Reuters Breakout series focuses on China’s interest in thorium

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.

The die was cast against thorium much earlier. In the early 1950s, an influential U.S. Navy officer, Hyman Rickover, decided a water-cooled, uranium-fueled reactor would power the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus. Rickover was instrumental in the 1957 commissioning of a similar reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania – the world’s first nuclear-power station.

Admiral Rickover was a towering figure in atomic energy and became known as the father of the U.S nuclear navy. He had clear reasons for his choice, engineers say. The pressurized water reactor was the most advanced, compact and technically sound at the time. More importantly, these reactors also supplied plutonium as a byproduct – then in strong demand as fuel for America’s rapidly growing arsenal of nuclear warheads.

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 — which was far larger than the non-electricity producing prototypes that Oak Ridge operated in the 1960s — supplied about 28,000 effective full power hours (average capacity factor of 65%). It used a carefully engineered nuclear reactor core with uranium-233 as the fissile material and thorium-232 as fertile material. After producing 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, 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.

Admiral Rickover’s primary core designer, Alvin Radkowsky was so enthusiastic about using thorium to expand the amount of nuclear fission fuel available that he was one of the founders of a company that was initially born as Thorium Power, but is now known as Lightbridge. Dr. Radkowsky did not develop his interest in thorium because Admiral Rickover was so interested in uranium that he sabotaged efforts to develop thorium technology.

Bottom line: Reuters got it wrong. There is nothing especially worrisome or important from a military perspective that China is interested in learning more about thorium as an additional nuclear fission fuel source.

About Rod Adams

52 Responses to “Reuters Breakout series focuses on China’s interest in thorium”

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  1. Mitch says:

    If it’s misleading how do pro-nuclears call reuters out on it?

    • mjd says:

      mitch, after clicking the link and going to the reuters article, hover your mouse on the authors name. depending on your browser (i use firefox) a message area (at bottom left) should show a link to your email handling program, plus the email address of the author. or just click the author’s name and go direct to your email system; it will auto fill the email address. so just call them out directly and let us know what you get back!

  2. SteveK9 says:

    Seems the most important misleading point is the conflation of nuclear power, with nuclear weapons … again.

  3. Charles Barton says:

    Rod, Both India and China have excellent Thorium supplies, while their uranium supplies are significantly lower. Due to Fraracking for natural gas and oil in the United States, potentially large supplies of U-235 will be available. This is because fracking in shale opens up in Situ uranium and thorium mines. I have discussed this several times in Nuclear Green. Unfortunately the Nuclear power Industry did not recognize the potential for Urnanium Fueled Molten Salt Reactors, ton produce electricity at a low cost. Uranium Fueled MSRs, are still a low cost nuclear option.

    • starvinglion says:

      “did not recognize the potential for MSR’s” Potential, Potential, Potential…lets see what the head thorium proponent at energyfromthorium.com, Kirk Sorensen, at the forum Charles Barton hangs out has to say about that and big government doing it:

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=4204&p=54312#p54312

      “Things can be built very quickly if they aren’t meant to last. The first MSR, the Aircraft Reactor Experiment, only ran about ten days. But that was long enough to prove the things about MSRs that they meant to show.

      The real challenge will be building MSRs that are meant to last a decade, then 20 years, then 40. It will be a step-by-step process, just as it was for LWRs, and it will be limited by data on materials corrosion, just as it was for LWRs.”

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=49&t=468&p=51417#p51417

      “Wow, it has been so long since this program was axed that the other day I was just trying to remember the acronym and couldn’t do it. A cautionary tale to those who would advocate a big, government-led, “crash” program to “do something about nuclear energy”.

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=4236&p=55153#p55153

      “Governments generally make very poor decisions in where to allocate financial resources. We should be more worried about getting private industry to open their pockets to advanced nuclear…”

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&author_id=3&start=30

      “Socialism will destroy Western civilization as we know it, if allowed to continue.”

      —————————————–

      Sorensen had already threatened to shut down his site earlier this year due to the leftist loons taking it over. Of course the only potential with the leftist loons resides in “Rah Rah …Go team Go! Has China installed the nuclear reactors for us yet? Rah Rah Rah”

    • starvinglion says:

      “Things can be built very quickly if they aren’t meant to last. The first MSR, the Aircraft Reactor Experiment, only ran about ten days. But that was long enough to prove the things about MSRs that they meant to show.

