Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: "Chinese Are Going for the Safe, Thorium Reactors, and They Are Doing Mankind a Favour"

The Telegraph's commentator also thinks, along with many nuke proponents that inhabit the world, that "there has never been a verifiable death" in the West from the nuclear power. (I suppose he doesn't include Russia as part of the West.)


In his own words, from The Telegraph 3/20/2011 right before he headed off to the Mayan Highlands:

Safe nuclear does exist, and China is leading the way with thorium

A few weeks before the tsunami struck Fukushima’s uranium reactors and shattered public faith in nuclear power, China revealed that it was launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium.

This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

Ah. China is known for its safety records for sure.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.

“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.

“They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”

Then why aren't the nuke reactors in the world thorium-based, by now? Evans-Pritchard says it's because thorium cannot be made into weapons:

US physicists in the late 1940s explored thorium fuel for power. It has a higher neutron yield than uranium, a better fission rating, longer fuel cycles, and does not require the extra cost of isotope separation.

The plans were shelved because thorium does not produce plutonium for bombs.

Evans-Pritchard further says western-lifestyle needs nuclear power, and no one has died from nuclear power:

I write before knowing the outcome of the Fukushima drama, but as yet none of 15,000 deaths are linked to nuclear failure. Indeed, there has never been a verified death from nuclear power in the West in half a century. Perspective is in order.

We cannot avoid the fact that two to three billion extra people now expect – and will obtain – a western lifestyle. China alone plans to produce 100m cars and buses every year by 2020.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the world currently has 442 nuclear reactors. They generate 372 gigawatts of power, providing 14pc of global electricity. Nuclear output must double over twenty years just to keep pace with the rise of the China and India.

And his parting shot:

So the Chinese will soon lead on this thorium technology as well as molten-salts. Good luck to them. They are doing Mankind a favour. We may get through the century without tearing each other apart over scarce energy and wrecking the planet.

This is my last column for a while. I am withdrawing to the Mayan uplands.

As the Fukushima I Nuke Plant accident has made abundantly clear to many people (clearly Evans-Pritchard is not one of them), it is the human errors that make up the accident - from the design of the reactor and the plant, fitting the pipes that don't fit, hiding the condition of the degrading parts and equipments and structures and the regulatory agency who helps the operator to hide them, to name only a few.

It doesn't quite matter how safe thorium is, when the most dangerous and unpredictable component of all is the humans.


netudiant said...

It is not clear that the objection to the thorium reactor was that it did not easily produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
There is at least an equal likelihood that the design was abandoned because it was a bear to keep running.
Molten salt is an excellent material to etch and corrode almost everything. The reactor is essentially digesting itself gradually, not inherently a big problem except for the heat exchangers, which have to be thin to be effective while still free from any holes, lest the radioactive reactor salt contaminate the secondary salt circuit used to generate steam for the turbines.
Making this work reliably for years without major leaks or breakdowns will be a substantial challenge.
We can only with the Chinese luck, because the payoff is energy independence, as a thorium reactor is enormously more fuel efficient than the conventional uranium reactor.

Anonymous said...

NATO to keep nuclear arsenal
Sun, 07 Nov 2010 07:39:24 GMT

Commander of NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT) General Stephane Abrial says the Western military alliance has to keep its tactical nuclear arsenal.

"As long as the world is nuclear, the (NATO) alliance has to keep nuclear weapons," Abrial said in a security conference in Halifax, Canada on Saturday, AFP reported. .......,


Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

I hope I don't have to remind everyone that every reactor that had a major accident were never supposed to be able to have the accidents in the first place.

The ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment Fluoride Conspiracy:

"The conversation then expanded to include Hugh Wilson, who said this was a "reportable event" nuclear accident and was required to be reported under international laws. The decision stayed the same, and the cover up continued. The high bay area of the reactor was sealed off with fake signs claiming repainting. Sheeting was applied to correct that part damaged. A video camera was obtained from Don Bible to look into the high radiation area for damage to the fuel tanks.

The technicians took off their dosimeter badges to help hide their exposures and the guts of the bellows valve were replaced with another and jammed shut. They vacuumed up the U-233 contamination and took it to Bldg. 3019, AKA Pilot Plant, to hide it with other like U-233 material. ORNL's Bldg 3019 and the MSRE are considered the national repository for U-233 weapons material. The clean up still left an elevated radiation signature in the high bay area so Hugh Brashears worked out a deal with Barry Bervin [Jewish Surname] to bring in some contaminated barrels of dirt to mask the explosion event."


This government report says that none of the filling accidents they studied "in detail" pose any threat to the reactor. I'm worried about the ones they didn't study.

Analysis of Filling Accidents in MSRE


If you read between the lines at the site listed below you can see the MSR is still in the experimental stage. WASH-1222 points out some issues that China will need to address.


Anonymous said...

Thorium isn't much safer than Uranium fueled reactors. Thorium reactors produce nasty U-232 which emits very short wavelength gamma radiation which is nearly impossible to shield. Thorium reactors were abandoned because of U232 waste. Its possible to build U233 bombs using Thorum as fuel, its just much more dangerous than U235 or Pu239.

