Archive for the ‘Thorium’ Category

Well, not real money. But Atmoz is discussing about when it will be reached with commenters. My bet is march 2018, though if you use woodfortrees to visualize, straight extrapolation seems to predict before 2015 already, for the northern hemisphere winter peak. Most seem to bet around 2014-2016.

Read Full Post »

Kirk had some thoughts when touring the Delta IV factory in Alabama.

Read Full Post »

A quick way to get up to speed on Thorium and LFTR, aimed at lay people.

I seriously doubt their cost and schedule stuff. One needs to do material science tests with this, so it’s going to take longer.

But otherwise. It is the industrial solution for the world. It is perhaps not the best electricity solution for everyone, only perhaps 90% of the population, weighed by current CO2 production.

Swap your yearly tonnes of carbon to grams of Thorium.

Read Full Post »

Posting about it again. The Energy From Thorium forum has more on what’s going on.  Some bogus weapons reasons are presented to the press for why it will be downblended. It could be the startup fuel of new LFTRs instead.

Quoting DV82XL:

This is the equivalent to the move to have streetcar tracks ripped up in so many cities – it’s destruction of a competitive threat by driving the price of market entry too high to overcome.

It has zero to do with weapons potential that’s just a bone tossed to the press.

Read Full Post »


Read Full Post »

At Fingrid. EDIT: same in English.

Usage, Imports and Exports of Electricity in Finland at one moment in timeUsage, Imports and Exports of Electricity in Finland at one moment in time

Read Full Post »

Technical viewpoint

Reduce Coal Electricity Production as Quickly as Possible.

Practically all other issues like transport fuels are secondary. They are harder and smaller problems. Nevermind taking CO2 from ambient air. Let’s first do the biggest and easiest job. This is looking at the next few decades.

To get rid of coal, do all of the following simultaneously:

  • Do less things that consume electricity
  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Build nuclear plants
  • Build wind plants where applicable
  • Build solar plants where applicable

Regional viewpoint

CO2 production of regions, modified from "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air"CO2 production of regions, modified from “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

Although the graph above could suggest that North America, Oceania and Europe should be the first to do reductions to keep it more equal per capita, in the current freely moving global economy that is not all clear – in many cases the emissions would just be transferred to other locations.

Legal viewpoint

First a primer on why there exist laws in the first place.

Practically, the only aim of publicly traded corporations is based on producing maximum profit for the shareholders. (Corporations are not good or bad, they are just mechanisms.) People as well choose the least effort with maximum personal benefits. On average, humans are no martyrs.

These are both reasons why there are no anarchistic societies around – societies with rules and laws turned out to be more efficient. When you are not in constant danger of being taken advantage of by anyone (be it a corporation, mob or a person) who wishes to do so, you can spend your energy on actually beneficial work. If there are common decisions that these are the laws (concepts of ownership, murder etc), everyone’s life is easier. This is basically the difference between anarchy and a legal society. Legal societies accept the limiting of freedoms. For example, I do not have the freedom to murder my neighbour or take his car, even if I wanted it, and I view that it is a good thing that this is the same for everyone.

So, stock owned corporations and sufficiently large groups of humans can mostly only steer themselves through laws that affect everyone on the field. If a company CEO strays from maximizing profit, the company will get into a competetive disadvantage and the stock owners either sue him, fire him or move elsewhere. A person doing ethical decisions when most others act unethically is just making a personal sacrifice. It is not generally justified or reasonable to expect a large proportion of people to suddenly voluntarily change their ways to ones with less immediate benefit for themselves, when there are still so many not doing it. Nor is it that likely. Hence education and individual voluntary action are usually inherently very limited means of doing any measurable changes.

And then on to more specifics regarding CO2.

So, justified solutions would be level playing fields where the CO2 emissions have similar prices for everyone. From the people’s point of view, this  could be individual CO2 quotas, or quotas given to nations according to the population size. Or alternatively varying concepts of taxes on personal CO2 production, given back to all people (so the average producer would have zero change from the no-tax situation). From the industry’s point of view, the leveling could be CO2 taxes on products according to the amount of CO2 emitted during production – not related to where it is produced so that the international playing field is level.

For example, in China most people are very poor and produce little CO2 per capita. Does this mean per capita quota laws should be made so that China was able to produce export steel with more inefficient processes generating more CO2, resulting in the shutdown of more efficient steel plants in the west? My opinion is no. Hence, only per capita CO2 emissions regulation does not make that much sense.

