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Published on November 30th, 2011 | by Nicholas Brown

74

Thorium is More Abundant than Uranium, but Can It Work?

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November 30th, 2011 by
 

I have heard people tout thorium as the nuclear fuel of the future, and that it is cheaper, safer, and more abundant than uranium due to it’s extremely high density, but, first, you need to understand what the economic problem with traditional (uranium) nuclear reactors is.

According to MIT’s future of nuclear power 2009 analysis, the cost to construct uranium nuclear reactors has been increasing at a rate of 15% since 2002 and they also pointed out that most of the cost of nuclear electricity is the cost to construct the nuclear reactor(s). According to the same MIT analysis I mentioned above, the cost of nuclear power increased from 6.7 cents per kWh in 2002 to 8.4 cents per kWh in 2009.

According to MIT, most of the cost of nuclear electricity is actually the cost to construct the nuclear reactors (capital cost), not the fuel. Nuclear power plants have a high capital cost and low fuel cost. Even I was surprised to learn that at first since the fuel is so expensive. But this is because nuclear reactors consume very little fuel.

Most power plants (excluding, solar, wind, and geothermal) are the opposite, financially. They have a low capital cost, and a very high fuel cost (due to high fuel consumption).

My main point is that in order for thorium-fueled power plants to be considerably cheaper, their capital cost would have to be considerably lower than that of traditional uranium reactors. If not, they could only be marginally cheaper, because, as I said, most of the cost of nuclear electricity is the capital cost of the plant.

Other factors to take into consideration are how much fuel thorium reactors consume. If they consume much more than traditional reactors, then the relatively low cost of thorium would not be able to solve the problem.

Potential benefits of using thorium:

  • Even though most of the cost of nuclear electricity is the capital cost of the plant, 30% of the cost is fuel and maintenance, so don’t rule out the importance of the lower fuel cost.
  • If thorium reactors are as safe as proponents claim they are, they may not need to be constructed like fortresses as traditional reactors are to contain disasters and radiation. Fortresses are very expensive.
  • Some thorium can be obtained as a byproduct of rare earth material mining of monazite. This has a sustainability advantage, since obtaining thorium from it requires no additional mining, which can be environmentally destructive and comes with a financial cost as well.

Read more about the thorium fuel cycle here.

Have more info on thorium, like whether or not the waste created really is insignificant, and whether or not the capital costs really are much lower than traditional nuclear plants? Please fill us in.

Related Stories:

  1. TerraPower Developing Nuclear Reactors that Run on Depleted Uranium
  2. Will Peak Uranium Hit Nuclear Plants?
  3. French Thumb Nose At Nuclear Power

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is: Kompulsa.com.



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  • Anonymous

    On what do you base your prices for LFTR?

    Are you comparing the price to that of paid off coal without hidden costs, paid off coal with ‘all in’ accounting, or new coal generation with or without all in accounting?

  • BlueRock

    Wrong again:

    * Despite the fact that fast breeder development began in 1944, now some 65 year later, of the 438 operational nuclear power reactors worldwide, only one of these, the BN-600 in Russia, is a commercial-size fast reactor and it hardly qualifies as a successful breeder. The Soviet Union/Russia never closed the fuel cycle and has yet to fuel BN-600 with plutonium. http://www.fissilematerials.org/blog/2010/02/history_and_status_of_fas.html

    * “…it would take a conventional light-water reactor (LWR) 30 years just to provide the plutonium to start one such breeder reactor, and so far, such systems have not been found to be economically viable. … The new study suggests an alternative: an enriched uranium-initiated breeder reactor in which additional natural or depleted (that is, a remnant of the enrichment process) uranium is added to the reactor core at the same rate nuclear materials are consumed. … however, there are little hard data on whether such a cycle would really be practical and economically competitive. One of the report’s major conclusions is that more research is needed before such decisions can be made.” Note: no mention of thorium as significant fuel. http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/nuclear-fuel-cycle.shtml

    • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

      No mention of EBR-II or IFR (S-PRISM). Cherry-picking failed attempts and ignoring successes. Biased report.

      • BlueRock

        Yeah. No mention of technology that does not exist. Funny that.

        Haven’t we done this already? You can’t power the planet with vapourware.

  • Anonymous

    We’re discussing thorium reactors and you bring in breeder reactors which were shut down because they create plutonium?

    • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

      I was responding to BlueRock who first brought the uranium topic up.

      • Anonymous

        “Thorium MSRs have not been considered and researched from the end of 60s, and it was not a technical or economic decision to stop the MSR research, but a political one.”
        DreamChaser
        12/2/2011 2:02PM

        • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

          What does it have to do with the uranium depletion or breeders? What is your point in citing that unrelated post?

  • BlueRock

    “The science and engineering is pretty solid”… in *theory*.

    That’s what you need to differentiate. What can be done in *theory* with what can be done in reality and done so that it is commercially viable.

    LFTRs are many decades away – if they ever get built. By which time, solar will be so cheap it will be on every roof on the planet and we will have no need for multi-GW, multi-billion $$$ central points of failure.

    • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

      Thats your assumption that the prices will fall so greatly. I dont think solar can get so cheap (per KWh it produces) to be comparable to fossil energy, much less LFTR, since its effectivity is limited by physical laws (quantum limit on panel effectivity, real solar irradiance), and its economics is limited by its low energy density and land price (a skyscraper roof completely covered in solar panels wont even reliably provide enough energy for said skyscraper), as well as its uselessnes at night and intermittency. Sooner or later, solar will hit a hard economic limit, extrapolation of current trends into the future, especially far future 30 years away is always a very shaky ground.

      • Anonymous

        Well, your assumptions that solar prices won’t continue to fall to the point where solar-electricity is as cheap as wind-electricity runs counter to the calculations of the folks who study this stuff.

        That the Sun does not shine 24/365 is not an issue. The fact that the Sun does shine, on average, 4-5 hours a day throughout the US and when it does it will produce electricity cheaper than a reactor causes fatal problems for new reactor bids.

        You cannot construct a new electricity generation system that must sell at a 24 hour average rate higher than competing sources. If wind takes several hours per day and solar takes another hunk then nuclear would have to raise its selling price for the remaining hours to a point which would make it multiple times its average price. Even if natural gas generation were $0.30/kWh it would snatch the remaining hours away from nuclear.

        We’ve got plenty of existing rooftops, parking lots and low value land such as brown fields and landfills to take care of our solar panels. Worry not.

      • BlueRock

        Nope. Not my “assumption”. Here’s a clue:

        * Solar PV cost trend. http://i.imgur.com/GvsxR.png from http://www.americanenergyinnovation.org/full-report/

        Let us know when the first LFTR is built then we can compare your claims against reality.

  • BlueRock

    Lots of credible, expert sources also do not mention Warp Drives or Time Machines. ;)

    As soon as someone starts construction on a *commercial* LFTR please let us know so we can compare the reality to the claims made by the thorium cult, based on YouTube videos and fan blogs.

  • BlueRock

    Breeder reactors: another tried and failed nuke tech.

    * Mining the Oceans: Can We Extract Minerals from Seawater? “Extracting uranium from the sea is not a practical possibility.” http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4558

  • Anonymous

    “If they consume much more than traditional reactors, then the relatively low cost of thorium would not be able to solve the problem.”

    Ok, this was seriously painful. I mean, no, just no.

    You need to look at how to define how “much” fuel is consumed. If you speak in terms of mined metal, kilogram units, then we consume less than .7% of the Uranium we dig out of the ground. If we used Thorium, since it’s only one isotope, we would basically use 100% of it. Eventually. The production of elements heavier than Uranium is much less in a Thorium reactor, and all of those can be burnt to make more fuel anyway.

    So, for the same power output a Thorium reactor would consume over 99% less fuel than current reactors, although this will depend on the thermal efficiency, which is anyone’s guess. The real challenge is not the Th, but the Uranium that must be kept at the plant because it’s a proliferation concern, and it takes a long time to make. In order to turn Thorium into enough Uranium for molten salt reactors to make a difference, it could take 100 years. Suffice it to say it’s complicated.

    Now, if Thorium reactors consume more fuel because we use them to make more electricity than what we do with current reactors… well wasn’t the the entire point?

    • Anonymous

      The cost of reactor electricity is not fuel.

      The cost is construction and interest on construction loans.

      • Anonymous

        I was avoiding talking about this, but to be accurate, the cost of reactor electricity is capital, O&M, and Fuel Cycle Costs (FCC). Fuel cycle costs are probably over 10% of wholesale electricity prices for most reactors, and the Uranium is a fraction of the FCC. Obviously, thorium fuel would avoid the enrichment, 99% of the mining costs even if it cost the same amount to mine per kg (it doesn’t), and even the fuel fab is you’re a MSR advocate.

        • Anonymous

          OK, fuel cycle costs, let’s tease them out.

          Somewhere between 10% and 15% of the wholesale price of electricity from nuclear plants. That work for you glow-boys?

          Based on the three recent turnkey bids for new reactors we’re talking $0.20/kWh electricity. Take off 15% and you’ve got $0.17/kWh electricity.
          With wind well under a dime, solar almost down to fifteen cents, and gas (for the moment) cheaper than either you’ve got a product with nuclear that you can’t sell in an open market.

          Now Wikipedia states that fuel is 28% of the cost of electricity from a paid off plant. So I’m thinking we’ve been pretty generous in allowing a 15% savings from switching from uranium to thorium. Just to make sure I didn’t put a thumb on the “Too Damn Expensive” side of the scale….
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_new_nuclear_power_plants#Operating_costs

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            You forgot that LFTR would be cheaper even when it comes to construction costs, not just running costs – since the core is not pressurised it does not need pressure vessel (single most expensive thing in current reactors), size of needed containment structure is also greatly reduced, can use cheaper closed cycle Brayton turbines due to high temperature operation, and is highly scalable – small factory mass-produced modular reactors are possible.
            When these add up, it is estimated LFTR will cost cca 40% less than LWR with the same output.

          • Anonymous

            Hypothetical.

            You present a best-case projection. We won’t know for 10-20 years.

            But even a 40% reduction from $0.20/kWh to $0.12/kWh won’t make thorium reactors cost competitive. Remember, they need that ‘twelve cents’ 24 hours a day to stay in business. Wind at half the price kills nuclear as there is no way to sell power at prices high enough to break even over the rest of the day.

