15 July 2012

Oliver Tickell - A Semi-Informed, Strong, Unshakable, Renewables Advocate.







This is the 'Briefing' document authored by Oliver Tickell, April/May 2012.     Thorium: Not ‘green’, not ‘viable’, and not likely


This is a facebook  comment, by a staunch LFTR enthusiast, whose sagacity on matters scientific and, in particular, nuclear is evident from every utterance:   


Robert Steinhaus 
Thorium (dis)information - (Semi-informed Thorium hit-piece from a strong, unshakable, renewables only point of view).


The report is semi-informed, and raises many challenges, economic and technical, to Thorium molten salt technology. While most (all) of the disinformation could be rebutted by a skillfull informed advocate , it would require a fairly lengthly document/presentation to do so. As it stands, all of the document's many claims based on half-informed disinformation and untruths serve to "muddy the water" and introduce fear and uncertainty into public discussion of future nuclear energy planning.

You could try to do a point by point rebuttle of all of the false claims but I am not sure the public would want to read that. Maybe combining a point by point rebuttle document with a public debate might be more effective at dispelling this misinformation.




This is a Claverton Energy piece, and it is obvious that, editorially, they are also vehemently opposed to nuclear energy:     Claverton Energy Article


This is a comment I tried to tack on to the Claverton Energy piece, but it seems to be in suspended animation, awaiting moderation (I fear it will never see the light of day):  


This Briefing just can't get away from continually mentioning the benefits of LFTRs over 'conventional' nuclear - that's PWRs for all of the soon-to-be 'New Nuclear'.


There is tacit acknowledgement of explosion-free operation, impossibility of core meltdowns and minuscule amounts of waste, which decays to background radiation levels in 300 years. Now don't these three benefits pull the rugs from under the vitriolic anti-nukes? And, wouldn't these same facts quell the very doubts, among the public at large, that hold back widespread acceptance of nuclear energy?

In a world of declining hydrocarbon resources, where developing nations will fight (let us hope diplomatically) to improve their standards of living (meaning energy use) and developed nations will fight (ditto) to maintain or improve their standard of living (ditto), it is imbecilic to believe that a spaghetti-like interconnection of windmills and squares of plastic will maintain peace, stability and law and order.

Such conditions could be rushing headlong towards the children of today's young parents. The decision makers of that generation need to appreciate that, in simple arithmetic terms, it is possible for breeder reactors to supply all of the energy needs (including carbon-neutral liquid fuels and ammonia - as feed stock for nitrate fertilisers to feed 9 billion) of every individual on the planet (at developed world standards), until the end of time (from inexhaustible sources of thorium and uranium fuels).

The only conclusion those decision makers will need to reach is - will those reactors be LMFBRs or MSBRs?    Breeder Reactors it is - but will it be---Fast or----Thermal?

21 comments:

  1. But what about the point that the continuous on-site reprocessing technology - if it can ever be made to work at all - will be extracting 233Pa (to stop it degrading the neutron economy and giving rise to 232U - and that the 233Pa will decay into almost pure fissile 233U which as we know from Operation Teapot is eminently weaponisable and all the more so without the 232U (208Tl) 2.6MeV gamma hazard?

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  2. Here are extracts from 3 comments I received to a query I posed on the 'Energy from Thorium' facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/EnergyFromThorium?sk=wall&filter=1

    (1) Pa removal doesn't happen in most of the designs you see floating around. The other fission product poisons are more of a neutron threat. Plus, WHY take your enriched uranium, put it into a reactor...to get more uranium? Just use that stuff for a bomb, its easier, cheaper, and you don't get any Pa232/Th232 gamma emmiters. If you start stealing fissile from the reactor, it is like stealing gas from a running car...actually, it is more like stealing oxygen. You can't run a reactor if you are stealing fissile. That is, unless you are supplying more fissile, and if you are, why not just use that fissile to make a bomb? It is dumb to use reactors designed for power to make weapons. That is why EVERY nuclear bomb nation hasn't gone that route, it is plagued with problems. We had scientists die in our highly specialized bomb making environment, the risks and expensive of using power generating reactors for bombs is so impractical on a level of going to a moon in a highly modified passenger van.