The CANDU reactor is probably the best design t date consider its less complicated and can use natural, non-enriched Uranium for fuel. It has a much better efficiency in burning fuel since most of the free neutrons are used to fission, and transforming fertial U238 into Pu239. it has slightly less conversion than a breader (I believe 0.98 conversion rate) which means it produces about half of its fuel content (U235) into fissable fuel that is burned in the reactor.

Its not widely used because it needs heavy water which is expensive.

Anonymous said...

Are they building pebble bed reactors?


Anonymous said...

"It doesn't quite matter how safe thorium is, when the most dangerous and unpredictable component of all is the humans."

So what do you suggest, get rid of the "most dangerous and unpredictable component" ?

Rather than wringing hands in depair at the hopelessness of it all, at least the Chinese are attempting a safer solution.

Anonymous said...

To suggest that no one has been killed by nuclear energy in the west is idiotic. Same argument can be used in favour of ignoring air polution. Sorry, German scientists don't buy it and I believe as this story in Japan unfolds, most rational people will follow suit. Japanese contamination continues both in the air and in the oceans and we can't fix it because no one can spend enough time near the disaster without dying. All you proponents of nuclear reactors are not being honest. Why aren't you all lining up at Fukushima to lend a hand or provide solutions??? Incidentally, folks within a hundred miles of both California nuclear reactor sites should be worried. Same tectonics, just way more people. This will happen again. Where is the question.

Anonymous said...

One of reasons why western world was addicted to Oil rather then gas was because oil needs to be processed and western corporations had possibility to control the process. Gas could be easily used without much process. Thus today after setting up various bogus technical regulations gas is more utilized. This uranium and Thorium issue is probably of the same nature. Western world is not going to support any technology that can let third world really grow by themselves.

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

@ Anon 6:44 You'd probably know pebble bed reactors were a failure if it wasn't for Chernobyl this probably figures in with Germany's current position on nuclear power. This isn't the only pebble bed failure either.

"In 1985, the experimental THTR-300 PBMR on the Ruhr in Hamm-Uentrop, Germany was also offered as accident proof--with the same promise of an indestructible carbon fuel cladding capable of retaining all generated radioactivity. Following the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident and graphite fire in Ukraine, the West German government revealed that on May 4, the 300-megawatt PBMR at Hamm released radiation after one of its spherical fuel pebbles became lodged in the pipe feeding the fuel to the reactor. Operator actions during the event caused damage to the fuel cladding.

(A common broom stick was used to dislodge a stuck pellet damaging it in the process)

Radioactivity was released with the escaping helium and radioactive fallout was deposited as far as two kilometers from the reactor. The fallout in the region was high enough to initially be blamed on Chernobyl. Government officials were then alerted by scientists in Freiburg who reported that as much as 70 % of the region’s contamination was not of the type of radiation leaking hundreds of miles away in Ukraine. Dismayed by an attempt to conceal the reactor malfunction and confronted with mounting public pressure in light of the Chernobyl accident only days prior, the state ordered the reactor to close pending a design review.

Continuing technical problems including a lack of quality control resulting in damage to unused fuel pebbles and radiation-induced bolt head failures in the reactor’s gas channels resulted in the unit’s closure in late 1988. Citing doubts about reliability, the government refused to further subsidize utility funding and instead approved plans for decommissioning the reactor".


Anon 9:07 is right about the molten salt reactor having no commercial financial incentive. Nuclear fuel fabrication is very profitable mixing radioisotopes with salt isn't.

Anyway good for the Chinese as I've said in old posts there have been attempts to close the Thorium cycle before and all of them failed. This is just "old wine in a new bottle".

Anonymous said...

Thorium technology was invented in the USA in the 1940s. It was taken up by NASA who ran a Thorium reactor continuously without problems for 12 years in the 1950s-60s. One question is: why was NASA not permitted to use this technology in spacecraft? India already has a Thorium power station and is planning to build another one, at leat. China is planning 6 to start with. Human mistakes are much less likely to affect a Thorium power plant. The desing is simpler and safer, and they can be small enough to be decemtralised, that is less of a cost in building pylons. The half-life is in decades, not millennia.

nygrump said...

We can tell all the uranium miners who died of cancer and other immune diseases there has never been a death from nuclear power. The current blackout of news from Japan in the US press is the most obvious evidence that the corporate media has its own agenda and truth is not part of it.

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

@ Anon 1:58

You don't know what you are talking about.

"NASA's "ONLY" nuclear reactors were at the Plum Brook Reactor Facility, which is affiliated with the NASA Glenn Research Center. The facility, located on land that is now Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, operated from 1962-1973"


NASA has recently championed a Thorium based reactor but they never ran one for 12 trouble free years back in the good old days. The only thorium reactor (LFTR) NASA has are on paper.
The only reactor NASA operated were the two uranium based test reactors at the Glenn Research Center in the 60's-70's and they are leaking contamination. One reactor was a standard test reactor the other was a pool type neither ran on Thorium.

"In 2005, NASA discovered radioactive contamination off the NASA PBRF site near Sandusky, Ohio. The material was identified as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 in a drainage ditch leaving their property, and in Plum Brook approximately one mile downstream towards Lake Erie. The radioactive materials are likely the result of reactor operations which ended in 1973".


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