1. All the fuels have their place. Having worked with thorium on Ft St Vrain as well as a traditional uranium/plutonium career, I have seen how these fuels can complement each other. I am going to sound like Fast Company magazine, but we need to improve our isotopic synergization. We will have a stronger technology base and can better contribute to our global energy needs.

  2. Agreed Rod.

    The main competitive edge that MSRs will possess initially is their higher reactor coolant (w/ the coolant and fuel being contained in the same fluid) outlet temperatures allowing them to enter energy markets beyond baseload electricity generation much more easily than water-cooled reactors can. That should (from my viewpoint/estimation) become the focal point of the thoriumati “marketing” campaign. The 3-4 times greater fuel supply “fact” sounds great to people without a thorough understanding of the nuclear fuel supply and its future possibilities, but in reality that won’t become a competitive advantage for thorium-fueled reactors over uranium-fueled reactors until probably well over a terawatt of nuclear electricity is in operation globally (more than double present capacity).

    On those topics, a correction Rod: nuclear provides 20% of U.S. electricity generation. The percentage of total energy is well below 20%, due to nuclear remaining confined at the moment to baseload electricity generation and Naval propulsion.

  3. The thorium advocates have glossed over the need for an initial charge of fissile material to get a LFTR going. Delivering a ton of uranium or plutonium to developing countries to start their thorium reactors will require a well developed monitoring and inspection regime.

    1. That’s another thing. The conceit that the old nuclear Powers (or more correctly the U.S.) is still in a position to dictate terms to emerging nuclear Powers has to be forgotten, those days are gone. These countries have displayed a marked lack of enthusiasm for schemes like a nuclear fuel bank or any other suggestion that they subordinate their nuclear programs to policies dictated by others.

      This attitude does not bode well for those that see and try to sell thorium as an anodyne to the perceived threat of indigenous nuclear infrastructure like enrichment plants and such.

      Robert Gauthier

  4. The pointless bickering over Gen IV reactor designs is doing nothing to advance the cause of nuclear power, and in fact, may be doing just the opposite. And I don’t mean only that it is diluting the general effort. It disturbs me that some outside the pronuclear community are looking at the promises being made by the thorium faction and concluding that the best strategy may be to hold out for reactors based on this fuel rather than deal with what they feel is the intractable problems with ‘nuclear waste” and proliferation, issues which thorium supporters are claiming their preferred fuel do not have.

    Unfortunately by pursuing this path thorium supporters are engaging in a rather naked argumentum ad ignorantiam which will blow up in their faces eventually and to the detriment of both their objectives and the effort to advance nuclear energy in general. In short they are writing checks with their mouths that they are not going to be able to cash, and everyone will suffer for it.

    This tactic only reinforces and provides justification for the belief that these artificial problems with waste and proliferation exist when in fact they do not. They are a wholly synthetic creation of the antinuclear movement that have no bases in fact and the last thing we need are groups from the inside claiming that they have found a solution.

    Worse, the same forces that produced these lies about uranium powered reactors will have no problem creating a whole new set to tar thorium with when they breathlessly reveal that the issues have not been solved at all, only shifted about, and the whole thing will start again.

    Robert Gauthier

    1. Rob/DV8,

      I think the actual leadership of the thorium community (particularly Kirk) have heard and are heeding many of the comments you have made above.

      The problem primarily lies in “new converts” to the thorium idea. There is certainly a learning curve for those people to realize the potential detrimental effects of some of their enthusiasm.

    2. There is so far only an Indian document which takes a co-ordinated view by suggestions for enhancing the power from uranium by fitting thorium in the picture.
      Half the world population of the world, living in South and East Asia, more than rest of the world, would go for “All of above” ways and may use nuclear steam to extract coal and other kerogens from the earth by using nuclear steam, I hope.

  5. I have followed much of the “LFTR” online communities for a while. It is great that the technology is bringing in a lot of people who had previously dismissed fission.

    The problem is, a lot of people think thorium is somehow devoid of all the problems our current uranium fuel cycle has. This is just untrue. Thorium really isn’t any different (other than it is fertile), it becomes uranium anyway before it fissions.

    A physicist I know said this recently to me as a comment on the online frenzy over thorium in a LFTR: “Come for the thorium, stay for the reactor”. The molten salt reactor concept is the real game changer that I see. It does have a lot of benefits over traditional reactors, it just needs development time.

    My personal belief is (and that of the MSR physicist quoted above), build a molten salt reactor, forget about trying to do all of these fancy things with breeding, just run it on LEU. Simple is key. The reactor has great merits as a simple burner and if we could get the tech going, it would be a great step towards power reactors with inherent safety and high enough burnup to reduce the waste to a 500 year problem.

    However, my personal feeling is that this reactor is a couple decades off at least (in the hostile NRC environment of the USA anyway). Right now we should be focusing on building more Gen III(+) reactors.

    I was recently at the Canadian Nuclear Society annual conference and at one of the lunches I was sitting with some people from industry. I asked if they had done much thinking about Gen IV reactors. I received a response that really resonated with me: “Honestly, I’m just worried about getting a Gen III plant built”.

    1. George, I have likewise been following (since sometime in 2009). One point about your 4th paragraph – to get the “waste problem” down to a 500 year thing with an MSR will require 1 of 2 things: either a liquid chloride fast reactor (or some alternate fast MSR) or a full thorium breeder (in the thermal/epi-thermal spectrum) to keep the production of higher actinides to a very, very low level. Either path should get there, but a simply thermal burner MSR with “conventional” LEU fuel would not make an appreciable dent in the present time scale of the “waste problem”, without a significant build-up of some reprocessing.

      1. Joel,

        I can understand your confusion Joel, but those are not the only two options to greatly lower transuranic waste. A simple converter MSR with conventional LEU fuel can have just as low a transuranic waste profile if one simple does a single processing job at the end of a salt batch’s lifetime (as long several decades). Yes this is processing but you have decades to develop the technology (and pay for its R&D) and could even be by equipment shipped between plants for a few months at each site. By recycling any Np, Pu, Am, Cm etc and perhaps occasionally re-enriching the uranium to lower the U238 content one can have a very impressive waste profile

        1. Joel’s comment on the spectrum is spot on. The transparencies above Pu-239 require a fast spectrum to fission in thermal specta they tend to build up. From a salt perspective you need something that is suitable fast spectrum fuel. The traditional method of this is with chloride salts.

