A Nuclear Reactor in Every Home

Sometime between 2020 and 2040, we will invent a practically unlimited energy source that will solve the global energy crisis. This unlimited source of energy will come from thorium. A summary of the benefits, from a recent announcement of the start of construction for a new prototype reactor:

  • There is no danger of a melt-down like the Chernobyl reactor.
  • It produces minimal radioactive waste.
  • It can burn plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors.
  • It is not suitable for the production of weapon grade materials.
  • Global thorium reserves could cover our energy needs for thousands of years.

If nuclear reactors can be made safe and relatively cheap, how popular could they get?

It depends on how cheap we’re talking about. Most reactor designs utilize thorium use molten salt (or lead) as a coolant. Even though they were developed as early as 1954, molten salt-coolant reactors are a relatively immature technology. Interestingly enough, the first nuclear reactor to provide usable amounts of electricity was a molten salt reactor. Three were built as part of the US Aircraft Reactor Experiment (ARE), whose purpose was to build a reactor small and sturdy enough to power a nuclear bomber. These reactors are about the size of a large truck.

State-of-the-art nuclear reactors, such as Westinghouse’s AP1000, cost $1.5 billion to build and produce 1.1 gigawatts of electricity. They cost around $50 million per year to maintain, and $30 million per year for uranium fuel. Nevertheless, they are slowly starting to compete with other sources of power like solar and fossil fuels. Eventually, they will rocket right past them. The goal is plants that only cost only $990 per kilowatt. A kilowatt-year of electricity sells for about $876, and a gigawatt-year $876 million, so even if these plants cost $1 billion to build, they can make $964 million worth of electricity every year. If fuel and maintenance costs are about $225 million per year, then your profit is $739 million/year. This is a huge profit. What prevented us from reaping the benefits of this in the past was inferior and more expensive building techniques frequently running overbudget, with some projects costing $4 – $5 billion to complete.

The AP1000 is a Generation III reactor, a new class of reactor that started coming online in 1996. More advanced Generation III reactors are sometimes called Generation III+, because they offer better performance but are not revolutionary. The benefits of Generation III+ reactors are obvious. They are economically competitive, but still have high capital and fuel costs. A lot of this high capital cost comes from excessive safety regulations. In “The Nuclear Energy Option”, Bernard L. Cohen calculates that ever-escalating safety restrictions increase the cost of nuclear power plants by as much as four or five times, compensating for inflation:

Commonwealth Edison, the utility serving the Chicago area, completed its Dresden nuclear plants in 1970-71 for $146/kW, its Quad Cities plants in 1973 for $164/kW, and its Zion plants in 1973-74 for $280/kW. But its LaSalle nuclear plants completed in 1982-84 cost $1,160/kW, and its Byron and Braidwood plants completed in 1985-87 cost $1880/kW — a 13-fold increase over the 17-year period. Northeast Utilities completed its Millstone 1,2, and 3 nuclear plants, respectively, for $153/kW in 1971, $487/kW in 1975, and $3,326/kW in 1986, a 22-fold increase in 15 years. Duke Power, widely considered to be one of the most efficient utilities in the nation in handling nuclear technology, finished construction on its Oconee plants in 1973-74 for $181/kW, on its McGuire plants in 1981-84 for $848/kW, and on its Catauba plants in 1985-87 for $1,703/kW, a nearly 10-fold increase in 14 years. Philadelphia Electric Company completed its two Peach Bottom plants in 1974 at an average cost of $382 million, but the second of its two Limerick plants, completed in 1988, cost $2.9 billion — 7.6 times as much. A long list of such price escalations could be quoted, and there are no exceptions. Clearly, something other than incompetence is involved.

That something is huge safety restrictions. When the risk of meltdown is removed, these restrictions will be lifted. Carlo Rubia, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and advocate of thorium power, writes, “after a suitable “cool-down” period, radioactive “waste” reaches radio-toxicities which are comparable and smaller than the one of the ashes coming from coal burning for the same produced energy”. So waste and containment – the two main sources of cost and controversy for traditional reactors — are all but eliminated with thorium.

The world-changing thorium reactor I am envisioning qualifies as a Generation IV reactor. A Generation IV reactor will pay for itself even more quickly than a Generation III reactor, and will replace every other source of electrical power in terms of cost-effectiveness. Generation IV reactors will be the fission reactors to end all fission reactors.

The Generation IV International Forum’s definition:

Generation IV nuclear energy systems are future, next-generation technologies that will compete in all markets with the most cost-effective technologies expected to be available over the next three decades.

Comparative advantages include reduced capital cost, enhanced nuclear safety, minimal generation of nuclear waste, and further reduction of the risk of weapons materials proliferation. Generation IV systems are intended to be responsive to the needs of a broad range of nations and users.

