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Is Safe, Green Thorium Power Finally Ready For Prime Time?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the much-more-reliable-than-Thor-power dept.

Power 258

MrSeb writes "If you've not been tracking the thorium hype, you might be interested to learn that the benefits liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) have over light water uranium reactors (LWRs) are compelling. Alvin Weinberg, who invented both, favored the LFTR for civilian power since its failures (when they happened) were considerably less dramatic — a catastrophic depressurization of radioactive steam, like occurred at Chernobyl in 1986, simply wouldn't be possible. Since the technical hurdles to building LFTRs and handling their byproducts are in theory no more challenging, one might ask — where are they? It turns out that a bunch of U.S. startups are investigating the modern-day viability of thorium power, and countries like India and China have serious, governmental efforts to use LFTRs. Is thorium power finally ready for prime time?"

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NO (3, Insightful)

mschiller (764721) | about 2 years ago | (#42341075)


Re:NO (5, Insightful)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 2 years ago | (#42341123)

Yeah, Global Warming and Peak Energy are going to fuck NIMBY in the ass soon.

You'd be surprised what people will put up with when basic survival is on the line.

Re:NO (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341313)

Just like I fucked your dad in the ass last night. He grunted like a piggy while he jerked his tiny pecker.

Re:NO (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342015)

You know what I like your style, AC.

Re:NO (3, Informative)

preaction (1526109) | about 2 years ago | (#42341447)

Unfortunately, by the time the evidence is clear enough for even the most ardent skeptic to take seriously, it will be too late to reverse the effects.

Re:NO (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 2 years ago | (#42342961)

The problem isn't climate skeptics, it is the some of the same people promoting AGW, namely green wing of the DNC. They don't want Petrol based fuels, and oppose any other "Green" alternative, especially in their own neighborhoods. An Nukular is definitely off the table.

Re:NO (0)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 2 years ago | (#42342967)

And before you comment, that misspelling was intentional

Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342985)

Unfortunately, by the time the evidence is clear enough for even the most ardent skeptic to take seriously, it will be too late to reverse the effects.

Doesn't matter. It's the same people that screams about global warming that are against nuclear power, at least where I live.

Re:NO (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 2 years ago | (#42343011)

You won't believe how energized I feel after my morning glass of thorium! And it's delicious too!

Re:NO (4, Insightful)

mschiller (764721) | about 2 years ago | (#42341489)

I agree, but that doesn't change the fact that there is an awful lot of NIMBY going on. We could've and should've been building new reactors since the 70's, but instead the reactors that are online are mostly still the original first generation designs from the late 50's and early 60's. The same whack job environmentalists who should be all for this, are also typically the most adament against it. Yet watch them and their energy use isn't substantially different then any other American....

I suspect by the time we figure out that we can't put up with this NIMBY crap we will be OUT of oil OR have completely screwed up the environment once and for all...

I mean really this was the first new nuke plant licensed in 30 years: []

And it's the AP1000. Still a Water based design and Generation 3.. Though from the look of it a lot safer than most of the reactors (Gen 2) in operation

Re:NO (1)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | about 2 years ago | (#42342093)

Other than the anger at environmentalists, I agree with you. However, to answer TFA, NO. The world hasn't yet built anything more sophisticated as the original 10 MWt molten salt reactor from the 60's, and a real LFFR needs a lot of R&D. China's doing promising work, but we're looking at several years before they can start construction on a utility scale plant. Fund the heck out of this R&D! But, no, it's not "ready for prime time."

Re:NO - well mabe (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342825)

Please define 'a lot of R&D'!

We know that breeding fissle from T90 will work.
We know the heat expansion characteristics of LF coolant/moderator.
We understand most of the implications around shutdown.
We understand far to little about the chemistry of making the reactor survive for a resonable length of time.
We understand only part of the chemistry required to seperate out various byproducts (required for a LFTR to operate)
We know there is plenty of T90 around to convert.
So yes there is a LOTS of chemical engineering to be done but there are no known show stoppers at this time.

From this we can be sure that radiation leaks are very unlikely.

Whereas is would be VERY difficult for a group of raiders to swoop in and steal the fissle material.
It would be easy for, say a government, to stockpile the fissle after it cools down. Say 6 weeks or so.

What a LFTR really means (4, Informative)

mbkennel (97636) | about 2 years ago | (#42343047)

You have a very caustic liquid at hundreds of degrees which is infused with very large amounts of high level radioactive waste. Fission daughter products which in a regular reactor are solid and encased in zirconium steel and treated with utmost care are now free floating in something very hot, flowing and caustic. What if if there's an accident and it rains. Or a flood. The fission products are very water soluble.

Every power plant also has to be a very nasty chemical separation and reprocessing plant. Consider the contamination just in "normal" operation. And consider the people running them.

What happens if it cools off and solidifies? You've frozen radioactive waste in the pipes a multi-billion dollar plant, and you can't go in there for decades.

There aren't some failure modes of existing reactors, but there are other failure modes and problems.

It might be a good idea to have one or two, very highly regulated and operated with the utmost skill (i.e. not for profit) used to burn up actinides wastes from other reactors.

Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341911)

You'd be surprised what people will be forced to put up with when other peoples' survival is on the line.


Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342147)

Once you've hit that level of resource depletion, you won't have the energy to build a significant number of LFTRs.

