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Topic: Nuclear Power (Read 11889 times)
Re: Nuclear Power
Reply #100 on:
May 15, 2011, 09:02:16 AM »
"Let's keep this , , , discussion alive beyond the crisis."
Re: Nuclear Power
Reply #101 on:
June 02, 2011, 12:27:34 PM »
"Panicked overreaction isn’t the right response to the partial meltdowns in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex."
This should go under media issues, anytime the Washington Post agrees with me...
Going anti-nuclear means going hog-wild on fossil fuels, in Japan, in Germany, in the U.S. and anywhere else. Did we not just have a two decade long argument over Greenhouse gases. Maybe CO2 is an extremely minor contributor, but did we not agree that we should use them wisely and sparingly and shift where we can to economical zero emissions alternatives? I guess not.
It is the Green Party that wants us back on fossil fuels??
Editorial Board Opinion - Washington Post
Germany’s nuclear energy blunder
By Editorial, Published: June 1
THE INTERNATIONAL Energy Agency reported on Monday that global energy-related carbon emissions last year were the highest ever, and that the world is far off track if it wants to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, after which the results could be very dangerous.
So what does Germany’s government decide to do? Shut down terawatts of low-carbon electric capacity in the middle of Europe. Bowing to misguided political pressure from Germany’s Green Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a plan to close all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022.
German environmentalists cheered, apparently satisfied that the government will be able to scale up renewable energy sources and scale back electricity demand enough to compensate for the loss of the power plants, which produce a quarter of the nation’s electricity. But the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank, points out that renewables would have to generate an incredible 42.4 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020 to displace nuclear. The government could bring that number down some with very aggressive reductions in energy use. But, even then, all that will merely hold the German power industry to its current carbon footprint. The country has an ambitious goal to reduce emissions, which will require yet more drastic reforms to its electricity sector — and all, apparently, over the course of a single decade.
European financial analysts aren’t convinced, estimating that Germany’s move will result in about 400 million tons of extra carbon emissions by 2020, as the country relies more on fossil fuels. Nor is Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, who ominously announced that Germany has put coal-fired power “back on the agenda” — good for his coal-rich nation directly to Germany’s east but terrible for the environment and public health.
Germany is also likely to import more power from its neighbors, regardless of how well it does in ramping up renewables, since sometimes the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Utilities across Europe may end up burning more coal or natural gas. Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of French nuclear parts manufacturer Areva, predicts that after shunning nuclear, the Germans will end up buying electricity generated in nuclear plants in nations such as France.
Instead of providing a model for greening a post-industrial economy, Germany’s overreaching greens are showing the rest of the world just how difficult it is to contemplate big cuts in carbon emissions without keeping nuclear power on the table. Panicked overreaction isn’t the right response to the partial meltdowns in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. Instead, countries aiming to provide their citizens with reliable, low-carbon electricity should ask how to minimize inevitable, if small, risks — making their nuclear facilities safer, more reliable and more efficient.
Stratfor: The future of German energy
Reply #102 on:
June 02, 2011, 09:25:18 PM »
On May 30 the German government announced the seven nuclear power reactors that had been shut down in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami would never be reopened. In fact, they went on to announce the entire shuttering of the German nuclear fleet by 2022. Germany relies on nuclear power for roughly one-third of its electricity needs and at this point, the closure of the entire nuclear sector opens a four-way power game for the future of the German economy and German loyalties. The German plan is to replace the entirety of the nuclear industry with renewable power. Unfortunate for the Germans this is not cost possible. Nuclear power is less than one-third of wind power and less than one-twentieth the cost of solar power. Replacing one-third of their total power generation within a decade is simply not feasible much less possible. Which brings us to the other three options: the first is France.
France’s entire post-World War II strategy has been about lashing itself to Germany so that Germany can never again threaten it. In the post-Cold War era, the strategy has been refined somewhat in order to make France as essential to German plans as possible. Now unlike Germany, and France’s population is remarkably pro-nuclear and so the French are going to be trying to build as many nuclear power reactors as possible so that they can export electricity to Germany to make up as much of the difference as possible. This has already been happening to a limited degree. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disasters in Japan, French power actors have been running up to the red line in order to supply power to replace those seven nuclear reactors that the Germans took off-line. So the French already have a leg up in this competition.
