The Good Reactor – A Film About Thorium Reactors


Two Irish lads are making a documentary about Thorium reactors.  Frankie Fenton and Des Kelleher from Dublin, Ireland went on Kickstarter to raise £40,000′  Their 30-day Fundraising period just ended successfully on June 21st, with 756 backers pledging £46,800.  Congratulations, Boys!  Now the real work begins!

Note: With the pledge period over, this blog post is NOT a plea for money.  They got what they needed.

The promo is here.

The trailer is here.

The blurb from the Kickstarter page:

The Good Reactor

Up until the mid 1970s, research into thorium – a silvery-white metal – as an energy source in Molten Salt Reactors, was carried out by the US government. The initiative was shelved however, in favour of uranium due in part to the politics of the Cold War and uranium’s potential for weaponization. Today, there is a growing body of scientists and environmentalists seeking to resurrect this technology, believing that it is the solution that the world has been waiting for – a way to generate clean, safe, green energy.

For the last two years we have poured every penny we have into travelling around Europe and North America to speak to the people involved in this project, and their opponents, to try to uncover the truth about thorium: whether it is, as many believe, the solution to the energy crisis.

“A golf ball sized ball of Thorium contains all the energy you will use in your entire lifetime.”  —  Kirk Sorensen, leading advocate of Thorium LFTR reactors and the man who brought Thorium rectors to the world’s attention after they had been all but forgotten.

.

This is the nuclear power they promised us way back in the 1950s.  But Richard Nixon killed the project in the early 1970s, after the first reactor had run successfully for over 2,000 hours.

Where did it come from?

Alvin Weinberg, the Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and also who invented the light-water reactors such as are the most common reactors in nuclear plants today, invented the Thorium liquid-fueled reactor in the same period, the 1950s.  Though he strongly advocated Thorium reactors at that time, the light-water reactors had a running start and won out.  That story is told elsewhere.  Google or YouTube search “thorium reactor”.

I am very high on this development.  It comes at an amazingly opportune time for humanity.  Thorium has so many positives it is hard to list them all.

  1. Energy extraction over 100 times as efficient as existing nuclear plants: Where we are able to extract 00.7% of the energy available from Uranium, we can extract over 99% of the energy from Thorium.
  2. Nuclear waste: Thorium reactors can – and will – cycle already existing nuclear waste in their normal running cycle, meaning we now have a means of ridding the world of nuclear waste stocks.
  3. Nuclear waste again: Most of the <1% byproducts from a LFTR are usable, salable materials.  There will be much less than 1/100th as much waste as with existing reactors.
  4. Nuclear proliferation: This will become a thing of the past. Thorium reactors are incapable of producing Plutonium or weapons grade Uranium.
  5. Safety: Liquid Fueled Thorium Reactors cannot explode like Fukushima or melt down like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
  6. Safety again: LFTRs do not run at high pressures.
  7. Safety again: If the LFTR core heats up too much, the nuclear material expands, which cools it down.
  8. Scalable:  LFTRs can be made much smaller than existing nuclear plants – to some extent as small as needed.  They were originally funded as part of a nuclear bomber program, so they can be small enough to fit on a large airplane. Or sized for industrial plants or small communities.
  9. Ore availability:  China already has enough Thorium (which has always been a waste byproduct of mining for other metals) to last them a thousand years or more.  The USA has more in storage than China.  Ore deposits are all over the world.  It is one of the most plentiful elements on Earth.
  10. Ease of processing:  Currently U-238 has to be processed to make U-235, and this is a VERY costly process, one which uses a very small percentage of what ore is mined.  Thorium can be used almost as it comes out of the ground.
  11. Fuel Costs:  One pound of Thorium makes as much energy as 3,500,000 tons of coal.  It is the only fuel that is as cheap or cheaper than coal.
  12. Cost of Thorium nuclear plant:  A light-water plant coasts upwards of $10 billion.  A Thorium plant of the same megawatts will cost 1/10th of that amount.
  13. Carbon footprint:  Like other nuclear power, Thorium will produce ZERO carbon emissions.

Thorium is the fuel of the future.  This fuel will power the world for the next ten thousand years.

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4 responses to “The Good Reactor – A Film About Thorium Reactors

  1. A few months ago a Norwegian guy came round asking me to do an article for him on some stuff called “Thorium” I understand it was discovered by a Norwegian and named after the God Thor. Anyway I wrote a balanced article about Thorium stating the benefits and the dangers. When he read the article he said, this is no good I only want people to know about the good stuff and not any of the bad shit. I told him that it is important that people know the full truth about something like that. With that he promptly told me to stuff the article I had written, and stated “I will write my own article” I told him Good, go for it. Anyway he wrote the article and the local paper published it. Not one mention of any of the dangers. After reading up more on Thorium I thought, ‘Do we really want this shit (Thorium) on our doorstep’.