          Thorium reactors get around this in the epithermal region because they use U-233 as the fissile fuel and that has a long neutron absorption path to get past Pu-239.

          To get to a world with only fission products you need fast reactors for the U-238 derived fuel and Thermal/epithermal for the Th-232 derived fuels.

          It comes down to managing fissile material. If we want a rapid buildout of nuclear we need fissile material that is inexpensive. That means we need very high conversion ratio reactors to prevent straining our existing fuel infrastructure. Thorium thermal reactors like Shippingport are what I see LWR’s becoming. They are very simple and well understood designs with impressive performance history. We will need fast reactors to produce the fissile material to supplement enrichment resources. Enter the IFR, which by the way is hot enough to produce amplified heat for 700C. Which covers roughly 80% of process heat needed.

          Then you have HTGR like NGNP that can cover even higher chemical processes that rely on fissile material from the SFR. And thorium breeding like Ft St Vrain. Then we have the MSR which I think will eventually supplant solid fuel, but not for a while. I see MSR’s being especially well suited for transportation heat sources, especially space based, but that is the Trekkie in me coming out.

          We need everything, and everything has its place even fossil fuels. We need to work on integration of our energy sources to find the best synergies. That is where my work is. Nothing is inherently bad. But some things are better suited in certain applications.

        2. Cal,

          I was under the impression that if one was to leave the transuranics in a fissioning reactor for 20-30 years, eventually you would climb the chain and at some point fission off all transuranics.

          I don’t think it is completely accurate to say you need a fast spectrum to do this. As long as you leave the fuel in the reactor for long enough you will end up eating everything up in there.

          If this is not accurate could you explain to me why this would not be possible?

        3. The transuranics can be left in a fast reactor and will reach an equilibrium concentration. This is not necessarily true with thermal fuels for a bunch of different reasons. First is the fission cross section of these isotopes in thermal spectra is miserable so they create a neutron economy penalty. That means you need more neutrons from more fissile material to drive the reaction. The second reason is they tend to volatile at sintering temperatures used in oxide fuel fabrication. They boil away as you form the fuel. Metal fuels the vapor pressure is less and a higher fraction of the transuranics stay in the fuel. Metallic fuel cannot be used in thermal reactors because it blisters pretty quickly, and the sodium bond that was developed for fast reactors to give the fuel room to swell is not suitable for water coolants.

          Thorium is a much better thermal fuel because the conversion ratio is pretty much flat regardless of neutron energy. This allows thermal breeding and better reactor kinetics. Thorium at 232 has a long way to get past 239 and there are three fissile isotopes along the production chain so there are very very small long term minor actinides, because you simply don’t produce them.

          The problem with thorium as a long term fuel is that U-233 has very few neutrons produced per fission, this means neutron economy is paramount if you are going to produce as much fissile material as you consume. Thorium has doubling times on the order of 20+ years for creating new fissile material needed to power new reactors. It is for this reason alone that thorium alone is inadequate for any meaningful market usefulness, sorry LFTR afficanados, physics and economics will put off your technology for a while. Not saying we won’t get there, but we just can’t be there on a whim. We live in a irreversibile world which means the path taken does matter.

          Uranium is a great fast fuel as discussed above. It has the advantage of producing a plethora of neutrons which allows doubling times ~1/4 that of thorium not to mention we can refine the ore to produce fissile material through enrichment. This and current fissile inventories will allow a rapid expansion of nuclear energy. So fast reactors are an enabling technology to create LFTR’s as are thermal LWR’s because he driver fuel, plutonium, is physically separated from the fertile fuel, thorium, allowing pure U-233 production which can be used to start up LFTR’s. There are infinite possibilities, but the ones that reuse existing infrastructure and leverage existing technologies are going to be the ones that succeed, as they require the less effort to implement and will generate the highest profits allowing more development.

          The kinetics of IFR type reactors is very similar to that of the Thorium reactors. So performance wise it is a wash. Thorium advocates will try to disuade IFR due to trumped up fears about prompt criticality, eg Fermi I. These were resolved in the 1990’s with EBR-II.

        4. Cal, the PACER fusion device that Robert mentions in his 6/23 2:09 am post would be one possible path to a fast deployment of LFTRs with a start-up charge of nearly pure U-233 (w/ some U-232 contamination complicating handling) if paired with a Fission-Suppressed Thorium Blanket.

          Here is a related link.


        5. Joel,
          You are quite right that ADS systems can achieve such reductions. They rely on slightly subcritical piles and thus don’t have to worry too much about neutron economy or reactivity swings, still worry but in a different way. The problem with ADS systems is the overall heat rate and the capital investment in the neutron source. They are a very expensive way to make neutrons and solves non problems. I look at these systems more as solutionering. Create a solution for something that is not a problem. Critical reactors are much more inexpensive and are perfectly safe. Basically with 1960’s technology we have globally killed only 57 people as a direct result of commercial plant operations and those were all due to Chernobyl.

          The other one is fission fission hybrids. Fast reactors can easily manage transuranics and the technology is available now and is competitive in the current market without subsidy. Fission fission is at least 50-years more like 100-years. ADS is still a paper and code design. With horrible economics.

          If i had to describe an overall approach i would be: Stick with what works and is proven don’t invent solutions that only serve the solution and stick to fundamental economics and physics. This is called the third best solution.

        6. Cal Abel:

          Thorium has doubling times on the order of 20+ years for creating new fissile material needed to power new reactors.

          No, you have this backwards.  Fast-spectrum U-Pu reactors need high fissionable inventories due to the low fission cross-section at high energies; despite high breeding ratios (1.22 for PRISM) if you are only producing 0.22 additional ton of Pu out of ~7.5 tons total fuel-cycle inventory (in-core, cooling and reprocessing), your rate of increase is under 3%/yr and your doubling time is upwards of 25 years.

