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Future is not looking good for thorium nuclear reactors

the millions in subsidies thorium will require to become commercially viable would be better spent on solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

Can Thorium Offer a Safer Nuclear Future?  Thomas net by David Sims.    

Nuclear energy has numerous advantages, but there are drawbacks as well: nuclear waste poses a significant environmental threat, meltdowns are a possibility and nuclear materials can be used to create weapons of mass destruction.

However, advocates of using thorium as a nuclear fuel instead of uranium point out that it solves many of these problems……. (unsuitable for nuclear weapons, wastes last less long, can’t melt down )

If it’s so great, why aren’t we using it?  When nuclear power was being developed in the 1950s, it was part of a broader Cold War strategy. Governments were paying for the research and it was in their interest to develop uranium as the primary nuclear fuel because it could also be used in weapons development.

However, critics of the thorium alternative point out that it’s more expensive than uranium because it can’t sustain a reaction by itself and must be bombarded with neutrons. Uranium can be left alone in a reaction, while thorium must be constantly prodded to keep reacting. Although this allows for safer reactions (if the power goes out it simply deactivates), it’s a more expensive process.

Thorium is a popular academic alternative: in the lab it works well, but it hasn’t been successfully — or profitably — used on a commercial scale yet.

Current Usage of ThoriumIndia is the market leader in trying to harness thorium for the energy grid. It has the largest proven thorium reserves and the world’s only operating thorium reactor, Kakrapar-1, a converted conventional pressurized water reactor. China is working to develop the technology as well, while the United States, France and Britain are studying its viability.

Flibe Energy, which is based in Huntsville, Alabama, recently noted the company is looking to establish a liquid fluoride thorium reactor in the U.S. within the next decade, with Wyoming as a possible location.

Proponents of renewable energy concede that thorium is preferable to uranium, but argue that the millions in subsidies thorium will require to become commercially viable would be better spent on solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

While nuclear advocates are more hospitable to thorium, they are hesitant to put all their eggs in one basket at this point. The element hasn’t shown itself to be feasible as a profitable commercial energy source, whereas uranium has. Despite a history of reactor meltdowns and near-meltdowns, there’s a renewed emphasis on nuclear power in the world today, and nuclear industry advocates don’t see now as the time to try an unproven alternative.

The bottom line is that when it comes to thorium versus uranium, thorium is more abundant, as well as cleaner and safer, but given current capabilities, it produces more expensive energy than uranium and still leads to environmental waste issues.

Thorium could be part of the answer to the world’s energy needs, but it currently lacks a track record of cost-effective energy generation. In the meantime, nations like China and India are taking the lead in developing thorium-based nuclear systems. https://news.thomasnet.com/featured/can-thorium-offer-a-safer-nuclear-future/

February 23, 2019 - Posted by | business and costs, technology, thorium

1 Comment »

  1. Well this article is by no means unbiased. Where to begin? The current Uranium cycle was very subsidized by the government for weapon development both for the science and industrial utilization. It was very important to win the war so we would not all be speaking German and Japanese today.
    The nuclear industry today is the most tightly regulated industry in the world. It needs to be both from a nuclear weapons proliferation and a radioactivity perspective. This is a virtually insurmountable obstacle. The regulatory environment limits work to that of laboratory experimentation and research. This is the equivalent of limiting work and research on gasoline engines to that of a hand held RC model aircraft Cox engine, then saying this technology will never be viable to power a manned aircraft much less a big bomber.
    I do not know what the author was thinking when he stated “uranium can be left alone in a reaction (reactor) but thorium must be continually prodded (push) to keep the reaction going (reactor operating).” This is must be a poor choice of words, phraseology or evidence of the authors lack of knowledge of nuclear reactors. Leave it alone? Why do we have the big control rooms with the myriad of controls, monitoring equipment, backup systems upon backup systems. Also why is there the big containment dome? along to react.” This statement is nonsensical and illogical. Yes you do need some uranium to start the reactor. This is like needing starting fluid for your lawn mower or snow blower. NOT a spark plug.
    Unsustainability, the current uranium cycle uses up what? 20 to 30% of the available uranium 235 before the fuel pellets deteriorates, swells, becomes ineffective with waste and nuclear poisons and must be replaced. Uranium 235, the reactor fuel is only 0.5 to 0.7 percent of natural uranium. The rest is U 238. Current nuclear reactor technology is using only 0.15% of uranium that is mined. Simple math average amounts. Thorium is at minimum 3 times more abundant in the earths crust. Many say uranium is too cheap i.e. plentiful to make thorium economically viable. How many orders of magnitude is thorium more abundant than uranium.
    These new potential technologies offer the
    Thorium is not water soluble. A major advantage of thorium mining vs: uranium mining. Thorium is not likely to leave the mining site. even if it does it is not going to go far. Thorium is a by product of mining rare earth elements, needed for strong magnets compact electronics, earbuds, etc. These rare earths are needed for all the motors we have in our cars starter, power window, seat, moonroof hatchback. A Tesla or electric car requires much, much more. EVs need a very powerful, compact light weight propulsion motor. The mining of rare earths has been sourced overseas.
    Subsidies, where to start. Solar for your home gets a 30% subsidy right off the top. Commercial installations also may have loan guarantees. Wind has similar support. The individual states may have their own subsidies in addition. Plus wind and solar in many instances get price support for the power generated, over and above the prevailing rate for power. All power will be purchased at some contractual rate. Wind and solar need more subsidies? For technology that works only 18% to 30% of the time. The wind does not blow all the time. It is dark at night. Also you do not get to choose when it works.
    How much more efficient is solar and wind from say the technology of the 70s? How much more do we get or have available in an automobile purchase today vs: in 1970? Do I dare even mention batteries. That’s another dissertation in and of itself. The regulatory environment and the corporate interests guarantees the status quoe. It does not allow for any changes. Is it reasonable to say nuclear power cost efficiency etc. cannot improve over that of 50 years ago?

    Comment by Edward Pressey | March 13, 2020 | Reply


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