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Thorium: The Wonder Fuel That Wasn't

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the almost-there dept.

Power 204

Lasrick (2629253) writes "Bob Alvarez has a terrific article on the history and realities of thorium as an energy fuel: For 50 years the US has tried to develop thorium as an energy source for nuclear reactors, and that effort has mostly failed. Besides the extraordinary costs involved, In the process of pursuing thorium-based reactors a fair amount of uranium 233 has been created, and 96 kilograms of the stuff (enough to fuel 12 nuclear weapons) is now missing from the US national inventory. On top of that, the federal government is attempting to force Nevada into accepting a bunch of the uranium 233, as is, for disposal in a landfill (the Nevada Nuclear Security Site). 'Because such disposal would violate the agency's formal safeguards and radioactive waste disposal requirements, the Energy Department changed those rules, which it can do without public notification or comment. Never before has the agency or its predecessors taken steps to deliberately dump a large amount of highly concentrated fissile material in a landfill, an action that violates international standards and norms.'"

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Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (5, Interesting)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 6 months ago | (#46981859)

Interesting caption to use as the summary.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 6 months ago | (#46982063)

Thorium 232 + a neutron -> Uranium 233.

Note that the "United States produced, over the course of the Cold War, approximately 2 metric tons of uranium-233, in varying levels of chemical and isotopic purity" (from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] . As best as I can tell from the BAS article, the missing U-233 is from "the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility, and the Idaho National Laboratory" - i.e., it was weapons production related U-233, not stuff from a thorium breeder program, and probably a problem of bad book-keeping, not an actual loss of material.

Note that U233 is going to be highly radioactive, due to unavoidable U232 impurities, and will be such a strong emitter of gamma rays that this "makes manual handling in a glove box with only light shielding (as commonly done with plutonium) too hazardous." That, plus a failure to ever produce a non-fizzle U233 bomb, means that this really isn't a good fission bomb source material.

All in all, I actually expect better from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 6 months ago | (#46982201)

Just about anyone can call themselves a scientist, or an advisor. I find it incredible the number of people still duped by those claims.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 6 months ago | (#46982317)

Just about anyone can call themselves a scientist, or an advisor. I find it incredible the number of people still duped by those claims.

Indeed. Anyone that calls the NNSS a "landfill" and talks about "dumping" U233 there, is clearly trying to push an agenda, and is willing to mislead and distort facts in order to do so. That is not science.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (2)

jythie (914043) | about 6 months ago | (#46982435)

From the context, it sounds like he is referring to some officals attempting to dump U233 into a landfill even though it is a bad idea. Looking into the issue it really does sound like they are treating it like a landfill, just dumping containers into dirt trenches and filling them over again.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (0, Flamebait)

radtea (464814) | about 6 months ago | (#46982213)

All in all, I actually expect better from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Really? Why? They are an anti-nuclear, anti-science political lobby organization, and always have been. This kind of dishonest, misleading smear-job is their bread and butter. It's all they do.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (0)

Guy Harris (3803) | about 6 months ago | (#46983133)

All in all, I actually expect better from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Really? Why? They are an anti-nuclear, anti-science political lobby organization, and always have been.

Yeah, those former Manhattan Project scientists and engineers sure hated science [thebulletin.org] .

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982307)

Thorium 232 + a neutron -> Uranium 233.

No entirely accurate.

Th232 + n -> Th233 -> U233 + e

You forgot to bombard the Th 233 with a positron going backward in time.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (2)

elfprince13 (1521333) | about 6 months ago | (#46982763)

I'm glad someone beat me to it.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (4, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 6 months ago | (#46983157)

They haven't yet, but they will eventually

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 6 months ago | (#46982791)

Damn it! I always forget the time traveling antiparticle! Is there nothing cooler in existence? Its like forgetting to get ice cream at the worlds greatest ice cream store.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 6 months ago | (#46982505)

Really?

"For a terrorist, however, uranium 233 is a tempting theft target; it does not require advanced shaping and implosion technology to be fashioned into a workable nuclear device. The Energy Department recognizes this characteristic and requires any amount of more than two kilograms of uranium 233 to be maintained under its most stringent safeguards, to prevent “onsite assembly of an improvised nuclear device.” As for the claim that radiation levels from uranium 232 make uranium 233 proliferation resistant, Oak Ridge researchers note that “if a diverter was motivated by foreign nationalistic purposes, personnel exposure would be of no concerns since exposure would not result in immediate death.”"

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982627)

For a terrorist, however, uranium 233 is a tempting theft target; it does not require advanced shaping and implosion technology to be fashioned into a workable nuclear device.

