Archive for the ‘Thorium’ Category

Thorium and nuclear weapons.

April 19, 2022

The Hype About Thorium Reactors, by Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, December 26 2021.

There has recently been an upsurge of uninformed babble about thorium as if it were a new discovery with astounding potentiality. Some describe it as a nearly miraculous material that can provide unlimited amounts of problem-free energy. Such hype is grossly exaggerated.

Thorium and Nuclear Weapons

One of the most irresponsible statements is that thorium has no connection with nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the initial motivation for using thorium in nuclear reactors was precisely for the purposes of nuclear weaponry.

It was known from the earliest days of nuclear fission that naturally-occurring thorium can be converted into a powerful nuclear explosive – not found in nature – called uranium-233, in much the same way that naturally-occurring uranium can be converted into plutonium.

Working at a secret laboratory in Montreal during World War II, nuclear scientists from France and Britain collaborated with Canadians and others to study the best way to obtain human-made nuclear explosives for bombs. That objective can be met by converting natural uranium into human-made plutonium-239, or by converting natural thorium into human-made uranium-233. These conversions can only be made inside a nuclear reactor. 

The Montreal team designed the famous and very powerful NRX research reactor for that military purpose as well as other non-military objectives. The war-time decision to allow the building of the NRX reactor was made in Washington DC by a six-person committee (3 Americans, 2 Brits and 1 Canadian) in the spring of 1944.

The NRX reactor began operation in 1947 at Chalk River, Ontario, on the Ottawa River, 200 kilometres northwest of the nation’s capital. The American military insisted that thorium rods as well as uranium rods be inserted into the reactor core. Two chemical “reprocessing” plants were built and operated at Chalk River, one to extract plutonium-239 from irradiated uranium rods, and a second to extract uranium-233 from irradiated thorium rods. This dangerous operation required dissolving intensely radioactive rods in boiling nitric acid and chemically separating out the small quantity of nuclear explosive material contained in those rods. Both plants were shut down in the 1950s after three men were killed in an explosion.

The USA detonated a nuclear weapon made from a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium-239 in 1955. In that same year the Soviet Union detonated its first H-bomb (a thermonuclear weapon, using nuclear fusion as well as nuclear fission) with a fissile core of natural uranium-235 and human-made uranium-233.

In 1998, India tested a nuclear weapon using uranium-233 as part of its series of nuclear test explosions in that year. A few years earlier, In 1994, the US government declassified a 1966 memo that states that uranium-233 has been demonstrated to be highly satisfactory as a weapons material. 

Uranium Reactors are really U-235 reactors

Uranium is the only naturally-occurring material that can be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. In either case, the energy release is due to the fissioning of uranium-235 atoms in a self-sustaining “chain reaction”. But uranium-235 is rather scarce. When uranium is found in nature, usually as a metallic ore in a rocky formation, it is about 99.3 percent uranium-238 and only 0.7 percent uranium-235. That’s just seven atoms out of a thousand!

Uranium-238, the heavier and more abundant isotope of uranium, cannot be used to make an A-Bomb or to fuel a reactor. It is only the lighter isotope, uranium-235, that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction. If the chain reaction is uncontrolled, you have a nuclear explosion; if it is controlled, as it is in a nuclear reactor, you have a steady supply of energy. 

But you cannot make a nuclear explosion with uranium unless the concentration of uranium-238 is greatly reduced and the concentration of uranium-235 is drastically increased. This procedure is called “uranium enrichment”, and the enrichment must be to a high degree – preferably more than 90 percent U-235, or at the very least 20 percent U-235 – to get a nuclear explosion. For this reason, the ordinary uranium fuel used in commercial power reactors is not weapons-usable; the concentration of U-235 is typically less than five percent.

However, as these uranium-235 atoms are split inside a nuclear reactor, the broken fragments form new smaller atoms called “fission products”. There are hundreds of varieties of fission products, and they are collectively millions of times more radioactive than the uranium fuel itself. They are the main constituents of “high-level radioactive waste” (or “irradiated nuclear fuel”) that must be kept out of the environment of living things for millions of years.

In addition, stray neutrons from the fissioning U-235 atoms convert many of the uranium-238 atoms into atoms if plutonium-239. Reactor-produced plutonium is always weapons-usable, regardless of the mixture of different isotopes; no enrichment is needed! But that plutonium can only be extracted from the used nuclear fuel by “reprocessing” the used fuel. That requires separating the plutonium from the fiercely radioactive fission products that will otherwise give a lethal dose of radiation to workers in a short time.

Thorium Reactors are really U-233 reactors

Unlike uranium, thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction under any circumstances. Thorium can therefore not be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. However, if thorium is inserted into an operating nuclear reactor (fuelled by uranium or plutonium), some of the thorium atoms are converted to uranium-233 atoms by absorbing stray neutrons. That newly created material, uranium-233, is even better than uranium-235 at sustaining a chain reaction.  That’s why uranium-233 can be used as a powerful nuclear explosive or as an exemplary reactor fuel.