Currently, it is thought that Generation IV reactors will not come online before 2030, at least according to the Generation IV International Forum’s Technology Roadmap. A substantial amount of R&D must be done to develop the molten salt reactor idea into a viable construction plan. However, I am more optimistic on timescales. Improvements in materials science and high-quality manufacturing will relax design requirements, decreasing research time from 20 years to 10 years and building time from 3-5 years to one year. That is why I can imagine thorium reactors by 2020.

Thorium reactors will be cheap. The primary cost in nuclear reactors traditionally is the huge safety requirements. Regarding meltdown in a thorium reactor, Rubbia writes, “Both the EA and MF can be effectively protected against military diversions and exhibit an extreme robustness against any conceivable accident, always with benign consequences. In particular the [beta]-decay heat is comparable in both cases and such that it can be passively dissipated in the environment, thus eliminating the risks of “melt-down”. Thorium reactors can breed uranium-233, which can theoretically be used for nuclear weapons. However, denaturing thorium with its isotope, ionium, eliminates the proliferation threat.

Like any nuclear reactor, thorium reactors will be hot and radioactive, necessitating shielding. The amount of radioactivity scales with the size of the plant. It so happens that thorium itself is an excellent radiation shield, but lead and depleted uranium are also suitable. Smaller plants (100 megawatts), such as the Department of Energy’s small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor (SSTAR) will be 15 meters tall, 3 meters wide and weigh 500 tonnes, using only a few cm of shielding. From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory page on SSTAR:

SSTAR is designed to be a self-contained reactor in a tamper-resistant container. The goal is to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity, heat, and freshwater. The design could also be adapted to produce hydrogen for use as an alternative fuel for passenger cars.

Most commercial nuclear reactors are large light-water reactors (LWRs) designed to generate 1,000 megawatts electric (MWe) or more. Significant capital investments are required to build these reactors and manage the nuclear fuel cycle. Many developing countries do not need such large increments of electricity. They also do not have the large-scale energy infrastructure required to install conventional nuclear power plants or personnel trained to operate them. These countries could benefit from smaller energy systems, such as SSTAR, that use automated controls, require less maintenance work, and provide reliable power for as long as 30 years before needing refueling or replacement.

SSTAR also offers potential cost reductions over conventional nuclear reactors. Using lead or lead–bismuth as a cooling material instead of water eliminates the large, high-pressure vessels and piping needed to contain the reactor coolant. The low pressure of the lead coolant also allows for a more compact reactor because the steam generator can be incorporated into the reactor vessel. Plus with no refueling downtime and no spent fuel rods to be managed, the reactor can produce energy continuously and with fewer personnel.

Because thorium reactors present no proliferation risk, and because they solve the safety problems associated with earlier reactors, they will be able to use reasonable rather than obsessive standards for security and reliability. If we can reach the $145-in-1971-dollars/kW milestone experienced by Commonwealth Edison in 1971, we can decrease costs for a 1-gigawatt plant to at most $780 million, rather than the $1,100 million to build such a plant today. In fact, you might be able to go as low as $220 million or below, if 80% of reactor costs truly are attributable to expensive anti-meltdown measures. A thorium reactor does not, in fact, need a containment wall. Putting the reactor vessel in a standard industrial building is sufficient.

Current operating costs, ignoring fuel costs, for a 1-gigawatt plant are about $50 million/year. With greater automation and simplicity in Generation IV plants, in addition to more reasonable safety and security regulations, this cost will be decreased to $5 million/year, equivalent to the salary of about 60 technicians earning $80K/year. Because the molten salt continuously recirculates the fuel, the time-consuming replacement of fuel rods is not necessary – you just dump in the thorium and out comes energy. However, if molten salt is used as a coolant, it must be recirculated and purified external to the reactor vessel. This requires a chemical reprocessing facility, of a type that has only yet been demonstrated in a lab. The scale-up to industrial levels has currently been labeled as uneconomic, but improvements in salt purification technology over the next decade will bring the costs down greatly, and eventually the entire process will be automated. If thorium reactors become popular, automated, and mass-produced, the technology could improve to the point where the cost of maintaining a 1-gigawatt nuclear reactor will eventually drop as low as $1 million/year, or less.

Today, the nuclear industry primarily makes money by selling fuel to reactor operators. So there is little incentive to switch over to a fuel that will eventually be obtainable for as low as $10/kg. According to “The Economics of Nuclear Power”, a kg of enriched uranium in the form of uranium oxide reactor fuel is $1633/kg.