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            Less hypothetical as your dreamed up solar and wind energy prices, which are not based on technical arguments about improvements in the technology, but only on crude extrapolation of current economic trends 30 years into the future, all while the renewables market is heavily subsidised and is probably bubbling, so the trends are dubious.

          • Anonymous

            Wind is already in the $0.05/kWh range, so there’s nothing dreamed up about the fact that wind takes significant market away from new nuclear.

            We’ve got two new processes coming on line which will cut the cost and raise the efficiency of solar. That will drive the cost of solar below new nuclear.

            Renewables receive less subsidy per kWh than will new nuclear. New nuclear would be given the same sort of PTC as wind plus would get free loan guarantees and free liability insurance.

          • theanphibian

            You’re mistakenly thinking that fuel cycle costs refer to the price of the mineral. The vast majority of the cost of the fuel part of a nuclear plant’s budget is enrichment and fabrication, which has nothing to do with the cost of Uranium. The cost of Uranium, however, is the one major liability. We can build new enrichment plants as needed and the fabrication facilities aren’t going anywhere. We can’t put new Uranium in the ground, so the price could skyrocket and this is the only real sustainability argument for Thorium.

            What you should argue instead is that Thorium allows the use of different kinds of fuel forms that are cheaper. However, that’s not an infinitely defensible position. A molten salt reactor could be run off Uranium as well.

  • Anonymous

    That may have been the origin of the “Too Cheap” phrase, but the promise was quickly adopted by the nuclear industry and retold to us as gospel.

    Now, we don’t know if thermal solar will be able to produce below than $0.10/kWh, but rigs are up and running. We’ll find out if prices can come down. In the same way thorium reactors are apparently going to be given a test in China, perhaps another place or two and then we’ll start to understand the cost of power from them.

    I’m sorry to see you make this statement “Renewables are currently not cheaper than nuclear” because that is 100% incorrect and I’m sure you know so. That is very dishonest.

    Nuclear is only cheaper than renewables if you use the price of electricity from a paid off nuclear plant and the price of electricity from a wind farm still servicing its loan. Electricity from a paid off wind farm or from a paid off solar array would be a small fraction of the cost of electricity from a paid off nuclear plant.

    Electricity from a paid off solar array will be $0.01/kWh or less.

    Smart grid – it does not matter the supply source, our grids will get smart.

    We built 25GW of storage when we built nuclear. We had to move unneeded electricity from nighttime to peak hours. If we built more nuclear we would have to build more storage because nuclear cannot compete with nighttime wind or midday solar and that would make nuclear even more expensive.

    You get that? Build a lot of renewables, we have to build storage. Build a lot of nuclear, we have to build storage. Either way, storage is part of our future. That’s why we are already building storage.

    France has cheap electricity only because it is not paying loans on its reactors and because it built its reactors when construction costs were much less than now. We have zero ability to replicate the economics of French nuclear energy.

  • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

    Seems like all the luddites allergic to anything with the word nuclear in it flocked here to demonise “evil nuclear”.
    The fact is, liquid fluoride thorium reactor has a potential to offer cheap, safe, abundant, non-intermittent and sustainable (for 100 000s of years) energy, and the technical obstacles seem to be relatively minor and solvable, far better than in case of for example fusion power, which receives a lot of money despite that. Renewables surely should be continued to develop, but given the potential benefits and promises of LFTR, not investing at least as much as goes into fusion research into LFTR would be foolish. Fusion has great technical obstacles, but I have yet to hear a good technical argument why LFTR should not deliver, given similar funding and attention. It is definitely worth pursuing.

    • Anonymous

      Actually those who understand that thorium reactors are not a good answer to our energy problems have been on this site for a long time. That could be one reason that we can put thorium technology into a wider perspective that includes not only the amazement of “great big things that go whiz”, but also the economics and time to construct problems of all nuclear reactors.

      It’s the thorium fan club members who have flocked here, apparently to practice the Rovian tactic that telling the same falsehoods over and over makes them sound accurate.

      As an aside, I do wonder if a lot of the thorium fans are not actually friends of fossil fuels, hoping to delay renewable installation and continue the profit stream for Koch and Friends for a little longer.

      I sure wish someone would invent the truth-o-meter….

      • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

        You have again not presented a single economic or technical argument demonstrating that thorium fueled MSRs are “not a good answer” or wont be economical. The fact that it is a nuclear reactor is not enough to compare it to uranium LWRs since its so different in its fundamental principles (fuel, liquid core, molten salt coolant, continuous reprocessing…) technology and economics is simply not comparable.

        Noone is trying to delay renewable installation, why should it be one or the other? Dont put your eggs in one basket – we should pursue all carbon-free solutions, because all have differing advantages and disadvantages that can complement one another. We will need reliable baseload source for substituting fossil power, which renewables can hardly accomplish without significant investments (storage, smart grids), so I dont knoe who here is working for the Koch bros ;)

        • Anonymous

          No, thorium-fueled reactors are not significantly different that uranium-fueled reactors. Both are basically a “hot box” in which something is used to create a lot of heat and that heat is transferred to a steam turbine via heavy water, molten salts, etc. Steam spins the turbine and makes electricity.

