By Walter Sorochan Emeritus Professor San Diego State University
Posted April 22, 2012; updated March 02, 2014. Disclaimer The information displayed herein is intended to provide information and simplify the complexity of using thorium in place of uranium as fuel in nuclear power plants.
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The world is using more electricity than utility companies can provide. We are using coal, oil, gas and uranium as fuel to provide the heat needed to convert water into steam which, in turn, drives turbines that generate electricity. All of these fuels generate wastes and pollution. Nuclear power plants are most dangerous because they generate high levels of radiation waste for which we have no solution and also because they can cause disasters; as witnessed by nuclear power plant disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Overlooked in the heat of these catastrophes has been thorium, a safer alternative to uranium.
The mass media, the utilities and our government have given no attention to thorium. But this may be changing as countries the world over are attempting to harness thorium as a safer substitute energy fuel for uranium. United States has reactivated the abandoned Mountain Pass Mine in an effort to provide thorium as fuel. Back to top
Purpose of article:
Switching from uranium to thorium as our primary energy fuel could lead to cheaper, safer and more sustainable nuclear power. If you haven't heard of thorium or this idea, you are not alone! The author Sorochan, not a nuclear engineer, wanted a simple understanding about how fuels uranium and thorium are used to power nuclear energy power plants. He shares this article with you as he explores the well kept secret of thorium as an alternative to uranium. Back to top
Nuclear reactor concept:
Understanding the nuclear physics of how uranium is used to generate electricity is complicated and such complexity can scare most of us from trying to understand nuclear power. The approach in this article is simple ... to grasp the concept of how a nuclear power plant works in the diagram below. Keep in mind that we use the nuclear reactors to make pressurized steam to turn turbines to generate electricity!
In it's simplest form, a nuclear reactor [ orange color ] generates thermal [ heat ] energy that is carried away by a closed loop coolent [ blue color ] to a heat exchange [ purple color ]. The heat exchanger has a special liquid that absorbs the coolant heat and in turn, heats up another closed loop coolent. This second coolent heats another working fluid, water, into steam, within a power conversion system [ grey color ]. The steam drives the old technology turbines [ dynamos ] that generate electricity [ green ]. Heat from this reactor is also rejected as waste [ brown ]. The diagram below illustrates this simple concept.
Although the above nuclear reactor diagram is simple in concept, there are seven or more complex architectural design variations. The 437 nuclear reactors in the world use uranium as fuel. The coolents used vary by design: air, gas, water or molten salt.
Here is a more detailed illustration that animates a nuclear reactor: Animation
Once we understand the big idea of how a reactor works, we are more able to understand why and how thorium is a better fuel than uranium. Back to top
What is nuclear power?
Inside a reactor, a nuclear fission reaction produces energy for nuclear power. Fission is made possible when nuclear fuel rods split apart uranium atoms. Atoms are split apart and in turn generate neutrons when they break apart. This makes possible a self-sustaining chain reaction that releases enprmois heat energy at a controlled rate in a nuclear reactor or at a very rapid uncontrolled rate in a nuclear weapon.
Fission is an heat reaction which releases large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy.
The word "nuclear" refers to the nucleus, or dense center of the atom. The illustration on the right [ not drawn to scale ] shows inside an atom that has a nucleus [ white ]in the middle, neutrons [ green ], protons [ brown ] and is surrounded by electrons [ yellow ].
In a nuclear power reactor, these nuclei are split into smaller parts through a process known as fission. A sub-atomic particle known as a neutron strikes the nucleus of an atom of suitable fuel [ particular isotopes of the heavy elements uranium and plutonium ] breaking it into its component parts. Each fission results in the release of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation and kinetic energy in the fragments of the split nucleus. This effect is twofold; the release of energy will produce heat, and the release of neutrons, which can in turn fission other atoms.
In material that has typically been employed as nuclear fuel, this reaction occurs in a "chain reaction" and is self-sustaining. When this is occurring, the reactor can be said to be"'critical". In a nuclear bomb, a mass of plutonium or uranium in excess of critical is assembled very quickly, with a flood of neutrons from a device known as an "initiator". The release of energy is extremely rapid and results in a massive explosion.
In a nuclear power reactor, the reaction is far slower and more controlled - the heat produced can be harnessed to boil water to spin turbines for the generation of electricity and this has been in practice for decades. The use of nuclear reactors for power generation began on June 27, 1954, at the Obninsk power plant in the former Soviet Union and has continued in numerous countries to this day.