Today, thorium is relatively expensive – about $5,000 per kilogram. However, this is only because of there is currently little demand for thorium, so as a specialty metal, it is expensive. But there is 4 times as much thorium in the earth’s crust as there is uranium, and uranium is only $40/kg. If thorium starts to be mined en masse, its cost could drop to as low as $10/kg. This factor-of-500 reduction in cost would be similar to the reduction in cost that electricity experienced throughout this century, only compressed into a few years. It is estimated that Norway alone contains 180,000 tons of known thorium reserves. Global deposits of thorium:

  • 360,000 India
  • 300,000 Australia
  •  170,000 Norway
  • 160,000 United States
  • 100,000 Canada
  • 35,000 South Africa
  • 16,000 Brazil
  • 95,000 Others

Thorium could cost a lot less than uranium fuel because it doesn’t need to be enriched to be used as fuel. As stated before, enriched uranium oxide gas costs $1633/kg, and 1-gigawatt nuclear power plants buy about $30 million in fuel annually, which works out to about 20,000 kg. You can read more at the wikipedia entry for the uranium market.

Even if the price of thorium never goes below $50/kg, it still represents a factor-of-32 economy improvement over uranium oxide. If a 1-gigawatt thorium reactor consumes amounts of thorium similar to the amount of uranium consumed by nuclear reactors today, fueling it for a year would only cost $1 milion, using the $50/kg price point, or $200,000, using the $10/kg price point.

Building a 1-gigawatt uranium plant today costs about $1.1 billion. Building a 1-gigawatt thorium plant will cost only about $250 million, or less, because meltdown concerns can be tossed out the window. This fundamentally changes the economics of nuclear power. We can call this the capital cost benefit of thorium.

Fueling a 1-gigawatt uranium plant today costs $30 million/year. Fueling a 1-gigawatt thorium plant will cost only $1 million/year, because thorium is four times more abundant than uranium and does not need to be enriched – only purified – prior to being used as fuel. We can call this the fuel cost benefit of thorium.

Staffing a 1-gigawatt uranium plant today costs $50 million/year. With greater automation, and (especially) fewer safety/security requirements, we will decrease that cost to $5 million/year. Instead of requiring 500 technicians, guards, personal assistants, janitors, and paper pushers to run a nuclear plant, we will only need a small group of 30 or so technicians to run the plant. (When the technology reaches maturity.) Generation IV nuclear plants will be designed to be low-maintenance.

Based on these numbers, over a 60-year operating lifetime, both plants produce 60 gigawatt-years of power. The total cost for the uranium plant is $4.9 billion, at a rate of $81.6 million per gigawatt-year. The total cost for the thorium plant is $490 million, at a rate of $8.16 million per gigawatt-year. Thorium power makes nuclear power ten times cheaper than it used to be, right off the bat.

Of course, ten times cheaper electricity is impressive, and blows everything else out of the water, but it doesn’t quite qualify as the “unlimited source of energy” I was talking about. Why will thorium lead to practically unlimited energy?

Because thorium reactors will make nuclear reactors more decentralized. Because of no risk of proliferation or meltdown, thorium reactors can be made of almost any size. A 500 ton, 100MW SSTAR-sized thorium reactor could fit in a large industrial room, require little maintenance, and only cost $25 million. A hypothetical 5 ton, truck-sized 1 MW thorium reactor might run for only $250,000 but would generate enough electricity for 1,000 people for the duration of its operating lifetime, using only 20 kg of thorium fuel per year, running almost automatically, and requiring safety checks as infrequently as once a year. That would be as little as $200/year after capital costs are paid off, for a thousand-persons worth of electricity! An annual visit by a safety inspector might add another $200 to the bill. A town of 1,000 could pool $250K for the reactor at the cost of $250 each, then pay $400/year collectively, or $0.40/year each for fuel and maintenance. These reactors could be built by the thousands, further driving down manufacturing costs.

Smaller reactors make power generation convenient in two ways: decreasing staffing costs by dropping them close to zero, and eliminating the bulky infrastructure required for larger plants. For this reason, it may be more likely that we see the construction of a million $40,000, 100 kW plants than 400 $300 million, 1GW plants. 100 kW plants would require minimal shielding and could be installed in private homes without fear of radiation poisoning. These small plants could be shielded so well that the level of radiation outside the shield is barely greater than the ambient level of radiation from traces of uranium in the environment. The only operating costs would be periodic safety checks, flouride salts, and thorium fuel. For a $40,000 reactor, and $1,000/year in operating costs, you get enough electricity for 100 people, which is enough to accomplish all sorts of antics, like running thousands of desktop nanofactories non-stop.

Even smaller reactors might be built. The molten salt may have a temperature of around 1,400°F, but as long as it can be contained by the best alloys, it is not really a threat. The small gasoline explosions in your automobile today are of a similar temperature. In the future, personal vehicles may be powered by the slow burning of thorium, or at least, hydrogen produced by a thorium reactor. Project Pluto, a nuclear-powered ramjet missile, produced 513 megawatts of power for only $50 million. At that price ratio, a 10 kW reactor might cost $1,000 and provide enough electricity for 10 persons/year while consuming only 1 kg of thorium every 5 years, itself only weighing 1000kg – similar to the weight of a refrigerator. I’m not sure if miniaturization to that degree is possible, or if the scaling laws really hold. But it seems consistent with what I’ve heard about nuclear power in the past.