      The real challenge will be building MSRs that are meant to last a decade, then 20 years, then 40. It will be a step-by-step process, just as it was for LWRs, and it will be limited by data on materials corrosion, just as it was for LWRs.”

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&author_id=3&start=30
      Socialism will destroy Western civilization as we know it, if allowed to continue.

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=4236&p=55153#p55153

      “Governments generally make very poor decisions in where to allocate financial resources. We should be more worried about getting private industry to open their pockets to advanced nuclear “

      • David says:

        @Starvinglion

        I don’t believe that Nuclear power, Light Water or Liquid Thorium needs government subsidies – as defined by cash out payments. What these do need from the government are regulations that allow safety standards to be about the same as for other energy producing industries, like the coal, oil or even natural gas industries.

        I don’t see the dead bodies from Nuclear like I do from these other industries. Not that I wish anyone to be killed, but to say that hypocritical safety is a real risk that is PRODUCED by the government. As a conservative, not a libertarian or liberal, I believe that government has a roll to play in helping to lay a level playing field of standards. The problem in the case of Nuclear is that the standard for safety is UNIQUELY different from any other power producing industry.

        So, the DOE amounts that are given are a very slight reimbursement on the cost of submitting a license. Frankly, I don’t even object to the company paying for the cost of licensing – if they could pay and play. At this point they are not allowed to pay the NRC directly to have their design considered. They have to pay the $250/hour and stand in line behind all the other applications waiting to see if the NRC will ask Congress to approve money for the NRC to actually use that $250 to consider their new design.

        The NRC has told SMR builders that they will NOT consider an application unless the SMR comes with a paying client lined up. This is unjust and an unreasonable stance for a fair and neutral government. It is a very predictable response for a government captured by rent seeking monopolies. Use government regulation to ham string your competition.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Charles Barton

      Please try to understand my points. I think thorium is a wonderful fuel material and I recognize that its distribution around the world is not the same as uranium. It is more abundant in several important places like China, India, and Brazil. It makes sense for certain countries to have more interest in thorium than in uranium due to this uneven distribution.

      I also recognize the potential for molten salt reactors, but I have no doubt at all there there is a lot of development, testing and learning to be done before they can be as widely deployed as needed. Material issues simply cannot be solved by laboratory experiments; some will only become apparent after many years of operation and there are not many legitimate ways to speed the processes along. In a radiation environment, material interactions are even tougher to predict, especially when you are working with a fluid that will eventually contain at least 2/3 of the elements in the periodic table. It is enormously complex work with some “unknown unknowns” that should not be glossed over in a sales pitch.

      I am ALL FOR experimentation and development of molten salt reactors, and fast spectrum reactors. I just wish that the advocates would recognize that the important mission is to work hard on getting fission to be more acceptable as a combustion alternative.

      We MUST, as expeditiously as possible, move towards reducing our consumption of hydrocarbons (reduce, people, not eliminate) and increasing our consumption of the three superfuels – uranium, thorium and plutonium – wherever they make sense.
      We MUST stop engaging in internal warfare; the people who want to continue suppressing nuclear fission energy love it when we do.
      We should dial back on the marketing pitches and remember that we will have far more long term success with an “under promise, over deliver” strategy that recognizes the importance of improvement by stepwise evolution. Radical innovation that attempts to skip key steps in the developmental process entails taking a number of performance risks that simply are not necessary.

      The true radical step was identified in 1938, there really is at least a million times more energy per unit mass in the nucleus of the superfuels than in the electron shells of the chemical fuels. There are an infinite number of ways to take advantage of that radical step and we should — calmly and with as much information as possible — move along several of the paths that show the highest potential at the same time.

      Charles, I love you, man, but we’ve had the discussion before; there is no way you can convince me that a counselor has the background needed to make a statement about cost. No one has the information necessary to make the claim that MSRs can cost less than solid fuel reactors because there are simply too many variables on both sides of that competition.

      • Charles Barton says:

        Rod, I have on many occasions expressed my respect for you. My judgement about the relative cost of MSRs and LWRs, is based on statements by reactor scientists and engineers. As far as I know, no one has offered a plausible contridiction to these statements. I will be happy to modify my views if you can come up with a plausible contradiction.

        There are three MSR projects underway in North America, and at least one more in Japan. Most of the projects borrow heavily from ORNL MSRE technology. All of these projects are fueled by the uranium fuel cycle, not thorium.