There are of course, some significant problems with nuclear power. Fission reactions will always result in the production of radioactive waste products which require secure storage and pose a health risk to humans and the environment.
There is the possibility that the operators may lose control of the fission chain reaction resulting in an accidental release of this material [ often referred to as a "meltdown" ]. There's also the concern that reactors may also be used for the production of material suitable for nuclear weapons. Back to top
How nuclear energy works
Thorium replacing uranium:
Now that we have some insight into how minerals and elements change form and that some elements like uranium can cause long lasting toxic radiation by-products and how a nuclear uranium plant works, we can now begin to appreciate how thorium can be used to replace uranium in nuclear power plants. 53
Kirk Sorensen discuses in 10 minute U-tube presentation how thorium can be an alternative power supply to uranium:Back to top
Thorium what is it?:
When pure, thorium is a silvery white metal that retains its lustre for several months.
However, when it is contaminated with the oxide, thorium slowly tarnishes in air, becoming grey and eventually black. When heated in air, thorium metal ignites and burns brilliantly with a white light. Thorium oxide (ThO2), also called thoria, has one of the highest melting points of all oxides (3300°C) and so it has found applications in light bulb elements, lantern mantles, arc-light lamps, welding electrodes and heat-resistant ceramics. Glass containing thorium oxide has both a high refractive index and wavelength dispersion, and is used in high quality lenses for cameras and scientific instruments. 10
"Thorium is a natural radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. It was discovered in 1828 and named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In nature, virtually all thorium is found as thorium-232, and it decays by emitting an alpha particle, and has a half-life of about 14.05 billion years (other, trace-level isotopes of thorium are short-lived intermediates of decay chains). It is estimated to be about four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth's crust and is a by-product of the extraction of rare earths from monazite sands. Thorium was formerly used commonly as the light source in gas mantles and as an alloying material, but these applications have declined due to concerns about its radioactivity." 11
Monazite, the most common and commercially most important thorium-bearing mineral, is widely distributed in nature. Monazite is mixed with many other rare earth minerals. It is chiefly obtained as a sand, which is separated from other sands by physical or mechanical means. The separation 'extraction' process is very difficult, complicated and dirty! 12 Back to top
Why we need thorium power plant
How thorium works:
When Th232 absorbs a neutron it becomes Th233, which is unstable and decays into protactinium-233 and then into U233. That’s the same uranium isotope we use in reactors now as a nuclear uranium fuel, the one that is fissile [Fissile means uranium can go "critical" and generate a nuclear chain reaction but NOT thorium .] all on its own. Thankfully, it is also relatively long lived, which means at this point in the cycle that the irradiated fuel can be unloaded from the reactor and the U233 separated from the remaining thorium. The uranium is then fed into another reactor all on its own, to generate energy. Back to top
Difference between thorium and uranium:
Key difference between thorium and other nuclear fuels is that thorium cannot sustain a chain reaction on its own. Fissile [ thorium cannot go "critical" and generate a nuclear chain reaction. ] fuels like uranium and plutonium are able to sustain a chain-reaction, yet fission can also be achieved in material like thorium that is not fissile but fertile - i.e. it can produce fissile material, if neutrons are provided from an outside source. Thorium chain reaction can be easily controlled wheras uranium is difficult.
Thorium is much different than uranium when used as a nuclear fuel. Thorium is not fissile; meaning it cannot go critical and generate a nuclear chain reaction. This is referred to as thorium's safety valve by Sorensen. Thorium needs a spark or neutron driver to get it to start a reaction and get it to produce heat energy. It must undergo neutron bombardment to produce a by-product or radionuclide that can sustain a nuclear reaction. Thorium bombardment can be controlled. A thorium-fueled reactor must be jump-started with a fissile isotope such as uranium (U235) and/or plutonium (Pu239 or Pu241). Neutron bombardment of thorium results in this reaction: Th232 + Neutron = U233.
Uranium233 is a man-made fissile isotope with a half-life of 160,000 years, and is well-suited for use in nuclear reactors. After Th232 is converted, U233 can be unloaded and then fed to the core of another reactor to be used as fuel in a closed cycle.