Which is an interesting statement, given that the US government has never been able to successfully produce a working U233 bomb. In fact they've invested a lot of effort into Pu239 and U235, which would be pointless if all they had to do was bread common-as-muck (literally) Thorium into a useful nuclear weapons material for a fraction of the cost.

The reality is that U233 is almost entirely useless on it's own: off the top of my head you might be able to use it to make workable tampers for Plutonium implosion bombs; the evidence suggests that's actually the only place U233 has ever been used in a working weapon. That still wont get you far without the Pu and U235 (for the primary).

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (4, Insightful)

Pinhedd (1661735) | about 6 months ago | (#46982675)

No one is going to be manufacturing a traditional implosion style nuclear weapon out of Uranium-233 any time soon. However, a dirty bomb would contaminate a very large area with gamma emitting Uranium-232, causing quite a headache.

Re:Is this about Thorium or Uranium 233? (1)

Pinhedd (1661735) | about 6 months ago | (#46982395)

Both.

Thorium-232 is not fissile, it cannot be used to drive a nuclear fuel cycle. However, Thorium-232 is fertile, it can be bred into an isotope that can drive a nuclear fuel cycle, which in this case is Uranium-233

questionable presentation (5, Interesting)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 6 months ago | (#46981863)

The author can't seem to distinguish between the paths of weapons based programs and commercial nuclear electrical generation. He infers conclusions that he dare not spell out.

Statement of ridiculousness include;

For a terrorist, however, uranium 233 is a tempting theft target; it does not require advanced shaping and implosion technology to be fashioned into a workable nuclear device. The Energy Department recognizes this characteristic and requires any amount of more than two kilograms of uranium 233 to be maintained under its most stringent safeguards, to prevent “onsite assembly of an improvised nuclear device.” As for the claim that radiation levels from uranium 232 make uranium 233 proliferation resistant, Oak Ridge researchers note that “if a diverter was motivated by foreign nationalistic purposes, personnel exposure would be of no concerns since exposure would not result in immediate death.”

But this material is actually extremely difficult to make a warhead out of or use in any weaponized manner other than a dirty bomb. But with little effort, its easy to find that U-233 has the "unavoidable co-presence of uranium-232[6] which can make uranium-233 very dangerous to work on and quite easy to detect." That was conveniently ignored.

So, while it could be used in a dirty bomb, there are much easier, more tempting targets for that. Particularly when its material stored in a highly protected area. "No concerns"? Give me a break.

As for the Nevada waste thing. What he describes as a simple "landfill" is actually a waste area within the Nevada National Security Site.

Its easy to see right through the BS this author has laid out. Its a shame he doesn't seem to care about his own credibility. Just another asshat that does nothing but talk. Its a shame, because there are legitimate issues here to discuss, and it helps when the facts are laid out in a responsible manner.

Re:questionable presentation (2)

radtea (464814) | about 6 months ago | (#46981977)

Its easy to see right through the BS this author has laid out. Its a shame he doesn't seem to care about his own credibility. Just another asshat that does nothing but talk. Its a shame, because there are legitimate issues here to discuss, and it helps when the facts are laid out in a responsible manner.

Yeah, getting information on nuclear anything from an anti-science, anti-nuclear political lobby group with a grossly misleading name is not a good idea.

When I saw the organization promoting this I didn't bother to read it--life is too short to waste time debunking nonsense by political lobbyists who have zero credibility outside their little bubble of fanatical and fact-averse supporters. So thanks for taking the trouble to slog through the sewage and point out some of the howlers.

Re:questionable commenting (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982011)

Parent seems unable to distinguish between his own non-expert opinion and the opinion (true or not) of an expert with long history in the study of this subject matter.

If parent can think of a criticism, it's a safe bet the author has heard it before and believes it has been addressed. Unless parent has evidence that the author is unaware of these concerns, or intentionally misleading the reader of the article, he is just being arrogant.

The fact that it looks like a glaring hole to you (non-expert) doesn't mean it really is.

Re:questionable commenting (5, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | about 6 months ago | (#46982149)

Well, I am a physicist, and I think that the article was badly written and intended to produce more heat than light. If the author has heard such complaints and believes they have been addressed, he sure didn't do a good job doing so.

Re:questionable commenting (-1, Flamebait)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 6 months ago | (#46982563)

LMOL, yeah your a physicist.....it's my lunch hour so I'm a gynecologist....moron...

Re:questionable commenting (2)

drainbramage (588291) | about 6 months ago | (#46982721)

That explains the smell.

Re:questionable commenting (1)

imikem (767509) | about 6 months ago | (#46982833)

I don't believe you. With such impressive written language skill, "your" clearly an English professor.