The second country is Poland. Poland’s concerns are little more complex. While the French are obviously concerned about what happens should Germany get too confident, the Poles are sandwiched between a resurgent Germany and resurgent Russia. There is nowhere for them to turn; economically they can’t compete with either; demographically they can’t compete with either. They need a way to shape the relations of one or both of the states. The Polish advantage, somewhat ironically, is coal — a fuel that has been steadily phased out across Europe over the last 20 years. Poland still gets 90 percent of its electricity from coal and unlike the expensive nuclear power reactors which require several billion euros and five to 10 years to construct, you can put up a coal plant for as little as a few hundred million in a year or two. Poland is actually the country, ironically then, with this old politically incorrect fuel source that actually has a chance of coming to Germany’s rescue in the shortest term for the lowest dollar amount.
The final player in the game is Russia. Russia has been attempting to secure a partnership with the Germans for decades and such a partnership would solve many of Russia’s long-term demographic, economic and military problems. A German-Russian partnership would neutralize Poland, and really, neutralize all of Europe. It would make it very difficult for the Americans put forward any sort of anti-Russian policies in the European sphere of influence as there would simply be no one to carry them out. The United States needs Germany to at least be neutral in its relations with Russia otherwise the Russians have a free hand in all the other theaters, and as powerful as the Americans are, so long as they are involved in the Islamic world they simply can’t counter Russia everywhere. Economically, the Russians see Germany as their strongest trading partner and their largest source of foreign investment. They realize that if they can get their hook into the German soul, their life simply gets easier all around. Their plan is pretty simple. There is something called the Nord Stream pipeline which bypasses all the transit states between the Russians and the Germans that is in the process of final testing right now. It should come online in 2012 and then slowly be ramped up to a full capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. That 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas is enough to replace half of the electricity that nuclear power has recently given Germany. All that has to be done is the construction of additional natural gas-burning power plants in Germany — the fuel is already there.
And so we have a four-part race: first, the Germans, who have a politically attractive plan that is economically unfeasible; second, the French, who have a politically attractive plan that is economically expensive; third, the Poles, who have a politically unattractive plan which is economically dirt cheap; and forth, the Russians, who already have the fuel source in place.
Click for more videos
More on German Nuclear Power
Reply #103 on:
June 08, 2011, 06:17:30 AM »
Nuclear Power- inside Fukushima
Reply #104 on:
August 26, 2011, 12:22:34 PM »
More questions than answers still, but some interesting pictures from inside the facility, "the first photojournalist to gain unauthorised access to the power plant" here:
What I found most interesting is to take another look at the map, how amazingly close this historic earthquake and tsunami was to a massive, older nuclear facility. Click on the map for the enlargement.
If I am reading my Richter numbers correctly, the recent east coast earthquake (5.9) was 1/1000th the power and strength of the one to hit Fukushima. What the Fukushima disaster has to do exactly with potential new uses for nuclear energy where I live or in Germany, hundreds or thousands of miles from similar fault lines, is something I am unable to fully understand.
Nuclear Power - Fukushima aftermath revisited
Reply #105 on:
March 04, 2012, 11:12:54 AM »
Death toll from earthquake-tsunami: 20364.
Deaths directly resulting from the nuclear accident: 5
Time magazine, of all places, is noticing that the risk for those exposed to the Fukushima release of dying from cancer has increased 0.001%.
Meanwhile we hopefully learned: a) how to build to withstand the worst earthquake imaginable, and also b) not to build in a known, worst-imaginable earthquake zones.
"scientists have begun to compile early assessments of the health impacts of Fukushima—and the conclusions are less than catastrophic. Researchers speaking at a conference for the Health Physics Society said that the health threat to Japanese from radiation exposure looks to be extremely low. Even the brave workers who stayed behind at the plant had radiation exposure that was more than 10 times lower than that levels received by the half-million people who helped entomb the Chernobyl reaction more than two decades ago. They estimated that the risk of getting cancer for those exposed would increase 0.002%, and the risk of dying from cancer would rise by 0.001%. “I received more radiation on my transcontinental flights from Tokyo to Washington than I did at the reactor site,” said John Boice, a professor at Vanderbilt University and the incoming president of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements."
Nuclear Power - Bill Gates on 4th generation nuclear
Reply #106 on:
April 08, 2012, 11:56:49 AM »
“The part of uranium that's fissile—when you hit it with a neutron, it splits in two—is about 0.7%. The reactors we have today are burning that 0.7% . … The concept of the TerraPower reactor is that in the same reactor, you both burn and breed. Instead of making plutonium and then extracting it, we take uranium—the 99.3% that you normally don't do anything with—we convert that and we burn it. The 99.3% is cheap as heck, and there's a pile of it sitting in Paducah, Kentucky, that's enough to power the United States for hundreds and hundreds of years.