But thorium cannot be used directly as a nuclear fuel.  It has to be converted into uranium-233 and then the human-made isotope uranium-233 becomes the reactor fuel. And to perform that conversion, some other nuclear fuel must be used – either enriched uranium or plutonium

Of course, when uranium-233 atoms are split, hundreds of fission products are created from the broken fragments, and they are collectively far more radioactive than the uranium-233 itself – or the thorium from which it was created.  So once again, we see that high-level radioactive waste is being produced even in a thorium reactor (as in a normal present-day uranium reactor). 

In summary, a so-called “thorium reactor” is in reality a uranium-233 reactor. 

Some other nuclear fuel (enriched uranium-235 or plutonium) must be used to convert thorium atoms into uranium-233 atoms. Some form of reprocessing must then be used to extract uranium-233 from the irradiated thorium. The fissioning of uranium-233, like the fissioning of uranium-235 or plutonium, creates hundreds of new fission products that make up the bulk of the high-level radioactive waste from any nuclear reactor. And, as previously remarked, uranium-233 is also a powerful nuclear explosive, posing serious weapons proliferation risks. Moreover, uranium-233 – unlike the uranium fuel that is currently used in commercial power reactors around the world – is immediately usable as a nuclear explosive. The moment uranium-233 is created it is very close to 100 percent enriched – perfect for use in any nuclear weapon of suitable design.

Uranium-232 — A Fly in the Ointment

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Thorium nuclear reactors pose the same weapons proliferation and safety problems, and mining pollution problems – as uranium nuclear reactors.

April 19, 2022

Is the thorium-fueled “Molten Salt reactor a proven technology?

The first thorium-fueled molten salt reactor ever built was intended to power an aircraft engine in a long-range strategic bomber armed with nuclear weapons. Despite massive expenditures, the project proved unviable as well as prohibitively costly and was ultimately cancelled by President Kennedy. However, the Oak Ridge team responsible for the aircraft engine reactor project, under the direction of Alvin Weinberg, was allowed to conduct a further thorium-fuelled molten salt reactor experiment for a period of four years, from 1965 to 1969. At the beginning, only U-235 was used; soon afterwards, a smaller amount of U-233 was used.

During its four years of operation under experimental conditions, the Oak Ridge molten salt reactor experienced over 250 shutdowns, most of them completely unplanned.  The molten-salt thorium fuelled experience of 52 years ago at Oak Ridge – the only such experience available to date – consumed about one quarter of the total budget of the entire Oak Ridge nuclear complex. It is difficult to understand how anyone could construe this experiment as demonstrating that such a technology would be viable in a commercial environment.

There are, at the present time, no thorium reactors operating anywhere in the world.

Summary (Thorium Reactors)

It appears that thorium-fuelled reactors pose the same kinds of problems, qualitatively speaking, that afflict existing nuclear reactors. Problems associated with the long-term management of nuclear waste, and the potential for proliferating nuclear weapons, are not fundamentally different even though the detailed considerations are by no means identical.

Since a nuclear reactor accident will have off-site consequences only due to the unintended release of high-level nuclear waste materials into the environment, there is no qualitative difference there either.  Thorium reactors pose the same risk of reactor accident risks as in the case of a comparable non-thorium reactor.

The “Front End” of the Nuclear Fuel Chain

So much for the “back end” of the fuel chain, but what about the “front end”? What about the dangers and environmental consequences associated with mining a radioactive ore body to obtain the uranium or thorium needed to sustain a uranium-based or thorium-based reactor system?

Thorium versus Uranium

Uranium and thorium are naturally occurring heavy metals, both discovered a couple of centuries ago. Uranium was identified in 1789. It was named after the planet Uranus, that was discovered just 8 years earlier. Thorium was identified in 1828. It was named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity. He found that rocks containing either uranium or thorium give off a kind of invisible penetrating light (gamma radiation) that can expose photographic plates even if they are wrapped in thick black paper.

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered that when uranium ore is crushed and the uranium itself is extracted, it is indeed found to be a radioactive substance, but the crushed rock contains much more radioactivity (5 to 7 times more) than the uranium itself. She identified two new elements in the crushed rock, radium and polonium – both radioactive and highly dangerous – and won two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and one in Chemistry. 

The radioactive properties of both radium and thorium were used in medical treatments prior to the discovery of fission in 1939. Because of the extraordinary damage done to living tissues by atomic radiation (a fact that was observed before the advent of the twentieth century) these radioactive materials derived from natural sources were used to shrink cancerous tumours and to destroy ringworm infections in the scalps of young children. It was later observed that while acute doses of atomic radiation can indeed kill malignant as well as benign growths, atomic radiation can also cause latent cancers that will not appear until decades later, even at chronic low dose radiation levels that cause no immediately perceptible biological damage.