I will post more about this in the future, as this post is just a short overview.

Free market viewpoint

Completely centrally led  economies are very inefficient failures. Private industry in many cases is much less corrupt and more motivated and efficient. But only if they have incentive to be. Hence, if there was a price for CO2 emissions, it is conceivable that much more sensible places where they can be reduced could suddenly be found, than with any complex regulations mandating direct methods of reducing CO2 emissions. This is exactly what markets are good at, doing the maximum with minimum cost. There would actually be competition and multiple privately developed solutions for each problem field, and the best and most cost effective would be chosen automatically, with those people who know the best with the hands on experience, and not some politicians.

I see many otherwise free market advocating people saying that there should be no price for CO2, instead the government should do some R&D and then give solutions to the industry. I think that is naive. Why would companies move to less CO2 producing technologies, if there was no cost in producing CO2? How would people in the government even know which R&D programs to do? And these projects would be funded from taxes anyway and thus paid by the consumers and companies. And they would be adopted only if they were otherwise significantly cheaper than the old methods, and probably in most cases they would not be. There probably just is no free lunch, unless someone invents something totally game changing very soon.

The CFC:s are a good example of that. The companies were lobbying against their banning, but when it was evident and imminent, they simply stopped complaining and developed working alternatives.  You get exactly what you order. A significant amount of people don’t even care to treat waste water if there no laws mandating it, which is evidently a bad thing in many places around the world, leaving the people downstream with no clean drinking water.

It is important for governments to do long term basic research and even investments, but if CO2 emissions had a price, it would be profitable for companies to research and invest in less CO2 producing technology themselves.

Take for example nuclear power. If there are CO2 taxes, that makes nuclear power more profitable than coal and it will automatically replace it. Also, somewhat similar for solar power. It is most of the time not wise to mandate very inefficient feelgood solar plants in cloudy areas. That is just theater. (On the other hand, it is sometimes worth supporting industry that is in its infancy and not immediately useful, but has potential in the further future. But feelgood projects are the wrong way.) But if the solar plants are built on profit and cost/benefit mechanisms alone, then they are probably built in more sensible places.

Cap and trade is problematic in many ways. Those who had already upgraded to more efficient industries by the reference year (on which the cap is based on), suffer more as they can’t do cheap cuts anymore. Or the governments can deal the quotas completely arbitrarily, making the playing field between industries very uneven. A CO2 tax might be better in this way. I am no economist or tax expert so other people have probably more intelligent things to say about this.

Who should do what in politics?

Governments should consult the best experts and build together some schemes of putting a price on CO2 emissions, beyond the Kyoto cap and trade, which can be seen as a first draft policy. Lessons should be learned.

Most of the CO2 producers (by tons and by tons per capita, at least, for justice reasons) should be in these schemes. Places like Africa don’t matter, they matter little in the absolute and the relative sense too. Also those with high over time integrated total emissions should be spearheading the effort. The schemes could be designed to also affect those who are selfishly staying outside, for example with added CO2 import taxes when importing from a country that is not in the CO2 tax scheme (or possibly even, but to a lesser amount as it is more problematic, export CO2 benefits, if exporting to a country which does not have the scheme) to keep the products competitive on equal grounds.

Many government R&D projects should be funded, but not too uncritically, as they tend to bloat. Some overly complicated legal barriers, for example with nuclear research and power plant building should be removed (not completely left without oversight of course). Private research and development could be stimulated. Possibly even with things like prizes – though a price on CO2 already would stimulate the industry hugely.

Read Full Post »

USA has some Uranium-233 stored, but they’re going to destroy it by blending it with U-238. U-233 is valuable, it takes a lot of effort and energy to produce it (have Thorium-232 absorb a neutron) and it is the fissile material for LFTR reactors (of which I’ve blogged about before). It is especially important for starting a lot of LFTR reactors easily.

I’ve also heard the U-233 stock it is also useful for medical isotopes.

I’m not in the US, but if you are. please read more about the case and tell other people about it, this needs to be known and stopped before it happens.

Kirk Sorensen has blogged extensively about it, and there is going to be a letter writing campaign for political representatives.

The first blogpost about it.

The thread, with letter writing campaign organization.