Alternatively, U233 can be bred from thorium in an outer blanket [ protective shield ] surrounding a plutonium and/or uranium core, the U233 separated, and then fed back into the core. These are called "breeder reactors" because thorium is the fertile fuel that breeds a fissile radionuclide. Radioactive materials are recycled in thorium, so there is little long-term waste left behind. Back to top
Thorium advantages start from the moment it is mined and purified:
1. Thorium is three - four times more abundant in nature than uranium.
2. All but a trace of the world’s thorium exists as the useful isotope, which means it does not require enrichment. [ this makes thorium less expensive than uranium ]
3. Thorium-based reactors are safer because the reaction can easily be stopped. Since there is no chain reaction, there is no chance of a meltdown. 13 Thorium is essentially meltdown-proof ; it is very, very safe.
4. Thorium is not fissile Fissile means thorium cannot go "critical" and generate a nuclear chain reaction. That means no matter how many thorium nuclei you pack together, they will not on their own start splitting apart and exploding. [ If you want to make thorium nuclei split apart, though, it’s easy: you simply start throwing neutrons at them. Then, when you need the reaction to stop, simply turn off the source of neutrons and the whole process shuts down; simple as pie. ]
4. The operation does not have to take place under extreme pressures. Thorium reactors operate at low pressure. This allows thorium reactors to passively shut down without any human intervention.
5. Thorium reactors produce far less waste than uranium ones. Though all nuclear reactors will produce waste products, a reactor fulled by thorium will produce far less long-lived waste products than one fueled by uranium or plutonium, with waste decaying to the same level of radioactivity as coal ashes after 500 years. Thorium is green, clean technology.
6. The waste that is generated is much less radioactive and much shorter-lived than uranium. Thorium’s radioactive wastes would be dangerous for a mere 200 years rather than the tens of thousands of years from uranium’s wastes.
7. Thorium reactors can be designed in such a way that it is not possible to extract fissile material, which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Thorium would also be the ideal solution for allowing countries like Iran or North Korea to have nuclear power without worrying whether their nuclear programs are a cover for developing weapons… a worry with which we are all too familiar at present. 14
8. Thorium reactor can be used to dispose of uranium wastes such as plutonium, without the fuel being capable of sustaining a chain reaction. A thorium reactor can burn plutonium and get rid of plutonium forever.
10. Thorium also produces more energy from the same amount of material compared to uranium. "Two hundred tonnes of uranium can give you the same amount of energy you can get from one tonne of thorium," Rubbia told the BBC News in a recent interview. One pound of thorium is energy equivalent to 3.5 million pounds of coal. 17
11. Excess heat waste from a thorium reactor can be diverted to provide the heat needed to run a desalination plant to make drinking water from ocean water; minimizing its high operating cost.
12. Thorium reactor produces no plutonium that can be made into atomic weapons compared to a uranium-based reactor.
13. Thorium reactor can be scaled down to fit the energy needs of small communities.
14. Thorium reactor needs almost no maintenance. Back to top
Building Thorium Reactor:
A working thorium power plant could be built in less than five years. The atomic bomb version was built by the USA government in less than than three years. But there was a national priority for a killer bomb! 35
There are at least seven types of reactors that can use thorium as a nuclear fuel, five of which have previously entered into operation at some point. Several were abandoned not for technical reasons but because of a lack of interest or research funding [ e.g. due to Cold War scare ]. So proven designs for thorium-based reactors exist.
Thorium reactor designs are different from uranium reactors in that uranium reactors use water as a coolant whereas thorium reactors use liquid salt. The purposes of liquid-salt for such reactors is that the amount of waste becomes pounds rather than tons per year and that the ongoing processing of the salt both removes undesirable materials that affect efficiency and useful materials that have great value -- for medical/industrial isotopes, etc..Back to top
Sources thorium deposits in USA and world
Thorium is mixed with rare earth minerals. Although rare earth elements are relatively abundant in the Earth's crust, they are rarely concentrated into isolated mineable ore deposits. The map [ right ] shows rare earth minerals and thorium areas found mostly in the western United States. 34 USA has plenty of thorium --- the big issue is refining and separating thorium from the other rare earth metals.
USA stopped developing thorium energy plants.Reasons ??