MR. MURRAY: What's the timetable for this?
MR. GATES: By 2022, if everything goes perfectly, our demo reactor will be in place. And by 2028, assuming everything continues to go perfectly, it will be a design that could be replicated.
MR. MURRAY: How often does everything go perfectly?
MR. GATES: In nuclear? If you ignore 1979 and 1986 and 2011, we've had a good century. No, seriously. Nuclear energy, in terms of an overall safety record, is better than other energy."
Tokyo Electric and the Fukushima station blackout, 40 years in coming
Reply #107 on:
April 21, 2012, 11:28:46 PM »
Long story, well researched, published in Fortune yesterday. Short excerpts:
"how could the accident at Fukushima Daiichi have happened—and how, in particular, could it have happened in Japan, a country once known, not so long ago, for its sheer management and engineering competence?"
"When the licenses for the Fukushima Daiichi generating stations were granted in 1966 and 1972, they called for the plant to be able to withstand a wave cresting at 3.1 meters in height—a figure based on the size of a tsunami in Chile in 1960."
"There was no precedent for the magnitude of the quake and tsunami that wreaked havoc at Fukushima Daiichi. But the disaster wasn't unimaginable."
"As recently as 2008, according to the Japanese government's interim report into the accident released at the end of last year, TEPCO reevaluated the tsunami risks at the plant. New simulations the company ran showed waves could reach as high as 15 meters—chillingly, almost the exact height of the biggest wave that smashed into the coastline on the afternoon of March 11. (a 46 ft. wall of water at hundreds of miles per hour?)
TEPCO didn't believe the simulation was reliable."
"...they did have redundant power sources in place—the on site diesel generators that also eventually failed after the tsunami struck. (Despite sitting within a few hundred yards of the Pacific ocean, the generators were not designed to withstand flooding.)"
"we spent ten times more money for PR campaigns than we did for real safety measures. It's a terrible thing."
"The fact is, we still don't know what's going on inside the reactors."
WSJ The Panic over Fukushima
Reply #108 on:
August 20, 2012, 01:01:51 PM »
I do not know enough to have an opinion, but this does seem interesting,
Denver has particularly high natural radioactivity. It comes primarily from radioactive radon gas, emitted from tiny concentrations of uranium found in local granite. If you live there, you get, on average, an extra dose of .3 rem of radiation per year (on top of the .62 rem that the average American absorbs annually from various sources). A rem is the unit of measure used to gauge radiation damage to human tissue.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends evacuation of a locality whenever the excess radiation dose exceeds .1 rem per year. But that's one-third of what I call the "Denver dose." Applied strictly, the ICRP standard would seem to require the immediate evacuation of Denver.
Physicist Richard Muller discusses the panic over the Fukushima accident and the need to put nuclear risks in perspective with WSJ
A collection of the nuclear panic that has occurred over the years from Hiroshima to the Fukushima nuclear power plant today
It is worth noting that, despite its high radiation levels, Denver generally has a lower cancer rate than the rest of the United States. Some scientists interpret this as evidence that low levels of radiation induce cancer resistance; I think it is more likely that lifestyle differences account for the disparity.
Now consider the most famous victim of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Two workers at the reactor were killed by the tsunami, which is believed to have been 50 feet high at the site.
But over the following weeks and months, the fear grew that the ultimate victims of this damaged nuke would number in the thousands or tens of thousands. The "hot spots" in Japan that frightened many people showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number quite small compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver.
More from Richard Muller
Comparing Fukushima to Chernobyl
What explains the disparity? Why this enormous difference in what is considered an acceptable level of exposure to radiation?
In hindsight, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the policies enacted in the wake of the disaster in Japan—particularly the long-term evacuation of large areas and the virtual termination of the Japanese nuclear power industry—were expressions of panic. I would go further and suggest that these well-intended measures did far more harm than good, not least in limiting the prospects of a source of energy that is safe, abundant and (as compared with its rivals) relatively benign for the environmental health of our planet.