Re:NO (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 2 years ago | (#42342207)

Not really. NIMBY will just have IYBY appended, with the force of eminent domain.

Re:NO (3, Funny)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 2 years ago | (#42341127)

I'd love one in my backyard. /until I go to sell the place

Re:NO (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42341685)

Some people like them. Unlike coal/gas/nuclear plants that no-one wants to live near.

Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341159)

I don't have a backyard at my apartment, but I do have a large closet I don't use, I'll take one.

Re:NO (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#42341171)

You kidding? I'd have one in my basement if I could.

Re:NO (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341299)

Thorium reactors can be used to create nuclear weapons.
So, proliferation risk.

Waste products are still just being ignored-- there is no safe way to store the waste _already generated_ for the time periods required-- we don't need to add to this disaster waiting to happen.

A full 1% of commercial reactors have experienced catastrophic meltdowns. We don't know how to build this stuff to be either reliable nor safe. Imagine 1 out of 100 cars randomly blowing up on your freeway commute, or 1 out of 100 planes that have ever existed falling from the sky.

We have to subsidize current nuke plants and must indemnify them of any liability to allow these things to operate. If same thing for thorium, no thanks to socialized risk and privatized profits.

  Money is better spent in efficiency, then renewables.

Re:NO (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341399)

Bah, false information trolls are the worst.

At least be wrong on accident.

Re:NO (4, Interesting)

amorsen (7485) | about 2 years ago | (#42341873)

Uranium-233 is produced in LFTR's. It is perfectly suitable for bombs. The neat thing is that it is "easy" to separate since it is chemically different from the rest of the molten salt.

Admittedly nothing is ever easy around molten salts, especially not anything involving fluorine, but that kind of reprocessing is an integral part of how an LFTR will work. If you do not have equipment that could be repurposed to separate uranium-233, you probably do not have a commercially viable LFTR.

mod up. (0)

Grog6 (85859) | about 2 years ago | (#42341941)

This is a much cheaper way to nukes than uranium separation, from the looks of it.

Only if you can separate it from the U-232 (5, Informative)

meldroc (21783) | about 2 years ago | (#42342109)

U-232 is also produced in LFTR reactors, and is HELLACIOUSLY radioactive. You can't work around U-232 with just a glove-box - you're gonna get a tan that way. It also poisons the reaction of a U-233 bomb, so you've got to separate it out, so you're back to centrifuges and the like, and you're gonna have to throw out the contaminated and radioactive centrifuges when you're done as well.

Re:Only if you can separate it from the U-232 (3, Funny)

letherial (1302031) | about 2 years ago | (#42342579)

so your saying that not only can we have power, but we can get a tan at the plant as well

thats a win win if i ever heard one.

Re:Only if you can separate it from the U-232 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342685)

Lovely, a strong alpha and gamma emitter. Just the thing to put in happy fun ball. Usefully it's fissile so you can burn it in the reactor that made it. All the decay products are stable or have half-lives of minutes to hours. I think I like U-232 as a thorium product.

Re:Only if you can separate it from the U-232 (1)

mug funky (910186) | about 2 years ago | (#42342809)

me thinks you don't know what hellaciously radioactive means.

by the time this shit's loaded into a centrifuge, it's decayed into something that's trivially easy to remove.

Re:NO (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341461)

I was under the impression that there's virtually no nuclear weapon risk from a thorium reactor, and that there's no fear of a catastrophic meltdown. From what I've read (not a lot, I admit) they required input to keep them going and when something goes wrong everything just melts into a sarcophagus below the msr.

Is this a different type of reactor?

Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (0)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 2 years ago | (#42341575)

I was under the impression that there's virtually no nuclear weapon risk from a thorium reactor

That was the original thinking, but there was a very recent analysis that suggested that a "minor tweak" in the process could be used to produce materials for bombs. [] []

Not my subject, so I won't venture an opinion on whether this is a real problem, or scare.

and that there's no fear of a catastrophic meltdown.

Seems to be what people are saying. Again, not my subject, although I'd add the caveat is that nothing is ever quite foolproof, since fools are so ingenious.

Re:Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341857)

Oh no. Nation states might do bad things using their custom designed expensive reactors.

In the production of U233 from thorium-232, it is unavoidable that one will invariably produce small amounts of uranium-232 as an impurity, because of parasitic (n,2n) reactions on uranium-233 itself, or on protactinium-233. Uranium 232 is really, really bad stuff.

The decay chain of U232 quickly yields a number of different strong gamma radiation emitters, which makes manual handling in a glove box with only light shielding (as commonly done with plutonium) too hazardous. Not only will it kill you dead, its presence will also poison your weapon yield, and it will alert anyone who cares to look exactly where your weapon site is.

The thing is, any nation (or terrorist group?) with the money and the resources needed could produce weapons more cheaply and with less risk to their workers by enriching U238 into Plutonium 239, which is much better for making weapons anyway.

I think the article is fear mongering at best. Is their a proliferation risk? Sure. An exceedingly impractical risk imho.

According to wikipedia:
The United States detonated an experimental device in the 1955 Operation Teapot "MET" test which used a plutonium/U-233 composite pit; this was based on the plutonium/U-235 pit from the TX-7E, a prototype Mark 7 nuclear bomb design used in the 1951 Operation Buster-Jangle "Easy" test. Although not an outright fizzle, MET's actual yield of 22 kilotons was significantly enough below the predicted 33 that the information gathered was of limited value. In 1998, as part of its Pokhran-II tests, India detonated an experimental U-233 device of low-yield (0.2 kt) called Shakti V.