        Rod, I have been advocating uranium cycle MSRs for at least 4 years. Why do you insist on think of me as a thorium advocate. I think you have simply written me off as a retired counselor, and stopped paying attention to what I have been saying.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Charles Barton

          Please reread my answer to your challenge. You started with a comment about thorium resources then moved to a more general discussion of MSRs. I answered your comment about thorium and then addressed your more general comment about MSRs.

          I’m not being condescending, at least I have no such intent. I’m merely trying to add my own real world experience. Because I can’t seem to hold a job, I’ve operated old steam plants, manufactured marine parts, developed new products, operated old injection molding equipment, been involved in complex tool making, scheduled production runs, performed cost analysis for complex ship overhauls, and tried to perform cost projections for several new ship concepts.

          It’s really, really hard to predict what a complex system will cost without a lot more design details along with a much clearer understanding of the rules that will need to be followed throughout the process.

          • Cory Stansbury says:

            Anyone who has been involved in cost projections (like me), can attest that projecting cost is VERY challenging…Especially if it’s a rarer technology. Predicting what a fully regulated and licensed MSR will cost, including a huge amount of high purity Lithium 7 is a crapshoot at best. Certainly not enough of a slam dunk for us to abandon our current, very good reactors. The Thorium advocates annoy me to no end. They constantly are trying to divide the nuclear community. If we keep waiting for the next best thing, we’ll never build ANYTHING.

      • Brian Mays says:

        We MUST stop engaging in internal warfare; …

        Rod – That’s pretty much been my take on the whole thing and the underlying message of my comments on the subject.

        Personally, I think that E. Michael Blake (senior editor of Nuclear News) captured the situation brilliantly in the “Backscatter” feature of November’s edition of Nuclear News. In it, his alter ego, A. Priori, interviews designers of proposed SMRs (Priori’s questions appear in italics in the original):

        So, why does your design deserve backing? You have 30 seconds.

        Designer E: “Everybody knows that a colossal Cold War conspiracy rammed water-cooled prismatic U-235 reactors down the world’s throat–”

        I’m withdrawing the rest of your seconds. Go away.

        My sentiments exactly.

        The rest of the article is pretty funny too.

    • gallopingcamel says:

      Thanks for reminding us that Uranium MSRs have great potential, given that Thorium is getting the “Hype”. It may come down to chemistry rather than physics with regard to on site re-processing.

  4. northcoast says:

    “. . . these reactors also supplied plutonium as a byproduct . . .” ??? I have no idea what the Admiral had in mind at the time, but these reactors are not well suited for producing weapons grade plutonium.

  5. starvinglion says:

    Has the marxist Adams finally implemented censorship?

    • Joel Riddle says:

      marxist Adams?
      Do you contribute anything of value to these comment sections?

      I find Bas and Bob Applebaum to provide much more value in their comments here, to be honest.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Any comment with more than one link must be reviewed before approval. Not “censorship”. Moderation and spam protection.

      You’re getting tiresome. You’re getting close to my banning criteria. Again, it won’t be censorship. It will be free choice.

    • gallopingcamel says:

      This is one of Rod’s best pieces. It does not matter what his politics are.

      Marxists and “Reds Under the Bed” are not scary given that we know how the “Cold War” turned out.

  6. Eino says:

    “Rah Rah …Go team Go! Has China installed the nuclear reactors for us yet? Rah Rah ”

    Attitude is everything. No work will ever get started on the Molten Salt Reactor without a team championing it. This is true whether the financing comes from private enterprise or the federal government. I like the enthusiasm. The videos put out by Kirk Sorensen are great. He injects a breath of fresh air into a paper bound bureaucratic industry that still functions with 1960s technology. This is an opportunity to both improve the product and use those many lessons learned from all those operating hours on light water reactors.

    Forget China! Build it in North America and sell it to the world.

    • starvinglion says:

      I’m changing my tune. I can no longer tolerate the fossil fuel industry and its attitude. I despise renewables with such a passion. I don’t see any other option besides nuclear energy.

      • Twominds says:

        Interesting. Can you at least briefly describe how this change of heart came about? What happened to your disgust for the ‘marxist welfare check ivory tower nuclear nanny queens who’ll never be of any use to society’ that you were blaring about so loudly?