If you are exposed to a dose of 100 rem or more, you will get sick right away from radiation illness. You know what that's like from people who have had radiation therapy: nausea, loss of hair, a general feeling of weakness. In the Fukushima accident, nobody got a dose this big; workers were restricted in their hours of exposure to try to make sure that none received a dose greater than 25 rem (although some exceeded this level). At a larger dose—250 to 350 rem—the symptoms become life-threatening. Essential enzymes are damaged, and your chance of dying (if untreated) is 50%.
The Saturday Essay
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The Crushing Cost of Care (7/7/12)
The Medication Generation (6/30/12
Nevertheless, even a small number of rem can trigger an eventual cancer. A dose of 25 rem causes no radiation illness, but it gives you a 1% chance of getting cancer—in addition to the 20% chance you already have from "natural" causes. For larger doses, the danger is proportional to the dose, so a 50-rem dose gives you a 2% chance of getting cancer; 75 rem ups that to 3%. The cancer effects of these doses, from 25 to 75 rem, are well established by studies of the excess cancers caused by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. (A recent study of butterflies near Fukushima confirms the well-known fact that radiation leads to mutations in insects and other simple life-forms. Research on those exposed to the atomic bombs shows, however, no similar mutations in higher species such as humans.)
Here's another way to calculate the danger of radiation: If 25 rem gives you a 1% chance of getting cancer, then a dose of 2,500 rem (25 rem times 100) implies that you will get cancer (a 100% chance). We can call this a cancer dose. A dose that high would kill you from radiation illness, but if spread out over 1,000 people, so that everyone received 2.5 rem on average, the 2,500 rem would still induce just one extra cancer. That is, even if shared, the total number of damaged cells would be the same. Rem measures radiation damage, and if there is one cancer's worth of damage, it doesn't matter how many people share that risk.
In short, if you want to know how many excess cancers there will be, multiply the population by the average dose per person and then divide by 2,500 (the cancer dose described above).
In Fukushima, the area exposed to the greatest radiation—a swath of land some 10 miles wide and 35 miles long—had an estimated first-year dose of more than 2 rem. Some locations recorded doses as high as 22 rem (total exposure before evacuation). Afterward, the levels of radiation dropped quickly; the largest component came from iodine, and its level dropped by 50% every eight days.
How many cancers will such a dose trigger? To calculate an answer, assume that the entire population of that 2-rem-plus region, about 22,000 people, received the highest dose: 22 rem. (This obviously overestimates the danger.) The number of excess cancers expected is the dose (22 rem) multiplied by the population (22,000), divided by 2,500. This equals 194 excess cancers.
Let's compare that to the number of normal cancers in the same group. Even without the accident, the cancer rate is about 20% of the population, or 4,400 cancers. Can the additional 194 be detected? Yes, because many of them will be thyroid cancer, which is normally rare (but treatable). Other kinds of cancer will probably not be observable, because of the natural statistical variation of cancers.
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Sadly, many of those 4,400 who die from "normal" cancer will die believing that their illness was caused by the nuclear reactor. That is human nature; we search for reasons behind our tragedies. Of the roughly 100,000 survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, we can estimate that about 20,000 have died or will die from cancer. But in only about 800 of these cases was the cancer caused by the bombs. We know that by looking at similar cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have experienced an increase in cancer among those exposed, but it is only a small increment of the natural rate. Yet far more than the estimated 800 victims attribute their cancers to the bomb.
What about the outlying regions of Fukushima? The next radiation zone around the reactor had a population of about 40,000 and an average dose of 1.5 rem. This yields a total dose of 60,000 total rem (40,000 times 1.5), making the number of expected extra cancers 24 (60,000 divided by 2,500).
These numbers are tragic, but they are smaller than the impression that people got from much of the news coverage in the wake of the disaster. Thanks to the early evacuation, the total number of deaths from the radioactive release in the Fukushima region will almost certainly be less than my figures above. A more reasonable estimate, using average exposures rather than the maximum ones, is 100 extra cancer deaths. That is bad, to be sure, but that number is minuscule compared with the 15,000 deaths caused by the tsunami.
What about more distant regions? Even a tiny bit of radiation averaged over a huge population could conceivably cause cancer. But we are immersed in "natural" radioactivity from cosmic rays (radiation coming from space) and from the earth (uranium, thorium and naturally radioactive potassium in the ground). These natural levels are typically 0.3 rem per year. We also are exposed to an additional 0.3 rem if we include average medical exposures from X-rays and other medical treatments. Some areas, like Denver, have even higher natural levels.
[image] Photo Illustration The Wall Street Journal; iStockphoto (flag)
Radiation levels in most of the region were quite low compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver.
