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Thorium, the Next Nuclear Fuel?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the plenty-on-the-auction-house dept.

Power 710

mrshermanoaks writes "When the choices for developing nuclear energy were being made, we went with uranium because it had the byproduct of producing plutonium that could be weaponized. But thorium is safer and easier to work with, and may cause a lot fewer headaches. 'It's abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn't require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind. Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab's finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.' So why are we not building these reactors?"

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710 comments

So it works like the internet? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30622788)

A series of tubes? I bet the dump trucks can bring it in, too.

Cost (0)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622792)

Because everyone that has nuclear reactors also builds bombs, so they go hand in hand, and cost less in the short run. Even Iran wants nuclear power for this reason.

declining oil production (3, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622870)

Even Iran wants nuclear power for this reason.

You sure it isn't because their oil production has peaked and is now declining alarmingly quickly?

 

Re:declining oil production (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623146)

"You sure it isn't because their oil production has peaked and is now declining alarmingly quickly?"

Yes. I'm pretty sure... I've seen the actual raw data on oil reserves for that region while consulting in the Middle East. They're not peaking for another 200 years or so at the projected outputs.

They've all read the peak oil books and are laughing all the way to the bank.

(posting anonymously for obvious reasons)

Re:declining oil production (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623178)

That's probably a point, but with the fervor of their anti-Israeli rhetoric, only a fool would ignore the possibility that they're after a nuclear weapon.

Re:declining oil production (2, Interesting)

CdBee (742846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623518)

Well given that they're just down the street from a state with a serious racial prejudice problem and nuclear weapons, I can hardly blame them for that. As far as I''m concerned either both Israel and Iran should have nukes, or neither should. Imbalances in that part of the world usually lead to genocide

Re:declining oil production (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623234)

Lets assume that was the case. Then why worry about creating the fuel, even though it is easy to get, prior to building your first reactor? Seriously, their behavior is not one that is worried about energy, but about other issues. Even if their oil has peaked, it will be many decades before a real impact is made. Instead, they should be worried about building up other industries, than about building enriched uranium and plutonium.

Re:declining oil production (2, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623456)

hen why worry about creating the fuel, even though it is easy to get, prior to building your first reactor?

National security? If you rely on someone else, you are left at their mercy. They can just turn off your economy. This is actually a problem which Europe is facing with respect to Russian gas.

Even if their oil has peaked, it will be many decades before a real impact is made.

Declining revenues happen immediately, how would you fancy a 30 year recession? How long would it take to build a Nuclear based infrastructure? It'll take decades.

Instead, they should be worried about building up other industries

Without energy, how would they run these other industries? Everything is based on energy, our primary energy source just now is oil.

Iran may well be after the bomb, but I haven't seen any evidence that they're doing anything more than planning a move away from oil. i.e. more foresight than most western governments.
 

Re:declining oil production (2, Interesting)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623494)

National security? If you rely on someone else, you are left at their mercy. They can just turn off your economy.

Bingo. Iran doesn't want another country to do to them what they did to the West in the 70s.

Re:declining oil production (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623236)

Even Iran wants nuclear power for this reason.

You sure it isn't because their oil production has peaked and is now declining alarmingly quickly?

Yes, I'm sure. Anybody who thinks Iran is developing nuclear technology simply for the power is delusional. Energy production is a helpful byproduct, but it's not the primary motivation. I don't blame Iran for wanting nukes. If I were them, I'd want 'em too. Iraq didn't have nukes, and we invaded them. North Korea has nukes, and we leave them alone. Iran is acting in what they see as their national self interest -- something we always maintain is our right, world opinion be damned (an attitude I fully support). We shouldn't be surprised that Iran is pursuing nukes. Similarly, Iran shouldn't be surprised when the US and/or Israel attacks their nuclear facilities. Personally, I expect the attack will take the form of sabotage rather than air strikes.

Re:declining oil production (3, Interesting)

theguyfromsaturn (802938) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623290)

And I think I remember a report from a few weeks back on BBC saying how we have been consuming more Uranium in existing nuclear plants than we have been producing... if it hadn't been for stockpiles we wouldn't have been able to run currently existing nuclear plants. It is very coincidental that we not speak of this "alternative fuel".

It is also a very bad news when people talk about the "boom in tar sands" as a good thing. Tar sands are expensive (energy wise) to exploit, and wouldn't be put into production in any kind of massive scale if better sources of oil existed. It is a very bad indicator of the state of the energy supplies.