Read Full Post »

If you want to give people a higher material standard of living, you need energy. If you need to do this via industrialization, you need even more of it. China has done it with coal. There is this lengthy article by Greg Peel describing the situation much closer. The energy intensity of GDP has not gone down all the time.

Then there’s this video report by Journeyman pictures showing some effects you get when the use of a dangerous resource, in this case, coal, is badly controlled:

I’d take some claims there with a grain of sand, but it is something to take note of anyway, if you are interested in real world energy policy.

Read Full Post »

There are a huge array of design possibilities for a Thorium molten salt reactor / liquid fluoride thorium reactor, but this post takes a very simplified approach to map a small part of the fascinating and diverse landscape with a little rough drafting. We concentrate on thermal spectrum designs. I’m strictly an amateur in these matters so everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt and checked more carefully with people who actually know what they are talking about. 🙂

My references are Kirk Sorensen’s energyfromthorium.com and David LeBlanc’s excellent slide set. Highly recommended!

One or Two Fluids?

One choice is having two fluids (core and blanket) or just a single one (Thorium-232 and Uranium-233 salts mixed in the same vessel).

The single fluid reactor seems like a much simpler alternative. There are problems though that when Thorium-232 absorbs a neutron, it becomes Protactinium-233 (Pa) before becoming Uranium-233. The half-life of Pa is about 30 days, and if it catches a neutron, it becomes U-234, which is not a fissile material. So the neutron was wasted. This is pretty bad since Pa’s neutron cross section is over twice that of Th’s so it wants to catch those neutrons. But there are ways around this.

Protactinium Extraction?

For one, you can perform protactinium removal from the single fluid core. This involves liquid bismuth and I’m not very familiar with the process, but it is more complex than U or FP separation (see below). The separated Pa-233 is put into tanks to wait for its decay into U-233 before it is put back into the core. This also enables pure U-233 extraction which is somewhat problematic in a proliferation sense (I’m not very knowledgeable in this direction).

In a two fluid reactor, you can probably get by without Pa removal by just making the blanket bigger, so there is much more Thorium than Pa at any given time, giving a better statistical chance for a given neutron to hit a Thorium and not a Protactinium atom. This can also involve fancy geometries, since the core stays the same size. For example there can be a long empty gap between the core and the blanket through which the neutrons fly.

Uranium Extraction?

In a single fluid design the new Uranium is already in the core after it is produced from the Thorium, so this step is not needed. But in a two fluid design it is practically mandatory. The ThF4 and UF4 mix is bubbled with Fluorine gas, and the UF4 turns into UF6, which is a gas. The gas is separated from the liquid. UF6 handling is already a known 60 year old industry from nuclear fuel processing. The UF6 is changed back to UF4, which is then inserted into the core. The ThF4 is inserted back into the blanket of course.

Moderation, How?

The most traditional way would be to moderate the reactor with solid graphite rods. There are thermal spectrum spreading and since the fuel is in liquid form, expansion and convection effects that mostly help with control here, but single fluid reactors still can have situations of positive power coefficients. Graphite has issues of swelling and shrinking under radiation and a limited lifetime. Regularly changed moderator pieces would be radioactive waste as well. Loose graphite rods or even pebbles could be ways to prevent stress cracking.

There have been designs without any solid moderators as well. The salts moderate some anyway, and some reactors run simply at faster spectrums, the latter again bringing control problems.

And lastly, there is the heavy water moderated MSR, of course loved by many Canadians because of their CANDU expertise, the current heavy water moderated solid fuel reactors. The heavy water would not act as a coolant at the same time, but would be separated in thermos style vacuum jacketed pipes. Any breach would boil the moderator away, reducing reactivity. This jacketing would enable easy low pressure vessel construction, like for the rest of the reactor.


The first MSR designs were naturally small and spherical. A number of geometry proposals have surfaced: pipes coming from many directions into a bundle of criticality or a cylindrical core with a cylindrical blanket around it. There are many conflicting requirements like maintaining criticality, preventing overcriticality, minimizing neutron waste, minimizing inventory size, coping with thermal expansion, passive safety, ease of construction and transportation, scalability…

Inventory Size?

A small fissile inventory has a number of benefits. The reactor is simply smaller for a given power ratio, making it cheaper. Also less U-233 for the starting load needs to be produced elsewhere. If the breeding ratio is low and the fissile inventory large, it takes long (perhaps twenty years) for an MSR to produce enough U-233 to start another new MSR, probably requiring big production of U-233 elsewhere, changing overarching infrastructure plans significantly.