          LFTR can apparently hit breeding ratios of 1.05-1.07 at reasonable cost, and has no inventory requirement for cooling or fabrication.  More to the point, the thermal spectrum reactor has a low fissionable inventory; it can have a burnup of 80-100% per year.  Increase at 4%/year doubles in 17 years, 5.6%/year doubles in 12.5 years, 7%/year takes 10.

          This still leaves us with the Pu/Am/Cm from a host of sources, even if a substantial amount of it is burned as the starting fuel charges for LFTRs.  Fast-spectrum reactors will get rid of it, burn our abundant supply of DU that we should not waste, and also take the waste Np-238 that LFTRs are inevitably going to have to do something with.  The two go hand in hand.

        7. Cal,

          PACER is not an accelerator-driven system. It utilizes fission to acheive the D-T fusion.

        8. @poet Thank you for the correction. I ran the numbers using a 90% capacity factor a 596 day cycle length and 5-year cooling and reprocessiong time the conversion ratio comes out to 4.4% (327 kg produced for every 7.5 ton in inventory), on par with LFTR. The rate of deployment of a technology is what is important. Fast reactors use our 75,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel to start up. With an approximate 4% fissile content this constitutes 800 metric tons of Pu. This fissile inventory can be doubled if the RU which contains 2% U-235 is used in the driver fuel.

          Referencing the ICAAP ’03 S-PRISM Fuel Cycle Study this is enough material to start up 133 cores or 41GW(e) not including the used nuclear fuel that will continued to be produced. Looking at the Boardman paper it looks like they only examined Pu driver fuel and not a blended Pu and RU driver fuel. This would double the available capacity.

          Unfortunately, for a meaningful contribution of nuclear this is less than adequate. Using weapons down blending and enrichment are needed to drive further expansion. Additionally LWR will need to shift to high conversion ratio fuels. This means Shippingport redux. PRISM builds and other fast breeders would work on dispositioning all of the DU and existing LWR waste. MSR would serve to expand fissile material production. To decarbonize electricity and the bulk of process heat at todays consumption is 516GW(t) of new capacity. Solid fuel fast reactors can handle roughly 1/4 of this over the next 30-years, without straining existing resources. These reactors are enough to get started but any rapid buildout will require massive fissile material production: fast breeding, thermal breeding, enrichment, and down blending.

          Thank you for the correction and forcing me go to primary sources to support my point that every reactor has their place and we need as many different sources as we can get our hands on. Based off of your comment I think you are of a similar mind.

  6. I agree Rod. 100%. I’m part of this “LFTR Community” and have argued that to make LFTR deployable, LWR at least in their Gen III format, have to work, be proven safe and *accepted* by the public. Without this, without the clear success of the current yet incipient fleet of Gen III reactors, LFTR, and all Gen IV reactors are simply not going to happen. Despite their huge differences in technology, the ‘fission’ is the same, and that is the target of anit-nuclear Forces of Darkness. We can only save LFTR by saving nuclear.

    @George. No, ‘technically’ what you about running MSRs on LEU is false. It is not simpler, it is more complex. Leaving aside for a minute the issue of starter-charge (which, down the road, can be U233 and skipping the U235) the fact, the attractiveness, in part to LFTR over “UFTR” is that you don’t need to enrich the thorium. You shovel in it’s raw state, only ‘milled’ so to speak, to make it 100% thorium. Basically this can be done in the same way, and simpler too, that is done to produce yellow-cake, before enrichment.

    Having said all that, I would LOVE to see a UFTR…a U235 fueled MSR as it would prove the technology (again), and see it deployed. I also think such Uranium MSRs could be better waste eaters than the Chloride run “Fast LFTR” used to eat nuclear waste. Just thinking outloud here…


    1. Not sure how (David W.’s comment) you could possibly claim a uranium burning MSR is more complex than a thorium breeder? Just because enrichment is needed? That is not a complexity, it is a commodity available on the open market and we can’t un-invent enrichment (and LEU burning MSRs use need so much less enrichment we don’t need to add world capacity). In breeder designs, processing of the salts on the order of hundreds to thousands of tonnes per year per plant by techniques never developed beyond table top experiments is the complexity LEU burning MSRs avoid. For example the MSBR design (1970) would be over 5000 tonnes per GWe year needing to be processed. Trying to save every single neutron possible in order to breed also adds a great deal of complexity to design.

      David LeBlanc

      1. David L, you can’t deny that enrichment adds a level of complexity to the fuel mix. Just because it’s well understood and scaled to industry size for purposes of solid-fuel fabrication still means it is an order of complexity when using enriched fuel. add a step is by definition more ‘complex’ in anyones book regardless of less amount of LEU one uses in an MSR.

        You are correct, of course about the salt issue. But the whole of MSR is less complicated than an LWR, yes? Your own design of a MSR is less complext than other MSRs.


        1. David W., I believe David LeBlanc’s main point is that the complexity added by requiring enrichment is a technical issue that was solved long ago and has subsequently been improved upon (and will be further improved by laser enrichment/SILEX technology), whereas the technical issue of processing large amounts of molten salt to remove the fission products needing removal and doing everything else needed to get just the right breeding characteristics within the core while also having the protactinium-233 in the right place until it can decay to U-233 and thus be fissile has not yet been proven/demonstrated on a commercial scale.

          I wish I could have quickly thought of an easy way to break those sentences apart.

        2. @David Walters

          Enrichment is a simple process that is handled for the entire world’s nuclear industry by a dozen or fewer facilities. It is also a process that has seen vast improvements since Wigner and Weinberg’s days. I would venture a guess that neither one of them would be as motivated to develop thorium now as they were in the 1960s.

          The sketches I have seen for the MSRs remind me of the cartoons I have seen for conceptual LWRs. There is a great deal of complexity that is not yet on the drawing.

  7. It seems to me that the tactic of some thorium presenters in playing up concerns about uranium fission is aimed at softening and nullifying anti-nuclear voices.

    Here’s the news: it won’t work. As soon as anyone proposes building an actual thorium reactor, the anti-nukes will find vociferous reasons to oppose it. All their lines like “oh if only there were a reactor that did X” will be forgotten. Street fighting rules will apply.