          Here’s some sort of recent nuclear cost data…

          Aug 2007 – American Electric Power CEO Michael Morris $4,000 kW. Financing extra.

          Oct 2007 – Florida Power and Light (FPL). $5,500 to $8,100 per kW. Financing extra.

          Nov 2008 – Duke Energy Carolinas, $11 billion for two 1,117 reactors. $4924 per kW. Financing extra.

          Jan 2009 – MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co. said prices were so high it was ending its pursuit of a nuclear power plant in Payette County, Idaho.

          Early 2009 – Progress Energy, more than $6,400 kW. $7,700 kW including transmission lines. Financing extra.

          Jul 2009 – Ontario – $7.8 billion for 2 1600 MW reactors. $2,438 per kW. $26 billion including site prep, roads, transmission lines, etc. $10,800 kWh. Financing extra.

          Oct 2009 – Olkiluoto Finland, $8 billion plus for 1,650 MW . $4,848 plus per kW. Financing extra.

          The only company bidding, the Russian-Turkish JSC Atomstroyexport-JSC Inter Rao Ues-Park Teknik joint venture, to provide power from a reactor that they would build and own offered a price of 21.16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)

          Those $4,000 to $10,800 kW of new nuclear, with financing, would result in wholesale rates somewhere in the $0.15 – $0.20 kWh area. Or even higher, Craig Severance calculates that delivered electricity to customers would be in the $0.25 – $0.35 per kWh range.

          Notice how the price goes up with time? Olkiluoto is now expected to pass $10 billion. Over $6k per kW. Plus financing which is going to push its power to the $0.20/kWh and higher level.

          Solar dropped again last month. It’s now getting close to $0.15/kWh and will keep on falling.

          One way to generate electricity is getting more expensive. One way to generate electricity is getting cheaper.
          The generation method which is getting cheaper is already cheaper than the other.

          Wonder what the market will choose?

          (Here’s a hint. Almost all of the US utility companies have abandoned their plans to build a new reactor. The company most likely to build has been very, very quite about building lately.)

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            “Both are basically a “hot box” in which something is used to create a lot of heat and that heat is transferred to a steam turbine via heavy water, molten salts, etc. Steam spins the turbine and makes electricity.”

            So I take it solar thermal power is the same as nuclear reactors? Because it applies also to that. :)
            So again, many uranium LWRs shortcomings does not apply to LFTRs. The way the “hot box” is created is very different.

            What will market choose? See Solyndra fail.. And all that while solar receives 3x times the government subsidies per KWh of energy it produces, compared to nuclear energy.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, there is some similarity between thermal solar and nuclear reactors. But there’s also a big difference. The people involved in thermal solar believe they can bring prices well below $0.10/kWh which makes thermal solar viable, unlike nuclear reactors.

            And, yes, do look at Solyndra’s failure. When they went into business they had a solution which promised power cheaper than flat panel solar. Then the price of flat panel solar fell, and fell much more rapidly than anyone had imagined, and Solyndra was undercut.

            Perhaps you’re too young to remember when we were told that nuclear produced electricity would be “Too Cheap to Meter”. So we set out and started construction on several reactors. Many were abandoned during the construction process because it became obvious that reactors could not be built as cheap as promised.

            Now construction costs are far higher, even in adjusted dollars.

            We’ve developed other CO2 free ways to generate electricity which are far cheaper than nuclear.

            I can see the parallel between Solyndra and nuclear. Can you?

      • anonymous

        Thorium MSR’s are able to run at high enough temperatures compared to uranium LWR’s that they can use gas powered turbines. There is no water to steam driving turbines that you suggest.

        Solar cells take between 3-7 years of operation JUST to recover the energy spent on creating the cells. The source of this figure did not mention if this was at continual peak output or not.

        So best case scenario, you’d need to generate power for 6-14 years in order to produce enough carbon free energy to supply 1 of your neighbors with solar cells.

        • Anonymous

          1) Is there a thorium MSR using gas turbines in operation today? If so, how long has it been operating and what is the cost of electricity produced?
          2) Your energy payback data on solar panels is very out of date. Energy payback for thin film panels is less than one year. For some silicon panels payback is under two years, under one year for some.

          That’s under normal use.

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            1. Is there an energy grid that satisfies more than 10% of its energy needs by intermittent renewables (thus excluding hydro), without grid stability issues? And how much their electricity costs compared to 80% nuclear France electricity cost?
            I know only about Germany which approaches 10%, and its electricity cost is already high compared to France.

            You cant use the argument “it does not exist yet so its not viable”, and at the same time advocate intermittent renewables supplying base load (more than a fraction of the grid demand), because it too does not exist anywhere in the world ;)

            Since 30 year old nuclear energy is currently the cheapest non-fossil energy source (despite renewables receiving 3x the subsidies per KWh), I find your mentioning of cost while advocating renewables rather ironic. Renewables can and probably will become cheaper in the future compared to conventional reactors, but the same applies to MSRs. Only MSR does not have intermittency issues requiring costly smart grids and storage, and its potential for cost reduction is higher – see the wikipedia LFTR article. It can also function as a base load with no issues, compared to renewables.