So it has been attempted, and seems to have badly fizzled with both efforts. The bomb makers with deep pockets have quite rightly given up in disgust. If some well funded terrorist group or nation state is going to bother with trying to make a bomb, they are going to buy or steal U239 or they will build themselves a uranium reactor, then frequently load and unload fresh fuel rods so they can extract plutonium. Nobody is likely to ever again give bomb making with U233 much additional effort.

Anybody trying to extract the Protactinium from a LFTR in the hope of making U233 will find the neutron economy is such that they simply have to load all that U233 right back into the reactor or the thing will shut down.

Re:Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (1)

Pax681 (1002592) | about 2 years ago | (#42342047)

Not only will it kill you dead

kill me dead..... erm...isn't "it will kill you" enough? the added "you dead" seems utterly extraneous

Re:Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (1)

mug funky (910186) | about 2 years ago | (#42342865)

never heard that one before? i quite like it.

Re:Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#42343081)

never heard that one before? i quite like it.

I heard Aeryn Sun [] exclaim "Frell me dead!", but I'm sure she was talking about something else... :-)

Re:Never? Well, hardly ever [Re:NO] (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342979)

"kill you dead" is the human analog of kill -9. Normal killing like, i don't know, frequent tobacco use is more like a kill -15

Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341657)

Risk is lower than plutonium, but it is non-zero and recent work shows it is possible.

My opinion is you look at risk/return.

1. How much will the plant cost for 1MW energy?
2. How long can it run?
3. What is the worst case outcome?

I can't answer the first two, but worst case is pretty bad. Wind and Solar may even cost more, but the worst case on them is pretty mild in comparison (someONE might get electrocuted, or it might fall on you, but the WORST CASE is just not that bad.

Re:NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342273)

No, the answer is just No.

It still is a risk.

It still is expensive.

It still is a proliferation problem.

It still is avoiding the real needs for power: reduction, renewables.

Until we can breed a human race who ISN'T so batshit insane as to still, 20 years or more after ANY POSSIBLE ability to be rationally unsure, denies AGW or the risks, we won't have a race that is safe with Thorium reactors.

Re:NO (1)

CptNerd (455084) | about 2 years ago | (#42342619)

Plus anything having to do with "nukyular" is going to raise a poisonous cloud of nukeFUD that will dissuade anyone from pursuing the technology.

What's-his-name's Law (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341119)

I'm all for Thorium, but the title is a question, therefore the answer is no.

Re:What's-his-name's Law (2)

olsmeister (1488789) | about 2 years ago | (#42341319)

Betteridge. []

Re:What's-his-name's Law (4, Informative)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#42341497)

The title of your post asks a question, that question is What's-his-name law.

Since the law in question is "If the title asks a question, then the answer is no."

Therefor it is No's Law.

Re:What's-his-name's Law (3, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | about 2 years ago | (#42342211)

In this case, Dr. No is Ian Betteridge, who coined Betteridge's Law [] (though obviously the idea has been around long before him).

Green nuclear power. (2)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42341173)

Isn't it usually blue [] ?

Chernobyl was not a light-water reactor (5, Informative)

CajunArson (465943) | about 2 years ago | (#42341201)

Chernobyl was a graphite moderated water-cooled reactor. Any commercial nuclear plant in the U.S. is a water-moderated and water-cooled reactor.

  Despite the normal perception of the word, a "moderator" actually increases the nuclear activity in a fission plant since it slows-down ("moderates") neutrons and therefore increases the probability that the neutrons cause a fission event. In Chernobyl, the coolant (water) was blown away in the pressure explosion, but the moderator (graphite) remained in place which led to the runaway meltdown.

By contrast at Three Mile Island & Fukushima, the loss of coolant led to a meltdown (literally heat causing melting to occur), but since the water moderator was also missing, the accidents did not lead to a runaway that was anywhere near as severe as Chernobyl. If Fukushima had included a pressure vessel of the same caliber as the one used at TMI, then hardly any radioactivity would have been released during the Fukushima accident.

Re:Chernobyl was not a light-water reactor (2, Informative)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 2 years ago | (#42341749)

Fukushima did have a pressure vessel. The problem was the pressure vessel was damaged by the earthquake. The other problem was the majority of the issues were from the spent fuel rod storage in which the pool lining was damaged by the earthquake leading to the loss of all the water in the spent fuel rod pools, which then lead to a partial meltdown of the spent fuel rods in the pool with the runoff radioactive materials leaking through the same cracks which allowed the water to escape and out into the environment.

Re:Chernobyl was not a light-water reactor (1, Insightful)

Rising Ape (1620461) | about 2 years ago | (#42342387)

That doesn't match all with the reports from Fukushima. There were some early thoughts that the fuel pool was leaking, but that proved to be false. The large quantities of short half life radioiodine released show that the leak was from the reactors, not the spent fuel pools.

The issue is that a containment vessel can only tolerate a certain internal pressure. The reactor core produces heat even when shut down, and heating in a sealed space leads to a pressure increase. In the absence of some way of relieving pressure (such as a functioning cooling system) this will inevitably lead to failure of the containment vessel.