    The same goes for fusion. As long as fusion is a distant concept that can be thrown in the path of other nuclear power development or can be a fig-leaf to pretend a pro-technology position, it will be a talking point that the anti-nukes will use. As soon as it approaches becoming a reality, they will cook up a million stories and reasons to oppose it.

    I don’t make these predictions because I understand anti-nuclear sentiment; I make them because that is the track record. Any answered question that was a burning issue becomes unimportant; there is another burning issue, then another, and another.

    1. I agree with Joffan. In the long run it’s a moot point which (Th-U-Pu) fuel fission reactor type take market share or for that matter which fusion reactor magnetic confined mirrored electrostatic Polywell or ITER toroidal type reactor fulfill the Lawson Criteria and eventual Break-even to final Ignition of fusion energy. Even the futuristic matter-antimatter annihilation reactor could someday be in play. The mere fact that it’s all radioactive and opposed by the anti-nuclear polemic is the agenda of the anti-humanist de-population philosophy that plaque our societies.
      Any advancement mentioned needs R&D and investment to make them work and brought to market in providing service. Because in the final analysis it’s about preserving the most value resource we have: the human being

      1. If by long run you mean past the turn of the next century, before commercially deploying fusion that is a strong maybe. Fusion even magnetic confinement are pulsed devices with capacity factors that make wind look good. Even if ITER is successful still not at adequate temp and press in plasma to make these puppies work. Fusion is in my professional opinion a pipe dream. Especially after sitting through a semester of Weston Stacey describe it as such. His tech SABR (fission-fusion) is even a distant dream that relies on super conducting magnets to drive the confinement.

        Fusion research money is better spent on building fission reactors today, because the problem is today, not 50+ years after I’m dead.

  8. I feel kind of guilty about over-criticism because I received an advance copy gratis from a generous and enthusiastic friend of the author, and PLEASE let’s not develop this into a “MY reactor is better than YOUR reactor” exercise, but here’s some of what I wrote to a friend after starting the book a couple months ago;

    … still not finished, but I want to go through it with a thousand post-it notes and mark spots with “exactly right!” or “not even close!” or “really? I didn’t know that!”

    I agree with 90% of what he says and learned a few things (Leslie Groves retired as a Lt. General, not 2-star as I had thought, and Bell Aircraft build a bunch of the B-29s in WWII).

    But he repeats a few of the old slanders against LWRs, doesn’t seem to realize that they also have inherent safety features in the form of negative reactivity feedbacks, misunderstands the meaning of Gen III Passive Safety, and apparently hasn’t read much on IFR, which solves a lot of the same problems LFTR does.

    I need to spend more time on the EnergyFromThorium forum – some technically competent people there (I will just give up sleeping!).

    Martin talks about Fast Reactors being “twitchy” (quoting Sorensen), but shows no signs of reading Dr. Charles Till’s book on IFR, “Plentiful Energy”, or even the popularized version, Tom Blees’ “Prescription for the Planet”. Neither are in the chapter annotations.

    Related to twitchiness, I would like to understand how, if LFTR is separating out fission products online, they are retaining in the Rx inventory the delayed-neutron precursors that are essential for stable criticality control.

  9. With regard to fissioning Thorium there is a new process on the block. Accelerator Driven Systems usually refers to a Proton accelerator but there is something new. Add FeCl2 to silicone oil to create a fertile fluid and use reentrant bubble jet to transmute the suspended FeCl2 releasing fast neutrons. This new ADS makes tiny MSR’s feasible from 150 to 800 KW. of course the distributed power market will grow based upon this new finding. However, the NRC and DOE are right there to regulate such applications of new technology. In fact Dr. Chu and company does not consider the science valid for lack of peer review. Which begs the question how the hell the DoD can experiment with this same science? See Fabio Cardone research papers and Nano Spire Inc. research concerning transmutation reactions with the release of fast neutrons and judge for yourself. ADS Thorium Molten Salt Reactors could dominate the distributed power market in China and the Commonwealth Countries of the UK very soon.

  10. Very good points Rod. I wasn’t very pleased either with the book but wasn’t surprised by the tone. I was surprised though by the large number of simple factual errors. I had helped edit a couple chapters but it is obvious they needed far more help. It is a huge and broad subject being tackled by a non-professional but even still, when so many obvious errors creep in it is hard to take the overall message too seriously.

    David L.

  11. I have to agree with one of the main thrusts of Rod’s blog post, that fission nuclear technology squabbling “is actually a well conceived effort to encourage fratricide that will support the hydrocarbon establishment”. It does not serve the pro-nuclear cause to suggest that everyone give up on building currently licensed Gen-III nuclear technology because Thorium LFTRs are so much better. It is important to preserve the US nuclear industry and that can only be done by near term sales of new nuclear power plants. Even the most optimistic forecasts for LFTR commercial deployment would not see LFTR as a commercial reality for at least another decade (and two decades is probably closer for the US). While improved nuclear reactors may be built by new nuclear companies, future nuclear deployments would develop more rapidly if the existing nuclear industry remains healthy and intact.

    Is the principle advantage of Thorium LFTRs that they can run at higher temperatures?
    That is an advantage of LFTR, but not the principle advantage (IMHO).

    The principal advantage of Thorium Fuel Cycle is that it permits complete consumption of the Thorium nuclear fuel in a nice safe and stable thermal neutron reactor. It has been the experience of nuclear designers over the last 5 decades that it is easier and cheaper to make safe thermal neutron reactors than it is to build fast reactors, and as a result, the ratio of thermal reactors to fast reactors on planet earth stands at greater than a 10:1.
    Completely consuming your nuclear fuel has some important consequences to both the front end and back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Front End Fuel Cycle – It is not necessary to dig as much Thorium ore out of the ground to produce a GW(e)-year of energy, so there is less impact on the environment than technology that requires enrichment steps and literally 250 times as much ore be removed from the ground per GW(e)-year.