Uranium Mining and Mill Tailings

It turns out that 85 percent of the radioactivity in uranium ore is found in the pulverized residues after uranium is extracted, as a result of many natural radioactive byproducts of uranium called “decay products” or “progeny” that are left behind. They include radioactive isotopes of lead, bismuth, polonium, radium, radon gas, and others. Uranium mining is dangerous mainly because of the harmful effects of these radioactive byproducts, which are invariably discarded in the voluminous sand-like tailings left over from milling the ore. All of these radioactive decay products are much more radioactive and much more biologically damaging than uranium itself.

Thorium Mining and Mill Tailings

Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more plentiful than uranium. Like uranium, it also produces radioactive “decay products” or “progeny” – including additional radioactive isotopes of lead, bismuth, polonium, radium, radon gas, thallium, and others. These radioactive byproducts are discarded in the mill tailings when thorium ore is milled. See

www.ccnr.org/Th-232_decay_chain.png .

Most of the naturally-occurring radioactivity found in the soil and rocks of planet Earth are due to the two primordial radioactive elements, uranium and thorium, and their many decay products. There is one additional primordial radioactive element, potassium-40, but it has no radioactive decay products and so contributes much less to the natural radioactive inventory.

Gordon Edwards.

P.S. I have written about thorium as a nuclear fuel several times before, beginning in 1978.

See www.ccnr.org/AECL_plute.html  ;  www.ccnr.org/aecl_plute_seminar.html ;

www.ccnr.org/think_about_thorium.pdf ;  and  www.ccnr.org/Thorium_Reactors.html

Thorium nuclear fuel has risks

September 14, 2021

Thorium fuel has risks

Simple chemical pathways open up proliferation possibilities for the proposed nuclear ‘wonder fuel’, warn Stephen F. Ashley and colleagues.

Thorium is being touted as a potential wonder fuel. Proponents believe that this element could be used in a new generation of nuclear-power plants to produce relatively safe, low-carbon energy with more resistance against potential nuclear-weapons proliferation than uranium. Although thorium offers some benefits, we contend that the public debate is too one-sided: small-scale chemical reprocessing of irradiated thorium can create an isotope of uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons, raising proliferation concerns.

Naturally-occurring thorium is made up almost entirely of thorium-232, an isotope that is unable to sustain nuclear fission. When bombarded with neutrons, thorium is converted through a series of decays into uranium-233, which is fissile and long-lived — its half-life is 160,000 years. A side product is uranium-232, which decays into other isotopes that give off intense γ-radiation that is difficult to shield against. Spent thorium fuel is typically difficult to handle and thus resistant to proliferation.

We are concerned, however, that other processes, which might be conducted in smaller facilities, could be used to convert 232Th into 233U while minimizing contamination by 232U, thus posing a proliferation threat. Notably, the chemical separation of an intermediate isotope — protactinium-233 — that decays into 233U is a cause for concern.

Thorium is not a route to a nuclear future that is free from proliferation risks. Policies should be strengthened around thorium’s use in declared nuclear activities, and greater vigilance is needed to protect against surreptitious activities involving this element.

Protactinium pathway

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An Email from Stichting Thorium MSR — The Industry Push to Force Nuclear Power in Australia

June 21, 2020

Why is the Majority Report of the Australian Senate here: https://www.aph.gov.au/-/media/02_Parliamentary_Business/24_Committees/243_Reps_Committees/EnvironmentEnergy/Nuclear_energy/Full_Report.pdf?la=en&hash=2826513C078551487B8265502776DAD5D23EB71D so full of misinformation and a totally false set of technical assertions???

via An Email from Stichting Thorium MSR — The Industry Push to Force Nuclear Power in Australia

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NuclearHistory” exposes the unpleasant facts about liquid fluoride thorium nuclear reactors

June 21, 2020

Some people believe that liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which would use a high temperature liquid fuel made of molten salt, would be significantly safer than current generation reactors. However, such reactors have major flaws. There are serious safety issues associated with the retention of fission products in the fuel, and it is not clear these problems can be effectively resolved. Such reactors also present proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks because they involve the continuous separation, or “reprocessing,” of the fuel to remove fission products and to efficiently produce U-233, which is a nuclear weapon-usable material. Moreover, disposal of theused fuel has turned out to be a major challenge. Stabilization and disposal of the
remains of the very small “Molten Salt Reactor Experiment” that operated at Oak
Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s has turned into the most technically challenging cleanup problem that Oak Ridge has faced, and the site has still not been cleaned up. Last updated March 14, 2019″ Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, at https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/thorium-reactors-statement.pdf I wonder who is correct, The Union of Scientists or Mr. O’Brien and ScoMo?

The Industry Push to Force Nuclear Power in Australia, Part 1 of A Study of the “Report of the inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia” Australian Parliamentary Committee 2020.by nuclearhistory, February 29, 2020, “………Nuclear power enables the great powers to project power. It is a crucial geo-political influencer. If the committee has it’s way, we will be working with Russia and China and others on reactors they want to develop, that their own people have not had a say in, that are all based upon reactor designs first thought of in the 1950s, and where actual examples were built at that time, turned out to be unsafe failures which continue to present cost and risk at their sites to this day.