I've noticed that ever since global oil production peaked in 2008, there has been a "flurry of green initiatives" in the news worldwide. Under the pretense of showing increased concern about the environment, I have no doubt that it reflects more a state of panic of the higher ups that the warnings so long ignored have come to be true.

Sadly any alternative source of energy, requires time to develop and deploy, and will itself become an energy sink during that development/deployment phase. That is why those who first warned of peak oil, and general limits to growth, also mentioned that it was necessary to start preparing for the peak BEFORE it happened, one or even two decades before if possible. The current salvation is the slowed down economy, but it won't last forever, and demand will soon hit the ceiling again... which will likely cause further economic hardships, which in turn will have a direct influence on the development and deployment of alternatives.

It's a catch 22 scenario. I just wish we'd had 40 years forewarning so we could prepare. Wait, we actually did. And we haven't even started talking about the population problem yet. Maybe if we keep ignoring it, that problem will also go away without any kind of hardship for anybody. (and yes both problems WILL take care of themselves even if we ignore them, just like global warming will too, in the same way that mother nature always uses to take care of such problems... the human species, along with many others, may not like how she does things, however, which is why maybe we could have tried to engineer our way out of it by alternate means).

But who am I to talk? I'm sure that our government/corporate overlords, under the wise guidance of conventional economists know better. So no need to fear.

Japan went to war for want of oil... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623418)

"[Iran's] oil production has peaked and is now declining alarmingly quickly"

Didn't Japan go to war after being denied access to importable Oil?

Perhaps we risk forcing Iran to use any weapons they can muster, ie,
if they find themselves short of oil & unable to develop alternatives
acceptable to their [Bush-declared "agents of evil"] enemies.

Re:Cost (2, Informative)

RichMan (8097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622882)

Nope the thorium reaction path produces weapons grade fissibles.
So still no explanation as to why no common use of Thorium reactors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium [wikipedia.org]

The thorium fuel cycle mainly creates Uranium-233 which can be used for making nuclear weapons, and since there are no neutrons from spontaneous fission of U-233, U-233 can be used easily in a gun-type nuclear bomb. ... some weapons proliferation risk due to production of 233U; ....

Re:Cost (5, Insightful)

_KiTA_ (241027) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623424)

So still no explanation as to why no common use of Thorium reactors.

Same reason we don't use hemp paper [rense.com], and why anyone thinking we'll move away from oil based cars before the famine starts is fooling themselves.

The existing corporate status quo makes money doing it this way, and they won't change unless made to (by, say, running out of uranium or oil or what have you).

Re:Cost (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623498)

What type of nuclear reactor to use it completely unrelated to what fuel to use to power cars.

You aren't going to stick a nuclear reactor in the trunk, and how the grid gets its electricity has no impact on electric cars either.

Re:Cost (2, Insightful)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623488)

Plutonium fears from breeder reactors and the green movement in the 60/70's with their irrational fear of "OMG NUCLAEAR!!!111"(yes I spelled that wrong on purpose). Accidents with things like the sodium reactor in Japan, and so on just give them more fearmongering tools. Instead of "we need to make sure this doesn't happen again, what went wrong and how do we make sure it doesn't happen again." That's why we're 30 years behind the times, and why the US has no functional breeders, and why you're just starting to use MOX again, and why you ship plutonium to Canada, Japan and S.Korea for us to make the fuel for our own reactors.

I realize that people are going to get pissy as I've now blamed the entire environmentalist green movement, reality is that's why there haven't been any new reactors built in the US. You need oh 100 easy, you needed 50 new ones to be under construction 20yrs ago. Even Japan and Canada have a projected timelines for new reactors into 2065 and where/when they'll be built to deal with electrical generation.

Re:Cost (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30622886)

India's Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world's first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core.[21] India, which has about 25% of the world's thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2011, following which five more reactors will be constructed.[22] Considered to be a global leader in thorium-based fuel, India's new thorium reactor is a fast-breeder reactor and uses a plutonium core rather than an accelerator to produce neutrons. As accelerator-based systems can operate at sub-criticality they could be developed too, but that would require more research.[23] India currently envisages meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.[24]

Re:Cost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623242)

When they hit 1.21 Gigawatts they can travel back and make the reactors common place, thus solving the energy crisis!

Re:Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30622920)

Our country builds it's fifth reactor after a long debate lasting decades, no our country does not build nukes nor does our neighbor country Sweden. Your right about Iran though.