Re:questionable commenting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983213)

Just because your aim was poor the last time you tried to put your head back in its natural resting place doesn't make you an expert in that region.

Re:questionable commenting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983147)

What's your specialty? If it's not nuclear plant design, then...well, then it's not your specialty, and you might want to ask someone who is a specialist.

Re:questionable commenting (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 6 months ago | (#46983189)

As a non-physicist I have to agree that the article was badly written and was setting off alarm bells the whole time I read it.

If you have a good point you can generally make it fairly clear and precise.

If you don't you end up stumbling all over the place in an attempt to justify it and avoid the weak points.

Re:questionable commenting (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 6 months ago | (#46982313)

Parent seems unable to distinguish between his own non-expert opinion and the opinion (true or not) of an expert with long history in the study of this subject matter.

If parent can think of a criticism, it's a safe bet the author has heard it before and believes it has been addressed. Unless parent has evidence that the author is unaware of these concerns, or intentionally misleading the reader of the article, he is just being arrogant.

The fact that it looks like a glaring hole to you (non-expert) doesn't mean it really is.

While I'm no nuclear engineer, I have heard that Alvarez has a rather poor reputation in nuclear circles.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

mellon (7048) | about 6 months ago | (#46982173)

"Other than a dirty bomb?" Yeah, that's comforting. A big fizzle that spreads nuclear contamination across half of New York wouldn't kill as many people immediately as a fat-boy style fission explosion would, but it would create an economic disaster of truly epic proportions. Net effect on the country would probably be worse. Hiroshima has recovered from its nuclear attack, because the fallout was over with quickly. That wouldn't be the case with a U-233 fizzle.

Just because someone finds fault in something you favor doesn't mean they are wrong.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 6 months ago | (#46982295)

The material is harder to acquire than other suitable material, hence its existence is less of a threat.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 6 months ago | (#46982589)

"96 kilograms or 6 percent of the U-233 produced is not accounted for."

Yeah, real hard to acquire.....

Re:questionable presentation (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 6 months ago | (#46982683)

"96 kilograms or 6 percent of the U-233 produced is not accounted for."

Yeah, real hard to acquire.....

It sure is when it keeps disappearing like that!

Re:questionable presentation (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 6 months ago | (#46982811)

"96 kilograms or 6 percent of the U-233 produced is not accounted for."

Yeah, real hard to acquire.....

"not accounted for" is entirely different than "gone missing".

I really don't think there's much agenda left to push here, unless someone with a secret containment facility has been sitting on the U-233 since someone first noticed discrepancies in the books.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

sjames (1099) | about 6 months ago | (#46982311)

In that case, you REALLY don't want to think about all those basements with radon gas or all those smoke detectors out there.

Meanwhile, I would suggest de-enriching that U233 and fueling a reactor with it. That way we get rid of it and we get energy.

Re:questionable presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982519)

I'm well aware of how much radon is in many basements (and quantitatively for my own), along with how much radioactivity is in smoke detectors, ceramic plates, bricks, stonework, etc. That doesn't bother me, yet I would still see a dirty bomb as having potentially large economic impact, because regardless of how familiar I am with background radiation vs. the amount needed for health effects, most other people probably are not.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

sjames (1099) | about 6 months ago | (#46982983)

Google "Radioactive Boy Scout". There is no need to steal guarded U-233 to make a dirty bomb.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 6 months ago | (#46982351)

^I see you have put much thought in to what it would take to successfully pull off such a dirty bomb attack, including how much material would be involved. Maybe you could elaborate on what you've considered for the benefit of the readers?

Or, if you blindly trust the author's claims and statements, just say it.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

imikem (767509) | about 6 months ago | (#46982895)

Well, to spread across "half of New York", said bomb would have to be of very large explosive yield, and hence by definition, NOT a fizzle. Or have you perfected radiological contamination via glowing fairies riding unicorns through the Manhattan street grid? Do tell.

Re:questionable presentation (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 6 months ago | (#46982227)

...it helps when the facts are laid out in a responsible manner.

It doesn't help advertising rates. You need to add excitement, dancing, and cha cha cha.. Embellish, and lie if you have to, whatever it takes for Google analytics to notice.

Re:questionable presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983077)

So, what part of the "statement of ridiculousness" that "to prevent “onsite assembly of an improvised nuclear device.” As for the claim that radiation levels from uranium 232 make uranium 233 proliferation resistant" you failed to understand? Oh, all of it. You simply rephrased what the statement you were seeking to ridicule says...
Also even the Wikipedia article widely quoted on this discussion mentions India managed to build nuclear bomb out of U-233. While the propaganda does fly thick on each side of the issue, it's quite foolish and ignorant on the extreme to assume that Wikipedia is resource of choice for the state of art of nuclear bomb design, though. That is, if there were a relatively easy way to turn some isotope into fission bomb, don't expect those in the know to advertise it; that's the whole basis of nuclear non-proliferation approach.