    (2) There's a thread titled Protactinium-233 on the 'Energy from Thorium' Forum. One thing that came to light in the discussion is that the amount of Pa-233 in the blanket salt is small relative to the amount of thorium, so it does not significantly degrade neutron economy.

    (3) Making weapons from reactors is dumb, no smart, bomb desiring country would do it. And if they are dumb and try to, then they are most likely going to kill lots of their own people with it before they kill anyone else, and most likely have a bomb that is likely to fizzle or not detonate at all. Weapons, devices and reactors are all 3 separate things just like cars, planes and spaceships are.

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  3. Actually my understanding is that Pa233 removal is considered important because you want to avoid the 2.6MeV gamma at the end of the 232U decay chain, which you get when the 233Pa intercepts a second neutron -> 244Pa. Moreover this should not be considered part of the reactor design. It is rather part of the on-site reprocessing unit. Oak Ridge showed that the Pa can be precipitated out as oxide at ppm levels by the simple addition of thorium oxide. So anyone operating an LFTR would be able to do this. I agree that nuclear bombs are 'dumb' but that does not alter the fact that a lot of people want to get hold of them! Making weapons from reactors is actually pretty normal - where do you think the world's plutonium comes from? Yes, reactors.

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    1. "It is dumb to use reactors [DESIGNED FOR POWER] to make weapons."

      This quote from (1) also applies to (3).

      The most efficient reactors for producing plutonium are reactors designed to produce plutonium.

      In a compliant nation or state, the siphoning off of a small amount of the precursor of the fissile 'fuel' would shut down a LFTR power reactor and signal that something was amiss to the authorities. A rogue nation or state would choose to run a plutonium producing reactor.

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  4. But what appears to be the case here is that LFTRs (or MSRs loaded with 238U + fissile material) could be run with the generation of new fissile material as their principal objective. Because - if you can get them to work at all - they will just do it so very, very well.

    Current means of producing 239Pu are incredibly inefficient due to the conversion of 239Pu + n -> 240Pu which causes Pu bombs to 'fizzle' prematurely, so you can only run your reactor for a very short time before reprocessing, to prevent 240Pu formation. An MSR would simply do a much, much better job as the 239Pu could be siphoned off before it intercepted that second neutron. So instead of a long, expensive stop-start cycle of reprocessing you would take off your 239Pu in a continuous stream with minimal 240Pu contamination.

    Mind you 233U from a thorium cycle would probably be a better product as the 233Pa is so very easily extracted from the molten salt at minute concentrations by the addition of thorium oxide as shown at Oak Ridge. Currently 'weapons grade' uranium is 20% 235U. This way you could probably get 99% 233U - the sweetest, purest bomb-making material the world has ever seen.

    Sure you can have an inspection regime and so on. But here we are taking about the technology itself, which lends itself perfectly to the production of high purity fissile material. And with hundreds of these reactors around the world do you really think inspection could prevent the filching of relatively tiny amounts of 233U / 239Pu for making bombs? We are talking about kilograms taken from many tonnes of fuel in any individual reactor.

    The claim that thorium / LFTR technology is intrinsically proliferation resistant is not merely untrue, it's the very opposite of the truth!

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  5. Nonsense. It's nearly impossible to make 233U without a large admixture of 232U, whose daughter products are powerful gamma emitters. It can't be worked without vast expense to shield the workers, and its presence makes it readily detectable.

    Further, 233U is poor bomb material to begin with, producing disappointing yields. Look that the results of Operation "Teapot".

    You should also be aware that while 20% 235U is legally classified as "bomb grade", making a bomb at this concentration would be difficult at best. Real 235U bombs use 85% or better.

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  6. It's nearly impossible to make 233U without 232U contamination, yes - in a solid fuel reactor! Because you have to leave in the 233Pa which decays to 233U, and some of that 233Pa will absorb a second neutron to 234Pa which then decays to 232U, and ultimately 208Tl with its 2.6 MeV gamma.

