Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Chinese going for broke on thorium nuclear power, and good luck to them "

"Good for them. They may do the world a big favour. They may even help to close the era of fossil fuel hegemony, and with it close the rentier petro-gas regimes that have such trouble adapting to rational modern behaviour. The West risks being left behind, still relying on the old uranium reactor technology that was originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s."


AJ said...

I hate reading articles written by someone who doesn't know what he is talking about. Thorium reactors are about as likely to be viable as cold-fusion.

Anonymous said...

Or comments from the ignorant. We were running LFTRs in the 60s at Oak Ridge.

Anonymous said...

Come now AJ. It's SLIGHTLY more viable than cold fusion- All the physics and chemistry involved actually work. But have never yet been assembled into a working and viable device.

The Chinese MIGHT be able to do it. It won't be cheap and the technology is not in any way risk free, risks types are merely shifted:

Old style reactors risk various uncontrolled criticality scenarios leading to anything from Three Mile Island grade facility destruction to "China syndrome" to Chernobyl + levels of KABOOM! Plus, Fukushima style non criticality related residual activity meltdown/coolant system failures leading to containment breach, massive radiological releases and damn the difference anyway, the neighbors downwind all move or die.

The new designs supposedly can't undergo uncontrolled criticality- They still have the risks of large ammounts of chemical and radiological poisons being released during equipment failure, the first generation of these bleeding edge systems will teach engineers all about a new class of failure modes-.

ANY system handling huge amounts of energy has the potential for things to get out of hand, leading to a KABOOM... It won't matter to the downwind neighbors if it's a nuclear explosion, a chemical one, or merely from superheated steam- Dead is dead.

Anyone who knows about Flourine chemistry and radiological degradation to engineering materials is NOT predicting a smooth start to this technology.

For that matter: If accounting were honest enough to include true costs of the whole life cycle, civilian power reactors were never profitable- And that's doing the math WITHOUT including the additional prices to be paid for little glitches like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

As noted in the article, "civilian" nukes were a way to indirectly tax the public into paying for nuclear weapons related infrastructure and materials.

WE HAVE BARELY BEGUN TO PAY FOR THE FISSION PROGRAM. We will be paying the delayed costs for fission weapons and power plants a long, long time- Or die of them.

Anonymous said...

Good article on LFTR tech and China:

Anonymous said...

Yep, Oak Ridge had a working LFTR decades ago. It's unfortunate that some who comment on this blog are so ignorant of this fact and the science behind LFTR's.

Anonymous said...

"Working and viable device" he says. Heavy accent on VIABLE.

Merely getting it working doesn't mean it is economically viable. Economically viable is needed, we can't be using nukes that cost more than they give back when accounting covers the ENTIRE cycle from mining & refining through safe discharge of non hazardous end product into the environment. Not on the surface of a planet we need to live on, anyhow. You got the option to live anywhere else yet?

The LFTR could sure change those equations by burning down the worst crap in megatons of spent Uranium fueled reactor rods we have accumulated- But would require that pesky net economic return > 0 + incidental costs thing. Love to see it happen. Ain't holding my breath, except when passing through large clouds of hydroflouric acid contaminated with assorted radioactive trash.

Yes, our liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor prototype worked. Not for very long, nor was it intended to- Proof of concept only.

Same as the German pebble bed reactor, one ran for a bit, showed the idea COULD be implemented- Then nada.

One of the things that REALLY frosts me about the Koch boys, they don't wanna lose a few pennies saving the Helium from their wells, which is a TRULY irreplaceable natural resource. So they spent some cash on K street to destroy the US strategic Helium reserve, they and their ignorant, short sighted ass hat friends... Like Navy dirigibles is all we will ever need the stuff for?!

Hope you're not including me in the "ignorant" category. LFTR is a physics & engineering concept, not a religious revelation requiring true believers to see it come to earth. Keep your eyes and minds open, they're all you've got.

AJ said...

If LFTRs work, and are so great, why has no one ever built one commercially?
We'll have viable anti-matter or fusion reactors long before we have LFTRs (fission tech is dirty and leaves waste no matter what), and it will be a long, long time before we have those.

pdxr13 said...

LFTR is Fission, and it does make waste, BUT, LFTR makes much less waste by volume and the waste is not so long-lived (short half-lives are more dangerous but for a short time). LFTR is not more complex than light water reactors, only slightly different, but well within the current ability to construct and run.

The economics of LFTR are such:

1. High Quality Heat, as good as coal-fired steam turbine power generation plants. Light water reactors make lower quality heat, with less efficiency in the system.

2. Air Cooling, no need to be sited near a large body of fresh water, which should be protected for food production, maritime operations, and recreation.

3. Possible use/decomposition of light water reactor waste fuel, making the waste smaller and less dangerous. Useful heat may also result from using up the waste.

4.Co-location of carbon reformation plant to use LFTR waste heat can transform coal or NG to needed liquid fuel and/or chemical products of high value. South African SASOL (South African State Oil Company) has perfected the Fischer-Tropsch process to make synthetic crude oil that can be processed in conventional fuel refineries at a price of $30/bbl in 1995 US Dollars, in industrial quantities. Red China has licensed these F-T technologies and hired key South African scientists and technicians to make it a reality.

5. It's really hard to make weapon-grade materials from LFTR fuel or waste. The USA has enough weapons for a long time and we can operate Hanford to make the few new designs needed or that we can afford. A

6. Thorium is dirt cheap compared to uranium, and we have huge stockpiles of it from mining rare earth minerals. Cheap fuel that we own is way better than foreign expensive fuel.

7. LFTR is a US design. We would be fools to buy reactors from China if they commercialize our shelved publicly-owned research. $10B puts LFTR on the fast track to operation in places without water but inexpensive and easily secured.

It's a chicken-egg problem. We have to invent the chicken and the egg at the same time, but we know it can be done, and then they will lay eggs forever.

goodgreifthecomediansabear said...

Where's the KABOOM. There's s'posed to be and Earth shattering KABOOM?!?!?!?