Yikes ... (1, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#46981873)

Never before has the agency or its predecessors taken steps to deliberately dump a large amount of highly concentrated fissile material in a landfill, an action that violates international standards and norms

What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Yikes ... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 6 months ago | (#46981927)

With a purposeful grimace
and a terrible sound,
he pulls the spitting high tension wires down,
GODZILLA!

Re:Yikes ... (1)

thaylin (555395) | about 6 months ago | (#46981991)

well seeing as what he calls a landfill is a secure site specifically designed for this type of storage, probably a lot less than he implies.

Re:Yikes ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982315)

In a couple hundred years, there won't be a difference.

Mystery lead (5, Funny)

T.E.D. (34228) | about 6 months ago | (#46981875)

uranium 233 has been created, and 96 kilograms of the stuff (enough to fuel 12 nuclear weapons) is now missing from the US national inventory

In addition, they have about 96 kilograms of lead that they don't remember ordering. And the situation gets worse every day!

Re: Mystery lead (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46981931)

The situation is only half as bad as you might think.

Re: Mystery lead (1)

preaction (1526109) | about 6 months ago | (#46981967)

There's no lead?

Re: Mystery lead (3, Funny)

Megane (129182) | about 6 months ago | (#46982145)

Maybe someone made a zeppelin out of it.

Re:Mystery lead (1)

Guy Harris (3803) | about 6 months ago | (#46982965)

uranium 233 has been created, and 96 kilograms of the stuff (enough to fuel 12 nuclear weapons) is now missing from the US national inventory

In addition, they have about 96 kilograms of lead that they don't remember ordering. And the situation gets worse every day!

If they started with 192kg of U-233, there'd be a lot more than 96kg of U-233 and a lot less than 96 kg of Pb around at this point [periodictable.com] .

Calling Kirk Sorenson (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46981887)

This trash piece gets things wrong on so many levels it isn't funny. For the real deal, follow Kirk Sorensen's blog.

Watch this video by McDowell, he lays it out. All that so called "waste" is fuel for a SNACR reactor design that would eliminate the waste entirely.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4

Re:Calling Kirk Sorenson (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982185)

There is no such thing as nuclear waste!

Re:Calling Kirk Sorenson (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 6 months ago | (#46982719)

All that so called "waste" is fuel for a SNACR reactor design that would eliminate the waste entirely.

Snacks! Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!
New episode of Adventure Time tonight, kids!!

other uses were considered... (1, Funny)

nimbius (983462) | about 6 months ago | (#46981891)

Thorium: the glow in the dark candy
Thorium: Fights dandruff and smells great!
Thorium: 24 hour odor protection
Thorium: Kills weeds dead!

Re:other uses were considered... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982019)

Uranium 233 may stick to certain types of skin.

When not in use, Uranium 233 should be returned to its special container and kept under refrigeration. Failure to do so relieves the makers of Uranium 233, Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability.

Do not taunt Uranium 233!

Nuclear bad, buy more coal peasants (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46981903)

Hurr durr terrorism.

Buy your coal and thorium from the same overlord! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982451)

Hurr durr terrorism.

Maybe you haven't noticed, but the nuke shills, the coal producers, and the global warming denialists are all the same people.

If we ignore the thorium fan boys and slashdot nuke shills living in their mother's basements, we find the people selling nukes are the same ones selling coal, and they are also the same people bankrolling the pro-pollution astroturf groups that find it convenient to frame pollution arguments in terms of so-called "global warming".

These people also believe that US Corporations should be immune from prosecution for pollution, bribery and human trafficking if these crimes occur outside the USA.

They are also the same people who want ever-increasing limitations on US civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

Not kidding, these are independently verifiable facts. The axis of evil is apparent, and they love nuclear power plants. Mostly because they can be militarized in ways that are not legal for regular factories and mines.

Dispose of U233? (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 6 months ago | (#46981917)

Why throw it away? Can't it be diluted down to reactor fuel grade material? I thought a significant amount of our current supply came from retired weapons. Maybe that only applies to plutonium.

Re:Dispose of U233? (2)

mbone (558574) | about 6 months ago | (#46982095)

Different isotopes. This is basically highly radioactive waste, unless you want to burn it in a thorium reactor (which we are not pursuing at present).

Re:Dispose of U233? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982167)

Different isotopes. This is basically highly radioactive waste, unless you want to burn it in a thorium reactor (which we are not pursuing at present).

