03 October 2010

Oh Ye of Little Faith!

It's weird that in my desperation to make (ultimately) politicians and the general public see the light I have to turn to religious utterances, to spread the gospel of rock-solid science,that was proposed at the very dawn of the nuclear age.
Clean Energy: 1 tonne of thorium (a 45 x 45 x 45 cm cube) provides 1 GW year of electricity, enough to supply a city of 1 million people. It produces a minuscule amount of 'waste', the worst of which is down to background radiation levels in 300 years (easily and cheaply manageable). It emits no greenhouse gasses. The coal equivalent is 3,200,000 tonnes, producing 900,000 cubic metres of toxic, radioactive, fly-ash and 8,500,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses; ironically, the amount of thorium in the fly-ash could produce more electricity than the coal from which it came.
Safe Energy: Reactors operate at atmospheric pressure. If the load reduces, the nuclear reaction rate reduces, so no control rods or emergency cooling systems are needed. There are no driving forces, such as high pressure steam, or explosive chemical reactions to scatter radioactivity into the environment, in the event of a breech of the reactor vessel. They are 'walk-away' safe: if all power is lost, the liquid core drains out, under gravity, into a safely configured drain-tank. Reactor fluid has a radioactive component which emits radiation that would seriously endanger persons trying to utilise it in weapons; since there are far easier ways of making weapons using existing techniques, it is effectively, proliferation-proof.
Cheap Energy: You can run by a LFTR system design (including reactor equipment and containment, fuel reprocessing and 'waste' storage) and know it won't cost a tenth as much as current reactor designs.1 GW year of electrical energy requires the mining of 800,000 tonnes of 0.2% uranium ore, resulting in 35 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel. Although thorium is 4 times more abundant than uranium, considering a 0.5% ore, only 200 tonnes has to be mined, resulting in 0.8 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel. Factory built, on production lines, ten 100 MW units, each transported on a flatbed truck and fitting inside a building the size of a supermarket, would supply a city of 1 million people.
For all of Humankind: shall have all of their energy supplied from the electricity generated by LFTRs; all fossil fuel use for electricity, transport, fertilisers and much else shall cease and, every year, between 1 and 2 million people will be saved from premature death due to air pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions shall cease (nearly) and cheap, abundant electricity from LFTRs shall manufacture carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, hydrogen (to support an hydrogen economy) and fertiliser feedstock. About 1900 of the 100 MW units would supply all of those energy needs in the UK. Other of humanity's problems, including that of drinking water can be substantially alleviated by LFTR deployment; the high temperature of operation results in high quality waste heat, which can produce potable water from sea water or contaminated fresh water or groundwater; it can be used as process heat for industry. LFTRs can also use existing nuclear 'waste' as fuel, to relieve a current and potentially rapidly escalating problem.
For All Eternity: There is so much natural thorium, that Weinberg, a scientific colossus at the creation of the nuclear industry had an epiphany, later recorded in his autobiography: ""I spoke of "Burning the Rocks": the breeder, no less than controlled fusion, is an inexhaustible energy system""...We need to ensure that such prophetic wisdom becomes reality, in supporting a way of life for all Homo sapiens for all of its existence, whilst caring for other species on the planet, in a much better way than we do now.
Who knows What about Energy?

Alvin Weinberg - Who is he anyway? And what does he know about energy?

He won the Enrico Fermi Award in 1980 - honouring scientists of international stature for their lifetime achievement in the development, use, or production of energy.

He invented and held the patents on the Light Water Reactor (LWR), one of which is the Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR), used on our Nuclear Sub's.

In his autobiography, he wrote:

""I spoke of "Burning the Rocks": the breeder, no less than controlled fusion, is an inexhaustible energy system"".....

"Until then I had never quite appreciated the full significance of the breeder. But now I became obsessed with the idea that humankind's whole future depended on the breeder".....

"Although the molten salt system was never allowed to show its full capability as a breeder, a 233U - 232Th thermal breeder was demonstrated in Admiral Rickover's Shippingport reactor...Whether, as cheap uranium becomes scarce, other reactors will be fuelled with 233U and thorium remains to be seen".....

"Why didn't the molten salt system, so elegant and so well thought-out, prevail?...Perhaps the moral to be drawn is that technology that differs too much from existing technology has not one hurdle to overcome - to demonstrate its feasibility - but another even greater one - to convince influential individuals and organizations who are intellectually and emotionally attached to a different technology that they should adopt the new path. This, the molten salt system could not do. It was a successful technology that was dropped because it was too different from the main lines of reactor development. But if weaknesses in other systems are eventually revealed, I hope that in a second nuclear era, molten salt technology will be resurrected"


Are we in a second nuclear era now? Are there weaknesses in other systems?

Nuclear reactors built using current technologies are very, very expensive.
You can run by a schematic design of a LFTR and know it wouldn't be one-tenth of the price of the simplest PWR, electrical kWhr for kWhr.

Nuclear reactors built using current technologies are inherently unsafe - there are 'driving-forces' - nuclear, chemical or mechanical, which require shut-down intervention and layers of containment to reach the safe condition.
LFTRs are inherently safe: there are no driving forces; they are 'walk-away' safe; there is no need for layers of containment.

Some of the nuclear wastes from current technologies need to be stored for hundreds of thousands of years to reach background radiation levels of safety.
Some LFTR wastes needs a maximum of 300 years (inexpensively very manageable).


Kirk Sorensen - Who is he anyway? And what does he know about energy?

Kirk (Indiana) is Chief Nuclear Technologist with Teledyne Brown Engineering and studying for a PhD at the University of Tennessee. Hidden from human view for over 30 years before Kirk's re-discovery, Weinberg's records, written on real paper, about the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), (thorium) fuelled Kirk's fertile mind, initiating a chain reaction amongst like-minded people, which is building towards criticallity as we speak.

Kirk managed to talk to Weinberg, before he died in 2006, who responded to his current thinking on Molten Salt Reactors by saying it was a good idea then and it's still a good idea now.

In his Google Tech Talks video, Energy from thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor, Kirk Says (00:22:22) "When he [Weinberg] says breeder, he means the ability to burn up thorium ... I understand that kind of zeal and passion, because I feel the same way myself. I really feel like this discovery of thorium and its potential has Earth shattering consequences for us. And that indeed, if we are going to have a sustainable and industrial society on this planet, that its going to be dependant on this technology"

Kevin Hesketh - Who is he anyway? And what does he know about energy?

Andrew Worrall - Who is he anyway? And what does he know about energy?

They are co-author of the August 2010, National Nuclear Laboratory Position Paper: The Thorium Fuel Cycle, concluding in the Summary: "The thorium fuel cycle does not currently have a role to play in the UK context, other than its potential application for plutonium management in the longer term".

They would probably not believe themselves to have the esteem of, or achieved as much as, Alvin Weinberg, but their honest endeavours have scuppered any prospects of private capital going in to LFTR development in the UK (even though they don't mention LFTRs in the document).

Gentlemen, you are raining on our parade and we need explanations. Battling apathy amongst all pillars of society, including Science, can be demoralising at times and it would be an emotional relief if the case was shown to be technically hopeless; we could all get back to normal, aboard the Buffer-Bound Express.

Would you please explain fairly simply, why it is (technically) not possible for LFTRs to: supply clean energy and safe energy and cheap energy to everyone on the planet forever?

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