The primary limitation with nuclear reactors, as always, is containment of radiation. But alloys and materials are improving. We will be able to make reactor vessels which are crack-proof, water-proof, and tamper-proof, but we will have to use superior materials. We should have those materials by 2030 at the latest, and they will make possible the decentralized nuclear energy vision I have outlined here. I consider it probable unless thorium is quickly leapfrogged by fusion power.

The greatest cost for thorium reactors remains their initial construction. If these reactors can be made to last hundreds of years instead of just 60, the cost per kWh comes down even further. If we could do this, then even if there were a disaster that brought down the entire industrial infrastructure, we could use our existing reactors with thorium fuel for energy until civilization restarts. We could send starships to other solar systems, powered by just a few tons of thorium. We will simultaneously experience the abundance we always wanted from nuclear power with the decentralization we always wanted from solar power. We will build self-maintaining “eternal structures” that use thorium electricity to power maintenance robots capable of working for thousands of years without breaks.

What nuclear reactors provide:

  • heat
  • electricity
  • fresh water through desalination
  • propulsion

Links to further material:

Molten salt reactor on Wikipedia
Aircraft Reactor Experiment (ARE) on Wikipedia
Nuclear aircraft on Wikipedia
Generation IV reactor on Wikipedia
Project Pluto on Wikipedia
More on Project Pluto
Energy from Thorium blog
SSTAR information
Thorium support in Norway
Thorium Power, Inc.
Thorium chemical characteristics
The Nuclear Energy Option by Bernard L. Cohen
The Economics of Nuclear Power by the Uranium Information Centre Ltd.
A Pro-Nuclear website
Greenpeace founder recants about nuclear power
The Energy Amplifier by Nobelist Carlo Rubbia
Investment Stimulus for New Nuclear Power Plant Construction FAQ
World Nuclear Association
How To Build 6,000 Nuclear Plants by 2050

Anti-nuclear:

Nuclear Power: Too Expensive to Solve Global Warming

Trivia: The word thorium derives from the Scandanavian god of thunder, Thor. So it seems unsurprising that Norway is so supportive of thorium. I doubt the people that named thorium could have guessed the godlike energy it contains, but the name does seem apt in retrospect. Thorium oxide was originally used to make gas lanterns burn more brightly. Ralph Lucas, of the House of Lords, is also a thorium supporter.

Comments

  1. James

    Seems like everybody’s writing about Thorium these days. I just read about it here

  2. Very nice research and extrapolation.
    I agree that we can use current and near future tech to make radically improved nuclear power without the current downsides. Make a kickass future.

  3. MCP2012

    Once again, Michael: Excellent research, summary & extrapolation(s). As long as petroleum & coal carry-the-day for another 10-20 yrs (which they should be able to w/o problem or glitch—new oil sources have just been discovered in USA—then thorium, along with various cost-competitive/effective solar techs, should assure sufficient energy to power a near-on-into-post-Singularity global civilization.

  4. jim moore

    yeah Thorium reactors are showing a lot of promise but have you looked into Kite generators?
    http://www.sequoiaonline.com/blogs/ARCHIVIOscelti/progetto_eng.htm

  5. Nuclear reactors produce millions of times more energy per pound than chemical sources, and yes they produce more energy than kites. There is no comparison.

  6. The proposed thorium reactor that is getting all the press is from the scientists at CERN and uses liquified lead as the moderator. It is a completely new approach that would not independently produce plutonium (the bombmaker’s friend.) The CERN summary notes dryly there will be need to be some advances in materials this make this all work. Indeed, I suspect there will be many – - based on my own two decades in the nuclear industry. The modern civilian reactor in use today is mostly steam, pump and valves but still requires a vast amount of analysis and maintenance to keep things working. (The reactor part itself usually doesn’t cause much trouble.)

    My main concern with all discussions of our energy future is that it’s very hard to get a handle on what our energy present is like unless you’re working from the inside. In nuclear’s case, it’s a weird mix of technology, politics and social science. I’ve provided an inside look in the form of a thriller novel that is avaiable online (at no cost) at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com Readers seem to like “Rad Decision”, based on their homepage comments. It’s also been endorsed by noted futurist and internet pioneer Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog.

    RadDecision.blogspot.com

  7. Actually the thorium approach getting the press this time was Carlo Rubia’s Energy Amplifier, recently renamed the Accelerator Driven System (ADS). The ADS would probably only work for larger rigs as the neutron source to get it going would suck up a lot of energy initially. However, perhaps a milkman approach of a technician going around to smaller reactors to “ignite” them with accelerated neutrons would work.