    Thorium, Not The Nuclear Savior Claimed
    As people have been discussing the issues surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, the future of nuclear power comes up. Frequently someone will show up to the discussion to proclaim thorium will be the savior of the nuclear industry and all of the world’s power needs.
    The misinformation on thorium is highly promoted by the nuclear industry and various companies that want investment dollars for thorium reactors and fuel. This fairy tale being told about thorium is far from accurate and realistic. The problem becomes worse as uninformed people hear a brief propaganda piece on thorium and pass on that information without any research of their own.
    One myth is that thorium is safe. Thorium-232 has a half-life of 14 billion years (billions, not millions). Thorium-232 is also highly radiotoxic, with the same amount of radioactivity of uranium and thorium; thorium produces a far higher dose in the body. If someone inhaled an amount of thorium the bone surface dose is 200 times higher than if they inhaled the same amount of uranium. Thorium also requires longer spent fuel storage than uranium. With the daughter products of thorium like technetium 99 with a half-life of over 200,000 years, thorium is not safe nor a solution to spent fuel storage issues.
    Thorium is unable to produce energy on its own. Something thorium cheerleaders frequently fail to mention is that it needs a fissile material like uranium-235 or plutonium-239 to operate the reactor. Uranium-235 and plutonium-239 are both considered bomb making materials and a proliferation risk. So now all the “safety” of thorium has been trumped by the need for weapons grade material to operate the reactor. The work involved to enrich the uranium-235 used in a thorium reactor to the percentage needed for a bomb is not a difficult process. The reprocessing cycle does not resolve the proliferation risk.
    Another myth is that thorium reactors can run at atmospheric temperatures, in order to produce power they must be run differently and would not be at atmospheric temperatures. Many of the thorium reactors use liquid sodium fluoride in the reactor process. This material is highly toxic and has its own series of risks.
    The creation of thorium fuels is also not safer than creating uranium fuels. Thorium poses the same nuclear waste and toxic substance problems found in mining and fuel milling of uranium.
    Thorium power production has been experimented with for over 50 years. Thorium breeder reactors have been experimented with but have technical issues and breed fuel at lower rates than traditional breeder reactors. It is frequently claimed that India has a bunch of successful thorium commercial power reactors. The reality is that India has been trying for decades and still has not developed a commercial thorium reactor.
    Thorium is also not more economical to run. The fuel cycle is more costly and the needed protections for workers, plant safety and the public are considerably more than existing fuels.
    The Germans experimented with a Thorium reactor, the THTR-300. They found even with the thorium reactor there were substantial risks in a loss of coolant event. They also had issues with concrete structures failing due to extremely high heat, fracturing thorium fuel and hot spots in the reactor. There was also a radioactive release into the air due to a malfunction. The reactor was eventually scrapped due to technical problems and costs.
    Another rather silly claim going around is that “thorium is so safe you can handle it with your bare hands!”. Sorry, but you can do the same thing with a uranium fuel pellet.

  2. Ian –

    You seem to not know what you are talking about. Overall, the first thing is that you asserted in your email that your “article” was balanced, yet the entire text is about what you assert are its negatives; there are no positives at all. You seem to have a strange idea of what the word “balanced” means.

    I will point out your errors one by one, if you will listen:

    “One myth is that thorium is safe. Thorium-232 has a half-life of 14 billion years (billions, not millions). ”

    Wrong. You don’t even know that the longer the half-life, the LESS radioactive an element is. Do you even KNOW what a half-life is? It is the time that it takes for half of the radioactivity to go away. So, the longer the half-life, the safer it is. It is the SHORT half-life elements that are the most dangerous.

    Ian: “Thorium-232 is also highly radiotoxic, with the same amount of radioactivity of uranium and thorium; ”

    Here you make two immediate mistakes. One might be a typo. You are comparing thorium with thorium, if you read what you typed.

    You also don’t specify which Uranium – 233? 235? 238? They aren’t all equally radiotoxic

    Ian: “…thorium produces a far higher dose in the body. If someone inhaled an amount of thorium the bone surface dose is 200 times higher than if they inhaled the same amount of uranium.”

    Do you happen to have a source for this?

    Ian: “Thorium also requires longer spent fuel storage than uranium.”

    You are confused. With only 1% waste for thorium, vs 99.3% waste for U-235, this is comparing apples and oranges. And whales and minnows. Again, you use an unspecific term, this time for uranium. In terms of Yucca Mountain type storage, no, thorium needs only 500 years vs tens of thousands for spent light water reactor waste.

