[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Mar 27 22:00:45 PDT 2011

So, either the smart guys (see below) are going to be proven wrong or the opinion of (perhaps) the majority of humanity about the 
negative prospects for nuclear power will. Which do you place your bet on?

> On Sun, Mar 27, 2011 at 6:47 PM, Stephen Williams<sdw at lig.net>  wrote:
>> ... Additionally, the thorium-based system apparently "eats" other
>>> radioactive waste, leaving much less than you started with.
>> ...
>> For certain kinds of reactors, including nearly all of those from the past,
>> there are potentially bad failure modes that take a lot of layers of safety
>> to make safe enough.  However, many new reactor designs are immune or almost
>> immune to melt-down.  Some, especially the thorium-based systems, don't even
>> involve any quantity of volatile isotopes.  (Uranium is made and immediately
>> consumed...)  We designed a particular kind of reaction in the 40's and
>> 50's, engineered a plant in the 60's, and we've been mostly stuck since then
>> in evolving to where we could be.  If you build a plant where any
>> configuration of the elements is safe, how can anyone cling to the notion
>> that "nuclear *" is inherently totally unsafe under any circumstances?
>>   (Rationally, you can't.)
> Its probably worth adding some linkage to material about
> (not-currently-manufactured) thorium reactors.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor

Those are cool and have some nice advantages. I think this way of using thorium sounds best at the moment, if we can get it working 
(and it has the bonus of making all of those partical accelerator scientists more important):

> Carlo Rubbia further proposed the concept of an energy amplifier 
> <https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Energy_amplifier>, a novel and safe way of producing nuclear energy exploiting 
> present-day accelerator technologies, which is actively being studied worldwide in order to incinerate high activity waste from 
> accelerators, and produce energy from natural thorium <https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Thorium> and depleted 
> uranium <https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Uranium>. The energy resources potentially deriving from these fuels will 
> be practically unlimited and comparable to those from fusion <https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Nuclear_fusion>.


> Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium
> If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might 
> reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five 
> years.
> There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear 
> Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all 
> been hoping for
> Thorium burns the plutonium residue left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "It’s the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a 
> former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering. 
> "Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of 
> years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.
> Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US 
> and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as 
> fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.
> After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher 
> neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the 
> plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.
> "They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. 
> "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldn’t be worth trying." 
> It emits too many high gamma rays.
> You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for 
> development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.
> Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. "They 
> didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.
> Another decade was lost. It was a sad triumph of vested interests over scientific progress. "We have very little time to waste 
> because the world is running out of fossil fuels. Renewables can’t replace them. Nuclear fusion is not going work for a century, 
> if ever," he said.
> The Norwegian group Aker Solutions has bought Dr Rubbia’s patent for an accelerator-driven sub-critical reactor, and is working on 
> his design for a thorium version at its UK operation.
> Victoria Ashley, the project manager, said it could lead to a network of pint-sized 600MW reactors that are lodged underground, 
> can supply small grids, and do not require a safety citadel. It will take £2bn to build the first one, and Aker needs £100mn for 
> the next test phase.

Too bad they didn't give an estimate about how much they will cost in bulk. Should be cheap however since the only expensive piece 
will be the accelerator, which is just superconducting magnets and computers mostly. (And much less of the latter than a research 
accelerator because you don't care what the particles look like...)

> The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost 
> has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.
> So Aker is looking for tie-ups with countries such as the US, Russia, or China. The Indians have their own projects - none yet 
> built - dating from days when they switched to thorium because their weapons programme prompted a uranium ban.
> America should have fewer inhibitions than Europe in creating a leapfrog technology. The US allowed its nuclear industry to 
> stagnate after Three Mile Island in 1979.
> Anti-nuclear neorosis is at last ebbing. The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has 
> been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?


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