The committee’s first recommendation to government includes the following two sub parts:

“b. developing Australia’s own national sovereign capability in nuclear energy over time; and

c. procuring next-of-a-kind nuclear reactors only, not first-of-a- kind.” end quote.

If Australia becomes a nuclear powered nation, it will become subject to the directives of the IAEA in regard to the standards of those nuclear reactors and the procedures and actions which must take place in regard to them. Australia will also become subject to IAEA directives in regard to the standards and specifications of the Australian national energy grid. Further, the ICRP and other bodies will have an enhanced ability to direct and advise Australia and its people. Further international non proliferation requirements will dictate Australian actions regarding “special nuclear substances.” These requirements including control of information – security provisions – regarding the use of and production of “special nuclear substances”. As is true all over the world, nuclear industries are alone in that they do not, indeed cannot, fully disclose operational matters to share holders. This hardly renders Australia and Australians in control of its own sovereign nuclear technology.
Collaborator nations can be expected to demand certain requirements from Australia in return for their help. In the case of China, which wishes to produce small, light reactors of new types partially to provide a means by which it can quickly transform its navy into a nuclear one, in particular, there may well be special requirements placed upon Australia in return for Chinese collaboration. Who knows what Putin will demand in return for Russian collaboration . America might want many things in return. And so on. No nation which might help Australia would want Australia to benefit to the point where we might gain too much control and power over nuclear facilities located in this country.

“procuring next-of-a-kind nuclear reactors only, not first-of-a- kind” How refreshing that the Committee does not want the first gen iv type reactors – the Fermi 1 and Monju type for example. Those dangerous failures that sit like wounded Albatross in the US and Japan and continue to demand taxpayer funds. The failure of Monju, which has long been foreseen by many, renders the original basis for the Japanese nuclear industry subject to severe doubt. As result of vastly improved safety standards, fuel reprocessing in Japan is in doubt, its future course uncertain, and the nature of high level waste management has been an even more pressing issue.

In any event, it is my view that  the new  types of reactor China is experimenting with are dual use.  That is, they have both military and civilian uses in China. There is little overt opposition to either in China as protest in that nation is dangerous, costly and often lethal. I do not see it in Australia’s national interest to collaborate with Chinese nuclear reactor experimental development. Our contribution will probably speed the ascendancy of a Chinese nuclear navy, and the contribution to be made to Australia by a Chinese/Australian Gen IV is highly suspect, both in the short and long term, both in tactical and strategic terms. And if we are not to buy “first of a kind” reactors but “next of a kind” ones, does this mean we wont buy unproven experimental units but will buy unproven Mk1 production units which have not yet been used to supply power to a grid and which have proven that they fulfil the promises this Parliamentary Committee is making? No such reactors exist with a track record in service providing economic power to any nation grid. None have existed in such deployment and there is no service life span in commercial use for any of these “new” reactor types. 10 years would be the bare minimum to test such a unit over. Anything less is not satisfactory (more…)

“NuclearHistory” exposes the unpleasant facts about liquid fluoride thorium nuclear reactors

March 10, 2020

Some people believe that liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which would use a high temperature liquid fuel made of molten salt, would be significantly safer than current generation reactors. However, such reactors have major flaws. There are serious safety issues associated with the retention of fission products in the fuel, and it is not clear these problems can be effectively resolved. Such reactors also present proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks because they involve the continuous separation, or “reprocessing,” of the fuel to remove fission products and to efficiently produce U-233, which is a nuclear weapon-usable material. Moreover, disposal of theused fuel has turned out to be a major challenge. Stabilization and disposal of the remains of the very small “Molten Salt Reactor Experiment” that operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s has turned into the most technically challenging cleanup problem that Oak Ridge has faced, and the site has still not been cleaned up. Last updated March 14, 2019″ Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, at https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/thorium-reactors-statement.pdf I wonder who is correct, The Union of Scientists or Mr. O’Brien and ScoMo?

The Industry Push to Force Nuclear Power in Australia, Part 1 of A Study of the “Report of the inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia” Australian Parliamentary Committee 2020.by nuclearhistory, February 29, 2020, “………Nuclear power enables the great powers to project power. It is a crucial geo-political influencer. If the committee has it’s way, we will be working with Russia and China and others on reactors they want to develop, that their own people have not had a say in, that are all based upon reactor designs first thought of in the 1950s, and where actual examples were built at that time, turned out to be unsafe failures which continue to present cost and risk at their sites to this day.

The committee’s first recommendation to government includes the following two sub parts:

“b. developing Australia’s own national sovereign capability in nuclear energy over time; and

c. procuring next-of-a-kind nuclear reactors only, not first-of-a- kind.” end quote.

