Thorium - the alternative to nuclear uranium energy 
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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Introduction: 

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 easily extractable [ thorium ] reserves in the United States [10% of the world’s] could supposedly power the entire United States at current energy levels for the next 10,000 years."  1

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 arrowup

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 arrowup

 Update January 15, 2014: 

thorium mine  “The end of energy crisis on Earth for the rest of human history.”   2 

The United States [ Molycrop company ] is sitting on an estimated 430,000 tons of it in the Mojave desert in California; the world's largest 'working' deposit of thorium and the only operating thorium and rare earth metals mine in United States.  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.

On August 27, 2012, Molycorp reopened the Mountain Pass Mine, built 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.  Within short order it is anticipated that the mine will be the major source of the world’s rare metals:  Bastnäsite, Calcite, Barite, Dolomite, Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium and Europium.  3  Thorium is found in the mix of other rare earth minerals.  Is the sudden Mountain Pass Mine activity an indication of things to come? 

Replacing uranium with thorium is 100% real. In fact, as you read this, it is being implemented all over the globe – in India... Japan... Norway... Russia... China... and even the United States.

Immense competitive advantage [ it’s cheaper, safer, cleaner, more powerful than uranium and USA has a large thorium mine ].

As of December 31, 2012, there were 437 nuclear power reactors in operation worldwide. 4    5  Back to top arrowup

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

nucplant anim

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 arrowup

 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:

Fission is an heat reaction which releases large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy.

atom00The 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 arrowup

 How nuclear energy works 

 Transmutation 

Rocks and minerals do not stay the same forever.  It may seem so but rock formations change with time!  This change is referred to as Transmutation

"Transmutation is a form of fission that occurs in nature in a slow manner when nature slowly decomposes and changes a rock or element into a new form.  Rock change happens in nature, and uranium can be found in many forms.  In every sample of uranium ore, one finds radium -- but radium is, in a certain sense, just a transformation of uranium. Speaking loosely, one could say that it is a disguised form of uranium. It is just one of the many elements in the chain of decay. Similarly with polonium. Similarly with radon gas. These are all just different manifestations of uranium, so to speak, resulting from radioactive decay." 6

And similarly with the fallout from atomic bombs and nuclear power plants; all those radioactive materials which are released by nuclear explosions -- such as iodine-131, strontium-90, cesium-137, krypton-85, and all the rest -- they are all broken bits of uranium atoms. They are additional disguises for uranium, resulting from nuclear fission.

Scientists can also use a machine, like nuclear reactor, to bombard a nucleus, causing it to transform or change, as in split of a neutron [ or fission ] and thereby create a new form of nucleotide.  Scientists can force a stable nucleus to become excited or unstable so that it can lose or gain energy. It’s done by nuclear reaction.  This is fission – which is the process whereby the nucleus splits and releases tremendous amounts of energy.

Artificial nuclear transmutation [ the big bang ] may take place in machines like particle accelerator, tokamak or stellarator. They can generate enough energy to make transmutation. Hence nuclear fission. 

The diagram below is a simplified version of uranium fission.

Uranium fission chain reaction
Fission chain  

With each step of the reaction [ above ], the splitting of uranium [ or thorium ] creates new substances and a release of a lot of "Super Hot thermonuclear" energy.  U235 splits in half, creating new forms of toxic radiation substances Cs140, Rb92, , Uranium-238, many new fast neutrons and lots of energy.  The fast neutrons can start another chain reaction by continuing to bombard uranium 238, splitting it and releasing plutonium-239 and still more hot energy. This chain reaction can continue indefinitely unless it is stopped.  NOTE: Thorium reactor does not produce plutonium. Long term radioactive waste is less than 1% of that of a classic reactor. Back to top arrowup

 The Uranium Reactor  7

"The typical nuclear-fuel cycle starts with refined uranium ore, which is mostly U238 but contains 3% to 5% U235. Most naturally occurring uranium is U238, but this common isotope does not undergo fission – which is the process whereby the nucleus splits and releases tremendous amounts of energy. By contrast, the less-prevalent U235 is fissile. As such, to make reactor fuel we have to expend considerable energy enriching yellowcake, to boost its proportion of U235.

Once in the reactor, U235 starts splitting and releasing high-energy neutrons. The U238 does not just sit idly by, however; it transmutes into other fissile elements. When an atom of U238 absorbs a neutron, it transmutes into short-lived U239,  which rapidly decays into neptunium-239 and then into plutonium-239, a weaponizable byproduct.