Some new designs can provide this cooling passively using water tanks above the containment, but the vast majority of reactors require active systems to do this.

This thorium stuff is just another paper reactor. They're always the safest. It's when they try to implement them that problems show up.

Re:Chernobyl was not a light-water reactor (4, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | about 2 years ago | (#42342519)

Wrong in all aspects.

The spent fuel pools at Fukushima were not compromised at all during the earthquake and the tsunami or indeed after the hydrogen explosions although it was suspected they had sustained some damage at the time of the accident. After engineers gained access to the top of the reactors a month or two after the accident cameras were lowered into the pools and the fuel rod bundles appeared to be totally undamaged. Two rod bundles were recently removed from reactor 4's pool for much closer examination (they were unused with no fission products and so could be handled without the shielding precautions exposed rods would need). Those rod bundles showed no noticeable damage or deformation and only a little surface corrosion from the use of seawater to top up the pool water levels just after the accident.

The explosions were caused by overheating of the fuel elements within the reactors themselves after cooling stopped resulting in a catalytic reaction that produced hydrogen and oxygen gas via disassociation of steam. Pressure relief valves released this gas mix plus significant amounts of volatile radioactive fission products such as I-131 and Cs-134 and Cs-137 into the upper parts of the reactor buildings where the explosions occurred. Continued heating from the uncovered fuel rods in the reactors compromised the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels and some melted fuel may have made its way down into the primary containments, mixed with water and contributed to the releases.

The spent fuel rods in the pools on the reactors and in the site central pool did not contribute at all to the contamination that resulted as far as anyone can tell. The site plan posted by TEPCO states they expect to empty reactor 4's spent fuel pool by the end of 2013 after building a weather shield and a crane system on top of the damaged reactor building, and then move on to deal with the spent fuel in the pools in the other reactor buildings in turn.

Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (4, Informative)

bradleyjg (68937) | about 2 years ago | (#42341273)

Molten salt has a lot of advantages as a working fluid over water, unfortunately the major big disadvantage outweighs all the positives.

Viz. the conditions inside these reactors would be absurdly corrosive. F salts are chemically aggressive, and that aggressive increases with temperature. That is compounded by the fact that the reactor materials will also be bombarded with significant neutron fluxes, and by the presence of all dissolved decay products in the working fluid.

We simply don't have materials that can stand up for any length of time to that kind of abuse.

Re:Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341579)

Weinbergs team at Oak Ridge managed to work with the Fluoride salts. They used high-nickel alloys (Hastelloy N) which were able to resist the F salts. Other manufacturers have alloys of similar make up - I believe a Czech group are developing their own at the moment due to difficulty of supply from Haynes - google MONICR. The problems are not trivial, but they are surmountable.

Re:Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (5, Informative)

TehCable (1351775) | about 2 years ago | (#42341719)

Prohibitive corrosion is a common misconception about this type of reactor. The U.S. built an experimental MSR in the 60's and ran it for 5 years. According to the results section of the wikipedia article about the experiment, the corrosion was negligible: []

Re:Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (5, Interesting)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42342159)

Interesting article.

One unexpected finding was shallow, inter-granular cracking in all metal surfaces exposed to the fuel salt. The cause of the embrittlement was tellurium - a fission product generated in the fuel. This was first noted in the specimens that were removed from the core at intervals during the reactor operation. Post-operation examination of pieces of a control-rod thimble, heat-exchanger tubes, and pump bowl parts revealed the ubiquity of the cracking and emphasized its importance to the MSR concept. The crack growth was rapid enough to become a problem over the planned thirty-year life of a follow-on thorium breeder reactor.

So not quite as problem free and viable in the long term as you were hoping. Long term operation is in fact one of the biggest problems for thorium reactors. Even if the salt doesn't damage them the reactor vessel itself becomes highly radioactive and thus difficult to examine and maintain. Decommissioning is similarly problematic.

That's one reason no-one has built a commercial scale plant. It's a long term investment and there are many uncertainties about reliability over 40+ years, where as current designs are at least proven to mostly work at reasonable cost for that kind of lifetime.

Amazingly enough... (1)

Grog6 (85859) | about 2 years ago | (#42342117)

People that actually work with F, or UF6, actually know how to prevent that corrosion by using the correct materials.

Imagine that.

We built a few gaseous diffusion plants that exclusively used UF6 as the main working gas; K-25 ran for ~40 years.

AFAICR, Weinbergs' 'star' molten salt reactor was the only one we ever built that could have exploded; the U233 apparently concentrated in the mix, and that had to be dealt with.

Weinberg was a cool guy; I used to see him in my shop a few times a year in the 90's. I got him to autograph all my copies of his books... :)

You don't need "Hot, liquid fluorine" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342167)

Thorium can be used to fuel a heavy water reactor like the Candu. India is developing a heavy water reactor specifically for Thorium. It is designed to be inherently safe and requires no operator intervention to open and shut valves in case of an emergency. []

Re:Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342777)

If we can ship chlorine-triflouride by road and rail before filling it into rockets we can handle fluoride salts. It's not easy but it is doable. Hell, the nuclear industry is already used to handling crazy fluorine compounds for uranium purification.