If Australia becomes a nuclear powered nation, it will become subject to the directives of the IAEA in regard to the standards of those nuclear reactors and the procedures and actions which must take place in regard to them. Australia will also become subject to IAEA directives in regard to the standards and specifications of the Australian national energy grid. Further, the ICRP and other bodies will have an enhanced ability to direct and advise Australia and its people. Further international non proliferation requirements will dictate Australian actions regarding “special nuclear substances.” These requirements including control of information – security provisions – regarding the use of and production of “special nuclear substances”. As is true all over the world, nuclear industries are alone in that they do not, indeed cannot, fully disclose operational matters to share holders. This hardly renders Australia and Australians in control of its own sovereign nuclear technology.
Collaborator nations can be expected to demand certain requirements from Australia in return for their help. In the case of China, which wishes to produce small, light reactors of new types partially to provide a means by which it can quickly transform its navy into a nuclear one, in particular, there may well be special requirements placed upon Australia in return for Chinese collaboration. Who knows what Putin will demand in return for Russian collaboration . America might want many things in return. And so on. No nation which might help Australia would want Australia to benefit to the point where we might gain too much control and power over nuclear facilities located in this country.

“procuring next-of-a-kind nuclear reactors only, not first-of-a- kind” How refreshing that the Committee does not want the first gen iv type reactors – the Fermi 1 and Monju type for example. Those dangerous failures that sit like wounded Albatross in the US and Japan and continue to demand taxpayer funds. The failure of Monju, which has long been foreseen by many, renders the original basis for the Japanese nuclear industry subject to severe doubt. As result of vastly improved safety standards, fuel reprocessing in Japan is in doubt, its future course uncertain, and the nature of high level waste management has been an even more pressing issue.

In any event, it is my view that  the new  types of reactor China is experimenting with are dual use.  That is, they have both military and civilian uses in China. There is little overt opposition to either in China as protest in that nation is dangerous, costly and often lethal. I do not see it in Australia’s national interest to collaborate with Chinese nuclear reactor experimental development. Our contribution will probably speed the ascendancy of a Chinese nuclear navy, and the contribution to be made to Australia by a Chinese/Australian Gen IV is highly suspect, both in the short and long term, both in tactical and strategic terms. And if we are not to buy “first of a kind” reactors but “next of a kind” ones, does this mean we wont buy unproven experimental units but will buy unproven Mk1 production units which have not yet been used to supply power to a grid and which have proven that they fulfil the promises this Parliamentary Committee is making? No such reactors exist with a track record in service providing economic power to any nation grid. None have existed in such deployment and there is no service life span in commercial use for any of these “new” reactor types. 10 years would be the bare minimum to test such a unit over. Anything less is not satisfactory
Alvin M. Weinberg was the Nikola Tesla of Gen IV reactor design. “Weinberg replaced Wigner as Director of Research at ORNL in 1948, and became director of the laboratory in 1955. Under his direction it worked on the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program, and pioneered many innovative reactor designs, including the pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs), which have since become the dominant reactor types in commercial nuclear power plants, and Aqueous Homogeneous Reactor designs.” (Source: Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_M._Weinberg) “ORNL successfully built and operated a prototype of an aircraft reactor power plant by creating the world’s first molten salt fueled and cooled reactor called the Aircraft Reactor Experiment (ARE) in 1954, which set a record high temperature of operation of 1,600 °F (870 °C). Due to the radiation hazard posed to aircrew, and people on the ground in the event of a crash, new developments in ballistic missile technology, aerial refueling and longer range jet bombers, President Kennedy canceled the program in June 1961.[30][31]” Source: ibid.
There’s not much that is new under the sun, says the Bible, and that’s probably very generally true. If we get the vision of a flying nuclear reactor out of heads for a minute, it seems as first glance that the Weinberg molten fuel reactor had something going for it. If it didn’t leak, it couldn’t do what a “normal” is capable of doing – over heating zirconium fuel rods, and melting steel to enable the overheated fuel to escape into the biosphere. So how does the molten fuel reactor work? How come it can work without melting its containment? Well, Wikipedia explains it like this: “The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) set a record for continuous operation and was the first to use uranium-233 as fuel. It also used plutonium-239 and the standard, naturally occurring uranium-235. The MSR was known as the “chemist’s reactor” because it was proposed mainly by chemists (ORNL’s Ray Briant and Ed Bettis (an engineer) and NEPA’s Vince Calkins),[34] and because it used a chemical solution of melted salts containing the actinides (uranium, thorium, and/or plutonium) in a carrier salt, most often composed of beryllium (BeF2) and lithium (LiF) (isotopically depleted in Lithium-6 to prevent excessive neutron capture or tritium production) – FLiBe.[36] The MSR also afforded the opportunity to change the chemistry of the molten salt while the reactor was operating to remove fission products and add new fuel or change the fuel, all of which is called “online processing”.[37]” Source: ibid. As we can see, though the piece does not explain the materials used to construct the reactor – which must have been very tolerant of very high temperatures – the piece is clear that this reactor did produce high level nuclear waste. The fission products. These substances comprise high level nuclear waste. While this reactor type might consume weapons plutonium and fission it into high level waste, the reactor as described does NOT solve the high level waste problem. In an era in which the major nuclear powers have torn up nuclear weapon limitation treaties, it is moot as to whether either the USA or Russia would contemplate feeding their stockpiled bomb fuel into an MSR. The MSR does not solve the fission product waste inventory which is growing on planet earth. The wikipedia article does not describe whether or not the MSR reactor releases radioactive gases to the atmosphere as conventional reactor do at refuelling time.
There is no doubt that Wigner was a brilliant person. Many people view him as a visionary with a singular focus on reactor safety and on new ways of doing things in the 1950s and 1960s. Wikipedia also states the following: “In the 1960s Weinberg also pursued new missions for ORNL, such as using nuclear energy to desalinate seawater. ” Source Ibid. So know you know where the accountant and former politician Cory Bernardi got his idea about desalination via any old reactor from. Genius research Cory. Solar panels can make hydrogen and oxygen and turn sea water into fresh too. It can recharge electric cars, power a macbook and power the natural world. Fancy that. Apparently some people prefer molten salt reactors, proclaimed as new, when actually they date from the 1950s. Wow. I wonder why they didn’t take off. Excuse the pun.
Before I complete this post, let’s delve a little deeper into the MSR, by consulting some actual technical papers. Do try and keep up, Mr. Bernardi and Mr. O’Brien.