Research into the mechanization of nuclear reactions was initially driven not by the desire to make energy, but by the desire to make killer bombs. The $2-billion Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb sparked a worldwide surge in nuclear research, most of it funded by governments embroiled in the Cold War. Politicians, mostly in United States and Russia, focused on building a war bomb instead of creating a safe, non-polluting and plentiful source of energy. 51
According to Kirk Sorensen, the U.S. shut down its work on thorium-based energy production decades ago and has not invested materially in related research since then. The looming energy pollution problems today, created by Peak Oil, gas and coal raise questions about better and less costly solutions. Admiral Hyman Rickover launched a research project, the Nautilus uranium oxide enriched reactor for a nuclear submarine. A reactor of similar design was installed at the Shippingport Atomic Power. This relatively small reactor ran on thorium from 1977 until decommissioned in 1982. 32 According to Sorensen, "we are not pursuing thorium's potential today because we are choosing not to. We are too wedded to the Uranium-238 path that we've been investing in for decades. Indeed, the grants that funded the government's thorium research in the 50s and 60s were primarily focused on weapons development, not new energy for peaceful sources. Once our attention turned to nuclear energy, we simply applied the uranium-based know-how that we developed from our atomic bomb program rather than asking 'is there a better way'?" 33
Thorium-based nuclear power is still a considered a hypothesis. As former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix noted, besides the technical obstacles, there is a multi-billion-dollar uranium-based nuclear industry “backed by vested interests” that could be hampering development efforts. 39
The real reason that thorium power plants are not being developed in USA has to do with nuclear energy corporations and licensing issues. 56 "Thorium will not happen in the United States “because of the licensing issues,” Richard Martin agreed with Hans Blix. However, thorium power plants are happening in China, India, and Western Europe. “The thorium revival is inevitable. The question is whether the United States is going to be a follower or a leader."" 56 But wait .... there's more!
Richard Martin is the author of "SuperFuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the future, and he's a contributing editor for Wired and editorial director for Pike Research. He states the following: 57
"At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, there was extensive work done on - not just on thorium as a nuclear fuel but on an alternative form of reactor, as well. What was then called the molten salt reactor is now known as the liquid fuel thorium reactor. .... The experimental thorium reactor was built in 1964! This molten salt reactor experiment ran from about 1959 until 1973, when it was canceled, and the director of Oak Ridge, Alvin Weinberg, who was a great proponent of thorium and of molten salt reactors, was actually fired by the Nixon administration in 1973, partly because of Weinberg's belief that we needed an alternative form and that thorium was really a better fuel. And so they ran the molten salt reactor, started out running it on conventional uranium, transitioned to uranium-233, which as I [Martin ] mentioned is the byproduct of thorium once it's in a nuclear reactor. And it was completely proven. I've read the documents from Oak Ridge, in which they were - the officials were reporting on the results of this experiment, and it's basically Dr. Weinberg, thank you very much, your experiment has been a complete success, and now we're shutting it down."
Needless to mention, this thorium-uranium fuel issue is controversial. Arjun Makhijani, who is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, is one of many who disagree with Martin. For example, All nuclear reactor energy power plants generate toxic wastes. But liquid-fueled thorium reactors can be used to consume the existing waste from conventional reactors. Then there is the whole issue of nuclear accidents, and so on! It is a controversy fueled more by political-corporate misinformation than solid science facts. Where is the government in all of this? Back to top
The possibility of replacing uranium with thorium is 100% real. In fact, as you read this, it is being implemented all over the globe, without mass media fanfare –- in India... Japan... Norway... Russia... China... and even the United States. This is not a comprehensive list or summary.