Re:Cost (4, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622964)

Japan, Canada, South Korea

Those certainly use their own tech in nuclear reactors, they actually build them instead of contracting out. But don't have any bombs.

Ukraine is also an interesting example. Not sure how much of a nuclear power plant they can build domestically, but certainly quite a bit...and they had 5000 warheads when the USSR dissolved. Got rid of all of them.

Re:Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623450)

Nuclear power plants are very unpopular in ukraine, for obvious reasons...

Why? (4, Insightful)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622798)

Because a number of groups with rather different goals have one thing in common.

Sustainable nuclear power is a threat to their pocketbooks.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623562)

Sustainable nuclear power is...

...an oxymoron. There's only so much Thorium in the world.

Why not building them? (1)

BeerCat (685972) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622812)

It's easier to prevaricate and then blame your political successors for lack of action than it is to decide to just get on with it.

Especially when there is no spare money to procure a wholly new reactor type.

Perhaps the industry doesn't want a new process (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622828)

They have already recovered their inversions in uranium technologies. Oh, and I think thorium doesn't provide weapon grade subproducts, does it?

IMHO, this technology will finally come forward from outside the nuclear energy industry.

zero-risk? (1, Insightful)

reub2000 (705806) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622876)

How many times have we designed things that are supposed to be unsinkable or infallible and then had them sink or fail? If there is a radioactive material being used in the plant, then there is a chance that some of it will leak out.

Re:zero-risk? (4, Insightful)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622958)

And how many genuinely foolproof and fail-safe machines do you use every day without noticing, because they work so well?

We can build nuclear reactors that are safe, and we don't need thorium to do it. We can build inherently safe [wikipedia.org] nuclear reactors today using a variety of techniques. (See "void coefficient [wikipedia.org]".)

But like I said above, if using thorium leads to new public acceptance of nuclear power, it's a win regardless of its technical merits.

Re:zero-risk? (1, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623368)

And how many genuinely foolproof and fail-safe machines do you use every day without noticing, because they work so well?

0. None. Zip. Zilch. There's no such thing as something that's genuinely foolproof and can't fail. Everyone knows this, so if they continue to say that there's no risk at all with this design, then the public's going to call bullshit on it. It'd be much better to say that it's more safe or less risky than other design types and avoid making everyone think of what the titanic would have been like in nuclear reactor form.

Re:zero-risk? (4, Insightful)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623434)

Sure, there's a chance of failure in every system, but good design can reduce it to an acceptable level. There's chance in everything: you could walk outside and be struck dead my a freak meteor.

As for the Titantic: how many passenger liner disasters have there been since her sinking?

Leaks (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623002)

there is a chance that some [radioactivity] will leak out.

Err, yes. Why didn't I realize that before? You've really opened my eyes. Radioactivity can get into the environment! OH MY GOD! LET'S BAN SMOKE DETECTORS [wikipedia.org]. THEY CONTAIN TEH RADIOACTIVITY.

Re:Leaks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623376)

Americium, Fuck yeah!

Re:zero-risk? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623010)

yeah true but so what who cares. I live relatively close Chernobyl the effects of that meltdown has been way overestimated. New research on the matter shows that we where of by 10-100 times in our estimations on the effects of Chernobyl. Nuclear is not nice to humans but it's not such a big deal to our environment. Animal in Chernobyl shows to be at good health, they are in-fact more immune against cancer than animals living in less radiated areas. If we humans want a clean environment and still have the energy there is not many other choices to go with.

Re:zero-risk? (5, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623038)

I prefer small chance of it leaking out (which happened only once) more than the routine of "leaking" it out into biosphere on a daily basis, in the amounts no nuclear power plant will match. As do coal-fired plants.

Re:zero-risk? (3, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623144)

How many times have we designed things that are supposed to be unsinkable or infallible and then had them sink or fail? If there is a radioactive material being used in the plant, then there is a chance that some of it will leak out.

See, it's fucking dimwits like you that talk about 7-sigma [wikipedia.org] events as if they're 3-sigma events that keep us using fucking coal, with its 100% probability of continuously releasing radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Get a fucking education, or failing that, go die in a fucking fire, you goddamn Luddite.

Re:zero-risk? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623302)

Um, I'm no mathematician, but there have been several hundred reactors built (maybe even a few thousand), and at least 2 have failed to some extent (TMI & Chernoble), which seems to put it right around 3 sigma... a 7-sigma event would only happen once for every 390,600,000,000 reactors.

I'm with you on the problems of coal, and I think nuclear is much better, but let's get real here - it's nowhere near 7 sigma.