          • Anonymous

            I’m not sure why you would exclude hydro. Hydro, storage, and load shifting is how we make a grid operate with renewables. All grids need flexibility in order to match supply to demand. A 100% nuclear grid without storage and load shifting would not work.

            It is dishonest to compare the price of electricity from a paid off nuclear plant and from a plant built long before construction costs soared to current levels to the cost of a wind farm or solar array still servicing a loan.

            Thorium molten salt reactors may not have intermittent output problems but they will have a definite economic problem because they are not dispatchable. And because they will have enormous loans to service.

            By the time we might build a thorium msr reactor we will have very large amounts of wind on our grids. At night, when demand is low, wind will probably be furnishing all the power the grid needs. Hydro and gas will spend large amounts of time shut down. Nuclear would be added on top of a satisfied grid and unless we build a lot of storage to time-shift that power the plant operator will have to sell at a loss. Perhaps even at zero or less than zero per kWh prices in order to cause wind turbines to be curtailed.

            That loss, the difference between $0.15/kWh (or whatever it costs to
            produce power) and $0.00/kWh will be a fifteen (whatever) cent loss that
            will have to be made up at some other time of the 24 hour cycle.

            Add 15 to 15 and now the operator has to sell for $0.30/kWh. The market
            will not pay that much. Natural gas peakers are cheaper. Solar is
            cheaper.

            That’s why the CEOs of utility companies have been telling us that nuclear
            is too expensive to build.

            And we don’t need baseload. We need power when we need it. We will have a
            very flexible grid which will utilize wind and solar when they are
            available and fill in with storage and dispatchable sources such as hydro
            when they aren’t.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000197577056 Daniel Moreno

            I do enjoy the debate here, I really do. Everyone brings up some really good points. However, I do have one tiny little problem with the argument that, just because something does not have a working model right now, that it shouldn’t be investigated.

            If that were the case, then we would never have bothered with nearly all of the scientific advancements to date. Human flight? There was no working model for that before the 1900s, that didn’t stop enthusiasts from putting together what they could in their spare time and having at it.

            The hypothetical, yes hypothetical, costs and advantages of LFTR using thorium as a fuel are interesting enough, in my opinion at least, to warrant deeper consideration and investigation. If anything, they would be an excellent source of power for things like space exploration vehicles and extra planetary locations(bases, living spaces, etc) where wind and solar might not be as viable as on terra firma.

            So, while wind, solar, hydro, etc. all have tremendous promise as renewable sources of energy, let’s not dismiss something that has potentially great uses in other areas, let alone all of the other hypothetical benefits.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve seen few, if any, suggest we should not research thorium reactors. 

            What I do see is a fair number of people declaring that thorium reactors are the solution to our energy problems.  And making that declaration based on?  Certainly not on a working thorium reactor that is producing electricity at an affordable price.

            You recognize that at this point LFTR advantages are simply hypothetical.  Some people seem unable to grasp that fact.

  • Hdslt1

    Thorium oxide was at one time used in the vacuum tubes in every home and auto with a radio. As for having nuclear power stations the U.S. built and tested units that put power on the grid in the early 60s to the mid 70s but they did not make bomb grade fuel so they were abandoned in favor of the Uranium fueled reactors. Our D.O.D. loves plutonium but has no regard for our safety.
    A few thorium reactors are in service in other countries now and more are on the way.

    • Anonymous

      Name the thorium reactors now in service in other countries.

      Make sure you name “a few”.

  • BlueRock

    It’s funny. The nuke fan club will become hysterical if you suggest that uranium supplies are running out:

    * The Coming Nuclear Crisis. The world is running out of uranium and nobody seems to have noticed. http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24414/

    But in the next breath tell us that thorium reactors are the answer to all our prayers because thorium is so abundant.

    The viability of thorium nukes has little to do with the fuel – it’s simply that they do not offer any significant advantages over uranium nukes and have many technical problems not yet resolved:

    * Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a greener nuclear option. “The technology is not tried and tested, and none of the main players is interested. Thorium reactors are no more than a distraction.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/23/thorium-nuclear-uranium

    * The Molten Salt Reactor concept. “So in summary we can say that, while there is some promise here of “something better” than a LWR, we’re a long way from acheiving this. Any MSR concepts are a long way from anything resembling a working commercial reactor. There are a whole bunch of technical challenges to overcome first.” http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/part-8-msr-lftr/

    As far as I can see, thorium is a smokescreen from the nuke industry to distract from what they are trying to sell us *now*.

  • Agostinialan

    They do exist and run. The CANDU reactors that Canada built can run on thorium. The CANDU reactor they built for China many years ago is going through testing now and will be providing power for people within years. The CANDU reactor in Canada will have been completely converted within 9 years. THey ( CAD’s )are actually keen on speeding up the process as to be the first to sell the present day fuel to our neighbors, the US.

    Sad to think of all the chaos in Iran could be fixed if they would only use a reactor that uses Thorium.
    In regards to the article above and a way to solve an issue with cost AND distribution of present day nuclear is to go the path of micro-nuclear.
    A garden shed that produces power for 20,000 homes, needs refueling every 8 years, completely safe and de-centralized.

    Hyperion reactors go on sale in 2013. The Czech republic will be powered by these en masse within 12 years.

    • Anonymous

      Let’s see, what did I say?

      “In love with something that so far doesn’t exist.”