    Back End Fuel Cycle – It is not necessary to sequester and bury as much waste in a repository after extracting the energy from the fuel if you fully consume your nuclear fuel. The vast majority of the material that has to be sent to a long term waste respository currently is just unburned U-238 fertile fuel. Fully burning your nuclear fuel means that a Yucca Mountain style of repository lasts longer and can operate for many more years. LFTRs produce the vast majority of their reduced amount of waste as fission products (for each 1000 kilograms of Thorium burned, about 980 kilograms are fission products that fully decay to the natural radioactive background in less than 350 years, while less than 20 kilograms are Minor Actinide waste that has longer half lives and requires sequestration).

    Every Thorium LFTR is a Uranium burning reactor (LFTR just burns U-233 instead of U-235). You will never get a LFTR to operate on Thorium alone.

  12. Hi Rod,

    I am one of those LFTR developers. I am also on the record defending the spectacular record of LWRs as the best source of baseload power out there and I will continue to do so until we successfully develop and commercialize something EVEN BETTER. Yet given the past history and recent statements made to the media by members of the nuclear establishment long before Mr. Martin’s book came out, I have good reason to doubt that certain established nuclear institutions are even willing to work with us

    Exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI
    The is strong evidence out there demonstrating that past nuclear research program funding decisions were based on politics instead of experiment-based predictions of future performance. Milton Shaw gets special emphasis here.

    Exhibit B: Paul Genoa, director of policy development at the Nuclear Energy Institute: “There’s a huge investment and infrastructure in this country that goes back 50 years. You don’t just walk away from that and try the shiny new toy, even if the shiny new toy might work better.”
    –This is a logical fallacy and by this logic historically we should have never abandoned our once extensive canal system in favor of railroads

    Exhibit C: From http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44820498/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/thorium-future-nuclear-power/#.T-T1UhdYswd: “There are a small boatload of fanatics on thorium that don’t see downsides,” said Dan Ingersoll, senior project manager for nuclear technology at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    Quite frankly, these examples reek of political rent seeking to protect interests from the competition of a legitimate alternative nuclear technology with strong experimental evidence of superior performance on multiple metrics. I would personally love to dispose of this political nonsense and infighting and have a frank and honest discussion of how we can bump nuclear’s market share from ~20% to 80% but I am not willing to politically rollover, fall-in-line, and keep my mouth shut, when guys like these keep taking pot shots at us without technical merit. I am more than willing to correct Mr. Martin’s factual errors but there’s a strong need for reciprocity here. As far as I can see, many mainstays of the Thorium crowd, including David LeBlanc have already publicly corrected Mr. Martin. I have yet to see any member of the nuclear establishment publicly correct, Paul Genoa or Dan Ingersol. The only conclusions I can come to without public correction, is that these latter two speak for the institutions they are members of. I am confident many members of the Thorium community feel the same way. When members of the Thorium community speak of the entrenched opposition, (I have never heard anyone besides Mr. Martin sue the term Nuclearati,) these three are the prime examples of who we are referring to.

    1. @Cavan Stone

      I hate to sound like an old fuddy duddy, but your post illustrates a need for some leavening in your knowledge that comes from age and experience. My guess is that you have not spent much time outside of an educational environment involved in the hard work of building, operating and maintaining anything. I suspect that you have little idea what Mr. Genoa meant when he talked about the infrastructure that has been erected during the fifty years of light water reactor development and why no one is planning to walk away from that in a “break before make” action that would be exceedingly risky.

      That risk would not just be born by investors, but also by the tens of thousands of people whose brains carry some of the infrastructure and by the millions of people that depend on the low cost, ultra low emission, and reliable power that comes from the nation’s 104 remaining nuclear power plants.

      Your analogy regarding canals and railroads is a false one. Canals had huge initial costs, but they also had enormous operating expenses compared to even the earliest railroads. In addition, before railroads started putting canals out of business in the US, they were proven technology being widely deployed in many places at nearly the same time. There was a growing infrastructure of factories making the required elements of wheels, engines, cars, tracks, signals, etc.

      They were not mere paper promoted by dreamers who mislabel themselves as “developers”. It may be possible to develop software without getting your hands dirty, but if you want to develop power plants you had better be ready to dig, weld, pour concrete, lay rebar, and get hot on occasion.

      Dan Ingersoll is certainly no stuck in the mud establishment type, but he does have a few grey hairs provided by a long career in nuclear science and technology. He is not wrong when he stated that folks who cut their teeth at the Thorium Forum have overlooked a number of downsides in the current state of their technology development. Thorium does hold some amazing promise, but you have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to do before that promise is proven.

  13. I realize that Atomic Insights is a fission nuclear hangout (and most of the time I am a fission nuclear guy) but I would like to appeal to Rod to add two additional nuclear fuels to the Superfuels list – Deuterium and Tritium, which are fusion nuclear fuels.

    Why does Deuterium and Tritium deserve to be on the Superfuels List?
    People sometimes tend to forget that it is possible to produce large amounts of energy from fusion today (yes today, not 50 or 100 years from now) using a thermonuclear process called PACER fusion. PACER fusion is the only practical current technique for reaching the levels of temperature, confinement time, and plasma density needed to reliably achieve fusion comes from use of nuclear fission as an initiator. All diffuse energy approaches to plasma ignition (Large Lasers, Microwave Plasma Heating, Sandia Z-pinch machines and tokomaks) cannot reliably get to fusion conditions and generate any real power (and may not for another 100 years or more).
    LLL and LASL field test divisions produced practical power from fusion in 1952 with the help of a fission igniter. A practical system called PACER for using peaceful thermo-nuclear explosive technology to sustainably produce energy from fusion was designed by Fusion and Molten Salt Reactor expert Dr. Ralph Moir –

    Justification for Deuterium and Tritium being included with other Superfuels –
    ANNUAL FUEL CONSUMPTION producing 1000MW(e)-year of energy
    (energy output of a typical single modern electric power plant over one year)
    Coal – 2,7000,000 metric tonnes
    Oil – 1,900,000 metric tonnes
    Fission (LWR) – 28 metric tonnes of UO2
    Fission (Thorium LFTR) – 1 metric tonne of Thorium
    Fusion(D-T) – 100kg Deuterium and 150kg Tritium

    If 10 billion people on earth in the year 2050 each consumed 10,000 (KWh/Year)/Person of energy, then the world would consume a total of 1e14 KWh/year of energy
    The weight of oceans = 1.35e24g
    and the percentage of Deuterium in sea water is 0.03%,
    There are 1.31e43 atoms of deuterium in the earths oceans.
    There is sufficient Deuterium fuel to supply the complete energy needs of 10 billion people consuming energy from D-D fusion exclusively, with no help from fission nuclear or other energy source, for 3.86 billion years.
    The energy from the ocean’s Deuterium resource can be extended by also using the more energetic Deuterium-Tritium fusion reaction. Tritium can be produced from Lithium dissolved in sea water after it has undergone a transmutation resulting from a neutron absorption in the presence of neutrons.