A technical report on the original trial run of the reactor is here (we won’t be getting this one, it’s first of type): https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.13182/NT8-2-118 “Experience with the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment.” Paul N. Haubenreich and J.R.Engel, 1970.

What the fate of the material removed from the fuel ? That is, where is the nuclear waste now and how much has it cost to mind? The Union of Concerned Scientists inform us that: “

Some people believe that liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which would use a high temperature liquid fuel made of molten salt, would be significantly safer than current generation reactors. However, such reactors have major flaws. There are serious safety issues associated with the retention of fission products in the fuel, and it is not clear these problems can be effectively resolved. Such reactors also present proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks because they involve the continuous separation, or “reprocessing,” of the fuel to remove fission products and to efficiently produce U-233, which is a nuclear weapon-usable material. Moreover, disposal of theused fuel has turned out to be a major challenge. Stabilization and disposal of the
remains of the very small “Molten Salt Reactor Experiment” that operated at Oak
Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s has turned into the most technically challenging cleanup problem that Oak Ridge has faced, and the site has still not been cleaned up. Last updated March 14, 2019″ Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, at https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/thorium-reactors-statement.pdf I wonder who is correct, The Union of Scientists or Mr. O’Brien and ScoMo?

The end.

If the nuclear waste problem did not exist, those front and back yards would not now be resident in drums at Woomera Rocket Range. If waste did not have to take up residence somewhere, waste would not be a problem. Because there would not be any to store. Australia does not have nuclear power. But we have plenty of ancient and modern nuclear waste. People who do not want nuclear waste or nuclear emissions are called by governments and the industry “NIMBY’s” (Not In My Backyard). I remind the Australian government here and now who have to removed contaminated back yards from Australian homes in the 1970s. It was the Australian Government. What hypocrites you all are!!! To be continued …..  https://nonuclearpowerinaustralia.wordpress.com/2020/02/29/part-1-of-a-study-of-the-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-prerequisites-for-nuclear-energy-in-australia-australian-parliamentary-committee-2020/

Australian public unaware of the dangers of small nuclear reactors

March 10, 2020

Thorium advocates say that thorium reactors produce little radioactive waste, however, they simply produce a different spectrum of waste from traditional reactors, including many dangerous isotopes with extremely long half-lives. Technetium 99 has a half-life of 300,000 years and iodine 129 a half-life of 15.7 million years. 

 

Thorium nuclear reactors – expensive, dangerous and leave dangerous radioactive isotopes with long half-lives

February 13, 2020

New nuclear power proposal needs public  debate   https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/new-nuclear-power-proposal-needs-public-discussion,13071   By Helen Caldicott | 4 September 2019  The prospect of thorium being introduced into Australia’s energy arrangements should be subjected to significant scrutiny, writes Helen Caldicott.

AS AUSTRALIA is grappling with the notion of introducing nuclear powerinto the country, it seems imperative the general public understand the intricacies of these technologies so they can make informed decisions. Thorium reactors are amongst those being suggested at this time.

The U.S. tried for 50 years to create thorium reactors, without success. Four commercial thorium reactors were constructed, all of which failed. And because of the complexity of problems listed below, thorium reactors are far more expensive than uranium fueled reactors.

The longstanding effort to produce these reactors cost the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, while billions more dollars are still required to dispose of the highly toxic waste emanating from these failed trials.

The truth is, thorium is not a naturally fissionable material. It is therefore necessary to mix thorium with either enriched uranium 235 (up to 20% enrichment) or with plutonium – both of which are innately fissionable – to get the process going.

While uranium enrichment is very expensive, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from uranium powered reactors is enormously expensive and very dangerous to the workers who are exposed to toxic radioactive isotopes during the process. Reprocessing spent fuel requires chopping up radioactive fuel rods by remote control, dissolving them in concentrated nitric acid from which plutonium is precipitated out by complex chemical means.