    But in a molten salt reactor, that all changes. You can remove the Pa from the molten salt fuel as soon as it forms, as was done at Oak Ridge. then you just leave it one side (maybe use it to boil the kettle as this stuff is HOT) where it will not absorb any second neutron. Then it will decay into very pure 233U with next to no 232U contamination.

    The Operation Teapot 'Met Shot' using 233U underperformed versus predictions but it was still one helluva bang! Have you seen the photographs? I would say it went pretty well for a novel fissile material. Undoubtedly there's plenty of scope for refinement though. Remember that was in 1955. Bomb making technology has come a long way since then.

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    1. Lars Jorgensen24 July, 2012 16:30

      Please provide a reference for "You can remove the Pa from the molten salt fuel as soon as it forms, as was done at Oak Ridge".

      As for 233U being a great bomb making material I simply point to 70,000 nuclear weapons built to date. And one that used some 233U in it. Thankfully we, the general public, don't know all the details and tricks involved to making such weapons but the emperical evidence seems pretty strong that 233U is not the element of choice.

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    2. "....the emperical evidence seems pretty strong that 233U is not the element of choice."

      Why do you believe that 233U never made headway as a bomb making material? Why do you think it would become a rogue nation's material of choice if LFTRs are widely deployed? How do you imagine terrorist groups would be able to source the material?

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  7. "Removal of protactinium from molten fluoride breeder blanket mixtures", C. J. Barton and H. H. Stone, Oak Ridge National Laboratory 1966.

    Available at http://moltensalt.org/references/static/downloads/pdf/ORNL-TM-1543.pdf

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  8. "Why do you believe that 233U never made headway as a bomb making material?"

    Interesting question. My answer would be, for several reasons:
    1. because nuclear bomb countries developed experience of the 235U / 238U -> 239Pu fuel cycle, and saw no great advantage in developing a whole new fuel cycle.
    2. Because of the 232U contamination problem that is inevitable in a solid fuel thorium reactor.

    But of course in an LFTR the 232U problem can be avoided. 233U is an entirely viable fissile material for bomb making and just because it has not been pursued in the past, does not mean that it will not be pursued in the future especially in a world full of LFTRs.

    And how do we know that India, China, both members of the nuclear bomb club, are not interested in thorium in part for its ability to generate fissile material for bombs?

    Re the "terrorist groups", they will always have trouble getting hold of fissile material. We are talking state actors here.

    But that do

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Well then, it's eenie-meenie-miney-mo. With or without nuclear power generation, rogue states have to be dissuaded from entering the nuclear arms race. Pandora's Box is open and proliferation should not argue against deployment of LFTRs for power generation, if (in the not too distant future) nuclear power becomes essential in avoiding energy conflict.

    You may be a day-dream-believer, in favour of wall-to-wall renewables, but even so, rogue states developing nuclear weapons does not go away.

    If acknowledgement by LFTR advocates, of an undiminished proliferation problem, is what you seek, then maybe you should move your 'case' away from my 'amateurish' little blog and see if you can get the 'pros' on "energyfromthorium" to debate the issue with you.

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  10. - "rogue states developing nuclear weapons does not go away" - Agreed!
    - "Pandora's Box is open and proliferation should not argue against deployment of LFTRs for power generation" - Except that LFTRs would open a whole new Pandora's box. Currently it is really rather hard to create weapons grade U/Pu. LFTRs, if they can be made to work at all, would make it a whole load easier and lower the nuclear threshold considerably.
    - renewables - yes I do think that a renewables based energy supply system is the way forward. And it is happening, albeit not so fast as I would like. At this point in time I think the whole thorium thing is a distraction, in that if LFTRs ever do get going, by that time renewables will already be doing the job at a tiny fraction of the price, with no proliferation hazard, and no fission products.
    - I'm happy to debate these issues with anybody! I'm hoping to debate with Weinberg Foundation. Will check out this other lot.

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    1. "LFTRs, if they can be made to work at all, would make it a whole load easier and lower the nuclear threshold considerably"

      You have not substantiated that claim at all. Your provided source does nothing to substantiate this claim.