Re:Hot, liquid fluorine is too corrosive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342913)

Except that we aren't shipping/handling crazy hot radioactive liquid florine salts around where the heat and radioactivity causes material structural change to the linings of the containers... That is a whole 'nuther level of crazy that we have to deal with here and what do you do about decomissioning it after it's done? Don't underestimate the depth of this problem.

nuclear > "green" energy (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | about 2 years ago | (#42341323)

I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact -- acres upon acres of wooded hilltops have been deforested. I truly had no idea how obnoxious it was until Google Earth got updated images. Take a look at some before and after photos of a large wind farm and see for yourself how bad it is.

All of this might be worth it if wind energy scaled the same as nuclear, or could provide the same power density, but both of those are utterly impossible. You'll never match nuclear reactions for power density, and the footprint of a nuclear power plant is no larger than that of any other modern industrial concern.

Everything in life is a tradeoff, but having lived near Three Mile Island, and now living in the midst of a wind farm, I'd take the former any day of the week. You simply didn't know TMI was there, unless you happened to have cause to drive by it. Contrast that to dozens of wind turbines, visible for miles around, along with the obnoxiousness of their build process.

Nuclear and low impact hydro are the way to go for base load. Natural gas, along with wind, and solar for the peak load.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (5, Funny)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 2 years ago | (#42341543)

Indeed, another great advantage of nuclear power is that whenever there's a catastrophic meltdown, we get hundreds of square kilometers of new wooded nature preserve.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341847)

Russia does something stupid /one time/ and we never hear the end of it.

Seriously, though, excepting Chernobyl, nuclear accidents are actually rather non-life-threatening.

Fukushima is the only one that comes close and the estimate of its total worldwide results, on the high end, is about 2500 cancers and 1100 deaths, and the lesser contaminated areas will be safe to inhabit in a decade, the worse areas, two decades.

Almost every other accident has estimates for cancers in the double digits and direct deaths by radiation immeasurably small, including the "terrible" Three Mile Island incident.

So, over the past sixty years (excluding Chernobyl*, which was an amazing clusterfuck that had more to do with Soviet organization than nuclear power), you can attribute about 3000 cancers and 1500 deaths to nuclear power. Comparatively, the US alone sees 30 coal mining deaths a year and the world sees thousands annually. (Uranium mining gets something like a thousand times as much energy per ton mined, so deaths should decrease similarly.) And yes, coal is the baseline energy source for most of the world right now.

* Now, Chernobyl itself is estimated at something like 10k to 200k extra cancers, but that was a case where they were using a terrible design and doing a terrible test at the wrong time when a terrible accident simultaneously happened that interacted in pretty much the worst case scenario way with the terrible test going on at the time and multiple safety workers screwed up and chose the terrible option when trying to fix the problem, exacerbating the terrible results. Soviet Russia...

Re:nuclear "green" energy (1, Interesting)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#42342395)

nuclear accidents are actually rather non-life-threatening.

Until they aren't. Their POTENTIAL deaths is massively higher than anything else.

The difference is operational issues which is what coal has (pollution, acid rain, etc) vs failure issues which is what nuclear has. When it goes bad, it can go very very very bad. When a coal plant blows up? Extremely localized damage and you can safely walk the site immediately after any fires etc.

We *could* make coal safe from a chemical standpoint and filter the emissions but choose not to because of the cost. Nuclear you can't 'choose' to not have a failure. They simply will happen.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (1)

jfengel (409917) | about 2 years ago | (#42342235)

With many fascinating new species of plants and animals.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341583)

All absolutely true. Wind is the biggest snake oil concoction that the government has ever sold this country (and believe me we are paying for it and the real cost is yet to come). It's the most expensive and least reliable form of energy yet to date. If it wasn't for subsidies and greedy contractors it would be DOA. Hydro is a wonderful deal and if the government was going to get involved they'd have been much better off loosening the regulations surrounding riverflows and temperature that make operating a hydro plant difficult. Just currious though about your selection of Nat Gas for peak load only. We've got one, and it can work well for either in our system.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (1, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#42342493)

Renewables are far and away cheaper than coal. Once you prevent coal from emitting millions of years worth of CO2 for free, it becomes prohibitively expensive.

Hydro doesn't work at scale because there simply aren't enough suitable places to put a damn. It works where it does and large numbers of those places are already doing so. There isn't any 'growth' in gravity based hydro.

Natural gas is at best a stop gap due to the CO2 emissions. It will have to go away too unless you can cheaply sequester the CO2.

Renewables aren't the solution of and by themselves. They also need energy storage mechanisms invented/improved. They aren't every 100% reliable because dark/clouds/still days etc. Wave power/ocean current turbines might be more reliable but not a lot of that in Okla either ;-)

renewables are literally FREE FUEL. When the vast bulk of any power plant's cost is the 'fuel', you simply can't beat them on price when other factors are equal.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341633)

So, what you're saying is, you don't like living next to a building site? What makes you think that subcontractors on wind farms are any worse in traffic than subcontractors on any other building site?

#shakes head#

Re:nuclear "green" energy (5, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42341635)

I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact -- acres upon acres of wooded hilltops have been deforested. I truly had no idea how obnoxious it was until Google Earth got updated images. Take a look at some before and after photos of a large wind farm and see for yourself how bad it is.

Where is this exactly? Come on, don't just give us an unverifiable anecdote, give us hard facts that can be verified.