      The CANDU reactor being built in China might run on thorium. We won’t know until it’s built.

      The CANDU reactor in Candida will be converted in 9 years. Not now, but maybe later.

      So how was I wrong? We’ve got no commercial reactors pumping out affordable electricity and fueled with thorium.

      -

      As far as Hyperion reactors goes, 2013 is only one year away and I don’t think Hyperion has yet received a license to build a prototype reactor. Hyperion, at the moment, is a bunch of lines on a piece of paper.

      If they can make their prototype work (which will likely take a few years) then they have to build a factory and go through all the testing stuff.

      Last concrete news I heard out of Hyperion was that they had doubled their cost estimate of what their reactors would cost.

      And, let’s face it, there is no way that they can build enough reactors to achieve economy of scale. It’s a smoke job.

      • Agostinialan

        Lets see, what did you say? “In love with something that so far doesn’t exist.”

        The 300 MWe Thorium High Temperature Reactor (THTR) in Germany, a HTR, operated with thorium-HEU fuel between 1983 and 1989. Over half of its 674,000 pebbles contained Th-HEU fuel particles (the rest graphite moderator and some neutron absorbers). These were continuously moved through the reactor as it operated, and on average each fuel pebble passed six times through the core.

        The 40 MWe Peach Bottom HTR in the USA was a demonstration thorium-fuelled reactor that ran from 1967-74 [2].

        The 330 MWe Fort St Vrain HTR in Colorado, USA, was a larger-scale commercial successor to the Peach Bottom reactor and ran from 1976-89. It also used thorium-HEU fuel. Almost 25 tonnes of thorium was used in fuel for the reactor, much of which attained a burn-up of about 170 GWd/t.

        Lets face it, if a year or 2 of modifications need to be made to present day reactors, it exists already.

        • Anonymous

          Geeze, reactor experiments that ran for a while and were then shut down now count as reactors up and running in your world?

          We once had mounted cavalry that charged the enemy with drawn sabers.

          That does not mean that we now have mounted cavalry that charges the enemy with drawn sabers.

    • Anonymous

      Let me throw in one more thing about thorium fueled reactors.

      They are still nuclear reactors. They will still take many, many years to build and accumulate immense amounts of debt during their construction phase. Between the high cost of construction and the debt which would need to be serviced thorium fueled reactors, just like uranium fueled reactors, are priced off the table.

      We have no need for 24/365 power on our grids. We have need for peak hour (daytime and early evening power) and for peak-peak hour power (daytime and early evening power on very hot days) and for clean power.

      Any generation system built will have to either a) operate during peak hours at a competitive peak hour price or b) undercut the price of other generation systems during off-peak hours.

      Solar gives us power during peak hours. Even though solar is still around $0.15/kWh it’s cheaper than what is often paid for gas peaker power. And since much of it is being installed at the end user point it really has only to compete with retail price.

      Wind gives us cheap power whenever the wind blows. Having no fuel cost wind can force any other generation source offline (with the exception of solar and hydro). If there is wind on the grid then coal and nuclear are
      going to get hurt and gas is going to get turned off.

      Nuclear can’t play in this ballpark. New nuclear, thorium or uranium
      fueled, is going to have to sell its power 24 hours a day at well over
      $0.15/kWh to stay in business. Nuclear can not sell power at a high enough
      price to keep from going bankrupt. Wind, solar and natural gas will
      undercut it for most to all of the day.

      It’s very simple economics.

      You can’t make a living running a greenhouse selling $4/pound tomatoes when
      part of the year local growers sell for $1/pound and the rest of the year
      tomatoes are trucked in at $2/pound.

    • Anonymous

      This is about John Rowe, CEO of Exelon. Calvert Cliffs-3 is a proposed new reactor build that isn’t going to happen.

      “Exelon’s 17-unit nuclear fleet is the nation’s largest. Rowe has previously said that new nuclear power units are not economically competitive in the US, and in 2009 Exelon abandoned plans to pursue an NRC license to build a nuclear plant at a greenfield site in Victoria County, Texas.

      The Calvert Cliffs-3 project is “utterly uneconomic,” Rowe said after a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

      Exelon “operates in a merchant environment. We can’t make a long-term decision that’s uneconomic because we have no regulatory protection for that,” he said.

      “At today’s [natural] gas prices, a new nuclear power plant is out of the money by a factor of two,” Rowe said, echoing one of the main points of his speech. “It’s not 20%, it’s not something where you can go sharpen the pencil and play. It’s economically wrong. Gas trumps it,” he said.

      Given recent discoveries of enormous shale gas resources, Rowe said, natural gas prices are expected to remain below $6-$8/MMBtu for the
      foreseeable future.

      Rowe said Exelon “will probably make a deal with the political leadership
      in Maryland,” where Constellation is based, to add “some additional
      renewables and conceivably even some more gas-fired” capacity to the
      generation mix of a combined company.

      “But it is, I think almost inconceivable that Calvert [Cliffs]-3 could be a
      part of that,” he said.”

      http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/ElectricPower/6659340

      And here’s another opinion about why nuclear is a non-starter…

      “Two new reactors approved for a plant in Georgia are in
      “pre-construction’’ and come with billions in federal loan guarantees.
      Plans for another plant in South Carolina are moving along.