Many countries have the technology to make thorium power plants. 19
Norway: builds first real experimental thorium power plant. 20
United States: USA has had experimental thorium power plants working for short periods of time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in California has been in the process of designing a self-contained (3 meters by 15 meters) SSTAR thorium reactor since 2004. 21 The USA has a history of stalling development of thorium reactor power plants. On August 27, 2012, Molycorp reopened the Mountain Pass Mine in California mining/refining thorium and rare earth metals. USA has the technology, knowledge, experience and ample raw thorium material to commercially build many thorium reactor power plants. 55
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories:
The lab has been in the process of designing a self-contained [ 3 meters by 15 meters ] thorium reactor since 2004. Called SSTAR (Small, Sealed, Transportable, Autonomous Reactor), this next-generation reactor will be able to produce 10 to 100 megawatts electric and can be safely transported via ship or truck and located at small communities. The first units were expected to arrive in 2015, be tamper resistant, passively failsafe and have a operative life of 30+ years. SSTAR units can be scaled to accommodate small communities. 18
Author Sorochan received an 1/21/2014 update on SSTAR from Professor Craig Smith, who formerly worked at Lawrence Livermore and who is most familiar with the progress being made in SSTAR: "I think you got it about right with 'Heapum smoke, no fire'. .... With regard to SSTAR, the reactor development activities have been put off for some years in the absence of funding support. It's essentially on hold. The 2015 target date was viable at the time it was suggested, but obviously would have required sustained funding to achieve." [ Refer to references section ] Back to top
Germany: built the THTR-300 Thorium High Temperature Reactor in 1983 but stopped using it after the Chernobyl accident. 22
China, realizing that it has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for "20,000' years, is leading the charge tp replace uranium with thorium for nuclear energy power plants. China is currently building 26 conventional reactors by 2015, with a further 51 planned, and 120 in the pipeline. They are planning to build a tiny 2 MW plant using liquid flouride fuel by the end of the decade, before scaling up to commercially viable size over the 2020s. It is also working on a pebble-back reactor. 23
China has a major R&D programme into thorium molten salt reactors underway, with the first test reactors to be completed in 2015 and a larger-scale demo ready by the end of the decade. 24 25 China has a firm commitment to develop thorium power. In early 2011, China’s Academy of Sciences launched a major research and development program on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) technology, which utilizes U233 that has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket. This molten salt blanket becomes less dense as temperatures rise, slowing the reaction down in a sort of built-in safety catch. 26 This kind of thorium reactor gets the most attention in the thorium world; China’s research program is in a race with similar though smaller programs in India, Norway, Japan, Russia, France, and the US.
India: Researchers have studied thorium-based fuel cycles for 50 years, but India leads the pack when it comes to commercialing thorium. As home to a quarter of the world’s known thorium reserves and notably lacking in uranium resources, it’s no surprise that India envisions meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.
Video India building thorium reactor:
In 2002, India’s nuclear regulatory agency issued approval to start construction of a 500-megawatts electric prototype fast breeder reactor, which should be completed in 2012. In the next decade, construction will begin on six more of these fast breeder reactors, which “breed” U233 and plutonium from thorium and uranium.
Design work is also largely complete for India’s first Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which will involve a reactor fueled primarily by thorium that has gone through a series of tests in full-scale replica. 27 The biggest holdup has been building a suitable testing plant, which will generate 300 MW of electricity; but India appears to have developed a state of the art safe nuclear testing system. 28
Russia: Implementing thorium reactor power plants seems to be on hold in Russia. Besides operating 17 uranium power plants and building 11 more, Russia is moving forward with 2 theoretical design reactor concepts, SVBR and BREST. 29 They expect the first units of these reactors to be up and running in the 2016-2020 time frame. The SVBR-100 reactor plant, a small-modular reactor, is designed to be used in the remote regions of Russia and can be used for cogeneration of electricity and process heat [ potentially serve as a power source for desalination ]. The BREST concept is expected to be designed by 2014, built before 2020 and deployed across the country in the 2030s. If successful, the small BREST-300 unit could be the first of a new wave of Russian fast reactors. 30 Back to top
List of thorium field reactors in world:
Scientisits were aware of thorium as potential source of nuclear fuel to produce electricity since the early days of building the atomic bomb. Countries that have experimented with thorium-fueled reactors, from 1966-1988, include the United States, China, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, Norway and Sweden. Those with current research, demonstration, or development plans for nuclear power plants include Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Russia and the United States. These are not new technologies but refinement of previous efforts. Besides the Shippingport, Pa., plant, an experimental molten salt reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully ran from 1964 until 1969 when Congress cut funding. In what has been called a political move, the US Atomic Energy Commission shut down all research on liquid-fluoride reactors in the mid-1970s.
The commercial-scale Fort St. Vrain [ USA ] reactor ran on thorium and high-enriched uranium fuel from 1976-1989. Thorium utilization in different experimental and power reactors is summarized in the references section in Table 1. 31
The decision to use uranium instead of thorium was a tragic mistake at the end of the second world war. 36
As of November 2011, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power. 37
World opinion about using thorium as fuel to replace uranium in reactor power plants is gaining momentum. 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 World opinion for thorium is strongly supported by anti-nuclear people groups in United States 45 , Japan, Germany and the world.
Using thorium to replace uranium as fuel has immense competitive advantages [ it’s cheaper, safer, cleaner, more powerful than uranium and USA has a large operating thorium mine ] 46
Adjacent to the Mountain Pass Mine in California is a cache storage, ready supply of thorium .... ready to be used as reactor fuel to supply all of United States. This reserve cache supply would replace all current coal, gas, oil, and uranium that we use to supply steam to generate electricity for five years. 47 Obviously, USA utilities and the federal government are not short of thorium!