When the 235 content burns down to 0.3%, the fuel is spent, but it contains some very radioactive isotopes of americium, technetium, and iodine, as well as plutonium. This waste fuel is highly radioactive and has half-lives of many thousands of years. As such, the waste has to be housed for up to 10,000 years, cloistered from the environment and away from anyone who might want to get at the plutonium for nefarious reasons.

"When a radioactive atom explodes, that atom is changed permanently into a new substance. And radium turns out to be one of the results of exploding uranium atoms. So wherever you find uranium on the earth, you will always find radium with it because it is one of about a dozen so-called "decay products" of uranium.

To be more precise, when uranium disintegrates it turns into a substance called protactinium, which is also radioactive. And when that disintegrates it turns into a substance named thorium, which is likewise radioactive. When thorium disintegrates it turns into radium; when radium disintegrates it turns into radon gas. And when radon gas atoms disintegrate, they turn into what are called the "radon daughters", or "radon progeny", of which there are about half a dozen radioactive materials, including polonium.

Finally, in this progression, you end up with a stable substance, which in itself is highly toxic lead. But because the radioactivity of the other materials is so much more dangerous than this toxic heavy metal, people don't even talk about the lead at the end of the chain. They think that once all the radioactivity is gone, what's left is perfectly safe. It isn't -- but the lead that remains is just a whole lot less dangerous than the radioactive materials that produced it." 8

The two key points for a traditional uranium reactor are (a) only a tiny percentage of the uranium fuel is actually used and (b) the actinide waste is by far the most annoying part of the waste stream.  Back to top arrowup

The hot nuclear energy can be used to turn water into steam, in turn, the hot steam produced can be harnessed to spin turbines for the generation of electricity.  This is the same process used when we use coal to provide a heat source. 

The toxic problem with uranium wastes:  nuclar waste storage

Three wastes are associated with uranium:
1. mining wastes [ digging it out of the ground ]
2. processing/enriching waste [ depleted uranium ]
3. used fuel rods removed from reactor core [ 3% used ]

R. Andreas Kraemer, the director of the nonprofit Ecologic Institute in Berlin stated in 2009: “For the time being, however, much radioactive waste remains on the sites of nuclear power plants, which have not been designed for the purpose.” 9    

Storing radioactive wastes is a major problem with existing nuclear reactors.  This remains a haunting unsolved problem, that endangers local communities and makes uranium reactor power plants a menacing threat!  Many existing power plants in United States contain stored nuclear wastes in barrels on site, others their gaseous radioactive wastes in the domes that are of questionable safety, witness Fukushima. The storage issue has been ignored and overlooked by governments and nuclear corporations running nuclear power plants!  49   50   51   52

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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: 


Sorensen: thorium Ted Utube
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 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 arrowup

Why we need thorium power plant 

 
Source: Kirk Sorensen - Thorium 10mns     Back to top arrowup

 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 arrowup

 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 arrowup

 Thorium Advantages 

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.

9. Thorium is less expensive than other energy options: 15   54 

 
Cost effective: Thorium-powered nuclear will be much cheaper than uranium or fossil fuels. The cost to produce five gigawatts of energy with fuel oil – that’s enough to power New York City for a year – is around $7.5 billion. With thorium, the cost would be around $250,000. That’s less than what you’d pay for a single-bedroom home on the Upper East Side – to power all of New York City for a full year!   16

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 arrowup  

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 arrowup

Sources thorium deposits in USA and world

Estimated world thorium resources
Country Tonnes
India 846,000
Turkey 744,000
Brazil 606,000
Australia 521,000
USA 434,000
Egypt 380,000
Norway 320,000
Venezuela 300,000
Canada 172,000
Russia 155,000
South Africa 148,000
China 100,000
Greenland 86,000
Finland 60,000
Sweden 50,000
Kazakhstan 50,000
Other countries 413,000
World total 5,385,000  

mansonite sites USA 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. 