Re:zero-risk? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623274)

It's called fail-safe, it's an engineering concept that mitigates the damage of a failure. You don't design the system to never fail, but if it fails have a catastrophy (like what happened with the Titanic), you design it so when failure approaches the system shuts itself down and contains itself by its very nature.

When you have an opportunity to use the physical properties of the material you are working with to design the fail-safe system, you are in an ideal situation.

The system described in the summery would be fail-safe, making a run-away reaction like Chernobyl impossible.

And yes, there is always a chance radiation can leak, there is also a chance the earth will be hit by an asteroid tomorrow. It isn't very likely, though, is it? In fact, the chance is so remote you'd be a fool to live your life afraid of it. With the risk so small, the reward far out-weighs it.

Why not? (5, Insightful)

Enry (630) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622878)

- 1/2 the country doesn't believe what scientists tell them: evolution, global warming, birth control/STDs. Why believe them now?

- No new nuclear plants have been built in 30-ish years.

- uranium was thought to be pretty much endless, so why do more research into thorium? (yes, U is getting in short supply now)

- nuclear power still has the stigma of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl attached to it. It'll be tough to get public opinion on that changed, especially with advances in fuel cell and solar technologies

Re:Why not? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623026)

This is good news especially now that the unobtainium supplies have been cut off from Pandora.

Re:Why not? (4, Funny)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623158)

This is good news especially now that the unobtainium supplies have been cut off from Pandora.

We should have just nuked that planet from orbit, then swooped down and picked up the unobtainium from their hot, smurfy ashes.

But no, they had to send in some hot-shot Colonel who had to prove how tough he was by taking them on in hand-to-hand combat, and in the process showing all the greenies just how cute and cuddly the smurfs were. Idiot. Now we can't touch their planet at all because of the outcries from the eco-nuts.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623208)

I thought there was some random guy with a vast amount of it, but he died on a journey to the Earths core.

Fuel cells? (1)

forand (530402) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623284)

Fuel cells may replace batteries but they do not generate electricity and are thus irrelevant to the current discussion. People keep thinking that the so called 'Hydrogen economy' is a solution of energy production. It is NOT. Hydrogen is a great way of storing energy but impossible to generate without electricity and the only natural available source is in oil/gas reserves.

Re:Fuel cells? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623474)

. . . the only natural available source is in oil/gas reserves.

Absolutely untrue, the other natural source is H2O. There are methods to seperate Hydrogen from water as shown in this simple experiment one can do at home. [ca.gov] It is indeed true that there is a net LOSS of energy when using electricity to seperate hydrogen, and it is essentially true that it's main use is to store energy. There is a lower energy cost for methods which use fossil fuels, but they are far from the only ways to get pure hydrogen.

Gimmick (4, Insightful)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622894)

On the one hand, modern uranium reactors (pebble bed, or even well-made light water reactors) are perfectly safe. Using thorium instead is at best a minor improvement.

On the other hand, if using a different fuel convinces members of the general public that nuclear power is safe, and allows the construction of new facilities in less than a decade, that's great, and worth it even if thorium is slightly inferior as a fuel. In short, it can be a PR win.

Re:Gimmick (5, Insightful)

Rehnberg (1618505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623018)

and worth it even if thorium is slightly inferior as a fuel. In short, it can be a PR win.

Based on the article, I'm not sure that thorium is an inferior fuel. At the very least, it seems more efficient and more abundant, as well as less dangerous than uranium. To me, that's more important than raw power output, especially given that thorium cannot be weaponized.

Re:Gimmick (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623034)

On the one hand, modern uranium reactors (pebble bed, or even well-made light water reactors) are perfectly safe. Using thorium instead is at best a minor improvement.

Same I was thinking. Saw something, years ago, where solid fuel pellets were assembled into rods and had the same effect as what the article describes in the liquid too. If they heat too much the pellets expand but do not rupture the tube and the reaction slows down. Isn't there a Someone notes a reactor in India that uses thorium already. [slashdot.org]

Re:Gimmick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623118)

The big reasons, as mentioned in both the article and summary, are that thorium is more abundant than uranium, the resulting waste is smaller and less radioactive, and it can't be used as part of a process to create nuclear weapons.