Fission Product Removal?

This is a very common feature of MSR designs (some once-through no-refuel systems for ships and spacecraft can take this out), but how often it is done, varies. Vacuum distillation means reducing the pressure until the most volatile stuff starts boiling. Only UF4 fuel salt should be left after this. With a single fluid salt there is a problem that the Thorium Fluoride salt boils as easily as some of the fission product fluoride salts and hence something else would need to be done, or just some Thorium be “thrown away” together with the fission products. On the other hand, some fission products are gases like Xenon, which boil already in the core. Many of the fission products are also valuable rare elements by themselves and can be sold. The MSR naturally separates fission products from fuel, unlike current solid fueled reactors, making this line of technology look unexplored and interesting. Since there is less waste sucking up neutrons in the reactor, the neutron efficiency of an MSR can be high and it can get by with little fuel and a small physical size.

Power Extraction, How?

This is more of an “auxiliary” function. The most common design is connection to a helium heat exchanger probably through another salt loop to reduce radiation loads, and the helium would drive a heat engine. High temperatures (compared to solid fueled traditional nuclear reactors) are achievable and all kinds of thermal processes become attractive as well. Since the molten salt solidifies at a certain temperature, the heat exchanger can not go below that. Coupled with the high efficiency and high top temperature, you get small radiators and cooling towers and small water usage compared to traditional reactors.

Control, How?

An ideal MSR is extremely easy to control because of the natural negative feedback of the reactor – increase power usage by increasing coolant flow, the reactor cools and increases reactivity and gets to a steady level. As far as I know, the original aircraft reactor experiment was not throttled in any other way. There simply are no control rods. An MSR would automatically operate in a designed, relatively narrow temperature region of a few tens of Kelvins. In the event of a significant overheating accident, a freeze plug at the bottom of the reactor would melt and the salts would drain into tanks below for slowly cooling down.

Waste Handling

First the most valuable materials like Xenon, Tritium and various other substances could be sold. Since the waste would by majority be fission products and barely no heavy transuranics, they could be stored on-site until they quickly lost enough radioactivity and cooled for final storage of a few hundred years inside rock.

So, What Is The Best Configuration?

As a personal preference, my best guess for the best of all worlds is a two fluid design, with a cylindrical “LeBlanc” geometry. Adding power would simply involve making a longer cylinder. No Pa removal, but the blanket could be oversized. Remember that all the vessels would be at low pressure, and the blanket isn’t even that hot and is only filled with Thorium, which is cheap. Initial core load U-233 amount would still be low.

Next to the reactor would be the fluoridation tower for taking U from the blanket and putting it to the core. Hydrogen would be needed to change the UF6 back to UF4. (Generating chemically nasty HF at the same time.) A vacuum still would remove the fission products from the core, and this would be located close by too.

Since there would be no high pressure vessels, the reactor core and blanket could be quite light and probably road transportable as a whole. The material of choice for the high temperature salt sections would be Hastelloy.

Moderation could either be nonexistent, by loose graphite profiles inside the core, or Hastelloy pipes containing a vacuum walled heavy water pipe. This is an area that needs lots of innovation to minimize maintenance and waste.

According to calculations made by David Leblanc, a 1 m diameter 6 m long “pipe style” reactor (easily truck transportable for construction!) could produce 400 Megawatts of electricity (900 MW thermal) with only a few hundred kilos of fissile inventory! Most of the salt mass would be “filler” (Fluorine, Lithium, Beryllium) and Thorium.

This is a very stark contrast to the current nuclear plants with their huge high pressure vessels, currently probably only manufacturable in one steel plant in Japan, requiring many years of ahead time for ordering, and lots of welding on the build site as well.

End Note

There is real small MSR hardware that has been demonstrated to work, and there are good conceptual designs for real powerplants that could change the world energy generation picture completely. I am not aware of any other energy production technology which is so based on reality and still potentially revolutionary at the same time. This thing has a very good chance of working well. It does not require significant new scientific developments or a fifty year timetable, like fusion. It is not as limited in availability and dependability like wind or solar power. It is good that those alternatives are pursued too, but the MSR is a bigger answer to a bigger problem.

-the Molten Salt Reactor, Real and Revolutionary!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »