Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thorium Reactors May Solve World's Energy Crisis

One of my favorite journalists in the financial arena is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard who writes for the Daily Telegraph in London.  He has, from time to time, written articles to call attention to the potential for Thorium Reactor power generation as a potential game-changing technology to radically alter the energy cost and supply landscape.  His latest article is China Blazes Trail For 'Clean' Nuclear Power From Thorium.

Norway and China are moving quickly to re-evaluate Thorium reactors as a better, safer and more environmentally friendly form of nuclear reactors, especially the molten fluoride salt reactors (THSRs or LFTR).  There is, at this moment, a reactor being tested this year in Halden Norway to power a local paper mill.   Also China is moving quickly to adopt US-developed Thorium Molten Salt Reactors.  

Thorium reactors using molten salts seem to be the most promising technology that solves nearly all of the problems using Uranium-based reactors. It also solves the considerable problems of radioactive waste with the enrichment and production of uranium reactor fuel.  Small amounts of naturally occurring Thorium is fed directly into the reactor and it is all consumed.  Molten salt Thorium reactors have significant inherent safety advantages too.

Thorium is also much more commonly occurring than Uranium--3 to 4 times more abundant while it takes much less Thorium to create the same energy output as refined Uranium.. The US already has stockpiles of Thorium; enough to last decades. Since it's relatively common and abundant, there's enough for 1000's of years of power generation.

For more details about how these reactors work and how much less fuel is required than Uranium 235 reactors, see my blog entitled How Thorium Reactors Work.

The TMSR (Thorium molten salt reactor design) advantages include:
  1. It takes 200 times less Thorium to create the same amount of energy than raw Uranium. Refer to my blog How Thorium Reactors Work.  
  2. TMSRs are much cheaper to build than convention nuclear reactors since they don't need pressurized containment.
  3. The waste products of Thorium reactor are extremely small in volume, far less toxic and have a vastly shorter half-life than transuranic waste products associated with Uranium reactors. There ARE NO transuranic waste products with Thorium reactors. The waste products also contain useful and valuable by-products including medical isotopes and xenon gas.
  4. Thorium reactors, using molten salt technology, are designed as inherently safe.  If power is lost, the reactor goes to a safe condition.  Loss of cooling water (due to loss of power) is the Achilles heel of current Uranium reactors.  The temperature of reactants also cannot exceed that of the reactor metallurgy under any circumstances.
  5. Thorium reactors, using molten salt technology do not operate under pressure and don't require expensive containment buildings or extremely thick high pressure reactors..
  6. Thorium reactors can be designed to not use water/steam for power generation and/or cooling, so they don't need to be located near large bodies of water.  
  7. Thorium reactor power turbines operate with gases other than steam and operate at a much higher temperature with higher thermodynamic efficiency (50%).
  8. These reactors can also "burn up" existing nuclear waste and can be a solution for the disposal of existing nuclear waste.
  9. This technology has no nuclear weapons by-products. It can not easily be used to generate fissile material for bombs. 
  10. Like all nuclear reactors, there are no carbon emissions.
  11. The molten salt reactors can be scaled in size to fit a single industrial application or larger for large-scale power plants for the electric grids.  These types of power plants can be small and distributed to minimize power distribution costs.  Small power plants can be disposed of more easily.

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