    Lots of fascinating stuff out there on thorium power… it would take weeks to read. Nuclear has been grabbing the headlines lately due to NK’s publicity stunt and ensuing “war”. As long as we don’t actually go to war with NK, I will shortly go back to focusing on STRONG – Singularity, transhumanism, risk, err… ovonics, nanotechnology, and general intelligence.

  8. Yes, that is the one I was referring to.

    There is also a second use of Thorium within the current design of reactors as a replacement for some of the uranium. The thorium decay products become fissile material which is then used by the reactor (which becomes a breeder reactor of sorts.) This reduces the amount of plutonium generated, but some uranium (which ends up as plutonium) is still needed as the neutron source, versus the accelerator neutron source / all thorium core in Dr. Rubia’s approach.

  9. Konrad

    Funny you should mention those plants, since I’m working on upgrades for two of them right now, and have probably been peripherally involved in most of the others.

    There’s one very important distinction you need to make: The costs increases associated with current nuclear reactors are better described as regulatory costs rather than safety-related costs. They have less to do with actual safety than with the government doing anything it takes to appease irrational public fears.

    Using “reasonable rather than obsessive standards for security and reliability” is something that we can do right now. No fancy thorium reactors needed. The reasons we don’t are better explained by a psychologist than a physicist.

  10. michael vassar

    But kites may be substantially closer to development up to revolutionary levels of power/cost. Ultimately, solar probably beats anything anyway, at least on Earth, given Earth’s limited ability to dump heat.

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  11. Michael, can you explain why our limited ability to dump heat means that solar is best? I am starting to think that the convenience and low space requirements of thorium reactors would beat solar power for applications on earth.

  12. MCP2012

    Mike Vassar &/or Jim Moore: besides the link above (thanks, Jim), have either of you guys got other links on Kites?! Thanks much…

  13. A couple minor skeptical points:

    A 300 MW coal power plant requires 53 employees. This number has been falling, but you should be careful about running a GW plant with 30 technicians. Of course you don’t have the boiler or fuel handling.
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/issues/power_plant.html
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/issues/images/figop5.jpg

    Even if electricity is free, the infrastructure to deliver it will not be. You still have to pay people to climb the poles–at least, until/unless you put a reactor in each house. Put a free generator on every street corner, and I’m guessing you’d drop home power costs by 2/3.

    Some possible good news for thorium production: plants may concentrate it. “Exceptionally high concn ratios values for (230)thorium (1.9-2.9) observed near the tailings impoundment demonstrate that under certain conditions, vegetation can accumulate (230)thorium to a much greater extent than previously reported. Vegetation concn were lower for (232)throrium relative to (230)thorium and (228)thorium at locations where they are present at similar soil concn.”
    http://www.speclab.com/elements/thorium.htm

    Chris

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  14. A couple more skeptical thoughts:

    Nuclear reactors are low-temperature compared to combustion, so are not very Carnot-efficient, so have to dump a lot of heat. This could be a problem for some applications.

    If the steam generator is inside the reactor shell, and inaccessible–how long can a steam generator work without maintenance? Scale buildup… corrosion… If you don’t have an engineering study or prior art, maybe you should mark that part as speculative.

    If the steam generator is external… can you say something about whether the working fluid would be radioactive?

    Chris

  15. Nuclear reactors are low-temperature compared to combustion, so are not very Carnot-efficient, so have to dump a lot of heat. This could be a problem for some applications.

    Water-cooled nuclear reactors are rather low-temperature. Fluoride salt reactors are not. They can readily achieve salt temperatures of 1000 K or greater. When coupled to a helium gas-turbine (ideally one that takes advantage of multiple reheat and intercooling), efficiencies of ~50% can readily be achieved. See this paper and this presentation by Per Peterson of Berkeley for more details. You can also check out my Brayton Cycle Simulator to play with the cycle yourself.

  16. RobW

    ‘For a $40,000 reactor, and $1,000/year in operating costs, you get enough electricity for 100 people, which is enough to accomplish all sorts of antics, like running thousands of desktop nanofactories non-stop.’

    wouldn’t the creation of desktop nanofactories make these type of reactors obsolete? after all, with MM you could just integrate solar cells in every product for next to nothing in cost..

    otherwise an excellent article

  17. Rob, I don’t think that nanofactured solar cells will make nuclear reactors obsolete, because the energy density of nuclear energy is still so much greater. Until we have a very sophisticated orbital solar array working, nuclear will still make a lot of sense. I see nuclear being the primary power source in the nano age (a very short period anyway, maybe a few years), not solar.

  18. M. Harrison

    This is wonderful technology and will probably be
    soon available,But our government has a terrible way of destroying all good intentions. They are for,a part of,and will always be for -Big Business- So after they add their greedy into the pot, this wonderful technology will only be had by the rich-famous-wealthy and big business. The poor will not be allowed to buy or use this sort of technology,because greedy big business and our greedy government will loose too much money, and control over the poor .