A properly designed wind farm shouldn't require mass deforestation or environmental damage.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42343089)

I don't know where he is, but here in Tx they move the blades on I35 without stopping traffic, and they mostly put them up in west Tx where there isn't forest to remove. When I've driven past them, I didn't see any houses close by - it's nearly uninhabited.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42341651)

I would say a combination of everything from nuclear, to biodeisal (home compost), to solar, to wind, to geothermal, nat gas, just about anything we can use to decentralize and balance load on the grids should be implemented. But we dont own the power grid infrastructure. If we did we could do allot to help fix it up and spread out the sources of power so it didnt all come from one place.

Wouldnt need as many nuclear plants, and everyone would have a little bit more say and control over what gets implemented here and there by individual community standards and planning.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (2)

amorsen (7485) | about 2 years ago | (#42341809)

It's amazing what scores "informative". Why did they clear the forest? Is there really no farmland nearby which could have been used instead?

Also, modern turbine towers can be built tall enough that trees are less of a concern, although that obviously does not work if we are talking redwoods. Some power will be lost and the towers will be more expensive, but that seems like a reasonable trade off if the forest is not just a tree farm with pines in neat rows.

Re:nuclear "green" energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342627)

you folks don't know "jack" about the enviroment, apparantly. Okay to get the obvious awnsers someone asked for above, There are windfarms in the world, theyy are designed to catch the energyopf the wind to motivate a motor/generator to "make"" electricty. thats the hard part folks. next you have to find a location to put it in, this is even harder. someplace that has wind 24x7x365. Otherwise no good. It has to be away from the general population, they are noisey, ugly, and need to be away from what I like, songbirds, and bats and the tiny things that live part of their life off the ground, butterfly routes, etc, just to name a few things against a wind farm. Plus It's got to be offf the ground, up, in the air, connected to grids, etc. that eliminates any wind eddying things near the "farm", you know things like buildings, trees, and should therefore be built in places like mountaintops, but then you interfeer with the high flying vultures, that use the thermals. They look so neat doing that. Just because you like "green"?

Re:nuclear "green" energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341835)

Are you seriously suggesting that building a nuke plant will generate less truck traffic, dust, highway shutdowns, obnoxious subcontractors? Seriously?

Re:nuclear "green" energy (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 2 years ago | (#42342843)

I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact

I think windmills look cool when I see them on hills driving by. The newer ones with super optimized blade designs look especially futurastic.

Catchy slogan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341347)

Nothing says green like liquid fluorine!

Re:Catchy slogan (1)

GloomE (695185) | about 2 years ago | (#42342763)

Running your plant below -188.12 C is not thermodynamically efficient. I suggest you review your design.

Don't be ridiculous. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341433)

Within microseconds of convincing any "environmentalist" that there is even the slightest possibility of a new class of reactor actually being built you will see the proponents vanish under thousands of lawsuits. Atomic energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without carbon emissions that we have, but it is not politically correct and a new reactor design not only won't change that, it will actually provoke a far more extreme response. Too much paranoia, too much stupidity, too much ignorance. It'll never happen, no matter how much it needs to. Americans can no longer deal with reality.

Re:Don't be ridiculous. (2, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | about 2 years ago | (#42341723)

Atomic energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without carbon emissions that we have,

No matter how many times I see that lie, it's never going to become true. It's true if the question is: What's one and only one thing we can use to replace coal/gas/oil power generation, considering no other options?

But if you ask, can we stop burning all petrochemicals by the end of 2013, the answer is "yes" so long as you allow for a variety of options. Hydro can't do it alone, but hydro plus wind plus PV plus concentrated solar, plus geothermal would be able to for the vast majority of the planet, and for where those combinations won't work, energy can be imported, like North Africa imports its power now from Europe.

But, because no one of those can do it alone, and the better options are hard to control (distributed PV is one of the best options, and least politically popular because it directly attacks utility company business models). But distributed PV with some additional storage mechanisms would be more than enough to power the world, the others may be more efficient, so we should use them where practical.

Re:Don't be ridiculous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342397)

Exactly. This is especially true when the political parties use such "environmental" issues to shepherd all the supposedly "rational" people.

Safety is relative (5, Insightful)

Urban Garlic (447282) | about 2 years ago | (#42341453)

So there is a trope in the engineering world that the safest reactors are the ones that are confined to paper studies, or, to put it more timely, to PowerPoint slides.

It's true that the LFTR reactors don't have the same failure modes as the pressurized light-water reactors, but they still have the same basic issue, namely that there is a very large amount of power-generating capacity in a relatively small volume. Even pebble-bed reactors [] , similarly touted as "intrinsically safe" during their design phase, have had a radiation-release accident -- scroll down to "Criticisms of the design" on that Wikipedia page. The lesson (which I learned from Charles Perrow and Fukushima) is that complex systems with high power densities are intrinsically hazardous, because unexpected interactions (which arise from the complexity) tend to be highly destructive (because of the power density). LFTRs are less complex, and so less dangerous, than PLWRs, and that's good, but it doesn't make them safe.

The stupid cliche you hear over and over again is true -- safety is a process. You can design reactors so that the safety process is easier to implement, but what actually makes things safe is conservative management schemes that retain the redundancy and margin for error that the process demands, and not cutting them out because of the money, or, worse, because of complacency induced by faith in the design.

There's another industrial safety joke, particularly applicable to complex systems -- accident analysis consists of filling in X and Y in the phrase, "Nobody imagined X could happen whlie Y was true."