      That’s not the nuclear power short list. It’s the list of all the serious
      possibilities, and it happens to be very short.

      What changed so dramatically for nuclear power was competition. As the
      world slumped into economic recession, the price of all types of power
      declined sharply, so the cost of electricity from new nuclear plants became
      less competitive. Carbon taxes, which could have narrowed some price gaps
      in nuclear power’s favor, never got off the ground.

      But the real killer is plunging natural gas prices that could make power
      from any new nuclear plants roughly twice as expensive. Now, new technology
      to extract America’s plentiful natural gas supplies — though controversial
      — could provide lots of relatively inexpensive energy for years to come.

      “Gas is much cheaper even as we look out over the next couple of decades,
      compared with people’s assessment just two or three years ago,’’ says
      Jone-Lin Wang, managing director of global power for IHS Cambridge Energy
      Research Associates. “It’s a game-changer.’’”

      http://articles.boston.com/2011-03-18/business/29350681_1_new-nuclear-plants-watts-bar-nuclear-power

      BTW, those two Georgia plants in “pre-construction’’ are Southern Company’s
      projects. Some months ago Southern announced that they were “going to
      study things a bit more”. I’ve heard nothing from them about going forward
      with their plans to build. I suspect they found someone on staff who can
      do simple math and the bottom line projection stunk.

      It’s a retold tale that we’ve heard coming out of Ontario, San Antonio and
      Turkey in the last year or so. “The cost is just too damn high”, to borrow
      a phrase.

  • Anonymous

    You haven’t done the necessary basic research on the subject before publication! Thorium reactors are much more fuel efficient compared to Uranium so use 1/200th as much fuel for the same amount of energy output. http://bit.ly/rvq7XB

    • Anonymous

      You glow-in-the-dark folks sure love your thorium reactors.

      In love with something that so far doesn’t exist. Sure, there are plans to build some. But there were also great hopes for pebble bed reactors and I’m sure you know how that worked out.

      • Wxv6

        Results from thorium molten salt reactor tests done by the Army, Navy & Airforce in the 60′s did suggest that it was a more promising nuclear fuel cycle for civilian power. The problem was it was competing with uranium water cooled nuclear fuel cycles which produce good bomb-making material. Considering it was the military doing all the research at the time, they dropped the civilian-optimal nuclear cycle and went for the bomb-making optimal nuclear cycle. After decades of invest in uranium water cooled nuclear cycle, there was entrenchment against thorium molten salt reactors, thus they never got any traction despite their advantages.

        Actually the parallels between the solar/wind relationship to fossil fuel is strong.

        • Wxv6

          Btw, the argument I like most for thorium molten salt reactors is that those are the only feasible facility that can produce Plutonium-238. This is not a bomb-making material (it emits alpha particles which are harmless). But this element is the single reason that the US (and any nation) has been able to explore space, beyond the asteroid belt.

          If you enjoy the discoveries of robotic deep-space probes, you will have to learn to love Plutonium-238 and the thorium fuel cycle that produces it in abundance.

    • BlueRock

      > “Thorium reactors are…”

      …whatever you want them to be! They don’t exist. It’s all blog posts and YouTube videos fantasising about what they might offer in theory.

      • Anonymous

        Thank You! I thought I just hadn’t found the details because I didn’t look hard enough :D

        • BlueRock

          I’m planning to write an article on the many advantages of the ‘Mark IV Warp Drive’. ;)

          The thorium fan club on the internet is a bizarre phenomenon – absolutely certain that everything they’ve read on a thorium fantasy blog is true. I’ve spent a fair bit of time researching and I can’t find anything other than expert analysis that says “meh”:

          * “Thorium has been considered as a nuclear fuel since the very beginning of the atomic energy era. However, its use in early reactors, whether light-water cooled or gas cooled, has not led any commercial nuclear reactors to operate on a thorium cycle. … Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. … the technology of thorium fuel does not offer sufficient incentives from a cost or waste point of view to easily penetrate the market.” http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/nuclear-fuel-cycle.shtml

          * Thorium is not an environmentally safe alternative type of nuclear energy: Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2008/thorium_unsafe

          Not to say the technology could not be developed – but it’s decades away if it ever does materialise. By which time solar PV will be sprayed on to every surface that catches daylight! :)

          • Anonymous

            Thanks!

          • Anonymous

            But you know the ‘Mark IV Warp Drive’ is completely made obsolete by Rossi’s magic gadget.

            Catch up. Technology is leaving you behind!

            I’ve seen it on U-Toob!!!

          • BlueRock

            lol.

            I’m still certain that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steorn will save every one of us!

            Stoopid me. Getting my knowledge from MIT. I shud wotch U-Toob!
            :)

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            Your links all talk about solid fueled thorium reactors, not liquid fueled MSRs. Its a fundamental difference. Thorium in itself offers little advantages over uranium when used as solid fuel, its the combination of thorium and MSR that really makes the difference.

          • BlueRock

            Wrong. MIT makes no distinction of the type of thorium nuke – simply that the thorium fuel cycle offers no compelling advantages over uranium for the industry to attempt to commercialise MSRs.

            MIT do not mention LFTRs in their review of the future of the nuclear fuel cycle because the technology is not available and will not be available in the foreseeable future.

            What you need to understand is that the technology you are making claims for does not exist.

            P.S. Appropriate name for the thorium fan club. ;)

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            I know it does not exist yet in practice.. Your point?

          • BlueRock

            It does not exist in practice. That is the point.

            Let us know when it does.

      • Anonymous

        They HAVE existed, watch the video again mate and you might learn something! Uranium reactors are only 0.7% fuel efficient, that’s as good as it could possibly get is it?? Are you even aware of the term “technical innovation”? lol

        • BlueRock

          I’m not wasting time on some techo fantasy video.

          I presume you mean the ORNL MSR *experiment* that run intermittently for a few short years in the 60s at ‘unlimited’ expense before being abandoned? That’s a world different to creating a commercially viable reactor that can run continually for 50+ years.

          As soon as a LFTR appears in the real world and confirms all the incredible claims made for it and is economically viable then I’ll be lukewarm enthusiastic about it.

          Until then, renewables continue falling in cost and continue exponential investment and deployment.

          • Anonymous

            And, even if someone does manage to build a working thorium reactor, they will be too expensive to be practical.

            New nuclear. New coal. Too expensive to be considered.

          • Anonymous

            Lets get your attitude straight… “if it was any good it would already exist” Is that the same argument you’d use for Electric Cars? LOL Idiot!

          • BlueRock

            No, you’ve not read and understood the basics: thorium reactors have been considered and researched for 60+ years by the US, UK, Russia, France and failed to deliver anything. Just because a few people are now producing YouTube videos and writing breathless blog posts about all the amazing things thorium nukes can do in *theory* does not mean they will now magically appear.

            Your comparison with EVs is also built on ignorance of the facts. All the components and technology to make an EV have been available for almost as long as there have been cars. There have been EVs since the late 1800s. In case you want to educate yourself: http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/electric-car-timeline.html

            > LOL Idiot!

            That’s a typical response from people who are emotionally invested in something that is not supported by facts and reality. Don’t shoot the messenger! ;)

          • Anonymous

            You two guys are CLEARLY in the ignorant Anti_nuclear lobby. End of Story.

            But what a DH comment “All the components and technology to make an EV have been available for almost as long as there have been cars. There have been EVs since the late 1800s”

            Which components would you be referring to? The development of cheap IGBTs and microprocessors that enable mass produced Variable Frequency Drives or Lithium Ion Batteries and networked BMS’s that facilitate the current bread of EV?

            You have just PROVED you’re an idiot!

          • BlueRock

            > …the current bread of EV?

            > You have just PROVED you’re an idiot!

            lol.

            You need to SHOUT less, THINK more.

            Good luck with your thorium dreams!

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            Thorium MSRs have not been considered and researched from the end of 60s, and it was not a technical decision to stop the research, but a political one.

          • BlueRock

            “a political one”

            I’ve noticed this meaningless rhetoric being used a lot recently. It’s not an argument, it means nothing,

          • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

            It is an argument, it means the fact that we dont use LFTRs now is not because they are technically impossible or uneconomic, but because of politics. That means you cannot use it as an argument against their economy or technical feasibility.

          • Anonymous

            Please explain how politics are blocking LFTRs.

            Can you site a piece of legislation outlawing LFTRs?

          • Anonymous

            Well, being an idiot, here’s how I look at it.

            We’ve given thorium a try. We are extremely unlikely to build many more reactors, regardless of the fuel used.

            Reactors are just too damned expensive and take far too long to build.
            We are building, selling and driving EVs. Right now EVs are about the same price to purchase and operate over a 12 year lifetime as a much less expensive ICEV. We have very reasonable expectations for the purchasing price of EVs to drop over the next few years making them as cheap or cheaper to drive than ICEVs. Obviously they will continue to be only a fraction of the cost of ICEVs to operate.

            In case you aren’t aware, Nissan cut off its waiting list for the Leaf EV because the next 12 months production is spoken for. GM instructed dealers to sell their demo Volts in order to take care of some of the extra demand for their PHEVs. At this point Nissan has sold more than 20,000 Leafs and GM expects to hit 10,000 units by the first of 2012.

            Demand exceeds supply.

            GM is planning on building 60,000 Volts next year. Nissan is gearing up for 500,000 units per year production and expects to be there by the end
            of 2012. Ford will be introducing its Focus EV early next year and has
            dedicated a full assembly line for production.

            The above post done with the third digit of my IQ tied behind my back.
            Some things are easily understood….

          • Anonymous

            Oh, and might I point out that the reason that EVs are just now appearing in larger numbers is the same reason nuclear isn’t being built – cost.
            I would imagine that you know that oil has been an incredibly cheap source of stored energy. But we’ve used up the easy to get/easy to refine stuff and the cost is rising.

            That has caused us to put a lot of effort into better EV batteries and that research is now paying off.

            Our research into wind, solar, geothermal and tidal energy harvesting is also paying off with clean, affordable, safe electricity.

            Economic forces will cause the EV to replace the ICEV. Economic forces have doomed nuclear.

          • Richardinlinwood

            The existing heavy-water Candu reactor, already built in many locations around the world, is capable of using thorium fuel right now, as well as burning decommissioned weapons fuel.

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