  7. Dave says:

    Takeaway: if the US won’t build the future, China may well do so themselves. Might be a good time for readers to learn Mandarin (or perhaps Russian, as Brian mentioned several articles ago.)

    Thanks NRC/antis!

  8. GreenEntropy says:

    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.
    I’m not sure to whom you are referring, but I am disappointed by your implied insult of thorium advocates. It is unfortunate that some of them focus on thorium itself, while overlooking that the benefit is primarily due to the molten salt reactors for which thorium is the ideal fuel. Most knowledgable advocates recognize this, and it would be more constructive to correct this misunderstanding. I hope that you at least have an appreciation for the potential of molten salt reactors.

    It neglects the fact that uranium and thorium produce approximately the same mix of radioactive fission products.
    Thorium has real benefits, and is unique in its capability for breeding in the thermal spectrum. Starting at a lower atomic number, it does produce far less TRUs. Ideally those would also be fissioned in an appropriate reactor, but solid fuels make that more difficult.

    Denatured MSRs based on the uranium fuel cycle are probably more practical in the short term, and capture many of the benefits afforded by MSRs. A two-fluid thorium MSR does promise the most efficient incarnation though, with simplified reprocessing and the most efficient use of fissile.

    Minimizing the fissile inventory is not only attractive from a safety perspective, but also for economic reasons. Smaller and more efficient reactors requiring no fuel fabrication offer the greatest potential for rapid scaling of a nuclear buildout.

    • starvinglion says:

      The problem is the decommissioning costs of the existing reactor fleet. Governments have been deliberately bankrupted by the predatory anti-nuclear private banking system. Until people wake up and kick the mafia operators out of their respective country, nothing will change.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @starvinglion

        Though I would have selected slightly different words, I agree with your comment. It is also important to note that the decommissioning cost challenge is never helped by agreeing to shutdown nuclear plants before they are actually worn out. Early shutdowns eliminate many years worth of valuable revenue generating time that can be used to lower the decommissioning cost per unit of generation.

        Early retirement is costly for both humans and for equipment.

    • GreenEntropy says:

      “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.”

      …should have been quoted. Rod, your comment system could use a preview function.

  9. Mitch says:

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/12/20/sickened-by-service-more-us-sailors-claim-cancer-from-helping-at-fukushima/?intcmp=latestnews

    I not able to comment on this about US carrier sailors at Fukushima, like they’re dumping other views.

  10. Charles Barton says:

    ROD, You are prejudiced. How about a counselor whose father played a significant role in the development of the LWR, and was for 19 years a member of the ORNL research team that developed the MSR? It all boils down to a matter of nuclear literacy. We both have read technical documents related to nuclear energy, and we both have listened in to technical discussions of nuclear energy. You have more formal training, while I have read a lot more technical documents on molten salt reactor research.

    I may be a retired counselor, but I know what reports on MSR say. You don’t.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Charles Barton

      You have misread my words and my intent. In the sentence immediately after I said that a counselor did not have the background, I said “no one” has the information required to make any judgement about cost comparisons between MSRs and solid fuel reactors. There are too many unknowns.

      The answers to the unknowns about cost cannot be found in 40 year old technical reports written by government scientists and engineers.

      I may not have read quite as many of those reports as you, but I have read enough of them to have some notion of what they say.

  11. George C says:

    In a scathing Dec. 19 report, the International Monetary Fund (“Press Release No. 13/531″) lashed into Ukraine’s economic policies. Their number-one demand is that it slash and phase out energy subsidies, a move which the IMF nevertheless called “essential” and “indispensable.” This particular demand is repeated no less than four times in the five-page report.
    New York Times Moscow correspondent David M. Herszenhorn spelled out more of what the IMF meant in a Dec. 19 article. He wrote, “The report suggests that Russia’s offer this week to rescue Ukraine with another $15 billion in loans and a sharp discount on natural gas prices could be far riskier than President Vladimir V. Putin has suggested…. The IMF has said that without comprehensive reforms, including some tough austerity measures, any money provided to the Ukrainian government would essentially be thrown into a black hole.”

    I see Russian Nuclear power plants in the Ukraine’s future!!!