    Current approaches to fusion, that receive large portions of the US nuclear R&D budget, will never threaten fossil fuel interests for at least 100 years.
    PACER fusion, based on LLNL and LANL field test division technology, would, with very low technical risk, begin to threaten the existing energy sector dominances in power generation in three years.

    Deuterium and Tritium deserve to be on the world Superfuels list.

    1. @Robert – If you think selling fission is challenging, just try telling people that they should accept a device that depends on regular detonations of nuclear explosives.

    2. Robert some things with fusion are not resolved and stem from a fundamental understanding of the transport mechanisms in the plasma. As a result fusion temperatures and pressures are not high enough to be able to make them achieve break even. They are plagued by ash buildup and are actually pulsed devices.

      Tokamaks operate for 10’s of seconds and then are down for 30 minutes. Each run is so short that they are considered shots. This is due to material constraints in the magnets. Superconducting magnets like those proposed for SABR can handle continuous duty cycles, but as yet do not exist. I have not looked at PACER so cannot discuss the duty cycle of the facility. As I understand fusion reactors like the NIF can achieve a higher capacity factor, but only with the world’s largest laser.

      It is true that you can get a much deeper burn on the fuel at a much lower linear power density, a constraint of solid fuel, however the capital cost of the neutron source (the fusion reactor) far is in excess of the cost of all the incumbent systems associated with a critical reactor, that these attributes associated with a liquid reactor provide no significant advantage, other than a 14MeV neutron source for dispositioning higher transuranics.

      The higher transuranics are better conditionioned with technology that actually exists today with an economic profile that has a niche in today’s market.

      Fusion is an ideal, that does not exist in a form that is viable for anytime within the next century, even fusion fission hybrids like SABR or PACER. Because they are such an ideal their commercial construction will be limited entirely by their cost. If the cost is subsidiesd like wind farms then we might as well build windmills and line our roofs with subsidies PV panels. If the goal is subsidized energy then let’s go with what we have today.

      I can find no technical justification for using such idealized technology that has its issues resolved by other less ideal methods that can be implemented today. For this reason fusion fuels, because they cannot be accessed in a meaningful way, are not super fuels. When we can access them I will change my tune. Until then, they represent a pipe dream.

  14. I think a lot of y’all are missing the forest for the trees. This book is designed to pull people into the nuclear community, even though it lets them in through an old back entrance and along the way it does take some low pot shots at LWRs and the nuclear industry. Hey, you gotta play the zeitgeist you’re dealt, and right now nukes aren’t doing so hot.

    So Martin plays off this in the book, saying “this is how the industry things got so bad,” but along the way he makes it clear that renewables aren’t going to cut it and that fossil fuels are garbage, so by the end he’s taken people from “nuclear is BAD,” (a position held by so many of our would-be-allies against fossil fuels) to “nuclear could be so much better” (a position held by probably everyone on this board!)

    Look, you can’t just go up to someone who believes nuclear is terrible and say “You’re wrong, nuclear is good! Here’s why!” They’ll just dismiss you, it’s like running into a brick wall, that’s just how people are! But convince them that Thorium is good and maybe they’ll learn a bit more about the advantages of nuclear. Maybe they’ll join the Thorium community, which is still very much pro-current-nuclear (despite the love being a bit one-sided at times).

    You have to pull people in, find common ground, educate, illuminate. This is how you change minds. It’s exactly how I (and countless other “thorium-heads”) went from an anti-nuke Greeny to a pro-nuke environmentalist.

    That’s Ideology baby, you gotta take it apart brick by brick; try to smash against it full force and you’ll just hurt your head.

  15. The main game is to get new plants built, whether they be MSR, IFR or LWR, fuelled by whatever. The main battle is a PR one, and in the latest round I see 50 reactors down in Japan for extended periods, a few reactors down for the count in Germany, with a few more looking to be on the way out, and the anti nuclear forces very active over several US sites.

    Whether we like it or not, the public globally do not like Plutonium, and they do not like the idea of a “waste dump”. They have been conditioned for many years to fear both and they are not about to go back to school to be re-educated. The IFR will be a very difficult concept to sell because it runs on Pu. Any reality on the subject is all but irrelevant, because the public is far more interested in their hair styles than the technical detail of the issue, so it is simply better to leave that battle for another day.

    There are a bucket load of molten salt reactor concepts and designs out there at the moment. Even though the simplest design is probably going to be the one for a rapid build out, if ever it comes to that, I see the Czech project as the most promising to partner with traditional nuclear, because it is designed from the start to consume spent LWR fuel and reduce the Pu inventory. They will run on just about anything (fissile/fertile), but the idea that they will run on something called thorium gets the publics interest, and when they learn these machines produce (almost) no Pu, that really helps acceptance.

    If traditional LWR nuclear had a symbiotic relationship with a system which consumed the spent LWR fuel, or a high proportion of it, on site, the potential for change in the PR image of the industry is substantial. Whether you like it or not, this is a PR battle and not so much a technical one. It is a global battle, and not confined to the US.

    I don’t have to agree with the author of superfuel to know I don’t publicly want to disagree with him, or nit-pick his work, but hopefully he will takes notes from the technical reviewers, go back, and revise the manuscript. The concept of the book is that there are alternatives within the nuclear industry which can reduce the undesirable publicly perceived consequences, and offer substantial possibilities which cannot be offered under the traditional big/huge LWR aligned status quo.