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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 arrowup

  World Thorium Leaders 

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

thorium mineUnited 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 arrowup

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:

Merchant: India building thorium reactor 2013

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 arrowup

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  

This information is important validation that United States and the world have known for a long time how to build a safe and working thorium reactor plant to generate reasonably clean electricity.  The technology for several types of thorium reactors is proven although some nuclear engineers claim that we still need more research and development on a commercial scale. But China and India are not waiting for more proof that thorium reactors are safer and better than uranium ones.   
Back to top arrowup

 Conclusion:

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 , JapanGermany 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 arrowup

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References:

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

 11, 12   Wikipedia, Thorium. Wiki: Thorium

13  Fulp Mickey, "The Future of Thorium as Nuclear Fuel," Resource Investor, June 29, 2011.   Fulp: Thorium as energy fuel

14  Katusa Marin, "Why not thorium?" Casey Research, February 14, 2012.   Katusa: thorium not uranium 2012

15, 16  Cadden Laura, "Centuries of Clean Energy: Buried Deep Within the Desert," The oxford Club, July 2013.   Oxford Club 2013 

17  Rubbia Carlo, "Sub-critical Thorium reactors," CERN, Geneva, Switzerland.  Rubbia: Thorium slice_pdf info

18  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

19  Wikipedia, "Thorium fuel cycle."  Wiki: thorium fuel cycle

20  Anthony Sebastian, "Thorium nuclear reactor trial begins, could provide cleaner, safer, almost-waste-free energy," Extreme Tech, July 1, 2013   Anthony Norway harneses thorium 2013

21  India developing thorium reactor: "Thorium: Green Friendly Nuclear Power."  March 06, 2011.   India makes thorium energy plant 2011

22  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.

23, 24  Evans-Pritchard Ambrose, "China blazes trail for 'clean' nuclear power from thorium," The telegraph, January 27, 2014.   Evans: China focuses on thorium 2014

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.

26,  27   Katusa Marin, "Why not thorium?" Casey Research, February 14, 2012.   Katusa: thorium not uranium 2012

28  World Nuclear Association, "Thorium," Updated, November 16. 2013.   WNA: thorium update 2013

29,  30    Director General, "Nuclear Technology Review 2013," IAEA [International Atomic Energy Commission], General Conference [ GC(57)/INF/2], July 22, 2013.   IAEA: Nuclear conference 2013

31  Wikipedia, "Thorium fuel cycle."  Wiki: thorium fuel cycle

32  Fulp Mickey, "The Future of Thorium as Nuclear Fuel," Resource Investor, June 29, 2011.   Fulp: Thorium as energy fuel

33  Taggart Adam, "Kirk Sorensen: A Detailed Exploration of Thorium's Potential as an Energy Source," Chris Martensom's PeakProsperty, August 4, 2012.  Taggart: thorium obstacles 2012  

34  Long Keith R., Bradley S. Van Gosen, Nora K. Foley, and Daniel Cordier, "The Geology of Rare Earth Elements," Geology.com; Republished from: The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States, USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5220. Long: rare earth deposits USA 

35  Thorium Energy Alliance [TEA]. "TEA resources." 2014.  Thorium Energy Alliance:  Information 2014

36  Grigg Ray, "Thorium, a safer, cheaper alternative for nuclear power," NewScientist, May 26, 2012 [ TroyMedia, August 8, 2013.]   Grigg: uranium a tragic mistake 2013

37  Wikipedia, "Nuclear power phase-out."   Wiki: nuke power  phase-out 

38  Energy from Thorium, "Global New Energy Summit 2012."   Global New Energy Summit 2012

39  Halper Mark, "Hans Blix: Shift to thorium, minimize weapons risk," Weinberg Foundation, October 29th, 2013.   Halper: world shift to thorium 2013

40  lwatson, "Thorium fuels and 4th Generation reactors could provide Iran’s nuclear energy with a lesser proliferation risk," Weinberg Foundation, December 5th, 2013.   lwatson: thorium reactor for Iran 2013

41  Merchant Brian, "India Is About to Start Building Its Thorium-Fueled Nuclear Power Plant," Motherboard, 2013.   Merchant: India building thorium reactor 2013

42  Sorensen Kirk, "Thinking Nuclear? Think Thorium," [ Thorium, a Readily Available and Slightly Radioactive Mineral, Could Provide the World with Safer, Clean Energy ] Machine Design, March 16, 2010.   Sorensen: thorium machine design

43  Westenhaus Brian, "One Step Closer to a Thorium Fueled Power Plant," New Energy and Fuel, May 3, 2010.   Westenhaus: Norway-Sweden activity 2010  