Re:Safety is relative (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#42342053)

So there is a trope in the engineering world that the safest reactors are the ones that are confined to paper studies, or, to put it more timely, to PowerPoint slides.

Yes. Here's the original source of that [] , from Hyman Rickover, 1953:

"An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now."

"On the other hand a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated."

Looking at the history of reactors, almost everything other than water-cooled reactors has been an operational failure. Pebble-bed reactors have pebble jams. Helium-cooled reactors leak. Sodium-cooled reactors have fires. Boiling water reactors are basically simple devices, and even they have problems. Complexity in the radioactive side of a reactor system has not worked well in practice. The environment is hostile and the required lifetime without maintenance is decades long.

Re:Safety is relative (3, Interesting)

nojayuk (567177) | about 2 years ago | (#42342749)

The British fleet of fourteen AGRs (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors) have been running successfully for thirty years now and some of the fleet will probably operate for another ten to fifteen years with licence extensions. Based on the earlier Magnox design, they use carbon dioxide as coolant. They're a little bit more efficient than boiling-water or pressurised-water reactors since their cores run a bit hotter. The increased efficiency doesn't make up for the extra cost of construction though since the fuel costs are so low, and no-one else outside the UK licenced the design. The next generation of nuclear reactors built in the UK will be BWR or PWR designs.

Re:Safety is relative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342361)

LFTRs are not pressurized. At all. When they overheat, they melt the freeze plug. The fissibile material drains into a holding pool (designed for the temps), and the reaction stops. They are not the same type of reactors by any means. Fukushima was a pressure vessel explosion. Chernobly was a pressure vessel explosion. 3 mile island was mostly contained by the pressure vessel. There's no pressure here, just very high temperatures. IE, no explosion. Please don't spread FUD when you have no idea what you're talking about.

Re:Safety is relative (1)

olau (314197) | about 2 years ago | (#42342739)

Huh, did you even read what you are replying to? The dude said

It's true that the LFTR reactors don't have the same failure modes as the pressurized light-water reactors

Re:Safety is relative (4, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#42342847)

complex systems with high power densities are intrinsically hazardous

Can we just generalize that to say that producing and distributing energy has inherent risks? IIRC about 30 people have been killed installing and maintaining wind turbines in the US so far. When those big hydro plants were being built by the WPA, lots of people fell, sometimes into an active concrete pour. When solar goes massive, there will be big factories and some people will die in manufacturing, and probably people have fallen from roofs installing solar panels, and we can probably figure in many deaths in China from the areas where the rare earths are mined. There are numbers on the exhaust from coal plants, and of course coal mining is incredibly dangerous (not like fisherman-dangerous, but still high). Even US nuclear, which hasn't had any fatalities at the civillian plants, depends on people driving to and from work. I have to imagine some of them have been killed en route.

Re:Safety is relative (1)

Terrasque (796014) | about 2 years ago | (#42342885)

The thing is, the same problem will manifest any place you have a large energy potential. Just look at, say, simple and friendly water [] .

The Right will be screeming!!! (0)

bogaboga (793279) | about 2 years ago | (#42341569)

...countries like India and China have serious, governmental efforts to use LFTRs...

Over here in these United States, folks on the Right will loathe any government involvement in projects like these, despite the fact that the internet is largely an effort of the government...and oh I forget the interstate highways.

As they (the Right) squabble, governments in the East are investing billions and will surpass us in relevancy before we even know it. A sad state of affairs.

Technolopgy is not the problem. (2, Interesting)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 2 years ago | (#42341609)

There is no "technological fix" that will make nuclear power safe. All the bad outcomes at nuclear power plants are due to organizational failures. TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima all resulted from bad decisions, both short term and long term.

One of the units at San Onofre is indefinitely off line because an upgraded heat exchange system was designed incorrectly. This is not exactly new technology, but somehow a flawed design made it through all the review processes. This is ultimately a organizational failure, not a technical failure.

Going from uranium to thorium will not make any difference in the long term. Serious nuclear accidents are low probability events will hugely destructive outcomes. Any claims that a technology change will result in a safe system is dangerously naive thinking.

Re:Technolopgy is not the problem. (2, Interesting)

abies (607076) | about 2 years ago | (#42341875)

Technology CAN help. Problem with current reactors is that that when mismanaged or left alone when problems happen, they go hotter and hotter. Some of proposed reactor designs are opposite of that - if system breaks, they will calm down. []

If we ever plan to have sustainable civilisation, we need 4th+ generation atomic power AND reduce the population. Only then we can think about civilization surving and expanding for next thousand of years. Without reducing population, nothing will save us. Without proper atomic power, we will be energy starved and damage environment even more.

Re:Technolopgy is not the problem. (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42342059)

Assuming it was designed flawlessly, all possible eventualities were predicted and accounted for, it was built exactly to spec and is fully maintained and operated by knowledgeable and skilled people, then yes.

There seems to be an assumption that the designers of older nuclear plants were idiots and came up with these terrible designs through incompetence, but of course that is far from the truth. There were things they didn't know, there were commercial pressures, there were practical issues in manufacturing and operating the plants.