Re:Gimmick (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623228)

Imho the problem is not primarily safety of operation, but safely storing radioactive wastes for thousands of years without the risk of contaminating the environment / water. Well, at least here in Germany they had contamination after a few decades, because their salt mine wasn't such a good place as they thought ... Ok, they didn't care much if it was safe I guess, it was only meant for testing purposes but got filled with lots of waste, when they wanted to get rid of it.
I wonder, how cheap nuclear power really is, if they include the billions of tax money that are spent to get rid of nuclear waste and cleaning up those places and repairing the damage, if something goes wrong.

Re:Gimmick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623332)

On the one hand, modern uranium reactors (pebble bed, or even well-made light water reactors) are perfectly safe.

the reaction process for modern uranium reactors may be safe, but their waste is not. This is, in my view, the primary benefit of breeder reactors. Their waste is only dangerous for hundreds of years, not millenia.

Re:Gimmick (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623402)

Nuclear waste is hardly dangerous for millennia. Nuclear physics are such that a substance is either very radioactive for a short time, or slightly radioactive for a long time. After a few years in a cooling tank, the wastes will be of the latter form. They can then be vitrified (turned into glass) and put in a cave somewhere, where they'll be of no harm to anyone.

Yes, even low-radioactivity substances are still toxic heavy metals. But we know how to deal with heavy metals. If you don't agree, why aren't you up in arms about all industrial waste instead of focusing on the nuclear industry's?

Problems (5, Interesting)

SteveAstro (209000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622954)

I am working on the very periphery of the problem, designing equipment to measure the properties of hot radioactive molten fluorides - in the region between 900-1700 C, for European nuclear researchers. Clearly one of the problems which should be obvious is that we are looking at cutting edge material technology to work at these temperatures and neutron fluxes !

Re:Problems (4, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623106)

Clearly one of the problems which should be obvious is that we are looking at cutting edge material technology to work at these temperatures and neutron fluxes !

Well, duh. We didn't mention it because it was so obvious! Most slashdotters have known that crap from, like, CS 201.

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623232)

From your high school chemistry classes, you should remember that salts melt at very high temperatures because ions form strong bonds. "Molten salts" should therefore trigger the question "to be held and transported in containments and pipes made of what?"

Re:Problems (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623452)

From your high school chemistry classes, you should remember that salts melt at very high temperatures because ions form strong bonds.

There's a lot of things I should have learned in my (AP) high-school chemistry class, but didn't. I'll take your word for it that what you mentioned should be on that list.

Re:Problems (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623260)

That sounds like a fiendishly difficult problem. What materials are you using for it? It seems like you'd have to basically use ceramics and... tungsten.

Re:Problems (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623326)

one of the problems which should be obvious is that we are looking at cutting edge material technology to work at these temperatures and neutron fluxes !

Isn’t that what a flux capacitor is for?

Re:Problems (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623534)

I am working on the very periphery of the problem, designing equipment to measure the properties of hot radioactive molten fluorides - in the region between 900-1700 C, for European nuclear researchers. Clearly one of the problems which should be obvious is that we are looking at cutting edge material technology to work at these temperatures and neutron fluxes !

Why dont you setup a frequency harmonic between the deflector and the shield grid using warp field generator as a power flow ant.... blablabla?

stupid questions at ends of articles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30622982)

"So why are we not building these reactors?"

This is a dumb choice of audience to ask that question. The one or two
nuclear scientists who already know the data are too smart to post here,
knowing that the rest of the google-capable nerds will "contribute" by drowning
them out.

Why do YOU think every article hase to end with a perfunctory "... and how do YOU
feel about this? ..." question?

I can't believe I spent time writing this.

Why move to Thorium? (3, Interesting)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622984)

Uranium is also abundant and safe, but it's a lot better known than thorium. Thorium is promising, but there's no need for an alternative nuclear fuel at the moment (and probably won't be for a very long time). The nuclear fuel isn't what caused the Chernobyl disaster, it was the reactor, and huge amounts of research has been invested into new uranium based reactors with all sorts of properties making them safer and cheaper.

Thorium looks good and should be researched, but with nuclear fuel we're spoiled for choice. The idea that we need to find a new nuclear fuel for safety or cost reasons only damages the chance of people getting behind the fine technology we have/are-developing now.

Only a bridge ore (5, Funny)

wembley fraggle (78346) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622986)

These days, people only mine Thorium while they're working on getting their skill up to the Fel Iron and outlands level. One thing worth noting is that somewhere in the past few patches, they've made it so you can mine Fel Iron at 275, which is pretty nice. No more running around the Eastern Plaguelands looking for Rich Thorium Nodes for those last few points when you'd rather be in Hellfire Peninsula.

