Uranium fuelled nuclear reactors produce radioactive waste – so do thorium ones

Reuters Breakout Series Focuses on China’s Interest in Thorium, The Energy Collective December 23, 2013 Reuters is running a series titled Breakout: Inside China’s Military Buildout. Installment number 6 is titled The U.S. government lab behind Beijing’s nuclear power push. The title is misleading; it is not about China’s world-leading, multibillion-dollar program. That program includes 29 large commercial nuclear plants currently under construction. Instead, the article focuses on a $350 million research program to evaluate the use of thorium as an alternative nuclear fission fuel source.

The Reuters piece includes a number of statements about the comparison between thorium and uranium that are debatable, at best, but whose source should be obvious to anyone that has been involved in any discussions with thorium advocates. It neglects the fact that uranium and thorium produce approximately the same mix of radioactive fission products. Systems using thorium need to pay just as much attention to decay heat removal as systems using uranium.

The article partially blames Admiral Rickover for the nuclear industry’s initial focus on uranium, without ever mentioning that the single most impressive use of thorium in an operating reactor took place under Admiral Rickover’s direction………

There is not a single mention in the article that Rickover’s Shippingport nuclear power plant was the site of the successful test of the Light Water Breeder Reactor (LWBR)between 1977 and 1982. That demonstration plant…..used a carefully engineered nuclear reactor core with uranium-233 as the fissile material and thorium-232 as fertile material…….detailed destructive post irradiation testing determined that the core contained about 2% more U-233 at the end of operation than it did at the beginning.


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