  12. Charles Barton says:

    Rob, I agree that there is no certainty about MSR costs, but there is still some plausibility about MSR cost estimates, especially the estimate that MSRs will cost less than LWR’s. LWRs require more material, more labor and highly skilled labor. In addition there are a number of cost saving measures that can lower the cost of MSR Vis a Vie LWRs. You need not argue that I cannot know such things because I am a counselor, scientists and engineers have also pointed them out.

    It is possible to locate a MSR in a shed, in fact the ORNL MSRE was located in a shed. Some protection against terrorism is desirable, but an old salt mine will do for a MSR.

    Rod, we live in a world in which people make plausible estimates about energy costs. This is true about LWRs, renewables and MSRs. I have attempted to find a basis for plausible comparisons of MSR and other energy costs. At the very least you should point out the errors of my arguments, rather than simply state no one can know THAT.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Charles Barton

      Please don’t feel so special. I say essentially the same thing about any energy system comparison that claims one vaguely defined technology is cheaper than another. There are too many unknown variables for me to believe the claim.

      • Charles Barton says:

        ROD, THE PROBLEM IS THE SAME. NO OBJECTIVE STANDARDS HAVE BEEN ESTABLISHED TO JUDGE AMONG THE CLAIMS OF COMPETING ENERGY SYSTEMS. THERE ARE NO RESEARCH BASED EVALUATIONS, AND ALMOST EVERYONE IS OPPOSED TO OBJECTIVE STANDARDS. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE IT HAPPEN. THE LAST TIME THE GOVERMENT ATTEMPTED TO PICK OUT THE BEST OF A NUMBER OF COMPETING ENERGY SYSTEMS WAS IN 1959. GUESS WHAT SYSTEM WON. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE AN OPEN COMPETITION AGAIN.

        • Rod Adams says:

          Charles – why are you shouting at me?

          • Charles Barton says:

            IT IS HARD FOR ME TO SEE THEW KEYS. I KEEP HITTING THE CAP LOCK KEY, AND IT IS A SILLY CONVENTION THAT THIS MEANS I AM SHOUTING. THIS!!!!!!!! MEANS I AM SHOUTING.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Charles

          There is little to no government money being spent to develop new nuclear designs of any kind. The people that need to be convinced that one design is better than another are those with the money to buy something.

        • gallopingcamel says:

          Charles,
          You are over reacting. Perhaps you are getting a little grumpy. Bah, humbug!

          Take a few deep breaths and count to 100. If that does’nt work I recommend a mild tranquilizer such as a beaker of Glenfiddich.

          As we approach Christmas please forgive Rod, this camel and your other friends for disagreeing with you on unimportant details. You don’t have to win every argument!

          That said, thank you for some wonderful comments. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    • Brian Mays says:

      It is possible to locate a MSR in a shed, …

      Not if you expect it to be licensed under 10 CFR 50 or 10 CFR 52.

      … in fact the ORNL MSRE was located in a shed.

      And what does the “E” in “MSRE” stand for again? I thought that you wanted to build commercial power-producing plants.

      It’s statements such as these and the repetitive allusions to a Cold War conspiracy to preclude the use of thorium as a fuel that undermine the credibility of thorium MSR advocates.

      Personally, I have no vested interest in preventing the development of MSR technology; on the contrary, I would love to have the opportunity to work on such a design (since there is plenty of good, interesting analysis work that still needs to be done). Nevertheless, if you want to be taken seriously, then your statements have to be credible, and the MSR and thorium advocates have done a very poor job in the credibility department — particularly the poorly informed advocates whose knowledge is limited to simply reading something on a website, which had made them think that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that MSR advocates readily and regularly make enemies out of potential allies by putting down every other reactor design out there.

      This is your problem, Charles. It’s up to you to fix it. Pouting and whining to us about how we don’t take you seriously won’t get you anywhere. In fact, it just reinforces the problems that I’ve highlighted above and underscores your amateur, “fanboy” status.

      LWRs require more material, more labor and highly skilled labor [than MSRs]. … At the very least you should point out the errors of my arguments, rather than simply state no one can know THAT.

      At the very least, you should back up your arguments with something substantial, rather than simply make statements based on vaporware, pie-in-the-sky “estimates.” If you want to know what your “errors” are, this is at the heart of them.