44  Worthington Bryony, "Post-Fukushima world must embrace thorium, not ditch nuclear," The Manchester Guardian Uk, March 09,  2012.   Worthington: thorium activity internationally 201

45  Wikipedia, "Anti-nuclear movement in the United States."   Wiki: Anti-nuclear movement USA

46,  47  Cadden Laura, "Centuries of Clean Energy: Buried Deep Within the Desert," The oxford Club, July 2013.   Oxford Club 2013 

48  Hutchinson Alex, "The Next Atomic Age: Can Safe Nuclear Power Work for America?" Popular Mechanics, December 18, 2009.   Hutchinson: nuclear energy options 200

49  Edwards Gordon, "URANIUM: Known Facts and Hidden Dangers," address at the World Uranium Hearings Salzburg, Austria, September 14, 1992.  "Nuclear power is not a viable answer to our energy problems. We don't even need it for electricity. All you need for conventional electricity generation is to spin a wheel, and there's many ways of doing it: water power, wind power, geothermal power, etc."   Edwards: uranium dangers 1992

50  Galbraith Kate, "A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste," New York Times, November 27, 2011. Galbraith: storing nukes 2011  

51  Grigg Ray, "Thorium, a safer, cheaper alternative for nuclear power," NewScientist, May 26, 2012 [TroyMedia, August 8, 2013.]   Grigg: uranium a tragic mistake 2013

52  MacPherson Christina, "The eternal cost of dealing with dead, but radioactive, nuclear reactors," Nuclear News, September 15, 2011.   MacPherson: decommissioning nuclear reactors 2011

"There are more than 400 nuclear reactors operating in various countries. A nuclear power station has 35-40 years of operating life. After that it must be dismantled and the area must be cleaned up (the decommissioning process). But so far, no nuclear power station has been completely decommissioned in the world. It has been estimated that decommissioning could last about 50 years and it would cost more than the construction cost."

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., flibeenergy@gmail.com  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


"Radioactive decay of atoms of the naturally-occurring, but slightly unstable element Thorium-232 (90 protons + 142 neutrons) spontaneously emitting an alpha particle (2 protons + 2 neutrons) to transform into an atom of Radium-228 (88 protons + 140 neutrons). No alchemy was required! In fact, it was later discovered that naturally-occurring, long-lived, heavy radioactive elements such as Thorium-232, Uranium-235, and Uranium-238 spontaneously transmute to many other unstable elements, on a pathway ending in stable, non-radioactive isotopes of the element Lead."   Bowersox Alchemy

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 2011

Halper 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. "

 History of Thorium as energy source:   [ condensed ]

The idea of a liquid-fuel thorium nuclear reactor is not new.  Enrico Fermi, creator in 1942 of the first nuclear reactor in a pile of graphite and uranium blocks at the University of Chicago, started up the world’s first liquid-fuel reactor two years later in 1944, using uranium sulfate fuel dissolved in water. Hargraves: Thorium reactors 2010 pdf  

At the very beginning of nuclear power, thorium and uranium had long been known as potential sources of nuclear fuel to produce electricity.  Having two choices of fuel and numerous types of reactors was a difficult choice for scientists in those days.  Most of the early research on nuclear power was done in Germany, USSR, France, United Kingdom, Canada and United States. After the war, research continued mainly in United States and USSR. 

Scientists working on the Manhatten project in 1942 to build an atomic bomb had to choose which reactor possibilities to pursue, which to ignore.  A team of scientists led by Robert Oppenheimer built and tested the first nuclear bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA.

After the atomic bomb was made and dropped on Japan, scientists turned to harnessing a nuclear reactor for peaceful electric energy purposes.

Two military developments with important implications for power generation were the nuclear submarine and the nuclear-power aircraft carrier. Both of these used the Pressure Water Reactor or PWR, which was to become the most widely used reactor type in civil nuclear power.  Chater: history nuclear power 

The first nuclear reactor to produce a small amount of electricity was the small Experimental Breeder reactor (EBR-1) in Idaho, in the USA, which started up in December 1951. In 1953 President Eisenhower proposed his "Atoms for Peace" program, which reoriented significant research effort toward electricity generation and set the course for civil nuclear energy development in the USA  World Nuclear Assoc: history