The most thoughtful high-number estimate of deaths that will be caused by the Fukushima disaster comes from Richard Garwin, a renowned nuclear expert. He has written that the best estimate for the number of deaths is about 1,500—well above my estimate but still only 10% of the immediate tsunami deaths.
Dr. Garwin uses the same numbers that I use, but he extrapolates forward in time 70 years to the continuing damage that residual radiation could cause, assuming that the radiation cannot be covered, cleaned or washed away, and that the population of Fukushima doesn't change. Moreover, he ignores the sort of argument that I have made about the Denver dose and includes in the calculation the numbers of deaths expected from tiny doses, assuming that even small exposures are proportionately dangerous. (This is an assumption that has also been adopted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.)
I don't dispute Dr. Garwin's number, but I believe it has to be understood in context. If you apply the same approach to Denver, you have to take into account the fact that the Denver dose is delivered every year. Over 70 years, it sums to 0.3 rem times 70, or 21 rem per person. If you multiply that by 600,000 people (the current population of Denver) and divide by the cancer dose of 2,500 rem, you get the expected cancer excess in Denver. That figure is 5,000, over three times higher than Dr. Garwin's number for Fukushima.
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Mental Health of Fukushima Daiichi Workers in Focus
I am uncomfortable with these large numbers of predicted deaths. They are based on a theory that assumes proportionality in the way that radiation increases the likelihood of cancer—a theory that has never been tested, will not be tested in the foreseeable future, and which is known to fail for leukemia.
I can't be sure that the theory is wrong, but I consider these relatively large numbers for Denver and Fukushima to be misleading. Remember that Denver has a lower cancer rate than the rest of the U.S., not a higher one. There is a strong argument for ignoring radiation dangers below the level of the Denver dose. In doing so, we would be ignoring risks that are unobservable and which we routinely ignore (and properly so) in other circumstances.
Even though Dr. Garwin predicts 1,500 eventual deaths from the nuclear accident in Japan, he says the figure is small enough that the long-term evacuation of Fukushima itself would probably cause more harm than good. Evacuation causes disruption to lives that is hard to quantify but very real.
Some people believe that the proportionality assumption about radiation should be made because it gives a "conservative" estimate of possible risks. But beware of that adjective. What is conservative depends on your agenda. Is a conservative estimate one that likely overestimates deaths? If so, then it is likely to lead to more disruption through evacuation and panic. Is that truly conservative?
Another way to overestimate the deaths is to use a much higher value for the induced cancer risk than has been determined by the best scientific studies. I think the most useful estimate is the one I've given: From the radiation so far, perhaps 100 induced cancers. Residents of Fukushima who are concerned that residual radiation will cause additional risk can avoid that by leaving, but they need to recognize that any additional cancers will be statistically unobservable, hidden well below those of natural cancer and the other dangers of modern life.
The tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 was horrendous. Over 15,000 people were killed by the giant wave itself. The economic consequences of the reactor destruction were massive. The human consequences, in terms of death and evacuation, were also large. But the radiation deaths will likely be a number so small, compared with the tsunami deaths, that they should not be a central consideration in policy decisions.
The reactor at Fukushima wasn't designed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake or a 50-foot tsunami. Surrounding land was contaminated, and it will take years to recover. But it is remarkable how small the nuclear damage is compared with that of the earthquake and tsunami. The backup systems of the nuclear reactors in Japan (and in the U.S.) should be bolstered to make sure this never happens again. We should always learn from tragedy. But should the Fukushima accident be used as a reason for putting an end to nuclear power?
Nothing can be made absolutely safe. Must we design nuclear reactors to withstand everything imaginable? What about an asteroid or comet impact? Or a nuclear war? No, of course not; the damage from the asteroid or the war would far exceed the tiny added damage from the radioactivity released by a damaged nuclear power plant.
It is remarkable that so much attention has been given to the radioactive release from Fukushima, considering that the direct death and destruction from the tsunami was enormously greater. Perhaps the reason for the focus on the reactor meltdown is that it is a solvable problem; in contrast, there is no plausible way to protect Japan from 50-foot tsunamis. Do we order a permanent evacuation of the coast to 20 miles inland? Do we try to build a 50-foot-high sea wall all around the eastern coast, including Tokyo Bay?
Looking back more than a year after the event, it is clear that the Fukushima reactor complex, though nowhere close to state-of-the-art, was adequately designed to contain radiation. New reactors can be made even safer, of course, but the bottom line is that Fukushima passed the test.