Separating thorium from rare earths has been a continuing problem [ funding, political will ] and thorium processing companies are currently attempting to resolve such issues.
"No country in the world has solved the problem of how to dispose of high-level radioactive waste. Even the most optimistic advanced uranium reactor designs will continue adding to the lethal mountain of waste already produced. Nuclear uranium energy is not our best bet to reduce global warming emissions. For 33 years, no one has ordered or built a nuclear plant, for very good economic reasons. Now [ 2009 ] Congress and the nuclear industry are distorting the market with new subsidies. They're pushing a technology with serious health, safety and economic risks, and in doing so diverting research dollars away from better alternatives." 48
Although United States has deliberately suppressed implementation of thorium reactors, other countries are exploring ways to replace uranium with thorium. The energy utilities and governments have no choice but face reality .... that thorium is a better power plant reactor fuel than uranium. We need political will, mass media to tell truth and common sense to deal with our energy crises and climate changes.
Although replacing uranium with thorium fuel in power plant reactors in United States may still at least 5 to 10 years away, USA and other countries have had experimental thorium reactor power plants working for 4 or more years since 1960. Hargraves: Thorium reactors 2010 pd Back to top
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1 Reinhardt Peter, "Thorium," December, 2012. Reinhardt: Thorium 2012
2 Director General, "Nuclear Technology Review 2013," IAEA [International Atomic Energy Commission], General Conference [ GC(57)/INF/2], July 22, 2013. IAEA: Nuclear conference 2013 Table A-1. Nuclear power reactors in operation and under construction in the world (as of 31 December 2012) .
3 Mountain Pass Mine History: San Bernardino County Sentinel 2014
4 Director General, "Nuclear Technology Review 2013," IAEA [International Atomic Energy Commission], General Conference [ GC(57)/INF/2], July 22, 2013. IAEA: Nuclear conference 2013 Table A-1. Nuclear power reactors in operation and under construction in the world (as of 31 December 2012) .
5 Cadden Laura, "Centuries of Clean Energy: Buried Deep Within the Desert," The oxford Club, July 2013. Oxford Club 2013
6 Bowersox Paul, "Irène Joliot-Curie and the Alchemists’ Dream," ANS Nuclear Cafe, September 30, 2011. Bowersox Alchemy
7, 8 Katusa Marin, "Why not thorium?" Casey Research, February 14, 2012. Katusa: thorium not uranium 2012
9 Galbraith Kate, "A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste," New York Times, November 27, 2011. Galbraith: storing nukes 2011
10 World Nuclear Association, "Thorium," Updated November 16. 2013. WNA: thorium update 2013
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25 Worthington Bryony, "Post-Fukushima world must embrace thorium, not ditch nuclear," The Manchester Guardian Uk, March 09, 2012. Worthington: thorium activity internationally 2012 The man whose inventions led to nuclear power proliferation knew thorium was preferable to uranium.
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50 Galbraith Kate, "A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste," New York Times, November 27, 2011. Galbraith: storing nukes 201151 Grigg Ray, "Thorium, a safer, cheaper alternative for nuclear power," NewScientist, May 26, 2012 [TroyMedia, August 8, 2013.] Grigg: uranium a tragic mistake 2013
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September 15, 2011. MacPherson: decommissioning nuclear reactors 2011
52 MacPherson Christina, "The eternal cost of dealing with dead, but radioactive, nuclear reactors," Nuclear News, September 15, 2011. MacPherson: decommissioning nuclear reactors 2011
53 Hargraves Robert and Ralph Moir, "Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors - An old idea in nuclear power gets reexamined," American Scientist Reprint, July-August, 2010. Hargraves: Thorium reactors 2010 pdf
54 Thorium engine power plant cost: Thorium engine power plant cost
55 Sorensen Kirk,"OSU Nucleat Power Forum," Energy From Thorium Foundation, 2012 Sorensen: 2012 Energy from thorium "Sorensen has quietly launched his own thorium reactor company, called Flibe Energy Inc, in Huntsville, Ala., firstname.lastname@example.org 256-277-3542; 4951 Century St., Huntsville, Alabama, USA 35816 He aims to have liquid thorium reactors operating within 5 to 8 years." Flibe Energy
56 Trabish Herman K., "Thorium Reactors: Nuclear Redemption or Nuclear Hazard?" GreenTechMedia, December 8, 2013. Trabish: licensing issues impede thorium USA 2013