    If Thorium MSRs are only ever seen as spent fuel burner units to be bolted into an exiting PWR site, that is fine by me. If the simple Fuji or Thorenco designs gain favour because they are cheap and easy to implement, that is also fine. The main game as I see it is to restore public confidence in safety, and to demonstrate the nuclear industry has good solutions to the “waste issues” which the media have constantly used to crucify nuclear.

    In my opinion the industry needs to show viability as a power source to reduce atmospheric CO2 by atmospheric extraction (& splitting to C + O), to power desalination, to create synfuels, and to eliminate CO2 from many industrial applications. The industry has to sell itself as interested in undoing the damage wrought by fossil fuels, as an energy solution to battle climate change. To do this, the industry needs to get an installed base of modern units to demonstrate their costs and benefits, or the old plants will simply reach the end of life and the industry will have been strangled.

    1. @totterdell91

      I don’t have to agree with the author of superfuel to know I don’t publicly want to disagree with him, or nit-pick his work, but hopefully he will takes notes from the technical reviewers, go back, and revise the manuscript.

      Books are not like blog posts. Richard Martin had plenty of time and opportunity to obtain technical reviews and make all of the corrections that he intended to make. His work is now published on dead trees and will be in libraries forever.

      Based on what I know of the publishing business and what Martin has already told his readers in his book’s Introduction and Acknowledgements, he obtained technical reviews and stands behind the writing as being factual from his point of view. I just think that he has a slanted, establishment point of view that thinks of nuclear as a power source for the future – after we have exhausted a few more decades worth of fossil fuels and concentrated even more of the world’s wealth into the hands of a tiny fraction of the population.

  16. I had the same experience and a similar journey. I started with enthusiasm for LFTR, which led me to learn more about Alvin Weinberg and Eugene Wigner, which led to curiosity about the entire history of subatomic physics before WWII. I learned about the molten salt experiments at Oak Ridge, part of a much broader nationwide experimental program which included many reactor types and configurations. I learned how politics and public opinion began to shape the nuclear industry starting in the 60s and 70s. I learned more about reactor safety, waste and reprocessing issues, and the real health effects of nuclear accidents.

    The upshot is that I am now a stronger supporter of nuclear power overall. I’m right in the “nuclear could be so much better” camp and believe the continuation and expansion of current nuclear programs is necessary to get there.

    I disagree that Richard Martin has a goal of encouraging fratricide among nuclear supporters. The truth is much simpler. Martin is a journalist, and journalism thrives on conflict. The conflict between pro and anti nuke is an old story, but a grassroots conflict between different nuclear technologies is a fresh angle. Conflicts between different nuclear technologies used to be fought out in laboratories and administrators’ offices; now the debate is much more visible in the media, internet and grassroots groups. The need for accurate facts and informed debate is greater than ever.

  17. I would agree with the approach of doing outreach by showing that there are other fuels other than uranium and certainly this fact cuts the legs off of the argument that we will run out of U before it can make a big difference to the energy picture. However I do not like, and will not support the attempt to leverage waste and proliferation as a reason to develop thorium based fuel cycles for the simple reason that these arguments are too flimsy to stand up to any scrutiny when the time comes to defend them.

    Robert Gauthier

    1. It doesn’t really matter how flimsy the arguments are; they’ve won. Thanks to 60+ years of cold war hysteria and some 40+ of environmental groups fretting about nuclear leftovers, the word association of “nuclear” is “weapons” followed closely be “waste” in the minds of those who should be helping us stop fossil fuel reliance.

      It’s not rational or logical or any other silly academic words but it’s an unfortunate truth, and few things seem to be as good at getting over the ideological barrier in people’s minds as Thorium’s siren song.

      Also, y’all should actually finish the book before you bash it too hard, the final chapter (i.e. what people will actually take away) is all about risk assessment and irrational fear and nuclear’s fantastic safety record. It could have been an Atomic Insights post! The difference is that people other than us nuke heads might actually consider the information after the book has its hooks in them.

    2. Robert, you don’t think that having a waste stream which virtually returns to background/sub-background radiation levels by around 300 years versus 100,000 years in conjunction with utilzing virtually all of the fissile and fertile material loaded into a reactor is a legitimate advantage (shared by both a “perfected” LFTR or IFR)?

      I agree that the “problems” are grossly overblown, but enhancing the utilization of the fissile and fertile resources is certainly a worthy pursuit.

    3. @ Alex – No ‘they’ have not won. Public support for nuclear energy is above fifty percent even after the events in Japan. In some places like the U.K. and France there is considerable support, the battle for the mind of the public is far from lost.
      In fact ‘nuclear waste’ has become largely an American issue; most other countries have just gone about the business of building facilities without fuss and fanfare. Nor are their populations losing any sleep over the idea that there may be more members of the nuclear weapon club, as they do not see this as a threat aimed at them. Even in the States support or rejection of nuclear power plants is a very local matter and far from homogeneous. In short, one cannot make sweeping statements about public opinion in this matter.
      However, one can make promises that suggest that we can have out cake and eat it too, and this is what I fear is going on. Many may support nuclear energy in spite of concerns over waste and proliferation, but what the thorium fans are saying is that we can do it without these being issues. The problem is this is just not the case, and holding out for Gen IV thorium-fueled reactors is just going to delay growth in nuclear energy without conferring any real advantages over what is currently available.
      Thorium fuel cycles are just not economic at this time for most countries. The situation in India is a bit different as they have legitimate concerns with fuel supplies and have been shown that dependence on uranium as a nuclear fuel is not an acceptable option. Fine, let them develop it then, but for most other places it is pure boy-with-a-hammer – if it wasn’t, invoking waste and proliferation in the first place to sell this fuel would not have happened.
      @ Joel – Yes, and in time thorium will take its place as the leasing nuclear fuel, but to suggest that somehow we need more efficient utilization because the current one creates dangers is not legitimate, nor is the suggestion that building out with current designs should wait on new ones.
      What everyone has to keep in mind is that in the PR war claiming that you support nuclear but want to wait on Gen IV is a perfect out that maintains the status quo and takes the wind out of our sails – I have already run into this twice talking with members of the Canadian New Democratic Party and it makes it very difficult to go forward.

