Climate change and droughts and wildfires.

History shows us there has always been climate change, from ice age to the Minoan temperature optimum to the Roman warm period to the dark ages to the medieval warm period to the little ice age to now. The question is, where does the climate go from here, how much will it warm from here, or will it start cooling again? One question is; will wildfires contribute to global warming, or will the smoke act as a cooling agent? The only way to give an answer as a scientist is to look at what the wildfire trends are. Wildfires have decreased 25% worldwide in the last 15 years!  This is according to NASA:the full article is in https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145421/building-a-long-term-record-of-fire

One recent confession from the governor of California!

 

The question is then: Why are wildfires decreasing?

One possible exclamation, droughts are decreasing. Let us check:

No, there is no discernible trend in droughts.

Since the beginning of industrialization CO2 has risen about 50%. CO2 is the feed-stock for all plants and indeed the earth is getting greener!

Yes, most areas are getting greener. There are a few areas that are getting less green, such as the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, the South American Gran Chaco, the American South West and the edges of the Gobi desert. The global environmental challenges are still enormous, but thanks to the overall increased vegetation the earth can now feed an additional 2 billion people, not to mention provide livable habitat for many more animals.

What increased CO2 does to global temperatures will come in future installments.

The case for Thorium 20. China is having a massive Thorium program.

China is having a massive Thorium program. The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. The thorium MSR efforts aims not only to develop the technology but to secure intellectual property rights to its implementation. This may be one of the reasons that the Chinese have not joined the international Gen-IV effort for MSR development, since part of that involves technology exchange. Neither the US nor Russia have joined the MSR Gen-IV effort either.
China is currently the largest emitter of CO2 and air pollutants by far, and according to the Paris accord was allowed to emit six times as much pollutants as the U.S. by 2030, being a “developing nation”. Their air quality is already among the worst in the world so something had to be done if they were to achieve world dominance by 2025 and total rule by 2030. Only Thorium can solve the pollution problem and provide the clean energy needed for the future. Regular Uranium Nuclear reactors require large amounts of water and Molten Salt Thorium reactors require little water to operate.

Geneva, Switzerland, 21 August 2018 – As the world struggles with a record-breaking heatwave, China correctly places its trust in the fuel Thorium and the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) as the backbone of its nation’s plan to become a clean and cheap energy powerhouse.
​​The question is if China will manage to build a homegrown mega export industry, or will others have capacity and will to catch up?
For China, clean energy development and implementation is a test for the state’s ability. Therefore, China is developing the capability to use the “forgotten fuel” thorium, which could begin a new era of nuclear power.​
The first energy system they are building is a solid fuel molten salt reactor that achieves high temperatures to maximize efficiency of combined heat and power generation applications.
However, to fully realize thorium’s energy potential and in this way solve an important mission for China – the security of fuel supply – requires also the thorium itself to be fluid. This is optimized in the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR).
The TMSR takes safety to an entirely new level and can be made cheap and small since it operates at atmospheric pressure, one of its many advantages. Thanks to its flexible cooling options it can basically be used anywhere, be it a desert, a town or at sea. In China this is of special interest inland, where freshwater is scarce in large areas, providing a unique way to secure energy independence.
“Everyone in the field is extremely impressed with how China saw the potential, grabbed the opportunity and is now running faster than everyone else developing this futuristic energy source China and the entire world is in a great need of.”
– Andreas Norlin, Thorium Energy World
Picture
China is not telling all they are doing on Nuclear Energy.

The case for Thorium. 18. Russia has an active Thorium program.

Russia has an active Thorium program This is a self-contained Thorium Nuclear Reactor on a barge. Coolant readily available. Hoist it a couple of cables and the town to be serviced will have all the power it needs. This is especially useful in the Arctic. Russia is trying to establish Arctic domination, both commercially and militarily. They have over 30 ice breakers, some of them nuclear. U.S. has two, only one of which are operational.
Russia is also trying to commercialize hybrid fusion-fission reactors:
Nuclear Engineering International: 29 May 2018

Russia develops a fission-fusion hybrid reactor.
A new fission-fusion hybrid reactor will be assembled at Russia’s Kurchatov Institute by the end of 2018, Peter Khvostenko, scientific adviser of the Kurchatov complex on thermonuclear energy and plasma technologies, announced on 14 May. The physical start-up of the facility is scheduled for 2020.The hybrid reactor combines the principles of thermonuclear and nuclear power – essentially a tokamak fusion reactor and a molten salt fission reactor. Neutrons produced in a small tokamak will be captured in a molten salt blanket located around tokamak. The facility will use Thorium as a fuel, which is cheaper and more abundant than uranium. Moreover, unlike a fusion reactor, a hybrid will not require super high temperatures to generate energy.