    With molten fuel, a LFTR would generate 4,000 times less mining waste and up to 10,000 times less nuclear waste than any solid fueled reactor. The fission byproducts can be easily extracted, so the fuel can fission completely.

    Solid-fueled reactor, to make 1 gigawatt-year electricity need 250 tons uranium (incl 1.75 tons U-235), make 35t enriched uranium (1.15t U-235). Leaves 215t depleted uranium (0.6t U-235), 35t spent fuel (33.4t U-238, 0.3t U-235, 1.0t fission products, 0.3t plutonium). [Kirk Sorensen TEAC3]

    LFTR make 1 gigawatt-year electricity: need 600 to 800 kg (0.8 ton) of Thorium or any isotope of Uranium. [D. LeBlanc / Nuclear Engineering and Design 240 (2010)]

    The uranium (or plutonium or other transuranic elements) are completely fissioned in a LFTR. 83% of the waste (fission byproducts) from a LFTR are safely stabilized within 10 years. The remaining 17% (135kg for a GigaWatt-year) are elements that need to be stored less than 350 years to become completely benign. 135kg vs 250 tons (250,000kg) from a solid-fueled reactor.

    A 40-megawatt test reactor running for 10 years would “burn” 141 Kg. U-233, and produce less than 1 milligram of plutonium or other transuranic elements. Leave these inside the reactor, where neutron bombardment will cause them to fission. [Charles Holden, TEAC 2011]

    Ian: “With the daughter products of thorium like technetium 99 with a half-life of over 200,000 years, thorium is not safe nor a solution to spent fuel storage issues.”

    Wrong. See the above. Again, you confute long half-lives with high gamma emission levels, turning on its head the very reality of what “half-life” means. Long half-lives equal low gamma output. The longer the half-life, the less danger to humans nearby. It is the ones with SHORT half-lives you do not want to be near.

    Ian: “Thorium is unable to produce energy on its own. Something thorium cheerleaders frequently fail to mention is that it needs a fissile material like uranium-235 or plutonium-239 to operate the reactor.”

    Abysmally wrong. No, they do not fail to mention what you claim. They clearly tell the audience that the thorium cannot start the reactor by itself, and that after it is running the thorium itself is not the fuel; U-233 is. It is NOT necessary to RUN the reactor with U-235 or Pu-239. These are only necessary to START the reactor. Once begun, the reactor runs on the U-233 converted in the reactor from natural thorium.

    Ian: “Uranium-235 and plutonium-239 are both considered bomb making materials and a proliferation risk. So now all the “safety” of thorium has been trumped by the need for weapons grade material to operate the reactor. The work involved to enrich the uranium-235 used in a thorium reactor to the percentage needed for a bomb is not a difficult process. The reprocessing cycle does not resolve the proliferation risk.”

    Wrong. I repeat (from above): “A 40-megawatt test reactor running for 10 years would “burn” 141 Kg. U-233, and produce less than 1 milligram of plutonium or other transuranic elements. Leave these inside the reactor, where neutron bombardment will cause them to fission.” All this is based on your misunderstanding that those are NEEDED to RUN the reactor, which is a 100% fallacy.

    Ian: “Another myth is that thorium reactors can run at atmospheric temperatures, in order to produce power they must be run differently and would not be at atmospheric temperatures.

    Egregiously WRONG. This is where you really show your utter ignorance. You don’t even seem to know the difference between atmospheric TEMPERATURE and atmospheric PRESSURE. Kirk Sorenson, who started off all of this thorium interest and who is the chief advocate of thorium, states VERY CLEARLY that the reactors run at about 700C – which is far above atmospheric temperature. He DOES state instead – and very clearly – that they run at atmospheric PRESSURE.

    [Again from Wikipedia] The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (acronym LFTR; spoken as lifter) is a thermal breeder reactor. LFTRs use the thorium fuel cycle with a fluoride-based molten liquid salt fuel. It can achieve high operating temperatures at atmospheric pressure.

    The LFTR is a type of thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR). Molten-salt-fueled reactors (MSRs) such as LFTR supply the nuclear fuel in the liquid form of the molten salt mixture. They should not be confused with molten salt-cooled high temperature reactors (fluoride high-temperature reactors, FHRs) that use a solid fuel. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (acronym LFTR; spoken as lifter) is a thermal breeder reactor. LFTRs use the thorium fuel cycle with a fluoride-based molten liquid salt fuel. It can achieve high operating temperatures at atmospheric pressure.

    The LFTR is a type of thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR). Molten-salt-fueled reactors (MSRs) such as LFTR supply the nuclear fuel in the liquid form of the molten salt mixture. They should not be confused with molten salt-cooled high temperature reactors (fluoride high-temperature reactors, FHRs) that use a solid fuel.

