. I imagine the effort would be comparable to making uranium reactors for power stations which took around thirty years.
The MET test of Operation Teapot being the first example of a successful U233 firing: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Teapot.html
On the second point, not only was it 1/3 of the equivalent (and specified) 235 design, it was also 1/3 less than predicted for itself, if I'm reading it correctly.
I wonder if that was an error in the prediction, or a fault of the weapon/design.
I've forgotten most of the nuclear chemistry involved in producing Pu, but iirc it can be done with natural uranium and a neutron source. But then again, if you have those, and can produce plutonium, why not just use that? Maybe it'd be helpful as a filler if you've got some, and only limited Pu resources, or to simplify weapon design (Any idea if the MET was gun-type or implosion-type, sources being unsurprisingly hard to find)?
Anywho, in regards to the larger point, I discussed the issue in another comment, here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2723675
Basically, proliferation concerns transition entirely to the honor system once someone is operating any sort of fission based reactor, even one powered by Thorium. Since it is quite easy to breed Plutonium merely by placing natural (and readily available) U-238 in a high neutron flux environment. Simply remove your Uranium samples every 90 days or so and chemically separate out the Plutonium.
As far as producing materials that could be stolen and used for nuclear weapons manufacture, that at least is a little bit better with a Thorium fuel cycle. Presumably the U-233 would simply be left to burn up in the reactor, rather than being separated out and kept in storage. If someone happened to obtain some used fuel they could potentially separate out the U-233 and use it to make weapons, although it would require substantial engineering. Also, since U-233 is very much more radioactive than U-235 or Pu-239 it requires handling with remote manipulators. Any organization that had the ability to separate U-233, engineer the appropriate modified bomb design, then process and machine the U-233 using only remote manipulation is extremely likely to have a sufficient level of technology and industry to build reactors or separators on their own (meaning, able to build nuclear weapons independent of having access to used Thorium fuel).
It seems to me that the real question for proliferation is not "is it theoretically possible to make bombs with this," but rather "if you wanted to make bombs and you had this technology, would you use it to make your bombs, or would you still prefer other methods?"
u235 is still the way to go, since you can just hide it in a lead pipe in a crate of bananas.
VC >> find engineers >> provide $$ >> GO.