Among the many choices made, perhaps the most important choice for the future trajectory of nuclear power was decided by Admiral Hyman Rickover, the strong-willed Director of Naval Reactors. He decided that the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, would be powered by solid uranium oxide enriched in uranium-235, using water as coolant and moderator. The Nautilus took to sea successfully in 1955. Building on the momentum of research and spending for the Nautilus reactor, 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.  Fulp: Thorium as energy fuel

In 1952, in response to a radical scheme to develop a reactor-powered aircraft, a revolutionary reactor was built using a liquid fuel. This led to the Molten Salt Reactor(MSR), which was designed and built and operated for five years. Capable of burning any nuclear fuel, the MSR forms the fissile energy producing part of the LFTR [ shown in the diagram below in yellow ].   Fissile means it cannot go "critical" and generate a nuclear chain reaction. 

LFTR engine

From June 1965 until 1969, the boys at Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL] in Tennessee played with an experimental Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), that was designed to operate on the thorium fuel cycle.  In place of the familiar fuel rods of modern nuclear plants, the MSRE used liquid fuel—hot fluoride salt containing dissolved fissile material in a solution roughly the viscosity of water at operating temperature. The MSRE ran successfully for five years, opening a new window on nuclear technology.  In what has been called a political move, the US Atomic Energy Commission, during President Nixon's watch, shut down all research on liquid-fluoride reactors in 1976s.

The commercial-scale Fort St. Vrain reactor ran on thorium and high-enriched uranium fuel from 1976-1989.

Current domestic thorium-based reactor research is being carried out by US-based Lightbridge Corp., formerly Thorium Power. Lightbridge is collaborating with French and Russian private and government interests to develop commercial thorium-fueled reactors. Canada has signed agreements with three Chinese entities to demonstrate and develop the use of thorium fuel in their CanDU [ Canada Deuterium-Uranium ] reactors.

Thorium can be used in most advanced nuclear fuel cycle systems including the newest Generation IV reactors. Because of its abundant resources of thorium and domestic lack of uranium, India has been the only country with a sustained effort to use thorium in large scale nuclear power generation. India's 20-year goal is to generate 75% of nuclear power from thorium. Used fuel will be reprocessed to recover fissile material for recycling. 

India developing thorium reactor: "Thorium: Green Friendly Nuclear Power."  March 06, 2011.   India makes thorium energy plant 2011

Department of Atomic Energy India has unveiled the design of two reactors AHWR and AHWR-LEU, both in the mid size (300 MWE) range. Currently India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium.  India is also developing a 300 MW thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which should be fully operational in 2011. 

The AHWR is mainly a thorium-fueled reactor meant for internal use, not for export. It represents a stage 3 reactor i.e. it uses as input the U 233 output produced from Th 232 (stage 2 fast breeders) and should be situated in relative geographic proximity of the Stage 2 Fast Breeders. It has been designed, developed, validated and currently in production with a target of 2012.

The basic design of the AHWR-LEU was revealed domestically in 2008 and to the international community at Vienna in Sept 2009. It runs on a unique 20:80 fuel mix that combines the features of all three stages i.e. low enriched Uranium (stage 1), in-situ conversion of Th to U (it breeds U 233 from Th, a stage 2 process. Howver, because this is a once-through process, some have labeled it a “passive breeder” reactor) and also uses the Th converted U as fuel (stage 3). The AHWR-LEU promises a host of safety, waste management and anti-proliferation features, a design life of 100 years with “plug and play” convenience. This is the reactor meant for export and it is said to be in “development and validation” phase at the BARC with a hard stop of 2020 for achieving complete commercial viability.