    The LFTR with a high operating temperature of 700 degrees Celsius can operate at a thermal efficiency to electrical of 45%.[21] This is higher than today’s light water reactors (LWRs) that are at 32–36% thermal to electrical efficiency.

    Ian: “Many of the thorium reactors use liquid sodium fluoride in the reactor process. This material is highly toxic and has its own series of risks.”

    So what? We use highly toxic materials in many of our industrial plants every day, all around the world, and it is a matter of proper engineering and safety protocols to achieve safety. This is a non-issue. It is a straightforward engineering problem. In case you don’t know, “engineering problem” means that the science is completely known and that they can leave it for the engineers to draw it up.

    Ian: “The creation of thorium fuels is also not safer than creating uranium fuels.”

    WRONG. IN SPADES. With LFTRs Thorium “fuel” is introduced as natural thorium, without ANY processing of the thorium. Naturally occurring thorium can be introduced straight into the jacket around the outside of the reactor core. The conversion to U-233 is done by irradiation there within the jacket of the reactor. It does take storage, yes, because it takes 29-30 days for the Protactinium-233 to fully change into U-233.

    Ian: “Thorium poses the same nuclear waste and toxic substance problems found in mining and fuel milling of uranium.”

    Unspecific general statement, but I will try: There is no need for centrifuge cascades, so what is your assertion here? Thorium is not milled, nor centrifuged. See above

    Ian: “Thorium power production has been experimented with for over 50 years.”

    Technically correct, but wrong as it applies to LFTRs. Until Sorenson woke up the world to it a handful of years ago, no one has worked on LFTRs since Nixon closed the MSR Experiment at Oak Ridge down in the early 1970s.” The German THTR, being basically a light-water reactor, is a different animal.

    Ian: “Thorium breeder reactors have been experimented with but have technical issues and breed fuel at lower rates than traditional breeder reactors.”

    I am not advocating any of the solid-fueled thorium reactors. I am talking about LFTRs.

    Ian: “It is frequently claimed that India has a bunch of successful thorium commercial power reactors. The reality is that India has been trying for decades and still has not developed a commercial thorium reactor.

    Please point to a source for this claim of yours. Neither India nor no one else has any commercial thorium reactors. ALL their reactors are experimental – and as I understand it (though I may be wrong) all their reactors so far are solid-fueled, not LFTRs.

    Ian: “Thorium is also not more economical to run.”

    Wrong #1. Using natural thorium vs centrifuge cascades is in itself vastly less expensive
    Wrong #2. Not having to manufacture pellets and then assemble them into the rods is a huge saving.
    Wrong #3. The reactor does not need a huge reinforced containment building for possible steam releases.
    Wrong #4. The reactor does not need triple-redundant pumps to make sure the cooling fluid is kept flowing.

    Ian: “The fuel cycle is more costly and the needed protections for workers, plant safety and the public are considerably more than existing fuels.”

    Please provide a source for this assertion, if you can.

    Ian: “The Germans experimented with a Thorium reactor, the THTR-300. They found even with the thorium reactor there were substantial risks in a loss of coolant event. They also had issues with concrete structures failing due to extremely high heat, fracturing thorium fuel and hot spots in the reactor. There was also a radioactive release into the air due to a malfunction. The reactor was eventually scrapped due to technical problems and costs.”

    THTR was a Helium-cooled (! ! !) pebble-bed reactor, a completely different kind of reactor from a LFTR.
    THTR was also built with a reinforced CONCRETE pressure vessel (vs the normal steel reactor), which is a terrible idea.
    This design deserved to fail.

    Ian: “Another rather silly claim going around is that “thorium is so safe you can handle it with your bare hands!”. Sorry, but you can do the same thing with a uranium fuel pellet.”
    So what?

    Overall, you get a near failing grade on your so-called balanced “article”. It was not balanced, and almost all your “facts” are wrong or misstatements. You DO seem to have looked into it, but even then you don’t seem to be well-informed, and you draw really ridiculous conclusions based on your misunderstandings of such things as half-lives. You also mix in non-LFTRs with LFTRs without stating which or what the differences are on your specific points. You don’t even know the difference between atmospheric temperature and atmospheric pressure.

    I would suggest you take off your overly critical attitude and actually try to understand the science you currently do not understand. As a critic you need to know your science in order to be effective.

  3. Steve,

    Perfect response. Truly a balanced response I might add. One can argue about just about anything, except the facts. Thanks!

    -jeff

  4. Pingback: The Future of Futurism… | Feet2TheFire

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