      • Dave says:

        I always have a laugh about the Cold War plutonium conspiracy allegations made by single fluid MSR advocates. They talk about LWRs being used for the gemeration of plutonium and associated skullduggery but then almost always fail to address – at least in the same discussion – the potential for 233Pa removal by online reprocessing in their designs. I don’t know enough to seriously judge, but a reactor that allows online, continuous removal of soon to be fissile materials (233Pa beta decays to 233U iwith a half life of several weeks) seems to potentially be better for unsavory purposes than even a calandria HWR, a LWGR, or a Magnox GGR.

        Not that the MSR should be held up by proliferation concerns, but perhaps “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

  13. Eino says:

    “At the very least, you should back up your arguments with something substantial, rather than simply make statements based on vaporware, pie-in-the-sky “estimates.” If you want to know what your “errors” are, this is at the heart of them.”

    Does an A vs B comparison exist out there? It would seem like there is enough interest in the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor that a grass roots effort could be made for a conceptual or at least a preconceptual design. There is a lot of software supported from the grassroots and I think you could do likewise with a design. There appear to be a lot of smart people interested in getting one of these built.

    Once the design was largely complete, it could be possible to do takeoffs from the design to get a good idea of the cost,……or,……….maybe some large company would provide a gratis bid.

    This would be better than relying on some inflation adjusted prices from the 1960s.

    • Brian Mays says:

      s

      It would seem like there is enough interest in the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor that a grass roots effort could be made for a conceptual or at least a preconceptual design.

      That’s what college professors are for. They brainstorm ideas for new or improved designs, they do preliminary, crude analyses, they publish papers. Based on how “good” their papers are, they apply for and receive (government) grants for producing more papers. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is not limited to academia, however. There are private companies out there whose entire nuclear-related revenue comes from convincing the government to fun yet one more paper on a “promising” pre-conceptual design.

      But I digress. My original criticism of Charles was that he makes blanket statements and comparisons without anything solid to back them up.

  14. Eino says:

    “That’s what college professors are for.”

    Well – Those boys are in a different world. I’m thinking more of an actual design. Something practical – not academic. It needn’t be perfect. They’d also need a grant to do it. I don’t see that forthcoming. It is the same with companies. They are ruled by the profit king.

    Many people do not realize that actual design is an iterative process. You “cut and try,” so to speak. If a scope were written for say a 50 MW reactor, I’m sure there is someone out there who could help size the major components and this would be reviewed or corrected by others. Further details could then be fleshed out.

    Bechtel had their SNUPPS units that they were trying to sell a few years back. The AP1000 started with the AP600 which was never built. Both are models similar to what I am thinking. The difference is that it would be a cooperative voluntary effort.

    We needn’t be confined to the same model as has been used in the past for a design. The distributed design model seems to work in the software world. Why not other things?
    There’s a whole world interested in this LFTR reactor. Just an idea.

    • Brian Mays says:

      I’m thinking more of an actual design. Something practical — not academic.

      If you want to talk practical, then the first question should be who’s going to build it?

      We needn’t be confined to the same model as has been used in the past for a design. The distributed design model seems to work in the software world. Why not other things?

      The software world involves software. You can swap out the software on your computer tomorrow, next week, next year, or whenever you want or need to.

      We’re not talking about software, we’re talking about hardware. The “release early, release often” (RERO) model that has been so successful in the Free Software world doesn’t apply to hardware, particularly a highly durable asset like a power-producing facility.

      Let me put it this way … The last completely new nuclear plant in the US came online in 1996. Are you still using computer hardware from 1996? Are you still running software that was released circa 1996 (e.g., Windows 95)? The oldest nuclear plants in the US date from the late 1960′s. I’m certain that nobody here is using computer hardware that was built in the 1960′s. I doubt even that anyone has working telephones that are that old.

  15. Eino says:

    “If you want to talk practical, then the first question should be who’s going to build it?”

    Construction would be by contractors. An initial target customer would be electrical utilities.

    “We’re not talking about software, we’re talking about hardware. The “release early, release often” (RERO) model that has been so successful in the Free Software world doesn’t apply to hardware, particularly a highly durable asset like a power-producing facility.”

    The idea would be to produce a standard design. This would be public domain and stored on an accessible server. The design would have calculations, drawings, specifications and some defined hardware. A design can be modified just like source code. The design is the source for what is built. If this design were ever built, this standard design could serve as a template for the design of the real product. I believe the idea can apply to hardware. Concrete specified today may differ little than that of a few years back. It is likewise true for metal, pipes, wiring.and the control system. As technology advances and these items change, the design is simply updated just like software.