So just store it for a while. You may not be pursuing thorium reactors, but India and China are. 10 years, and you can sell that U233 as fuel. Or import a reactor capable of turning it into electricity.

Re:Dispose of U233? (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 6 months ago | (#46982285)

I believe that the Nevada Flats facility is basically just "storage" in this context. However, if you read this [doe.gov] , you will see that most of the material is in other forms, such as "Molten Salt Reactor (MSRE) traps, Oxide powders and Zero Power Reactor Plates," and that potentially critical material will be "downblended," "driving the U-233 concentration below criticality and security concerns. It is to be dissolved and then downblended with depleted uranium so it can be disposed safely."

In other words, it's not like that they will put bomb components into a landfill, but everything will be converted to some form where it would be fairly complicated to make a bomb out of it.

Sihg... Not valid. (5, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 6 months ago | (#46981935)

Thorium when used as a reactor fuel does not involve separating the U 233 from the spent fuel. A small amount of 233 can be used to start the reaction but you burn the 233 in the reactor fuel that breeds it. It is also full of FUD.
"The last serious attempt to use thorium in a commercial reactor was at the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado, which closed in 1989 after 10 years and hundreds of equipment failures, leaks, and fuel failures."
The problems had nothing to do with the use of thorium fuel. It had everything to do with a badly designed cooling system that used He instead of water.
I just not have time to shred it but it is just terrible FUD! Look up the Fort St. Vrain reactor yourself to see the reports on the problems with the He system. They used bad water seals that leaked into the cooling circuit that caused the problems.
In other words this article has nothing really to do with the Thorium reactors that are being proposed today. Not surprising since samzenpus is know to be anti-nuclear.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (3, Insightful)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 6 months ago | (#46981983)

^Yeah, I know some article submitters have an agenda. Too bad they feel the need to choose such BS to try to make their case rather than submitting something with a little credibility. FUD is very important to the cause.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982135)

Thorium reactors being a total non-starter is about the only thing this article has gotten right. Everyone hand-waves the most critical and problematic issues with thorium fuel.

Thorium fuel reactors WILL require fuel reprocessing. This is a toxic, messy, and dangerous process. All thorium proponents paint this issue as a trivial issue to be worked out but 50 years later all we have are a handful of research reactors facing the same problem.

The above reason is why molten salt reactors don't work. There is no known way to prevent the mass of molten fissile fuel from building up unwanted reaction products that will eventually stop the reactor from working. Either by creating gasses that have to be contained, eating away the reactor container, or creating elements that poison the nuclear reactions and stop them all together.

Thorium fuel is the favorite meme of so many uninformed tech nerds because they hear some similarly uninformed tech evangelists blathering on about it endlessly. Thorium may be useful in the future but right now it's about as viable as fusion. Always 20 years away from working.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (4, Insightful)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 6 months ago | (#46982399)

Much of the reason that it hasn't been developed after 50 years as you say is because the people writing the cheques for nuclear research want dropable/launchable nukes that they can blow up the planet. So when someone suggest a possible safer option that does not produce the wanted isotopes for making a big boom, it gets very little funding.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (2)

Rising Ape (1620461) | about 6 months ago | (#46982511)

Indeed, I much prefer my radioisotopes bound up in solid cladding. A molten salt reactor seems to combine the difficulties of a reactor and a reprocessing plant in the same package - except worse, because normal reprocessing plants work on fuel that's had a couple of years to cool off.

They also solve a problem that right now doesn't exist - there's no shortage of uranium.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (1)

jythie (914043) | about 6 months ago | (#46982537)

Molten salt reactors also have had problems with corrosion and otherwise eating through their own coolant system, much quicker then 50 years.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (0)

mpe (36238) | about 6 months ago | (#46983083)

Thorium fuel reactors WILL require fuel reprocessing. This is a toxic, messy, and dangerous process.

This discribes most mining and refining of metalic elements anyway :)

All thorium proponents paint this issue as a trivial issue to be worked out but 50 years later all we have are a handful of research reactors facing the same problem.

It took considerably longer than 50 years to build the first "horseless carriage" or aircraft which was remotely practical. Both of which are considerably simpler than a thorium power station.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (2)

mellon (7048) | about 6 months ago | (#46982263)

In theory, only the theoretical properties of a technology matter. In practice, though, the implementation matters. The fact that an implementation that failed was done poorly isn't really comforting unless there is some reason to believe that in the future it would be done better (not just differently).

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 6 months ago | (#46982429)

Knowing that an implementation was done poorly, we can then ask: what was poorly done? Then, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can refuse fuel to implementations making similar mistakes.

