Is the “Superfuel” Thorium Riskier Than We Thought? A new study in Nature says that using thorium as a nuclear fuel has a higher risk for proliferation into weapons than scientists had believed. Popular Mechanics, By Phil McKenna December 5, 2012
nuClear News Nov 14
…………..Small Reactor delusion There’s an Alice in Wonderland flavour to the nuclear power debate, writes Jim Green of FoE Australia, in the Ecologist. Lobbyists are promoting all sorts of new reactor types – an implicit admission that existing reactors aren’t up to the job. But the designs they are promoting have two severe problems.
They don’t exist. And they have no customers. (1) On Patterson’s favoured Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) he quotes Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, who wrote in a recent article: “At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”(2)
GE Hitachi Receives Federal Funds To Assess New Nuclear Technology, Wilmington Biz BY JENNY CALLISON, NOV 6, 2014 GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) will perform a comprehensive safety assessment of its PRISM sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor, thanks to a multi-million-dollar federal investment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the company announced Thursday.
GEH officials are not sure yet of the exact amount of federal funds allocated to the project, company spokesman Jon Allen said Thursday…….The technology on which PRISM is based was developed in the 1980s and, unlike other nuclear reactors, it can use spent nuclear fuel and surplus plutonium to generate electricity. Since the early 1990s, however, no risk assessments have been done on the technology……..
Dennis Matthews 21 Oct 14, The whole containment vessel in which the fusion is carried out – so far very briefly and at no net energy output – becomes radioactive due to neutron bombardment, a process called neutron activation.
In addition it has one of the major problems that you have with nuclear fission. The people you train in Schools of Nuclear Science and Engineering can move effortlessly between fusion power and fusion weapons. There are no Schools of Nuclear Weapons Science and Technology but there are lots of Schools of Nuclear (Power) Science and Technology including one here in Australia that recently got restarted after several decades in the wilderness.
Why We Will Never Make A Nuclear Fusion Reactor As Good As The Sun, Business Insider, JESSICA ORWIG OCT 17 2014 “…………..combine four hydrogen atoms and you get a burst of energy that can destroy entire islands and did on Nov. 1, 1952. That day the US tested the first hydrogen bomb on the now-nonexistent Pacific island, Elugelab.……… Clean, limitless energy is the real holy grail. Combine that desire with the awesome power we first saw with the< H-bomb, and we’ve been dreaming of a way to harness nuclear fusion of the sun as a source of clean, endless energy.
For about the last 70 years, we’ve slowly developed ways of producing the extreme pressure and heat necessary for nuclear fusion. Today, the most promising methods use containment vessels called tokamaks that can sustain hot plasmas that produce nuclear fusion but require lots of energy and space to function. The other way is using powerful lasers to fuse hydrogen atoms together.
Both of these methods, however, still have a long way to go despite what you might read from the occasional headlines on the latest breakthroughs in new nuclear fusion technology………http://www.businessinsider.com.au/we-will-never-have-sun-like-nuclear-fusion-2014-10
Contain your excitement
While the rewards of fusion power are substantial, so are the challenges of making it a reality. The deuterium-tritium reaction is the easiest fusion reaction to initiate, yet the optimal temperature needed is 100 million degrees C, which is six to seven times hotter than the core of the Sun.
Don’t get too excited, no one has cracked nuclear fusion yet, The Conversation, Matthew Hole 17 October 2014 Senior Research Fellow, Plasma Research Laboratory at Australian National University Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s announcement this week that it could make small-scale nuclear fusion power a reality in the next decade has understandably generated excitement in the media. Physicists, however, aren’t getting their hopes up just yet.
I recently returned from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St Petersburg, Russia, the world’s leading conference on the development of fusion power. There was no announcement of research by Lockheed Martin, and the company did not field any scientists to report on their claims. Continue reading
These Are The 6 Concepts For The Future Of Nuclear Power, Business Insider GEERT DE CLERCQ OCT 13 2014 “………..the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), developed by France, Russia and China from a concept pioneered in the United States in the 1950s.
The Astrid project was granted a 652 million euro ($823 million) budget in 2010 and a decision on construction is expected around 2019.