    From what I can see, the only Molten Salt reactor design that exists for Thorium is vaporware. An actual design could give a more valid price and may generate real customers for the product.

    • Brian Mays says:

      For the detailed design stuff, that’s what patents are for. The owner of the patent is entitled to certain rights over the idea or design for a designated period of time. After that, it becomes part of the public domain.

      As for the general design concepts, they are already public. Whenever someone publishes a paper on one of these concepts, the basic idea becomes public knowledge. Anyone can take the idea and run with it by doing the hard work of tackling the details.

      Nevertheless, even if someone were to collect, compile, and publish the detailed drawings, specifications, etc., of a complete design, it would still need to be licensed before it could operate. The design process is the fun, interesting part of the job, but it is only a relatively small fraction of the total amount work that must be done to bring a new reactor design to fruition. Eventually, the perspective owner must convince the regulator that the thing is “safe” and complies with all of the Byzantine regulations that have been instituted over the years to address this issue or that.

      All of this requires time, money, and effort. Fortunately, the various national labs produce and publish data, methodologies, and other information that can be very useful in this endeavor, but it is still not enough. Any private company that wants to develop and license a reactor design will need to do its own analysis and produce its own data to use as its licensing basis. Since this work is on the private company’s dime, naturally these companies will want to protect such information by keeping it proprietary.

      If you want to take this back to the analogy with software, think about this. Today, the underlying operating system that runs Apple’s Macintosh computers (called “Darwin”) is Free Software. It’s not quite public domain, but everyone has access to the source code and can modify it and use it however they want (cf. Microsoft Windows for the other model). The graphical user interface that makes a “Mac” a Mac, however, is proprietary software that is owned and completely controlled by Apple. This is why Apple can charge what they do for their personal computers.

  16. Charles Barton says:

    I have reposted a couple of old posts on Nuclear Green, as a responce to my critics. The posts are too long, to be comments here. Some time ago, I determined that there was no evidence that the Chinese had developed their interests in MSRs and LFTRs as a result of my stated views, but that Kirk Sorensen may have played a role. However, the Chinese appear to hold views similar to my own. Perhaps it is Kirk’s fault that they are so misinformed. At any rate the Chinese appear to be ready to put their money where their mouth is. Figures like $350 million ate being talked about.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Charles Barton

      The source I was talking about is the community of thorium advocates that often misunderstand and incorrectly repeat some of the information that has been published from reliable sources.

      For example – fast reactors can fission uranium almost completely, just like LFTRs can fission thorium almost completely. Known technology thus allows an equal amount of both actinides to produce roughly the same quantity of energy.

      For some odd reason, there are some thorium advocates that say that thorium is safer than uranium. That statement appears in the Reuters article that stimulated me to write this post. I simply don’t buy the statement or understand its basis.

      • Charles Barton says:

        Rod, I am certainly not a critic of thorium, which I believe will play an important and perhaps eventually predominant role in the nuclear future. I have, however, for the last several years held the view that Uranium cycle, and hybred uranium-thorium cycle MSRs will play an important role in the near energy future. The technology for these reactors has already been developed. All that is left is to build a commercial prototype and a factory.

        Although skeptics talk the view that any MSR will require generations to develop. It is a good thing that Weinberg did not hold such a view about the undeveloped LWR, or that Rickover did not think that it would take a long time for the Navy to turn Weinberg’s paper reactor into a sea going power plant. Rod, how long did it take for Rickover to get the LWR up and running?

  17. Eino says:

    Merry Christmas!

    “The design process is the fun, interesting part of the job, but it is only a relatively small fraction of the total amount work that must be done to bring a new reactor design to fruition.”

    I think engineering is 10 to 20 % of a nuke project vs maybe 5-10% of a conventional project. So in a multi-billion dollar project, if a good part of this portion could be done via the public domain, it would be substantial. (I don’t think it would be all fun.)

    “Since this work is on the private company’s dime, naturally these companies will want to protect such information by keeping it proprietary.”

    If some of this was done by the public domain, any company would be able to pick up on it and build on it. In fact, I wonder if some A/E (Architect Engineering) firms wouldn’t allow a bit of time to be spent on such a project by the few semi idle engineers that are out there. It would be good training

    A public domain design would have a known design basis that would not need to be reconstituted 25 years down the road. This would have to include a Safety Analysis Report. No mystery on safety bases.