Highly-regulated industries face one major advantage: you cannot fuck up in any way related to a prior fuck-up. If your coolant system fucked up because of an improper valve design, your entire coolant system will now require strict testing and engineering standards--meaning other, substantially dissimilar designs that also would fuck up will fail inspection. You may still be able to fuck it up; you'll have to find a new, creative way to fuck up that bypasses all current regulatory guidelines and evades current inspection processes.

Low-risk industries--power transmission, gas transmission, chemical fuel transmission, mass communications, retail, food--only require low levels of regulation. A gas pipe explosion can hurt a few dozen to a few hundred people at worst; chemical fuel spills may cause small environmental and physical hazards; food problems usually make hundreds ill. High-risk industries get more regulation; a nuclear reactor meltdown has large implications, as does theft of fissile material.

Fukushima is not a big deal, but it's not something to be shrugged off: while non-apocalyptic, it does require decades and billions of dollars of effort. It's under control, mostly harmless, but will only stay harmless with constant, high effort. That's the risk in nuclear, hence strict regulation.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (1)

jythie (914043) | about 6 months ago | (#46982515)

Actually, that has been the classic problem with Thorium reactors. Cooling them has proven to be more difficult then engineers anticipated and each research design has had problems. Hopefully some of the new ones being tried out over the next decade will finally come up with something that works, but the the problems can not simply be dismissed as 'oh, it was a problem with cooling' since that IS one of the problems that need to be sorted out.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (1)

mpe (36238) | about 6 months ago | (#46983001)

The problems had nothing to do with the use of thorium fuel. It had everything to do with a badly designed cooling system that used He instead of water.
I just not have time to shred it but it is just terrible FUD! Look up the Fort St. Vrain reactor yourself to see the reports on the problems with the He system. They used bad water seals that leaked into the cooling circuit that caused the problems.


It's rather harder to make a leak proof system with helium, an inert gas compared with water, a highly polar liquid. Even if you have the water in gas phase, steam, water molecules are considerably larger than helium atoms.

Re:Sihg... Not valid. (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | about 6 months ago | (#46983165)

I apologize for using my mod points too quickly today. Well said.

Never before??? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46981945)

" Never before has the agency or its predecessors taken steps to deliberately dump a large amount of highly concentrated fissile material in a landfill, an action that violates international standards and norms."

Clearly this person knows nothing about what happened during the cold war at Rocky Flats, Hanford, and the Savannah River sites.

Re:Never before??? (2, Interesting)

ray-auch (454705) | about 6 months ago | (#46982091)

And at the supposed "clear up" after accidentally dropping nukes at Palomares in Spain. Where it has since been discovered that they just dug some shallow trenches and buried a pile of plutonium. Guess they hoped no one would ever notice...

We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dump (1)

TheRealSteveDallas (2505582) | about 6 months ago | (#46981985)

That would "incentivise" our space exploration objectives!

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (0)

zyche (784345) | about 6 months ago | (#46982097)

I realise that you're joking, but if we have gotten the stuff into orbit, just push it gently in the direction of the sun...

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (1)

Rhywden (1940872) | about 6 months ago | (#46982245)

Doesn't work. You'd still need to cancel Earth's orbital velocity - which means that you'll have to achieve a velocity of about 32 km/s (in contrast to merely 11 km/s to escape the gravity field of Earth). Which means that a "gentle nudge" won't do.

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982565)

You should be willing to tolerate a little slang from people when talking about these things.
Besides, you don't need to cancel out all the earth's orbital velocity, you just need to push the waste into a solar-collision orbit. If you want it to happen quickly, you can even pick a path that loses most of its energy to Mercury or Venus. Compared to getting a camera with an antenna to drift past 4 outer planets without any added fuel expense after the first burn, getting a trash-barge to fall into the sun is easy.

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (4, Insightful)

Rhywden (1940872) | about 6 months ago | (#46982631)

Yes. And that solar-collision orbit requires a speed of 31 km/s. You're forgetting that you're on an elliptical orbit around the sun - every nudge towards the sun merely reduces the smaller axis of the elliptical trajectory around the sun.

The "nudge" would work if both objects (target and object to push) were at relative rest. But they aren't at rest. You start out with the Earth's orbital velocity around the Sun.

That, by the way, is also the reason why missions to Mercury are rare - it's quite expensive. By the way: Shooting stuff completely out of the solar system would only require about 41% of the energy you need to get to the Sun. Sounds weird, but that's orbital mechanics for you.

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 6 months ago | (#46982459)

to big of a deltaV to counter the earths angular momentum and drop into the sun you would probably just end up with a very erratic orbit

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (4, Funny)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 6 months ago | (#46982257)

Didn't the hazardous nuclear waste storage site on the Moon explode and throw the Moon out of the solar system in 1999?