      Rob Gauthier

      1. Anyway the perception is that. At least here in Italy.

        Nuclear = NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONs (-> Hiroshima, Chernobyl, all the same)
        Nuclear = RADIATIONs
        Nuclear = 10.000 years WASTE
        Nuclear = NON SUSTAINABLE

        Take out these factors, and maybe you can sell nuclear energy again.
        That’s why I’m all for MSRs, much less for IIIg LFTRs that don’t resolve any of those PERCEIVED but very STRONG in many people minds ‘problems’.

        I’d say the ideal is Kirk’s LFTR, or the announced Transatomic Power WAMSR, but I’d very happy to start with the simpler and more pragmatic LeBlanc’s DMSR.
        (I’d really like to hear some news from him about the status of DMSR).

        1. @ Alberto

          In the mean time Italy imports most of its energy.

          Your equations need some fine tuning


        2. @ Alberto,

          I also forgot to mention that as of June 2009, Denmark has the most expensive electricity tariff in Europe with tax included, followed by Italy.

          Remember, nuclear is the ultimate energy equalizer.

  18. The things that neutral to lightly anti people find most interesting to hear when I talk about it, is the Megatons to Megawatts program, and the possibility to get rid of the stockpiles of Plutonium by using it not burying it in a geological repository they have no trust in for ages and ages. Though they’re often a bit disappointed that it still needs a couple of hundred years. It’s not easy when you’re used to geological time scales to remember that for most people several hundred years sound like a long time.

    1. @twominds

      Do not mix Plutonium with the Megatons to Megawatts program as the latter only deals with Uranium based weaponry.

      All the USSR plutonium arsenal has been left untouched.

      1. Thanks, I’ll keep a more clear distinction between them. I do know the difference, but it’s quite possible that the people I talk with will mix them up. And clearly I don’t differentiate enough yet, because you also assumed I thought plutonium was burned in the Megatons to Megawatts program.

        I have had people have a ‘oh wow, great!’ reaction about the program, just like I had only little more than a year ago when I was searching the net for info about nuclear power after the Japan earthquake. It should have been known much better, because nuclear weapons are detested so much that having nuclear power plants using it up is received as positive even by some people who would otherwise want nothing to do with nuclear power.

    1. Good point, Daniel. There could be some very cool and/or useful uses for nuclear RTG’s, if they were allowed. The plutonium pacemaker idea was a pretty fascinating one from the past.

    2. Cesium radiation decay is already used commercially for high precision clocks. They are used in numerous places at Hydro Quebec to sync the network.

      1. @ Daniel – Just to be clear, It isn’t the decay of a radioactive isotope of cesium that is used in atomic clocks, it’s the hyperfine transition between two ground states of Cs-133 that provides the signal needed for high precision clocks.

      2. @ Engineer poet and John Englert

        I know, I know. I went too fast on making that comment about caesium clocks.

        I knew it was matter of minutes before my mistake was picked.

  19. I support NPPs in general. It has been discussions like these that taught me to appreciate the whole range of reactor types that are available. The reason it’s easy to pick on Thorium is because no specific prototype is currently available. What I can gather is that the potential to make all of the promises that seem too good to be true are mostly possible if the priorities are made in the design. I think rather than speak in generalities about how LFTRs are more proliferation safe or more this or that I think the experts need to discuss what would need to take place in the design to reach the goal of say total passive safety or self reliant fuel cycle etc.

  20. I think the purpose of Super-Fuel is to open doors to an audience that would otherwise write off anything with the n-word “nuclear” in it. Most of the senior thorium advocates know that the key to limitless clean energy is the molten salt reactor, and thorium itself is no panacea. At the TEAC4 Future of Energy Conference, Dr. LeBlanc put this in a very good way: “Come for the thorium, but stay for the reactor”. His LEU fueled DMSR is the best place to start for MSR innovation, and can leverage aspects of ORNL’s SmAHTR. Its a reactor that could be built by existing industry players, since it has the highest chance of regulatory success.

    The Th232-U233 pure cycle, two-fluid LFTR, involves HEU which would be impossible in today’s regulatory environment, and is a proliferation hazard. The U232 contamination effect is overrated. Because of this, it would require the dismantling of current regulatory authorities, who are part of the existing nuclear industry.

  21. I wo;; probably wrote a response to this post and some of its comments that will appear on Nuclear Green in a few weeks. A few observartions. First Molten salt reactors have to be more comprehensive. MSRs can be operated on both a uranium and a thorium fuel cycle. The ORNL MSRE tested U=233, U-235 and Pu–239 separately and all 3 together in combination in a combined fuels test.

  22. There are some projects that use H1 + B11 => 3He.
    Perhaps Boron is a super-fuel?

    I see difficulties for LFTR to even keep up in today’s global increase in coal plants equivalent to 150 large reactors per year.

    In fact, GenIII have no chance of replacing coal and simultaneously satisfy humans need for electricity by 2050, if nothing else, fuel production would have to increase hundred times. (0,4TWe to at least 40TWe)

    The only way to reduce global extraction of fossil energies are less expensive energy, but it leads to lower energy prices, which in turn drives up the need for even more.

    At least four times more electricity and fuels to be produced by 2050 to a humanity at perhaps 9 billion to get a basic welfare, which is required for global environmental protection and peace.

    The Indian three-step model, where the stage two now is starting could contribute however.

    The sodium-cooled fbr powered by plutonium from LWR and simultaneously produce new plutonium from U238 and U233 from thorium.

    40GWe LWR and HWR will provide 440GWe fast breeder (going over to metallic fuel and 1.4 in the breed factor) is India’s step one and two.

    In this way, it is possible to start many LFTR on U233 from sodium-cooled f br.

    My conclusion is that all models are needed to reach the goal.

    GenIII to produce plutonium and electricity should be a global first step.

    Therefore we shall take care of nuclear waste that is one oft the super fuel and stop all plans to buried it 500m in the ground as we in Sweden plan to do (but I’m against it with all my power).

    But equally important is that high temperature reactor be developed to produce hydrogen, if they also can switch between hydrogen production and electricity so they can follow the need, replacing all forms of today’s electricity system.

    Realistically I do not believe that modern nuclear power can stop all use of fossil fuels by 2050, but perhaps creating peak coal by 2030?


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