Vast quantities of highly acidic, highly radioactive liquid waste then remain to be disposed of. (Only is 6 kilograms of plutonium 239 can fuel a nuclear weapon, while each reactor makes 250 kilos of plutonium per year. One millionth of a gram of plutonium if inhaled is carcinogenic.)

So there is an extraordinarily complex, dangerous and expensive preliminary process to kick-start a fission process in a thorium reactor.

When non-fissionable thorium is mixed with either fissionable plutonium or uranium 235, it captures a neutron and converts to uranium 233, which itself is fissionable. Naturally it takes some time for enough uranium 233 to accumulate to make this particular fission process spontaneously ongoing.

Later, the radioactive fuel would be removed from the reactor and reprocessed to separate out the uranium 233 from the contaminating fission products, and the uranium 233 then will then be mixed with more thorium to be placed in another thorium reactor.

But uranium 233 is also very efficient fuel for nuclear weapons. It takes about the same amount of uranium 233 as plutonium 239 – six kilos – to fuel a nuclear weapon. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has already, to its disgrace, ‘lost track’ of 96 kilograms of uranium 233.

A total of two tons of uranium 233 were manufactured in the United States. This material naturally requires similar stringent security measures used for plutonium storage for obvious reasons. It is estimated that it will take over one million dollars per kilogram to dispose of the seriously deadly material.

An Energy Department safety investigation recently found a national repository for uranium 233 in a building constructed in 1943 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

It was in poor condition. Investigators reported an environmental release from many of the 1,100 containers could

‘… be expected to occur within the next five years because some of the packages are approaching 30 years of age and have not been regularly inspected.’

The DOE determined that this building had:

Deteriorated beyond cost-effective repair and significant annual costs would be incurred to satisfy both current DOE storage standards, and to provide continued protection against potential nuclear criticality accidents or theft of the material.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management now considers the disposal of this uranium 233 to be ‘an unfunded mandate’.

Thorium reactors also produce uranium 232, which decays to an extremely potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate through one metre of concrete, making the handling of this spent nuclear fuel extraordinarily dangerous.

Although thorium advocates say that thorium reactors produce little radioactive waste, they simply produce a different spectrum of waste to those from uranium-235. This still includes many dangerous alpha and beta emitters, and isotopes with extremely long half-lives, including iodine 129 (half-life of 15.7 million years).

No wonder the U.S. nuclear industry gave up on thorium reactors in the 1980s. It was an unmitigated disaster, as are many other nuclear enterprises undertaken by the nuclear priesthood and the U.S. government.

India’s nuclear power programme unlikely to progress. Ocean energy is a better way.

August 18, 2019

The problem is apparently nervousness about handling liquid Sodium, used as a coolant. If Sodium comes in contact with water it will explode; and the PFBR is being built on the humid coast of Tamil Nadu. The PFBR has always been a project that would go on stream “next year”. The PFBR has to come online, then more FBRs would need to be built, they should then operate for 30-40 years, and only then would begin the coveted ‘Thorium cycle’!

Why nuclear when India has an ‘ocean’ of energy,  https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/why-nuclear-when-india-has-an-ocean-of-energy/article28230036.ece

M. Ramesh – 30 June 19 Though the ‘highly harmful’ source is regarded as saviour on certain counts, the country has a better option under the seas

If it is right that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, it must be true the other way too — nothing can hold back an idea whose time has passed.

Just blow the dust off, you’ll see the writing on the wall: nuclear energy is fast running out of sand, at least in India. And there is something that is waiting to take its place.

India’s 6,780 MW of nuclear power plants contributed to less than 3% of the country’s electricity generation, which will come down as other sources will generate more.

Perhaps India lost its nuclear game in 1970, when it refused to sign – even if with the best of reasons – the Non Proliferation Treaty, which left the country to bootstrap itself into nuclear energy. Only there never was enough strap in the boot to do so.

In the 1950s, the legendary physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha gave the country a roadmap for the development of nuclear energy.

Three-stage programme

In the now-famous ‘three-stage nuclear programme’, the roadmap laid out what needs to be done to eventually use the country’s almost inexhaustible Thorium resources. The first stage would see the creation of a fleet of ‘pressurised heavy water reactors’, which use scarce Uranium to produce some Plutonium. The second stage would see the setting up of several ‘fast breeder reactors’ (FBRs). These FBRs would use a mixture of Plutonium and the reprocessed ‘spent Uranium from the first stage, to produce energy and more Plutonium (hence ‘breeder’), because the Uranium would transmute into Plutonium. Alongside, the reactors would convert some of the Thorium into Uranium-233, which can also be used to produce energy. After 3-4 decades of operation, the FBRs would have produced enough Plutonium for use in the ‘third stage’. In this stage, Uranium-233 would be used in specially-designed reactors to produce energy and convert more Thorium into Uranium-233 —you can keep adding Thorium endlessly.

Seventy years down the line, India is still stuck in the first stage. For the second stage, you need the fast breeder reactors. A Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW capacity, construction of which began way back in 2004, is yet to come on stream.