Re:We should use the moon as a hazardous waste dum (0)

mbone (558574) | about 6 months ago | (#46982335)

Yeah, and that was about as realistic as the rest of the "1999" plot lines.

Meanwhile, in communist china (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982007)

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/19/china-uranium-nuclear-plants-smog-thorium

Space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982015)

Would it really cost so much to just dispose of this crap into space, preferably towards the sun?

Sure we may blow a couple up getting them up there, but just duct tape a few Nokias around the payload and we've solved that problem.

Re:Space? (1)

daninaustin (985354) | about 6 months ago | (#46982093)

Yes. We have a lot of it. Also, what about when the rocket explodes? Cheaper and easier to encapsulate it and bury it in the desert.

Re:Space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982969)

Would it really cost so much to just dispose of this crap into space, preferably towards the sun?

Sure we may blow a couple up getting them up there, but just duct tape a few Nokias around the payload and we've solved that problem.

You can't be serious... Do you know how difficult it is to actually hit the sun? A near miss is likely to just return a molten mass of radioactive junk to earth, or at least an orbit that crosses earth's path. Not to mention the not so non-existent chance that a launch failure would basically be a dirty bomb? Nope, not a good idea.

Landfill? (4, Informative)

jamesl (106902) | about 6 months ago | (#46982081)

On top of that, the federal government is attempting to force Nevada into accepting a bunch of the uranium 233, as is, for disposal in a landfill (the Nevada Nuclear Security Site).

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is a premier outdoor testing, evaluation and training facility the size of the state of Rhode Island. The Site supports national defense as well as many research and development programs for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The NNSS hosts an array of defense and national security experiments for the National Weapons Laboratories, as well as supporting homeland security, non-proliferation testing and treaty verification training, radiological detection and first responder training.

http://www2.nstec.com/Pages/in... [nstec.com]

This isn't some hole in the ground full of coffee grounds and soiled nappies.

Send it to the sun (1)

Daniel Hoffmann (2902427) | about 6 months ago | (#46982085)

Really, comic books having been doing this for years...

Re:Send it to the sun (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 6 months ago | (#46982611)

Really, comic books having been doing this for years...

well they had superman in the comic, we here in reality have space shuttles like Columbia, and Challenger, and rockets like Apollo 1. If we were in a comicbook universe why not just have superman spin a turbine and give us unlimited energy.

Re:Send it to the sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983059)

You cannot be serious. One small mistake and nothing hits the sun, plus, a molten mass of radioactive material gets put into an orbit that crosses earth's. Not to mention that a launch failure turns the stuff into a dirty bomb and this is a huge expense.

It's really hard to actually get something to hit the sun for a number of reasons, and you really have to be sure you don't miss.

"50 years" (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982139)

For 50 years the US has tried to develop thorium as an energy source for nuclear reactors, and that effort has mostly failed.

Actually, it really hasn't.

It experimented for 10-15 years with thorium, early in the history of the nuclear age, until it was established that you can't really make a lot of bombs from the by-products of thorium reactors. And then it moved funding toward uranium-based systems.

There hasn't been much meaningful research into it since about 1969, when ORNL shut down its MSRE.

It'd probably be worth setting up a few not-too-large reactors just so we can burn up some of the nuclear "waste" (read: 'unused fuel) from the current uranium-based reactors.

Real Reasons Thorium is Being Held Up (5, Informative)

Scottingham (2036128) | about 6 months ago | (#46982205)

After doing a lot of research into the current state of Thorium technology I was able to find the following non-FUD conclusions as to why Thorium and LFTRs in particular aren't working out so well.

1) The liquid medium that is actually containing the fission events is incredibly caustic. This means that the reactor vessel, in addition to dealing with a very high neutron flux, has to handle severe corrosion issues at the surface. The fact that it is done at STP does not provide any help. 2) The salt 'plug' that is often cited as a major safety asset for the LFTR has some major engineering obstacles that have been be able to be addressed yet. 3) The liquid medium has to undergo re-processing on a fairly frequent basis. This is non-trivial as the medium is highly caustic and radioactive. The products pulled out are also highly problematic. This is probably one of the biggest hurtles for LFTR. It is a costly and messy chemical process.

There are other smaller problems, but these are the 'big three' I can recall.

For next-gen reactor tech my money is either on traveling wave type reactors (which never need to be refueled for its entire lifespan..30-100 years). Look up the Toshiba 4s for the furthest along reactor.