  19. Varghese Cherian

    India is well ahead in Thorium Tech. the world needs to join hands with India to realise the way of green fuels

  20. Ashok Kumar

    Dear Mr. Cherian,
    I Would like to know more about the present status of Thorium power plants projects in Gujarat, could you please give me some links to go through.
    Thanks & Regards

    ASHOK KUMAR
    e-mail: enakshigupta@yahoo.com.au

  21. Des

    Hi, I’m Des from Indonesia
    About nuclear at home As you said. Now ln Indonesia nuclear is become great issue. it’s caused government is building a nuclear reactor at central java. people in my country can’t except that concept.
    Now your idea about nuclear at home. I think in future we need that. But now, I think that concept isn’t neesed yet.

  22. Victor Nunnally

    The reason why Thorium is not imposed on other countries is the fact that the US will lose it’s holy grail of power…The US would have to go to Thorium and destroy it’s Uranium creations causing the country to lose much political power on governing the wold. No more bomb power. It’s a large factor in how the US is holding the reigns…we invented the process and use it to run the world…however, with globalisation it could be the answer to peace…come on…let’s try it…

  23. John Radec

    If that is true, that the USA is so manipulative, than I believe we are not living in a free democratic country, but in a biblical beast that is directly opposit to what stands on our dollar bill “In God Wee Trust”.

  24. Henry Gibson

    There is no energy but nuclear energy!

    There is no energy but nuclear energy!

    There is no energy but nuclear energy!

    Wind, solar, geothermal, coal, oil and other energies come from combining or splitting atoms, directly or indirectly.

    YOU and your great-great…great-great grandmother were, on the average, both, in life, equally radio-active; If her or your unknown, unidentified ashes were found in the file cabinet of a nuclear power plant they would have to be disposed of in an official nuclear waste repository. Radio-activity comes from the skies as cosmic rays and solar particles and rays. Radio-activity comes from the earth as radon and gamma rays and others.

    All live, and dead, life-forms have always had built in sources of radioactivity, mostly potassium. Life, as we know it, is not possible without potassium.

    There is not a rich enough man on the face of the earth who could afford to eat foods that are totally or even mostly free of radio-active-potassium. He would have to live in a cavern shielded with low radio-activity materials away from all other life forms to protect his investment in low radio-active foods.

    There is a pervasive false belief, encouraged by politicians who will lie to get re-elected, that people would be free of radio-active exposure and are not radio-active themselves if there were no nuclear bombs or power plants.

    Coal mines and oil and natural gas wells spew much radio-activity in the air and onto the surface of the earth. The ashes from coal fired power plants would not be allowed to be removed from a nuclear power plant without great caution and would have to go to a special repository.

    There are places where windmills and solar cell panels provide the cheapest electricity, and there are more places where small parabolic solar collectors with Stirling engines could provide the cheapest electricity. There are far more places where Vacuum solar collectors could provide hot water more economically than most other sources. Most, if not all, cooking can be done with solar collectors where there is a lot of area and sunlight.

    Nuclear fission is now the cheapest most compact form of heat for generating electrical power.

    Properly packaged pure fission products extracted from used fuel rods could be used as a source of heating, power and cooling for public building without generating any greenhouse gases in operation. There is no danger of any runaway nuclear reaction. The remaining fission fuel mixture can be repackaged into CANDU fuel bundles and used again. They would have much more energy than standard CANDU fuel bundles, but with cheap uranium it is not economic to do this.

    There is no energy but nuclear energy!

    ..HG..

  25. What? The thorium has no nuclear fission by-products? The fuel rods are not “hot as a firecracker” after use?

    You can somehow just go in with a pair of work gloves and shuffle them around?

    Heh, heh..sorry, no such miracles around.

    Running a Thorium reactor would be EVERY BIT as difficult as a Uranium reactor.

    And the “proliferation” argument is just plain STUPID.

    Yes, regular light water reactors produce 30% of what they burn as U235, in a Plutonium output.

    So, if you have 200,000 lbm of 3.5% U235, you eventually will have about 2,000 lbm of Pu in your spent fuel.

    That’s enough for 400 nuclear weapons.

    Now let’s talk the reality of dealing with extracting that Plutonium.

    Although it can be done via a chemical process, and indeed can be done with a set of pumps, valves,glass pipe, SS inards forr “liquid /liquid” extraction, and some rather simple chemicals (EDTA, Kerosene,
    Water, Nitric and Sulfuric acids) you have the following minor, tiny difficulties.