57 Flatow Ira, "Is Thorium A Magic Bullet For Our Energy Problems?" NPR, May 04, 2012. Flatow: controversy 2012
Additional Supporting References:
Beissmann Tim, "The thorium-powered car: Eight grams, one million miles," Car Advice, August 16, 2011. Beissmann: thorium driven car 2011
Chater James, "A history of nuclear power," Focus on Nuclear Power Generation, 2005. Chater: history nuclear power
Clark Duncan, "Thorium nuclear power," The Manchester Guardian. July 12, 2009. Clark: Thorium nuclear power
Table A-1. Nuclear power reactors in operation and under construction in the world (as of 31 December 2012) . IAEA: Nuclear conference 2013
"Fifteen Member States are considering building or are planning new research reactors. Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia are in the early stages of planning to build a research reactor. In Jordan, construction has begun on a 5 MW multipurpose research reactor, while in Vietnam there are plans to build a new research reactor as part of an overarching commercial contract for a nuclear power plant. Countries with existing nuclear power programmes, such as Argentina, Brazil, France, India, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and South Africa, are also building or planning new research reactors for specific experimental and commercial purposes."
Dunlavey Joseph and Christopher Plummer, "Liquid-Flouride Thorium Reactor," Summer.2011. Dunlavey: Thorium Reactor 2011
Fissile: Unlike natural uranium, natural thorium contains only trace amounts of fissile material (such as 231 Th), which are insufficient to initiate a nuclear chain reaction. Fissile means it cannot go "critical" and generate a nuclear chain reaction. Thorium fuel cycle
Hagadone Zach, "Rare Find: Rare Earth Elements Could Be Idaho's Next Cash Crop," Boise Weekly, August 17, 2011. Hagadone: Rare earth explorations USA 2011Halper Mark, "U.S. Dept. of Energy grants $226 million to small reactor startup NuScale," Weinberg Foundation, December 13th, 2013. Hapler: small mobile reactor NuScale 2013 "NuScale design calls for a scaled-down conventional reactor, fueled by solid uranium, cooled by ordinary water and operated in a pressurized environment. "
India developing thorium reactor: "Thorium: Green Friendly Nuclear Power." March 06, 2011. India makes thorium energy plant 2011
LeBlanca David, "Molten salt reactors: A new beginning for an old idea," Elsevier Nuclear Engineering and Design 240, 2010, 1644–1656 LeBlanca: Molten salt reactors 2010
List of thorium-fueled reactors [ From IAEA TECDOC-1450 "Thorium Fuel Cycle - Potential Benefits and Challenges", Table 1: Thorium utilization in different experimental and power reactors. ] Wiki: Thorium fuel cycle
Mountain Pass Mine History: The original the Mountain Pass Mine, 1952, was bought by Molybdenum Corporation of America, then changed its name to Molycorp in 1974 and was acquired by Union Oil in 1977. Molycorp had its Mountain Pass Mine closed for over 10 years, due to its waste radiation water polluting the underground desert areas and cheaper rare earth mineral sources from China. After Unocal in 2004 obtained a new operating permit for the mine, it was acquired the following year by the Chevron Corporation. In 2008, Chevron sold the Mountain Pass Mine to privately held Molycorp Minerals LLC, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company formed to revive the Mountain Pass mine. On August 27, 2012, Molycorp initiated Project Phoenix at the Mountain Pass Mine, a production run that is facilitated by the addition of an on-site combined heat and power plant, which is now providing low-cost, high-efficiency electrical power and steam for the company’s extraction of heavy rare earth concentrate ore which is then processed into high-purity, custom-engineered rare earth products at Molycorp’s production facilities. Within short order it is anticipated that the mine will be the major source of the world’s rare metals: [ thorium is a product of rrefining rare metals ], bastnäsite, calcite, barite, dolomite, Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium and Europium. Mine info: San Bernardino County Sentinel 2014
Pentland William, "Is Thorium the Biggest Energy Breakthrough Since Fire? Possibly," Forbes, September 11, 2011. Pentland: Thorium energy breakthru' 2011
Rennie Gabriele, "Nuclear Energy to Go A Self-Contained, Portable Reactor," Science technology, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, S&TR, July/August 2004. Lawrence Livermore Lab Portable reactor 2004 "The Small, Sealed, Transportable, Autonomous Reactor (SSTAR) is a fast breeder reactor concept that is passively safe, has helium as coolant in one version, and is tamper-resistant."