There are also sub-critical 'energy amplifier' reactors that use a particle accelerator to drive a proton beam into a spallation target (lead) which causes a neutron flux suitable for fission events to occur, though not enough to cause a self-sustaining reaction. Only 10% of the energy is required to be redirected back to the accelerator (fission rules like that). This one has the advantage of being able to use pretty much any fuel, and waste we have as well as reducing the daughter products to benign isotopes. Belgium is currently in the process of building one.

Re:Real Reasons Thorium is Being Held Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982343)

Scottingham, I have posted your comment on the Reactor Core website. Contact me if you have any objections or modifications to make.

Re:Real Reasons Thorium is Being Held Up (1)

Scottingham (2036128) | about 6 months ago | (#46982603)

The biggest mistake I can see is: 'For next-gen reactor tech my money is either on' If you take out 'either' then its okay.

Thanks for re-posting it!

Where did the missing material go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982365)

Well if it was stolen in the early to mid 70s, Israel.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/15/truth-israels-secret-nuclear-arsenal

The Johnson White House decided to say nothing, and the decision was formalised at a 1969 meeting between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, at which the US president agreed to not to pressure Israel into signing the NPT, while the Israeli prime minister agreed her country would not be the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons into the Middle East and not do anything to make their existence public.

In fact, US involvement went deeper than mere silence. At a meeting in 1976 that has only recently become public knowledge, the CIA deputy director Carl Duckett informed a dozen officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the agency suspected some of the fissile fuel in Israel's bombs was weapons-grade uranium stolen under America's nose from a processing plant in Pennsylvania.

Not only was an alarming amount of fissile material going missing at the company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (Numec), but it had been visited by a veritable who's-who of Israeli intelligence, including Rafael Eitan, described by the firm as an Israeli defence ministry "chemist", but, in fact, a top Mossad operative who went on to head Lakam.

"It was a shock. Everyody was open-mouthed," recalls Victor Gilinsky, who was one of the American nuclear officials briefed by Duckett. "It was one of the most glaring cases of diverted nuclear material but the consequences appeared so awful for the people involved and for the US than nobody really wanted to find out what was going on."

The investigation was shelved and no charges were made.

Summary of the article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982431)

Duuurrr... someone said "nuclear".... I have knee jerk reaction now... duuuurrr.... nuclear bad.... i'm scared.... duuurrrr.... I vomit nonsense article now..... duuuurrr.... I'm a moron.... duuuurrrr..... i like buneeezzzzz.....

Consider the source. (1)

Mike Van Pelt (32582) | about 6 months ago | (#46982629)

As I was reading that article, my thought was "Who wrote this crap?" Tendentious scare-mongering and blatant misrepresentation of ... practically everything he mentions.

Then I looked at the URL at the top of my web browser. thebulletin.org. Ah. Figures. If I'd looked at where that link went before I clicked on it, I'd probably not have bothered.

Ah well, looking on the bright side, at least it wasn't a goatse link.

Fucking garbage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46982693)

This article should take the uranium's place in the landfill.

I'm not one to pay too much attention to the nonstop "new low for slashdot" rantings, but seriously what the fuck as I even reading?

Die in a fire, editor scum.

Obvious troll is obvious (1)

imikem (767509) | about 6 months ago | (#46983015)

What a load of textual diarrhea. A bunch of whining about how dangerous U-233 is, and little else. Hey Alvarez, why don't you go swimming in a coal plant slurry pond, since that's what your disinformative pack of lies has the end result of promoting? At the very least, if you were interested in at least some plausible level of credibility, you wouldn't go using YOUR OWN agenda-laden [toilet] paper as a citation.

Bottom line: Fuck off.

Nuclear hater (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983065)

The article is by a nuclear hater. Nuclear energy is the most recent of all power sources, and human history is shortest with it. Its not in the historical record, but likely that all 'discoveries' of new energy sources resulted in a war of some kind. Yet we still burn wood and oil and wax. Nuclear is bad because the first few generations have had a hard time being successful with it. Yet we have the author giving up on it "Its unpossible!" he decries. Yet there are newer, safer ways of using nuclear. Lessons learned from 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukishima. Some of the lessons have not even been deployed. Its always amazing to me how we can get tree huggers yelping at others to "Change", yet spare little ways in which to "Change". They all want my 85 year old mother to ride a bicycle on her way to the hospital. They want me to freeze in my house in the winter. They want me to spend money I don't have on unproven technologies, like light bulbs that emit mercury, or wind turbines that kill birds and make ungodly amounts of noise. Give me my nuclear heated home, nuclear powered car, nuclear powered plane. If we can "jump to the gun" on tree-hugging technologies, then we can "jump to the gun" on non-tree-hugging technologies.

Check this out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46983195)

http://searlaerospace.com/

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