Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thorium Reactors are Safer, Cheaper, Carbon-Free and More Efficient

With the recent unfolding nuclear reactor disasters in Japan, the public is going to turn away from nuclear power even more than they had previously. Before Fukushima, it was difficult and expensive to get approval for new reactors; now it is going to become near impossible. This may open the door for a new and safer type of technology known as the Thorium Reactor.
Thorium Reactors also known more accurately as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs pronounced “lifters”) are a proven alternative to the present day nuclear reactors known as Light Water Reactors (LWR).

Advantages of Thorium Reactors:
  1. Safer; if power is lost like in Fukushima, the reactor just shuts down with no chance of meltdown. The thorium reactor is self controlling; as the liquid fuel gets hotter, it expands and reduces the number of fuel atoms in the reactor which results in less heat. Since low pressures are used, no need for expensive and vulnerable backup cooling, control and containment structures.
  2. There will be start up costs associated with the research and development of new thorium reactors but they will be cheaper in the long run. Fuel is more plentiful and cheaper and doesn't need assembly into fuel rods. Doesn't need control rods and expensive emergency systems to control the reactor. Doesn't need a massive pressure containment vessel. Since they are inherently safer, LFTRs will need less government regulation once their safety has been well established.
  3. Less Nuclear Waste. LFTRs produce only a tiny fraction of the waste generated by a LWR and the waste decays rather rapidly to near background levels in about 300 years. Contrast that to the large amount of waste from LWRs that takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay. Realizing that the Pyramids are only 5000 years old; who is going to be around to warn lifeforms away from a waste site 100,000 years in the future? Fortunately, the LFTR can “burn” the waste from the LWRs down to a much smaller and manageable form.
  4. More efficient. Nearly all of the thorium is used in an LFTR versus only about 0.7% of uranium in a LWR (one reason the LWR produces so much more waste). One pound of thorium produces the power of 200-300 pounds of uranium. Plus, there is a lot more thorium than uranium in the world.
  5. Scalability: LFTRs can be made large or small from 100-kilowatt to multi-gigawatt. It would be possible for small communities to have their own 1 megawatt LFTR and produce their own power instead of inefficiently consuming power from lines traveling hundreds of miles from a large regional power plant.

The One Disadvantage of Thorium Reactors and the reason we have LWRs instead.
  1. It's very hard, almost impossible, to make atomic bombs from the LFTR.
This one reason, the ability to make plutonium, was why we (the USA) decided to go the LWR route. Now we have about 1000 tons of plutonium in storage and about 200 tons in our nuclear weapons; so we don't need more plutonium. Therefore the main rationale for pursuing the LWR route is no longer in effect. As many people as possible need to view this informative video featuring Kirk Sorensen where he clearly lays out the history and science behind Thorium reactors.

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