The problem is apparently nervousness about handling liquid Sodium, used as a coolant. If Sodium comes in contact with water it will explode; and the PFBR is being built on the humid coast of Tamil Nadu. The PFBR has always been a project that would go on stream “next year”. The PFBR has to come online, then more FBRs would need to be built, they should then operate for 30-40 years, and only then would begin the coveted ‘Thorium cycle’! Nor is much capacity coming under the current, ‘first stage’. The 6,700 MW of plants under construction would, some day, add to the existing nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW. The government has sanctioned another 9,000 MW and there is no knowing when work on them will begin. These are the home-grown plants. Of course, thanks to the famous 2005 ‘Indo-U.S. nuclear deal’, there are plans for more projects with imported reactors, but a 2010 Indian ‘nuclear liability’ legislation has scared the foreigners away. With all this, it is difficult to see India’s nuclear capacity going beyond 20,000 MW over the next two decades.

Now, the question is, is nuclear energy worth it all?

There have been three arguments in favour of nuclear enFor Fergy: clean, cheap and can provide electricity 24×7 (base load). Clean it is, assuming that you could take care of the ticklish issue of putting away the highly harmful spent fuel.

But cheap, it no longer is. The average cost of electricity produced by the existing 22 reactors in the country is around ₹2.80 a kWhr, but the new plants, which cost ₹15-20 crore per MW to set up, will produce energy that cannot be sold commercially below at least ₹7 a unit. Nuclear power is pricing itself out of the market. A nuclear power plant takes a decade to come up, who knows where the cost will end up when it begins generation of electricity?

Nuclear plants can provide the ‘base load’ — they give a steady stream of electricity day and night, just like coal or gas plants. Wind and solar power plants produce energy much cheaper, but their power supply is irregular. With gas not available and coal on its way out due to reasons of cost and global warming concerns, nuclear is sometimes regarded as the saviour. But we don’t need that saviour any more; there is a now a better option.

Ocean energy

The seas are literally throbbing with energy. There are at least several sources of energy in the seas. One is the bobbing motion of the waters, or ocean swells — you can place a flat surface on the waters, with a mechanical arm attached to it, and it becomes a pump that can be used to drive water or compressed air through a turbine to produce electricity. Another is by tapping into tides, which flow during one part of the day and ebb in another. You can generate electricity by channelling the tide and place a series of turbines in its path. One more way is to keep turbines on the sea bed at places where there is a current — a river within the sea. Yet another way is to get the waves dash against pistons in, say, a pipe, so as to compress air at the other end. Sea water is dense and heavy, when it moves it can punch hard — and, it never stops moving.

All these methods have been tried in pilot plants in several parts of the world—Brazil, Denmark, U.K., Korea. There are only two commercial plants in the world—in France and Korea—but then ocean energy has engaged the world’s attention.

For sure, ocean energy is costly today.

India’s Gujarat State Power Corporation had a tie-up with U.K.’s Atlantic Resources for a 50 MW tidal project in the Gulf of Kutch, but the project was given up after they discovered they could sell the electricity only at ₹13 a kWhr. But then, even solar cost ₹18 a unit in 2009! When technology improves and scale-effect kicks-in, ocean energy will look real friendly.

Initially, ocean energy would need to be incentivised, as solar was. Where do you find the money for the incentives? By paring allocations to the Department of Atomic Energy, which got ₹13,971 crore for 2019-20.

Also, wind and solar now stand on their own legs and those subsidies could now be given to ocean energy.

Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear reactor (MSR) No Better Than Uranium Process

November 3, 2018

The safety issue is also not resolved, as stated above: pressurized water leaking from the steam generator into the hot, radioactive molten salt will explosively turn to steam and cause incredible damage.  The chances are great that the radioactive molten salt would be discharged out of the reactor system and create more than havoc.  Finally, controlling the reaction and power output, finding materials that last safely for 3 or 4 decades, and consuming vast quantities of cooling water are all serious problems.  

The greatest problem, though, is likely the scale-up by a factor of 500 to 1, from the tiny project at ORNL to a full-scale commercial plant with 3500 MWth output.   Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak.

The Truth About Nuclear Power – Part 28, Sowells Law Blog , 14 July 2014 Thorium MSR No Better Than Uranium Process, 

Preface   This article, number 28 in the series, discusses nuclear power via a thorium molten-salt reactor (MSR) process.   (Note, this is also sometimes referred to as LFTR, for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor)   The thorium MSR is frequently trotted out by nuclear power advocates, whenever the numerous drawbacks to uranium fission reactors are mentioned.   To this point in the TANP series, uranium fission, via PWR or BWR, has been the focus.  Some critics of TANP have already stated that thorium solves all of those problems and therefore should be vigorously pursued.  Some of the critics have stated that Sowell obviously has never heard of thorium reactors.   Quite the contrary, I am familiar with the process and have serious reservations about the numerous problems with thorium MSR.

It is interesting, though, that nuclear advocates must bring up the MSR process.  If the uranium fission process was any good at all, there would be no need for research and development of any other type of process, such as MSR and fusion. (more…)