The great tragedy of the Fukushima accident is that Japan shut down all its nuclear reactors. Even though officials have now turned two back on, the hardships and economic disruptions induced by this policy will be enormous and will dwarf any danger from the reactors themselves.
—Dr. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines."
A version of this article appeared August 18, 2012, on page C1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Panic Over Fukushima.
Nuclear Power: Thorium To Be Used In a Working Reactor
Reply #109 on:
November 27, 2012, 10:39:12 AM »
Addressing the issue of nuclear waste:
"thorium-based nuclear fuel has several advantages over uranium-based fuel, including better waste characteristics, improved proliferation resistance, and abundant raw material supply"
"With plutonium seed in the fuel mix, the reactors would not only generate power, but they would also eliminate dangerous waste left over from other nuclear operations and thus help address the problem of what to do with that waste."
Thorium To Be Used In a Working Reactor
November 26, 2012
A Norwegian company led by Alf Bjørseth will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reactor owned by Norway’s government with help from U.S.-based nuclear giant Westinghouse.
Bjørseth is now running his private company Scatec AS, and establishing new companies within Scatec based on the latest technologies in the areas of renewable energy and advanced materials, including a thorium fuel effort through a holding company called Thor Corporation.
Thor Corporation owns Thor Energy and also has shares in businesses related to thorium fuel, thorium mining and separation of rare earth elements. Fen Minerals holds the mining rights to the Fen deposits in South Norway, which are rich in thorium and rare earth elements. The third company is Norwegian Separation Technology, a company in the process of developing a novel separation method for rare earth elements.
Natural Thorium Ore. Click image for more info.
The company has completed a 2-year thorium fuel cycle feasibility study which concludes that thorium-based nuclear fuel has several advantages over uranium-based fuel, including better waste characteristics, improved proliferation resistance, and abundant raw material supply.
Thor Energy has established a consortium that will fund and run a 5-year thorium irradiation project to be conducted at the Norwegian government owned Halden Nuclear Reactor. Halden, typically described as a “test reactor,” also provides steam to a nearby paper mill. The move should bring thorium closer to replacing uranium as a possible safer and more effective nuclear power source.
Thor’s chief technology officer Julian Kelly explained Thor Energy will deploy a mix of solid thorium mixed with plutonium – a blend known as “thorium MOX”.
The plan isn’t the one most thorium enthusiasts have been hoping for. Many professionals believe thorium’s advantages are most pronounced in alternative reactor designs such as molten salt reactors and pebble bed reactors, rather than today’s conventional solid-fuel water-cooled reactors.
Some thorium fans have realized it may be best to insert thorium into the energy scene by first putting it to use in reactors that already have regulatory approval.
Halden Heavy Water Reactor Flow Diagram. Click image for the largest view.
Best or not, Thor is testing the thorium fuel in a conventional reactor at Halden cooled by “heavy water”. This is not the same as regular light water reactors built commercially around the world. The cooling is by deuterium or water with an isotope of hydrogen.
With plutonium seed in the fuel mix, the reactors would not only generate power, but they would also eliminate dangerous waste left over from other nuclear operations and thus help address the problem of what to do with that waste.
The consortium reaches pretty far. Thor will fabricate some of its own thorium MOX in partnership with Norway’s Institute for Energy Technology. Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory – owned by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change – will also provide some, as will the European Commission’s Institute for Transuranium Elements.
Westinghouse is helping to fund the project, as are other of Thor’s industrial partners including Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd., a South African company that is developing a thorium-fueled pebble bed reactor. Other partners include the Finnish utility Fortum and the French chemicals company Rhodia.
That news ought to cheer all the thorium enthusiasts.
Yet Westinghouse doesn’t like to discuss its thorium activities publicly. It is likely the firm believes working alternatives could undermine the company’s conventional nuclear business. Rumors have it Westinghouse has at least a few thorium-connected and alternative nuclear projects in the works. One is out now and it isn’t a direct competitor as such.
Westinghouse is also known to be the commercial adviser on the U.S. Department of Energy’s collaboration with China on developing a molten-salt cooled reactor. Westinghouse has also helped organize many of the alternative nuclear sessions at the American Nuclear Society convention just held in San Diego California.
This is great news worthy of Norway and her citizens. The element thorium was named by the region’s ancestral God Thor, they have rich deposits, and a great deal of competency and intellectual prowess. The test will very likely work out and that could offer reactor operators an alternative to uranium and ever more plutonium.