Re:Only a bridge ore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623294)

Wow has the best kind of Thorium, and the safest of any nuc fuel

Because nuclear is still "scary" (5, Interesting)

Rehnberg (1618505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623006)

I brought this article up in my government class a few weeks ago (we spend more time discussing what the government is doing than how it's set up), and I couldn't convince a single person that this new kind of reactor was safe. Let's face it: years of not building reactors combined with years of scare tactics from our government about other countries building reactors can't be undone with science. Propaganda > Science

Because... (4, Interesting)

perrin (891) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623062)

The debate has been ranging here in Norway lately, since we hold a lot of the world's known reserves of the stuff (as opposed to many wild guesswork assumptions about possible reserves around the world). The reason why not more reactors are built is quite simply because the technology is not there yet. By most accounts, a functional prototype reactor is 20 years away. It is a very complicated technology, and more difficult to engineer safely than uranium reactors that we currently know a lot about. Several studies, for instance from MIT, cast doubt on whether thorium reactors will even be cost effective. Extracting thorium from the ground is harder than for uranium, and the enrichment process is more difficult and costly. Thorium will also produce dangerous, radioactive by products, and if you have enrichment capabilities for thorium, it is not a far step further to produce weaponized plutonium.

So it may be the future, but apparently no silver bullet.

All this is IANANP (I Am Not a Nuclear Physicist) so I guess someone reading ./ can answer this better than me.

Re:Because... (1, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623360)

You know India uses thorium reactors, right?

Somebody must not have told them how impossible it was, or how many years it would take, or how it wasn't cost effective.

Stupid Indians (with a dot, not feathers).

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623538)

considering it's in TFA. >. I JUST read the same thing in wired....

either way, to break down the article (which i'm assuming its correct, but IANA Numclear physicist either) -- its is AT LEAST 20-50% more efficient, requires NO buffer zone(because it is self regulating for heat... so no melt down), and has extremely little for biproducts at the end of it's cycle.

According to the wired article I read in the mag., the entire reason the US went with uranium as oppossed to thorium is BECAUSE they wanted the biproducts for weapons in the day (cold war). The cold war was the reason.

Other than that there is already a group running amuck trying to at least partically convert the current reactors to take a little thorium in their loads, which makes them something like 20% more effectient at making electricity and does not leave stuff behind to make bombs from.

so that is the point. change of directives from absolute power generation w/o biproducts instead of the cold war nuclear security issues.

The tech has been around since the time they started to think about the uranium reactors, so it's not new...more like forgotten tech. It looks awesomely promising should you read the wired article. ...which i can't link because of where I am posting from.

Surprise! Business model problems... (4, Insightful)

dfay (75405) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623068)

According to this [wikipedia.org] (see the section called "Fuel cycle concerns"), because there is no need to refine the Thorium fuel, which is the stage where the nuclear power companies currently make their money, they would need to change their business model to cope. We all know how much companies like to do that.

So, you combine the politicians' lack of desire to risk being associated with nuclear power, and the entrenched industry's lack of interest in the business model, and it's suddenly easy to explain.

Thorium's Better But Also Harder To Work With (5, Informative)

Greg Hullender (621024) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623070)

There's no question that Thorium has lots of advantages over Uranium, but it's much harder to make it work at all. Check out the list of disadvantages in the Wikipedia article "Thorium fuel cycle." It adds all kinds of engineering challenges that Uranium doesn't have.

Of course, if we're going to tackle the problems of the 21st Century, we have to be willing to solve hard engineering problems, but it makes perfect sense to tackle the easier ones first. Especially when it takes years to build and test a reactor, so developing anything really new is apt to take a decade or two before it can actually make money. So far, it has always seemed easier to tweak the existing, mature Uranium technology to deal with its remaining problems.

Personally, I'd love to see a sustained government effort to develop commercially viable Thorium power plants. (I have thought this since the 1970s.) But the reason that hasn't happened yet is Thorium just has too many unsolved problems -- it's not because of some industry conspiracy.

--Greg

nuclear fusion anyone? (1)

mephcpp (1147083) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623080)

how about pouring more resources in nuclear fusion? Isn't it n times more efficient and m more clean?

Re:nuclear fusion anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623276)

Because no reliable fusion power plant has ever been built? Nuclear fission, on the other hand, has been generating electricity for half a century. The real question is why the resources are being poured into fuel based technology, when renewable energy technology is becomming a serious alternative.