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

Name Country Type Power Fuel Operation period
AVR Germany HTGR, Experimental (Pebble bed reactor) 015000 15 MW(e) Th+235
U
Driver Fuel, Coated fuel particles, Oxide & dicarbides
1967–1988
THTR-300 Germany HTGR, Power (Pebble Type) 300000 300 MW(e) Th+235
U
, Driver Fuel, Coated fuel particles, Oxide & dicarbides
1985–1989
Lingen Germany BWR Irradiation-testing 060000 60 MW(e) Test Fuel (Th,Pu)O2 pellets 1968-1973
Dragon (OECD-Euratom) UK (also Sweden, Norway & Switzerland) HTGR, Experimental (Pin-in-Block Design) 020000 20 MWt Th+235
U
Driver Fuel, Coated fuel particles, Oxide & Dicarbides
1966–1973
Peach Bottom USA HTGR, Experimental (Prismatic Block) 040000 40 MW(e) Th+235
U
Driver Fuel, Coated fuel particles, Oxide & dicarbides
1966–1972
Fort St Vrain USA HTGR, Power (Prismatic Block) 330000 330 MW(e) Th+235
U
Driver Fuel, Coated fuel particles, Dicarbide
1976–1989
MSRE ORNL USA MSBR 007500 7.5 MWt 233
U
Molten Fluorides
1964–1969
BORAX-IV & Elk River Station USA BWR (Pin Assemblies) 002400 2.4 MW(e); 24 MW(e) Th+235U Driver Fuel Oxide Pellets 1963 - 1968
Shippingport USA LWBR PWR, (Pin Assemblies) 100000 100 MW(e) Th+233
U
Driver Fuel, Oxide Pellets
1977–1982
Indian Point 1 USA LWBR PWR, (Pin Assemblies) 285000 285 MW(e) Th+233
U
Driver Fuel, Oxide Pellets
1962–1980
SUSPOP/KSTR KEMA Netherlands Aqueous Homogenous Suspension (Pin Assemblies) 001000 1 MWt Th+HEU, Oxide Pellets 1974–1977
NRX & NRU Canada MTR (Pin Assemblies) 020000 20MW; 200MW (see) Th+235
U
, Test Fuel
1947 (NRX) + 1957 (NRU); Irradiation–testing of few fuel elements
CIRUS; DHRUVA; & KAMINI India MTR Thermal 040000 40 MWt; 100 MWt; 30 kWt (low power, research) Al+233
U
Driver Fuel, ‘J’ rod of Th & ThO2, ‘J’ rod of ThO2
1960-2010 (CIRUS); others in operation
KAPS 1 &2; KGS 1 & 2; RAPS 2, 3 & 4 India PHWR, (Pin Assemblies) 220000 220 MW(e) ThO2 Pellets (For neutron flux flattening of initial core after start-up) 1980 (RAPS 2) +; continuing in all new PHWRs
FBTR India LMFBR, (Pin Assemblies) 040000 40 MWt ThO2 blanket 1985; in operation

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  

Power Plants Around the World Photo Gallery  

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

"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.

But uranium-238 isn’t quite so excitable. u-238 is fissionable but not fissile, which means that you have to really slam a neutron into u-238 to split it apart. u-238 also releases a bunch of energy and a two neutrons, but those neutrons aren’t energetic enough to keep the reaction going. So, long story short: you need concentrated uranium-235 to keep the energy flowing in a reactor. Too much uranium-238 and your reactor will just cool down and stop.

And this is where nature gets us vexed. Naturally occurring uranium is 99.3% u-238 (not fissile) and 0.7% u-235 (fissile, very useful). In order to run a reactor, you need at least 3-5% u-235 and to make weapons you need 95% u-235. Separating u-235 and u-238 isotopes is enormously expensive, because they’re so subtly different. Large numbers of expensive, high-speed centrifuges or gas diffusion systems must be used to separate and remove uranium-238 (which is ever-so-slightly heavier) from the mixture. During this process, the uranium oxide is converted to uranium hexafluoride, and large amounts of u-238 hexafluoride (Depleted uranium) are produced. Depleted uranium is widely used in ammunition, armor, etc. but we have another 700,000 tons stockpiled and unused. So preparing thorium is significantly easier and cheaper than preparing uranium, because you completely avoid the isotope separation step. "

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.  

Thorium engine power plant cost:  Thorium engine power plant cost  Hargraves: Aim hi powerpoint

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.

In the United States, a 2007 University of Maryland survey showed that 73 percent of the public surveyed favours the elimination of all nuclear weapons, 64 percent support removing all nuclear weapons from high alert, and 59 percent support reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles to 400 weapons each. Given the unpopularity of nuclear weapons, U.S. politicians have been wary of supporting new nuclear programs. Republican-dominated congresses "have defeated the Bush administration's plan to build so-called 'bunker-busters' and 'mini-nukes'.
Thirty-one countries operate nuclear power plants. Nine nations possess nuclear weapons.
During Barack Obama's successful U.S. presidential election campaign, he advocated the abolition of nuclear weapons. Since his election he has reiterated this goal in several major policy addresses."

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.

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