The use of sodium, which occurs naturally only as a compound in other minerals, presents huge challenges, however.
Nitrogen-driven turbines are being designed to prevent sodium from mixing with water, while purpose-built electromagnetic pumps are seen as the solution to moving the superheated metal within reactors. Then there’s the headache of not being able to see through the liquid metal should something go wrong in a reactor core.
The other five concepts – including lead and helium-cooled fast neutron reactors and three very-high-temperature reactors – are less mature than the SFR and face similar technological hurdles.
But technology is not the only obstacle. Cost is key, as ever, and abundant U.S. shale gas and a renewables energy boom in Europe have undermined the viability of the nuclear industry, leading some GIF member states, including Japan, Canada and Switzerland, to scale back funding. …..http://www.businessinsider.com.au/r-the-key-to-nuclear-s-future-or-an-element-of-doubt-2014-10
Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.
You don’t have to trust me on this, see what the experts at various institutions have to say below:
Appendix A starts on page 181 of the Appendices PDF file. The relevant statement from MIT is:
- Proliferation And Security Groundrules:
Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. Policy decisions on appropriate ground rules are required before devoting significant resources toward such fuel cycles. U-233 can be treated two ways.
- Analogous to U-235. If the U-235 content of uranium is less than 20% U-235 or less than 13% U-233 with the remainder being U-238, the uranium mixture is non-weapons material. However, isotopic dilution in U-238 can significantly compromise many of the benefits.
- Analogous to plutonium. Plutonium can not be degraded thus enhanced safeguards are used. The same strategy can be used with U-233. A complicating factor (see below) is that U-233 is always contaminated with U-232 that has decay products that give off high energy gamma radiation which requires additional measures to protect worker health and safety. There has been no consensus on the safeguards / nonproliferation benefits of this radiation field.
The point being made here is that thorium can be used to make Uranium-233, which in turn can be used to make bombs. The complicating U-232 contamination mentioned above is what many of the thorium proponents refer to as making thorium resistant to proliferation. MIT has more to say about this proliferation protection in their summary:
On one hand, high radiation dose [from U-232 decay] provides self protection to separated fissile material against diversion and misuse. On the other hand, it makes the U-233 recycling more complex and costly.
The point here is that the U-233 is in fact subject to ‘diversion and misuse’ (like atomic bombs) if it can be separated out from the highly radioactive U-232 contaminants. If the U-232 is not somehow processed out, however, there is no way to operate the reactor for peaceful purposes, or otherwise.
Filtering contaminants out of thorium bred U-233 to make weapons grade fissile material is not rocket science. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) created a process to do this. They kindly wrote about it in a history included in the ORNL Review publication (search the long page for the words “THOREX” or “Uranium-233″):………..
New’ reactor types are all nuclear pie in the sky Ecologist Dr Jim Green 2nd October 2014 There’s an Alice in Wonderland flavour to the nuclear power debate, writes Jim Green. Lobbyists are promoting all sorts of new reactor types – an implicit admission that existing reactors aren’t up to the job. But the designs they are promoting have two severe problems. They don’t exist. And they have no customers. Some nuclear enthusiasts and lobbyists favour non-existent Integral Fast Reactors, others favour non-existent Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, others favour non-existent Pebble Bed Modular Reactors, others favour non-existent fusion reactors. And on it goes.
Two to three decades ago, the nuclear industry promised a new generation of gee-whiz ‘Generation IV’ reactors in two to three decades. That’s what they’re still saying now, and that’s what they’ll be saying two to three decades from now. The Generation IV International Forum website states:
“It will take at least two or three decades before the deployment of commercial Gen IV systems. In the meantime, a number of prototypes will need to be built and operated. The Gen IV concepts currently under investigation are not all on the same timeline and some might not even reach the stage of commercial exploitation.”
The World Nuclear Association notes that“progress is seen as slow, and several potential designs have been undergoing evaluation on paper for many years.”……..
So work continues on Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) but the writing’s on the wall and it’s time for the nuclear lobby to come up with another gee-whiz next-gen fail-safe reactor type to promote … perhaps a giant fusion reactor located out of harm’s way, 150 million kilometres from Earth.