Re:nuclear fusion anyone? (2, Interesting)

mudetroit (855132) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623406)

There are tons of reasons why "fuel based technologies", which is really an odd statement as even most of renewable energy sources are fuel based on some level, primary among them is we still have a fairly large shortfall between the world energy demands and its energy producing capacity. A situation that will only get worse as we increase our capacity for creating energy ironically enough. It would be irresponsible to not work the problem from every angle possible. This means working on solar, wind, nuclear fission and fusion, and even better fossil fuel facilities, for now. As well as on working on increasing our efficiency in consuming and delivering energy.

Neither side of the great energy debate wants to hear it, but we are decades away, at best, from a real solution to the problem. And attacking the solutions you don't like don't gain anyone a thing. If you think one solution is the best one then do what you can to support it. Technology wars are won by one side winning via whatever merits, not attacking opposing technologies.

Re:nuclear fusion anyone? (1)

mudetroit (855132) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623312)

While I won't disagree that I would like to see more money pushed at fusion, it is hard to say that it is more efficient when we haven't been able to build a plant that can be continuously energy positive yet. Fission reactors are more practical in the short term.

Tubes? (1)

jhol13 (1087781) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623092)

Tubes and "billiard balls" ... weren't 'em trucks?

P.S. I think "series of tubes" to be one of the best simplification of the 'net ever.

Canadian CANDU reactors can use Thorium (3, Informative)

ameline (771895) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623176)

As the subject says, there is already a proven and safe reactor design that can use the thorium fuel cycle.

 

Re:Canadian CANDU reactors can use Thorium (1)

HiddenCamper (811539) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623528)

Candu reactors wont be allowed in the US because the NRC does not like open fuel loading and does not like reactors with positive reactivity coefficients. It's kind of sad, because we could take the used fuel from a US reactor and put it in a candu and run it for another couple years.

nuclear waste, anyone? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623214)

36 comments so far, and only one mentioning the #1 problem of current nuclear technology: WASTE.

The problem is still unsolved but nobody cares about it. Meanwhile, we are cumulating tons of material which will be dangerously radioactive for many generations after ours.

If switching to thorium stops the generation of highly radioactive waste, we have the #1 good reason for doing so.

Re:nuclear waste, anyone? (2, Interesting)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623262)

Reduced waste is one of the reasons for using Thorium: Not as much, and it decays to safe levels in decades, not centuries.

Re:nuclear waste, anyone? (1)

HiddenCamper (811539) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623510)

Waste is an interesting topic that we do have ideas how to solve. The technology isnt there yet, but its also not going to be '20 years off forever' like cold fusion is. Transmuting long lasting waste products reduces a large amount of stockpile. Reprocessing allows us to generate less total waste and reuse fuel we currently have. Breeding will allow us to take parts of our fuel and use increase efficiency of a ton of uranium. Unfortunately we havent gotten there yet. Currently fuel is stored in casks for long term storage. It is a very good storage method for the intermediate period (100-300 years at least), and hopefully we will be able to reuse or burn off a lot of the waste products in that time.

anonymous coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623266)

The safety issue is one thing. Another important issue
is what to do about the waste products, which is short
lived for Thorium, compared to the long-lived products
from Uranium. There is a problem with Yucca mountain
overflowing with nuclear waste.

See also the Google Tech Talk by Kirk Sorensen
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZR0UKxNPh8
(1 hour 22 minutes)

Too safe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30623288)

Pseudo ecologists will never allow a nuclear design that is safe, efficient and environmentally friendly. After all, if such a design was implemented then they wouldn't have any arguments left against nuclear plants which would lead to more nuclear plants.

Thorium tubes (1)

delvsional (745684) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623292)

So what happens when the thorium leaks out of small holes in the tubes from cracks or fme intrusion and pools in the bottom of the core? It can't melt down because it's already melted. This is why a meltdown is so bad, because you can't control how many bricks are in the pile.

Why not build a "not that bad"-technology? (2, Insightful)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623330)

Such reactors may be less dangerous and the may produce less radioactive waste. But even though. They still produce radioactive waste, which we cannot handle. And it uses still a extremely limited resource. We will eat up the reserves in no time. And it would be again a centralized energy production. We want a decentralized energy production to become independent from big energy companies and to produce the energy more safely. And a large number of small generators are much less vulnerable to a total loss than one big one. Big technology is bad technology.
   

Re:Why not build a "not that bad"-technology? (5, Interesting)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623580)

We want a decentralized energy production to become independent from big energy companies and to produce the energy more safely

Without realizing it, you've stuck upon the real psychological motivation behind the "decentralized everything" movement: it's political. It's a reflective reaction against the complexity of modern society, and against globalization.