      "I'm happy to debate these issues with anybody!"

      Debates need to be based on facts. Your arguments are sorely lacking these facts. Debating without facts is like debating the existence of god -- pointless.

      "if LFTRs ever do get going, by that time renewables will already be doing the job at a tiny fraction of the price, with no proliferation hazard, and no fission products."

      Where is your evidence for this assertion? Have you calculated the full economic and environmental impact of your "renewable" energy?

      Read up on the likes of WAMSR.

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  11. Actually there are a great many facts posted here in successive postings showing how fissile 233U and 239Pu can be produced at very high purities from molten salt reactors and the Oak Ridge paper quoted does show exactly how the protactinium can be extracted at ppm level from molten salt fuel which then goes produces 233U as daughter. LFTRs will be very efficient bomb factories if they can ever be got to work at all, which remains an open question due to major problems of materials science for containment, and re the 'hells kitchen' of on-site reprocessing unit with highly hazardous chemicals and intense radiation to contend with. I predict the only investors prepared to put serious money into LFTRs will be state actors that want to make bombs. For energy alone the risks are too big and the payoff too small.

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    1. "LFTRs will be very efficient bomb factories if they can ever be got to work at all,"

      Again, the "facts" do not substantiate this.

      From David LeBlanc:

      "Also the comment about how easy it is to either remove Pa from molten salts or especially to try to pull out any Pu produced is naive (for example, Pa233 is so intensely radioactive that ORNL never studied any removal techniques with it directly, only massively diluted with other Pa isotopes)."

      http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3746#p46936

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  12. Below is the question I posed in the energyfromthorium forum linked above:
    ---------------------------//----------------------
    Either LFTRs are more proliferation resistant than LWRs, for power generation or they're not. If they aren't, we should stop saying it.

    'Anonymous' in this comments thread - http://lftrsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/o ... 2692951417 - is far more knowledgeable about the subject than I am and his arguments seem pretty persuasive. A couple of hundred thousand, power-generating LFTRs dotted around the globe, capable of producing "the sweetest, purest bomb-making material the world has ever known", looks a pretty scary proposition to me.

    Is he/she right? - "The claim that thorium / LFTR technology is intrinsically proliferation resistant is not merely untrue, it's the very opposite of the truth!"
    -------------------------//-----------------------

    If you would be kind enough to take your opinions onto this forum, you will debate the issue with your 'nuclear equals' and lesser nuclear-mortals such as me, can judge the veracity of both sides of the argument.

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  13. Thanks Colin, will do. Your open-mindedness is appreciated. BTW 'anonymous' is in this case the author of the report - not hiding my identity deliberately, that's just how it came up with the forum software. Regards, Oliver.

    PS - Re David LeBlanc's comment about the 233Pa, spot on. This illustrates precisely why the whole on-site reprocessing operation will be so fiendishly difficult to get working and operate safely and reliably for decades on end. You are dealing with some very hot isotopes here, not only 233Pa but a whole spectrum of fission products, also highly corrosive chemicals and high temperatures. This will not be a trivial problem to solve.

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    1. "You are dealing with some very hot isotopes here, not only 233Pa but a whole spectrum of fission products, also highly corrosive chemicals and high temperatures. This will not be a trivial problem to solve."

      You keep making these black and white statements with nothing to really back it up.

      Again, from Dr. LeBlanc:
      "In a 2 Fluid design we can lower losses to Pa down to almost nothing by simply increasing the volume of blanket salt. This means paying for more thorium and carrier salt but thorium is very inexpensive (the true potential cost of mass produced Flibe salt is unfortunately one of the big unknowns). For example, 1960s 2 Fluid designs had about 260 tonnes of thorium in the blanket salt versus about 70 tonnes in the later Single Fluid design."

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  14. I would refer you to this video, which is David Le Blanc's presentation to TEAC4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-BXg18fAIk

    In particular, I would appreciate your thoughts on his comments about the proliferation resistance of DMSRs.

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