It will be fascinating to see the results. The wait will be long though; it takes quite a while to burn through nuclear fuel.
Thorium Nuclear Power
Reply #110 on:
April 01, 2013, 10:40:36 AM »
(from ~7-8 years ago)
Safe Nukes — No, Really!
By Wil McCarthy
One great thing about science fiction is that there are so many cool futures to choose from. You've got your robots future, your biotech future, your hardscrabble colonies out in the planets and asteroids. ... Of course, the real world of yet-to-come probably includes all of these and more; it's as complex a place as the world of today, and never loses the ability to surprise us. One thing all hopeful futures have in common, though, is clean, abundant energy. Without that, some people imagine we could sink back into a pleasant sort ofLittle House on the Prairie world, only with better medical care, longer lifespans and picturesque windmills dotting the landscape. But considering the population growth since 1880 (6.5 billion people now vs. about 1.5 billion then), and the difficulty of growing food without machines and energy-rich fertilizers, we're more likely to descend into a retro-dystopian Road Warrior-ville of bad haircuts and short, violent lives.
But that's a long way off, right? We don't really need to worry about it, right? Even when the oil runs out, the world has abundant supplies of coal, natural gas, crop waste and garbage to cushion us while wind and solar technologies become efficient enough to fill all our needs. Well, hopefully. One thing the world could really use, though, is a clean, efficient source of nuclear power. Fusion—the power source of the sun, which bangs hydrogen atoms together to produce helium and carbon and eventually iron—is by far the best of the alternatives, since it produces huge amounts of energy from tiny amounts of fuel, and leaves almost no waste behind. But we've been working on that for 50 years, with no real progress toward useful energy output. The physics work out just fine—hence sunburn, the H-bomb and lingering questions about cold fusion—but the engineering somehow eludes us. No matter what we do, our fusion reactors take in more power than they put out. C'est la vie.
That leaves fission, the nuclear power that works by breaking big atoms into little ones. These reactions are a lot easier to control, putting their abundant energy within easy grasp. Unfortunately, they produce high-level radioactive waste, which is immediately lethal and lasts for months or years, and also low-level waste, which is slow poison that can last for millennia. By itself this might be a tractable problem—the Earth's interior is a red-hot, radioactive hell, and there's no particular reason why we can't just sink the wastes in "subduction zones" where the movement of tectonic plates will carry them back down into the mantle whence they came. This may not be a politically viable solution, but it's a sensible one that would certainly work.
Alas, there are other problems with fission: meltdown and the Bomb. Uranium-235 breaks down in a chain reaction that feeds on itself, in the same way that fire feeds on itself. And like fire, it can occasionally run out of control if we aren't careful (think Chernobyl). Also, thanks to the same factors that make uranium power plants easier to build than helium ones, uranium bombs are also pretty simple. If you had access to the right materials and instructions, you could just about build one in your garage. And that's a huge problem, which forces governments to keep track of every gram of nuclear material running loose in the world. No one wants to live in a police state, but when the alternative is the sudden vaporization of random cities, strict measures may in fact be the lesser evil.
There's no fuel like a new fuel
This Promethean triple whammy has made nuclear power understandably unpopular in North America, with a popular sentiment that the world is simply better off without it. And that may be. But energy-rich countries like the United States and Canada can afford an opinion like that—at least for now. But with the Kyoto accords forcing Europe and Russia away from fossil fuels, the equation is not quite so simple, and in Third World countries, where ambitions run high and energy resources run low, it isn't even the same equation. Think of places like Nigeria, where a wealth of precious uranium lies waiting in the ground; it's no joke when people come around telling you not to dig it up. What else are you supposed to do for light and heat and money? But the poorest countries are also the least stable, and often the most corrupt. It's a bitter irony indeed, that nuclear power is needed most in the places we trust the least. That's bound to cause resentment all the way around.
But what if nuclear fuel were as common as lead, as nonpolluting as wind, as safe to handle as coal, and as terror-useless as ordinary concrete? Science fiction, you ask? Nope. Just science—soon to be everyday business.