Every honest intellectual person knows that sometimes centralization is desirable. Centralization is cheaper, more efficient, and often cleaner and safer as well. It's a lot cheaper for one building on campus to generate steam than for shack to have its own heater. It's easier to scrub the output of 100 coal plants than that of 10,000 automobiles.

Yet there are otherwise-intelligent people arguing for community-run, small, decentralized infrastructure even where it's batshit insane, like for nuclear power plants. This is not the product of honest reasoning, but an expression to live out the fantasy of living in a commune in the woods.

You want to stem the power of large corporations? I'm with you. Regulate them. But sometimes scaling up an operation is a no-brainer.

The attitude that small is always beautiful is the product of a small mind.

Molten Fluoride Salts? (1)

eagle52997 (691489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623414)

"So why are we not building these reactors?" Yeah, cause its always a good idea to work with large quantities of molten fluoride salts. I think I've got some materials right here in my shop that would work perfectly fine with that.

Re:Molten Fluoride Salts? (1)

HiddenCamper (811539) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623462)

Look at the Monju plant in japan, they had a minor leak that just destroyed a room. The accident was also covered up for a week. No injuries though, but the plant was offline for years.

Why? (2, Interesting)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623416)

Because 'Big-Uranium' bought up all the patents and made them secret. ...... Just like 'Big-Oil" bought up the super-dooper battery patents.

Not wrong, but somewhat misleading (1)

HiddenCamper (811539) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623426)

The article seems a little misleading. The article makes it appear that just by using thorium, it is possible to get better fuel efficiency (burnup). The reality is that the article is talking about using liquid fluoride based reactors, a technology that we havent been able to make commercial use of yet, and it is unlikely we will see those types of reactors for many years. Comparing liquid fluoride reactors to any type of light water reactor (the kind in use in the US) is like comparing the gas mileage for a car to an airplane. They use different fuel types due to design, and you wouldnt buy a hummer just because the car salesman says it gets better gas mileage than an airplane. The article should talk about the difference between LWRs and gen4 reactors, and how by using a gen4 reactor you can make efficient use of thorium, expanding our fuel options and reducing proliferation threats. When thorium fuel is used in an LWR, you actually get much worse fuel economy (about 5% to 10% at best compared to traditional uranium cycles), for the same cost. Wikipedia's thorium fuel cycle has some pretty good information about thorium in LWRs. http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/TE_1450_web.pdf [iaea.org] is a great document prepared for the IAEA and has some good bullet points about thorium viability.

CANDU (1)

johnkennethhunter (1326527) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623544)

I've often read that a CANDU reactor is already designed for use of Thorium as a fuel, but compared to claims in this article, would prove to be an expensive way to burn this fuel. Of course, a CANDU reactor can burn up old warheads and even the waste a PWR leaves behind, so I have my doubts any of the 7 countries using that reactor would need to switch to a Thorium cycle. By then, perhaps even more ingenious ways to extract power from Thorium may be discovered.

Check Google Tech Talks / YouTube for more info (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623560)

There are several hour-long talks on the history and potential of Thorium as a nuclear fuel. Very interesting stuff.
I've long been opposed to relying on nuclear power but after looking at the info on Thorium, I'm starting to have
second thoughts.
Whether or not it pans out, I'm afraid that nothing short of a catastrophe of some kind will lead to its adoption.
It's very hard to unseat the entrenched industries, especially in North America, so coal and uranium won't
suddenly disappear.

why bother (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 4 years ago | (#30623570)

Nuclear power is a really bad idea for two reasons 1) all the energy we need can come from solar and wind Thorium may be "inherently safe" but having tons of super hot, possibly corrosive and toxic (HF, hydrofluoric acid is super corrosive and toxic) fluoride salts doesn't really sound like a good place to start. so, if you had the control of how to spend, say,10 billion dollars (and that is probably a minimum to bring a new reactor technology on line) to develop new nukes, or better solar panels, which way would you go ? 2) it helps spread nuclear weapons technology there is also an issue about nuclear weapons. Building the complex infrastructure to manufacture, test an store nuculear weapons requires a huge amount of expertise in how to handle radioactive materials. I think it obvious that it is easier to aquire this expertise if ou have a civilian nuclear power industry. Say for just storing vry radioactive waste - you need to know how to monitor it so workers are safe, you need special shielded drums, etc ect Civilian nuclear power = more nuclear weapons
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