    1. The stuff is “hotter than a fire cracker” and has to be done with ALL REMOTE EQUIPMENT.

    2. When you have the final stream, with your Plutonium Nitrate in water, you don’t dare concentrate more than 3%, as you go critical, and the neutron flux you get is a hazard beyond belief. (A low grade, 10 watt per
    liter criticality would generate enough neutron flux to give you a LETHAL DOSE in a matter of 1 to 2 minutes.)

    3. You therefore have to have a VERY SOPHISTICATED FLASH EVAPORATION SYSTEM which removes the water and condenses out the PuNitrate crystals before a criticality can occur.

    4. If you manage to do all this, and you have a nice pile of PuNitrate, you can use various processes to reduce to pure Pu metal, which are fairly straight forward.

    But let’s not exceed about 2 lbm per batch, for criticality reasons!

    5. Presuming you have 2 lbm of pure Pu, you’d better check that ISOTOPE distribution. The stuff from a standard Light Water Reactor has too much;

    Pu-240, a nuclear poison, making the critical mass go WAY up (like 20 or 40 lbm? You can’t get an explosive that can get that much Pu mass together fast enough to sustain a criticality.)

    And Pu-241, a “pre-detonator”, which makes the Pu react “too fast” to again, get the critical mass together long enough to get a good “boom”.

    Whoopsie! Commercial reactor Pu is NOT USABLE TO MAKE WEAPONS.

    Oh, yes, if you happen to have a 3,000 Megawatt (power demand which is a large city’s power deman), gasseous diffusion isotope separation plant in your back yard, you MIGHT be able to get Pure Pu 329. And then you would have a definite “block buster” party.

    However, last time I checked, there were DARNED FEW plants like that, and they don’t do “contract” work.

    (Oak Ridge, USA, Windscale, UK, something in France)

    Thus the “nuclear proliferation arguement is a “canard”, and not worth a hill of beans.

    Frankly all this talk of an “alternate nuclear power system” that is “better than what we have now” is just a SMOKESCREEN. It compiles ignorance on folly.

    Our problem right now is a population that is too ill-educated and inept, and unable to tolerate the dynamic needed to “go nuclear”. A “6th grade” student in France can take a piece of chaulk and draw out a complete nuclear power cycle on a chaulk board. (Pardon me, they probably would do a Power Point these days!)

    A 6th Grader in the USA can tell you how “good” they “feel” about themselves.

    Sad.

    • Laurence

      To Dr. Papp,

      You may be right about the proliferation issue, I don’t know enough to say one way or the other.

      But when you started out by talking about fuel rods in a Thorium reactor, this struck me as not being correct for the type of Thorium reactors being discussed here and in many other forums, which is the Molten Salt-based Thorium reactor. One popular variety is called the Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). And as I understand it, all of the Molten-Salt-type Thorium reactors use a liquid core of Thorium dissolved in Flouride Salts, with a small amount of U235 to supply the neutrons for a start-up of the conversion process of Thorium 232 to Uranium 233. There are no fuel rods involved, and many of the Thorium advantages are related to this fact and to the flexibility of a liquid core.

  26. WHY NOT MOVE BEYOND NUCLEAR, AND REACH FOR THE STARS? A good spiritual and relatively recent book has prophesied: Mankind will find a NEW source of power, free, endless, and safe, it’s better than nuclear any time, any day:
    its’ called Gwinin Power and it’s definitely NOT nuclear, and it will be discovered by mankind, soon. Not only is nuclear going to be truly just a waste product, I’m concerned that people who cannot seem to see a better future as using a completely different source of power, are going to spend billions of dollars investing in the nuclear power stations of the future, yes, it’s a waste of time and money, meanwhile little children starve, where are your PRIORITIES??? We are not actually joking. Take care, humankind, your future is truly in the stars, literally, and probably as soon as mankind discovers that new, safe, and endless source of power, to be known, according to The Book of Gwineva, (now sadly out of print), that power to be called GWININ POWER; the first mothership will be predicted about. Perhaps even NASA will come up with the right ideas, right on time??? I cannot see even a thorium reactor as having any value at all, in future, nor even huge hydro power stations.

    • Laurence

      So all nuclear research should just stop in its tracks and reverse course to pursue Gwinin Power, wherever and whatever that is? It might help if you actually explained what this new power source is, and what proof you have that it’s anything more than a new word someone dreamed up. Do you have any proof at all? Or, are you just a slightly insane person? We have no way of traveling to the nearest star, we have never even sent humans to another planet, only to the nearby moon a handful of times, and this was more than 30 years ago. If you want to live “in the stars” then no one is stopping you… You don’t appear to be doing anything useful on earth.

  27. I haven’t heard much about ADS subcritical Thorium Furnaces in the blog. Was wondering if this technology has any followers?
    http://www.eoearth.org/article/Accelerator-driven_nuclear_energy

  28. in the usa, has the election of pres obama advanced any thorium developement or research with his energy policies?