Smith Craig, formerly of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (“LLNL”) and currently a Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, one of the nation’s foremost experts on SSTAR, reported on November 08, 2011, the following: "STAR was “on hold” and LLNL was focused on ‘keeping abreast of international efforts relative to SSTAR”. Apparently, the Russians, the English, and the EU are funding similar technology. To his knowledge, there was no funding in the 2012 DOE Budget for the design or prototyping of SSTAR." According to Dr. Smith, a prototype of SSTAR could be produced in a relatively short time frame – perhaps as short as five years – at a cost of less that $500 million – the approximate size of the loan to Solyndra or about $100 million per year – or 0.3% of DOE’s research and development budget.
Reinhardt Peter, "Thorium," December, 2012. Reinhardt: Thorium 2012
Smith Craig, a nuclear engineer Professor at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California; previously worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The information below is an e-maail response from Dr. Craig Smith:
"I think you got it about right with 'Heapum smoke, no fire'. As far as I know, little is being done with regard to thorium as an alternative fuel cycle. (Note that thorium is not really a fuel, but the thorium cycle relies on the breeding of uranium-233 to sustain fission in a reactor). I'm not aware of any major effort supported by the US government in this area. Note that India has long pursued the thorium fuel cycle. There may also be some activity in China. With regard to SSTAR, the reactor development activities have been put off for some years in the absence of funding support. It's essentially on hold. The 2015 target date was viable at the time it was suggested, but obviously would have required sustained funding to achieve. In the mean time, other countries have moved forward with their concepts for advanced lead-cooled reactors. For example, the Russians are moving forward with 2 design concepts, SVBR and BREST. They expect the first units of these reactors to be up and running in the 2016-2020 time frame. The European Community and China are also pursuing their designs. I don't know about the Mountain Pass Mine."
Sorensen Kirk, "Thorium," Ted U-tube, April 22, 2011. Sorensen: thorium Ted Utube
Kirk Sorensen is founder of Flibe Energy and is an advocate for nuclear energy based on thorium and liquid-fluoride fuels. For five years he has authored the blog "Energy from Thorium" and helped grow an online community of thousands who support a renewed effort to develop thorium as an energy source. He is a 1999 graduate of Georgia Tech in aerospace engineering and is also a graduate student in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee. He has spoken publicly on thorium at the Manchester International Forum in 2009, at NASA's Green Energy Forum in 2008, and in several TechTalks at Google. He has been featured in Wired magazine, Machine Design magazine, the Economist, the UK Guardian and Telegraph newspapers, and on Russia Today. He also taught nuclear engineering at Tennessee Technological University as a guest lecturer. He is active in nonprofit advocacy organizations such as the Thorium Energy Alliance and the International Thorium Energy Organization. He is married and has four small children.
Uranium-235 is fissile, which means that if a neutron comes near it, an atom of u-235 will split in two, releasing a bunch of energy and two additional neutrons. If you have more u-235 nearby, those two neutrons will create a nuclear chain-reaction and tada! you have runaway nuclear reaction… sometimes escalating to a nuclear meltdown or explosion depending on the situation.
Wikipedia, "Anti-nuclear movement in the United States." Wiki: Anti-nuclear movement USA
"There is little support across the world for building new nuclear reactors, a 2011 poll for the BBC indicates.
Wikipedia, "Molten Salt Reactor." Wiki: MSR
Wikipedia, "Nuclear power in the United States," 2011. Wiki: Nuclear power USA 2011
Wikipedia, Thorium. Wiki: Thorium
Wikipedia, "Thorium fuel cycle." Wiki: thorium fuel cycle
World Nuclear Association, "Outline History of Nuclear Energy," June 2010. World Nuclear Assoc: history
World Nuclear Association, "Small Nuclear Power Reactors," December 17, 2013. World Nuclear Association: small reactors 2013
"The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines 'small' as under 300 MWe, and up to about 700 MWe as 'medium' – including many operational units from 20th century. Together they are now referred to by IAEA as small and medium reactors (SMRs). However, 'SMR' is used more commonly as acronym for Small Modular Reactors. There is a move to develop smaller modular units." The US government is supposedly subsidizing the development of SSTRA reactors.