Re:Technolopgy is not the problem. (1)

abies (607076) | about 2 years ago | (#42342657)

It is not about predicting every thing happening - it is about passive safety, which means that when things go wrong, reactor calms down. Designers of old reactors KNEW that things can go wrong and tried to avoid it by putting a lot of safety around - which depended on proper design and operation. This has proven to be not always safe. Some of 4th generation reactors are done on opposite side - if safety fails, reactor shut downs on it's own, because of the way physics work, not because of some backup systems coming online at proper moment.

Re:Technolopgy is not the problem. (2)

amorsen (7485) | about 2 years ago | (#42341959)

LFTR accidents are more likely to be similar to industrial chemical plant accidents than to TMI or Fukushima. Of course that is little comfort to those who know about chemical plant accidents, but society is much more accepting of chemical plant accidents than of nuclear accidents.

LFTR is a potential game changer when it comes to risk perception.

Re:Technolopgy is not the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342337)

There is no "technological fix" that will make nuclear power safe.

How about requiring the reactor to reside at least 250m underground? A Chernobyl-scale accident, or even a nuclear explosion would be contained. Dead power plant, but no pollution...

Re:Technolopgy (sic) is not the problem. (2)

lbates_35476 (901961) | about 2 years ago | (#42342705)

There's also "no technological fix" that will make driving an automobile safe, but we do it every day and have learned to live with the risk. I guess we could make everyone drive 10mph, but choose not to. According to wikipedia ( there were 32,367 automobile deaths in 2011. There have NEVER been anything like that number of deaths in a year from a nuclear reactor. Chernobyl had approximately 4000 deaths and the entire list on wikipedia for deaths due to nuclear and radiation accidents doesn't adds up to around 4,066 ( These numbers might not be entirely accurate, but I'm guessing that all the deaths due to nuclear accidents amount to less than 2 months deaths due to automobile accidents in the US alone.

We have got to start thinking about this like we think about automobile accidents. Tragic, but unless are willing to make a drastic lifestyle change, they are necessary and we just live with them. We don't agonize over getting in our car and driving even though it is statistically WAY more dangerous than any nuclear plant.

Where have I heard this before? (4, Funny)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#42341725)

It is unsinkable.

Article wrong on sodium-cooled reactors (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#42341783)

The article indicates that Adm. Rickover didn't like molten salt / sodium cooled reactors because the "Navy knew how to handle water". In reality, Rickover's nuclear program tried both approaches. The Nautilus (SSN-571) used a boiling water reactor, and the Seawolf (SSN-575) used a sodium cooled reactor. Both were built, both went to sea, and both performed reasonably well. But the sodium-cooled reactor turned out to be harder to maintain than the boiling water reactor, and couldn't be run at full capacity because of some design problems. so after a year, Seawolf was returned to the yards and converted to a boiling water reactor.

That was very typical of the military approach of the period - fully develop several alternatives, operate them, then dump the losers. The history of 1950s jet fighters is a striking example.

Re:Article wrong on sodium-cooled reactors (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about 2 years ago | (#42341971)

Also, before they had subcontractors for everything so costs weren't orders of magnitude more than they should be.

Check the auction house (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42341791)

As long as we can secure mining rights in Azeroth, there should be no problem...

Nothing's perfect (1)

XB-70 (812342) | about 2 years ago | (#42341905)

I have long marvelled at the level of hype that every power generating scheme manages to come up with: Coal, Oil, Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydro. Every one of them has positives and negatives - but none will ever will be perfect.

Let's use that as a starting point before we all jump on the latest band-wagon.

That said, Thorium appears to make a lot of sense. For countries such as Japan, it might offer a reasonable solution to their current power production woes.

To my mind, the bigger issue will be to produce a reactor that comes in at a reasonable overall (not just acquisition) cost.

As well, it is important to look at the overall ecosystem of the process from procurement of material through refinement, use and, finally, disposal.

Re:Nothing's perfect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42342143)

Why did you say "every power generating scheme", then use a grossly incomplete list? I won't complete it, but note that you forgot tidal and bio-gas.

Safe, Green Thorium is a myth. (0)

stooo (2202012) | about 2 years ago | (#42342255)

Safe, Green Thorium is a myth.

Why ? coz it's the good old dirty Plutonium/uranium, with aded online reprocessing necessary. Chemical + radiological risk.

Yes, the reactor might not get critical (if the impulse is slow). But the chemical processing plant will go kaboom for many reasons....

When the core will be spread around, (explosively or over decades), the same thing will happen a few decades later : []

No (1)

ArrayIndexOutOfBound (694797) | about 2 years ago | (#42342349)

Technologies like this are very expensive to develop, test and prove safe, and then also commercialise on a large enough scale to pay off the huge initial investment. There is perhaps the analogy with our use of silicon in electronics. There are some cool alternative technologies with huge potential, but we still use silicon because we have invested in capacity, and tech has been honed by 50 years of continual, global investment in R&D and fabrication. I've been following the thorium story for years. I'll believe it's time has come when large industry players announce commercial reactors. I don't believe for a second that a startup or a small lab can sustain the level of investment or have scale of capability to commercialise technology like this one.

Decentralise energy production (4, Insightful)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about 2 years ago | (#42342947)

Still talking about large centralised power plants, are we?

I'll put my money behind decentralised power. In fact, I already have ... 3.5kw PV system just installed on the roof.

Cogeneration units for at-home are also gaining popularity, particularly in Germany and Spain. Whispergen.

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