And while the ‘small is beautiful’ approach is faltering, so too is the ‘bigger is better’ mantra. The 1,600 MW Olkiluoto-3 European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) under construction in Finland is nine years behind schedule (and counting) and US$6.9 billion over-budget (and counting).
The UK is embarking on a hotly-contested plan to build two 1,600 MW EPRs at Hinkley Point with a capital cost of US$26 billion and mind-boggling public subsidies.
Economic consulting firm Liberum Capital said Hinkley Point will be “both the most expensive power station in the world and also the plant with the longest construction period.”http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
‘New’ reactor types are all nuclear pie in the sky Ecologist Dr Jim Green 2nd October 2014 “………. In any case, Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs) are yesterday’s news. Now it’s all about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The Energy Green Paper recently released by the Australian government is typical of the small-is-beautiful rhetoric:
“The main development in technology since 2006 has been further work on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs have the potential to be flexibly deployed, as they are a simpler ‘plug-in’ technology that does not require the same level of operating skills and access to water as traditional, large reactors.”
The rhetoric doesn’t match reality. Interest in SMRs is on the wane. Thus Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, wrote in a recent article:
“At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”
Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program. As he explains:
“The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones.
“The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs.
“It’s an attractive idea. But it’s also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. … That money would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR “market” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks [US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval.”
Can’t find customers, can’t find investors
Dr Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, notes that two US corporations are pulling out of SMR development because they cannot find customers (Westinghouse) or major investors (Babcock and Wilcox). Cooper points to some economic constraints:
“SMR technology will suffer disproportionately from material cost increases because they use more material per MW of capacity. Higher costs will result from: lost economies of scale; higher operating costs; and higher decommissioning costs. Cost estimates that assume quick design approval and deployment are certain to prove to be wildly optimistic.”
Academics M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian state in their detailed analysis of SMRs:“Proponents of the development and large scale deployment of small modular reactors suggest that this approach to nuclear power technology and fuel cycles can resolve the four key problems facing nuclear power today: costs, safety, waste, and proliferation.
“Nuclear developers and vendors seek to encode as many if not all of these priorities into the designs of their specific nuclear reactor. The technical reality, however, is that each of these priorities can drive the requirements on the reactor design in different, sometimes opposing, directions.
“Of the different major SMR designs under development, it seems none meets all four of these challenges simultaneously. In most, if not all designs, it is likely that addressing one of the four problems will involve choices that make one or more of the other problems worse.”
The future is in … decommissioning
Likewise, Kennette Benedict, Executive Director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,states: “Without a clear-cut case for their advantages, it seems that small nuclear modular reactors are a solution looking for a problem.
“Of course in the world of digital innovation, this kind of upside-down relationship between solution and problem is pretty normal. Smart phones, Twitter, and high-definition television all began as solutions looking for problems.
“In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution.
“Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”
And as Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick said in January: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment – it’s that there’s no customers.”
Instead of going for SMRs, IFRs, Pebble Bed Reactors or thorium technologies, Westinghouse is looking to triple the one area where it really does have customers: its decommissioning business. “We see this as a $1 billion-per-year business for us”, Roderick said.
With the world’s fleet of mostly middle-aged reactors inexorably becoming a fleet of mostly ageing, decrepit reactors, Westinghouse is getting ahead of the game.
The writing is on the wall
Some SMR R&D work continues but it all seems to be leading to the conclusions mentioned above. Argentina is ahead of the rest, with construction underway on a 27 MWe reactor – but the cost equates to an astronomical US$15.2 billion per 1,000 MWe. Argentina’s expertise with reactor technology stems from its covert weapons program from the 1960s to the early 1980s…………. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
“………Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc. The US and UK governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs.
The UK government found that:
- the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated;
- waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and
- little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.
The US government has also considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors – ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that:
- the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration;
- it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and
- the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.
Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned
Scientists puts it:
“The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”……….http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
Scientist: Massive spikes in radioactivity are being hidden from public — Radiation doses around nuclear reactors increase exponentially — It’s a major worry… very, very important — Something must be done (VIDEO) http://enenews.com/scientist-massive-spikes-radioactivity-being-hidden-public-radiation-doses-around-reactors-increase-exponentially-major-worry-very-very-important-video?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
Interview with Dr. Ian Fairlie, Radiation Biologist, Nuclear Hotseat hosted by Libbe HaLevy, Aug 19, 2014 (at 35:30 in): One of the key things I’d like to mention to your listeners is this; Up until 2012, we didn’t really know what happened with emissions from nuclear reactors. The only data that we had was annual data… we didn’t really know the time pattern — now we do. Now we know that the large majority — say two-thirds, three-quarters — of the annual emissions from a reactor occur just once, during one spike.
And that spike occurs when the reactor is opened up to take out the old fuel and to put in fresh fuel. During that time period — about a day, day-and-half — the reactors are depressurized… they open up the valves and the radioactive gases shoot out. It’s during that time that we think that the people down wind are exposed to high levels of radioactivity, i.e. high radiation doses… Instead of having even, little bits of emissions throughout the 365 days, you haveone big, massive spike which happens over a day-and-a-half period. And that happens roughly speaking, once a year…
That’s important — Very, very important — because it results in doses that are at least 20 times higher, maybe even as much as 100 times higher… That’s a major worry… I’ve said to a number of nuclear operators, “Why don’t you do this at night time when people are in bed? Why don’t you do it when it’s really, really windy out — and it’s not raining?” … When it’s very calm it just drifts everywhere and you get big doses — No response… These spikes have been hidden from us ever since the beginning of the nuclear power program … nobody knew about them apart from people who work in the nuclear industry and they keep really quiet about it. I’d like to say to your American listeners, this is very important. You have to go to your regulator and say, “There’s no reason why this is not occurring at US reactors. These data are from German pressurized water reactors… We know that it’s very, very likely the same thing is happening with US reactors.” I hope that at least some of your listeners will pick this up and say, “Whoa, we’ve got to do something here.” >>Full interview available here
Dr. Donald Mosier, Scripps Research Institute’s Dept. of Immunology and city council member in Del Mar near San Onofre nuclear plant, Oct. 19, 2013 (at 27:15 in): The problem with the data is that tritium releases are episodic. They’ll have a release of tritium one day a month, but when they report that to the NRC, they’ll say this is the amount of tritium we’ve released over the year. You have 5 days of release, but you divide that by 365 days, it doesn’t look like so much tritium. But if you’re sitting right next to the plant on the day of the release, it’s quite a bit. There’s some data from Europe that says those spikes are dangerous. There’s no data in the US that you can interpret. >> Watch the community symposium here
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been proposed as a possible way to address the social problems confronting nuclear power, including poor economics, the possibility of catastrophic accidents, radioactive waste production, and linkage to nuclear weapon proliferation. Several SMR designs, with diverse technical characteristics, are being developed around the world and are promoted as addressing one or more of these problems. This paper examines the basic features of different kinds of SMRs and shows why the technical characteristics of SMRs do not allow them to solve simultaneously all four of the problems identified with nuclear power today. It shows that the leading SMR designs under development involve choices and trade-offs between desired features. Focusing on a single challenge, for example cost reduction, might make other challenges more acute. The paper then briefly discusses other cultural and political factors that contribute to the widespread enthusiasm for these reactors, despite technical and historical reasons to doubt that the promises offered by SMR technology advocates will be actually realized.
It’s anybody’s guess how long Thorium, with its “peacenik” aura, will take to get traction in corridors well-trodden by the US nuclear energy lobby, who have singularly shown zero interest in the blandishments of Thorium.
Thorium lobby thunder intent on hijacking rare earths’ coattails Investor Intel August 12, 2014 by Christopher Ecclestone Anyone in the Rare Earths space knows that Thorium frequently appears as an unwanted guest at the party. Explorers have worked on various ways to get around the issue. However there is a small group out there who we would call the “deniers”. They absolutely love Thorium. They are like Swedes liberated from the sauna in the dead of winter and would roll around in the stuff naked, if they could, to prove their commitment. While greater love hath no man to a chemical element than the Thorium crowd to their object of desire, the more measured amongst us realize that the mineral has been stuck for decades like a racehorse suffering a starting-gate malfunction.
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