At the bottom of the periodic table, eight steps over from lead and two back from uranium, sits thorium, a heavy metal used in gas lamp mantles and as an additive for alloys, glasses and ceramics. Named for the Norse god Thor (bringer of thunder and lightning), it's mildly toxic and even more mildly radioactive, but considered generally safe. About as safe as lead, anyway, and certainly much less dangerous than sunlight, which after all can cause radiation burns in under an hour and kill an unprotected human in a few days. Thorium is a much more common material than uranium, being found in most rocks and soils throughout the world. It's a component of ordinary granite and concrete, for example, and its slow breakdown is the reason those materials emit small amounts of radon gas, which can slowly build up in our cellars. (Radon is radioactive and contributes to lung cancer, so, on a completely tangential note, it's good to have your basement checked every now and then.)
Anyway, it turns out that if you bombard thorium with low-energy neutrons, it turns into an isotope of uranium which rapidly decays, releasing energy. This is not a chain reaction, so in special power plants called subcritical energy amplifiers, the breakdown can be controlled precisely, in a process that simply can't run away or melt down the way ordinary reactors have been known to. Even better, the decay of thorium produces no weapons-grade materials of any kind. The worst you could do is make a radioactive "dirty bomb" from the reactor waste. But even here you'd run into problems, because thorium waste—while highly radioactive—doesn't last nearly as long as uranium waste. You still want to be careful with it, but it loses the worst of its punch within 10 to 20 years, and after just 500—the blink of an eye, in geological terms—it's as harmless as coal ash.
In fact, energy amplifiers can be used to break down normal reactor waste, and even bomb-grade materials like plutonium, making them more radioactive but much shorter-lived. (If that sounds paradoxical, just remember a simple rule: Isotopes with a short half-life emit more radiation because they break down faster. The ones with long half-lives emit fewer particles. Stable, nonradioactive atoms have infinite half-lives. The hardest wastes to store are actually the ones in the middle, which are radioactive enough to be dangerous but long-lived enough to outlast any reasonable disposal method.) So in one fell swoop, thorium addresses all three of nuclear power's main weaknesses, and offers a number of interesting benefits on the side, including cheap, abundant energy that could easily dwarf the output of uranium and fossil fuels combined. It's like discovering you can heat your house with sand!
Nuclear power to the people
The next question to ask here is why we aren't building thorium-based power plants on every street corner. It's a good question, with no definitive answer. The basic design has been around since 1993, when Italian physicist and Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia published a report at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research. The underlying physics have actually been known for decades, and confirmed by experiments all over the world. A few commercial nuclear plants have even used thorium as an adjunct fuel in standard U-235 reactions. But pro-nuclear countries have little incentive to switch away from uranium, while the anti-nuclear ones have no interest in developing new reactors, and of course poor countries couldn't build an energy amplifier even if they wanted to.
Nestled in the middle, though, are a handful of countries with the courage, cheap labor and freewheeling spirit of the Third World, but the education and capital resources of the First World. India in particular has positioned itself as the next likely superpower, with a capable military, a number of rapidly growing cash industries and a burgeoning appetite for energy of all kinds. No strangers to nuclear power (they got the bomb in '74), the Indians are drawn to its luminous promise and little dissuaded by the problems and accidents of the 20th century. And as luck would have it, they're also sitting on some of the richest deposits of thorium in the world—a coincidence that isn't lost on their scientists.
At the Bhaba Atomic Research Center near Kalpakkam, nuclear eggheads like Anil Kakodkar have been noodling with thorium since 1995, and are currently building a pilot plant to work the bugs out of Carlo Rubbia's design. If all goes well, the reactor should begin producing continuous power by the end of the decade, and should pave the way for nine commercial workhorses due to come online between 2010 and 2020. If the scheme works—and there's no scientific reason why it shouldn't—it could well pave the way for a global migration to fission technology safe enough for urban areas and Third World dictatorships. So, far from ignoring the problem or playing the politics of half-measures, India is positioning itself for the realities of Kyoto and the decline of fossil fuels, and plans to be a leader in 21st century energy technology. I say, more power to 'em!
Sources used for writing are:
"The Periodic Table in Earth and Sky," 3rd edition, Jenner Scientific LLC, 2005
Wikipedia: ("thorium","Carlo Rubbia","energy amplifier", "overpopulation"):
"The Energy Amplifier: Carlo Rubbia's solution to world energy demand": CERN Courier, April/May 1995
"Kalpakkam to get next generation fast reactor", The Hindu 09 March 2003
"A mission at Kalpakkam," Frontline, Volume 17 - Issue 26, Dec. 23, 2000
The Encyclopedia Britannica, 2004 Edition ("thorium," "thorium processing")
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