  29. I like your open-minded,optimistic and visionary approach to things,Michael.If I have such a view,I’m considered an over-optimistic crackpot because I lack former credentials.But an open-minded nuclear futurist who knows his stuff hath spoken.

    Furthermore,I’m a moderate when it comes to energy politics.Conservatives like Ronald Reagan were wrong by calling solar energy exotic,when it’s the oldest,most conventional energy source on the planet.Similarly,liberals like Jane Fonda and Greenpeace don’t know what they are talking about,either.Many other energy sources will come riding in on the back of cheap nuclear power……including cheap,decentralized photovoltaics……because the price of manufacturing solar cells will drop with the advent of cheap and plentiful nuclear power to mass produce them.

  30. Metreon Cascade

    Cold water reactors enjoy what’s called ‘inherent stability’ due to the fact that the coolant is the moderator – if the reactor is producing more power than is being used, the coolant heats up, fewer fast neutrons are caught, and power slows down.

    Does the thorium reactor concept allow for that type of built-in failsafe?

    • GaryB

      I believe the molten fluoride salts work in the same way. If heat diffusion fails, the flouride salts would expand and automatically moderate the reaction thereby.

  31. David Greenberg

    The future of unlimited energy is starting now, and not at some distant time in the future.

    It also has little to do with unsafe nuclear reactions.

    Rather, it will most likely be based on harnessing gravity, or Dark Matter, or other known unlimited forces in nature that do not explode or radiate deadly emissions.

    Reference Dr. Nassim Haramein, and / or Patrick J. Kelly for some good starting points to research these areas on your own. I am already working with some scientists and researchers on the topic.

  32. Alex

    hi, I need help to get the source of alpha particle emitter. Recently I bought the THO2, but the Gamma radiation is extreamly high.
    Can somebody help me to get the source of pure thorium or maybe some other element that emit alpha particle?
    big thanks !

  33. Heavyweather

    Here is more on the kitegen.
    They actually built a 3MW unit now.
    There is a kitepark with 27MW (9 units) built in Italy right now. Will go to the grid this year.
    A 60GW kitegen carusel would be possible. (Actually it is some kind of rail system).
    They will built a 150MW demonstration carousel in the next years.
    Mind you, this is just proven physics. We use kites to power cargo ships (German skysails).

    You can built kitegen stems offshore, onship, anywhere on land, on buildings,…
    The Eroie is unmatched…wind 30, Thinfilm 30, nuclear avarage under 10…

    Kitegen is 4 times cheaper than a wind turbine and produces ~5 times more power.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLJ1SwW4Mms

    follow the links in the discription! There are good articles about it.

    When a 150m² kite that produces 3MW is little power to you then good luck with your little vapoware reactors.
    No way it can be cheaper than a kiteplant…
    Imagine the developement cost. Who changes the fuel? you have huge upfront cost.
    ROI of a kitegen is reached in under half a year…

  34. Joe

    “The Economics of Nuclear Power” is a dead link, but thankfully archive.org has it:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080303220820/http://www.uic.com.au/nip08.htm

  35. Good luck everybody! – I will come back again. Are you on facebook or twitter? Will like to follow you.

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  38. Chuck F

    Try 2011 for 189kW reactor. Thats right the Peeker Corporation is currently building the manufacturing plant in Kino Mexico and will be operational in the fall of 2011 producing 189kW thorium based reactors to be used in automobiles. They also have larger designs they will be producing. They are also working on an ion levitaing vehicle powered by a 2MW reactor. A reactor in every home is only a few years away. The power grid is way to expensive to maintain once these reactors become prolific.

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  44. janus

    In the blog, the author wrote

    “At that price ratio, a 10 kW reactor might cost $1,000 and provide enough electricity for 10 persons/year while consuming only 1 kg of thorium every 5 years, itself only weighing 1000kg – similar to the weight of a refrigerator.”

    Well frankly I don’t know where you live, but where I live refrigerators weigh roughly 100kg, and a light car would weigh something like 1300kg. So unless you work at a food processing plant, I suggest you rewrite this to say the weight is simmilar to a light car.

    Also slow down on the downsizing optimism of reactors. There is a reason that reactors are built big besides its cheaper per person to operate them > there is a minimum core size required to operate at sufficient neutron cross section densities. If you scale down too much, even if using a neutron reflector you’re going to run headlong into a brick wall when it comes to insufficient neutron flux to maintain criticality.

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  47. tronic

    Your source for 5000 per 1kg of Thorium seems to be down and I’m currently at a loss seeing as I am on the United States Geological Survey website and they qoute Thorium costs at £330.69 a kilogram am I getting something wrong here or is there some kind of refining process that is undertaken to Thorium to get it ready for the reactor? That price quote is infact very very old from 1995 but even so I can’t see how its price would have such a high rise in that time when commercially demand has stayed the same.

    http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/thorium/

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