  • A new paper describes computer simulations of a hybrid fusion-fission reactor that runs on thorium.
  • Thorium has benefits compared with uranium reaction and has been endorsed by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
  • In the reactor, plasma fusion generates neutrons that fuel subsequent fission.

 

Hybrid reactors reduce the impact of the nuclear fuel cycle on the environment. The concept combines conventional fission processes and fusion reactor principles, comprising a fusion reactor core in combination with a subcritical fission reactor. The results of the fusion reaction, which would normally be absorbed by the cooling system of the reactor, would feed into the fission section, and sustain the fission process. Thorium in a molten salt blanket will enable breeding of uranium-233.

Some of the expected advantages include:

  • Utilization of actinides and transmutation from long-lived radioactive waste;
  • An increase in energy recovered from uranium by a large factor;
  • The inherent  safety of the system, which can be shut down rapidly; and
  • High burnup of fissile materials leaving few by-products.

The hybrid fission-fusion reactor is seen as a near-term commercial application of fusion pending further research on pure fusion power systems.

This is very interesting, and I will follow up when I get more information.

The case for Thorium. 17. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will lessen the need for an expanded national grid.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will lessen the need for an expanded national grid. The National Electric grid is at the breaking point. It needs to be expanded, but neighborhood resistance is great in many areas where they need an expanded grid the most. The grid is also sensitive to terrorism activities.

As we can see the national grid is extensive. It is also under severe strain at peak demand. Wind power will only increase the strain since most wind power is generated where few people live and work. A way to lessen the dependency on the national grid is to sprinkle it with many small to medium sized Thorium Nuclear Power generators. They can be placed on barges in rivers and along the coast where the need is greatest, giving the grid maximum flexibility to respond in  case of an emergency. LFTR’s do not depend on water for their cooling, so they can be placed anywhere, even in extreme arid areas. Since LFTR can be placed very close to urban centers, transmission losses are kept low. (The Texas grid is separately controlled from the rest of the grid.)

The case for Thorium. 15. No need for evacuation zones, Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactors can be placed near urban areas.

No need for evacuation zones, can be placed near urban areas. Molten Salt Thorium reactors operate at atmospheric pressure and have a very high negative temperature coefficient, so there is no risk for a boil-over. They are easily made earthquake-safe and no pressure vessel is needed. This will greatly simplify the approval process, no need for elaborate evacuation plans have to be developed. Since the Three Mile Island accident there was a thirty year gap in approvals for new nuclear plants. The “not in my backyard ” mentality reigned supreme, and delay and denial was the rule of the years. But the lawyers still got their share, leading to escalating cost for new nuclear power. In the early days of nuclear power France took the approach of building some of their nuclear plants near the Belgian and German border, so they only had to develop half of an  evacuation plan, leaving the other half to their understanding neighbors. It also leads to placing the nuclear plants where there is the least resistance, not where they are needed the most, adding to the strain on the electric grid. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors have one additional advantage. They do not need access to water, so they can be placed even in desert areas.

The case for Thorium 13. Virtually no spent fuel problem, very little on site storage or transport.

 Virtually no spent fuel problem, very little on site storage or transport. I have been following the events at Fukushima Nuclear Power plants disaster with great interest. How ironic that one of the greatest problems was with the spent fuel, not with the inability to shut down the working units. The spent fuel issue is the real Achilles’ heel of the Nuclear Power Industry. The cost of reprocessing and storing spent reactor fuel will burden us for centuries after the reactors themselves have been decommissioned after their useful life. Molten Salt Thorium nuclear power works differently from  conventional Uranium fueled Reactors as  the fissile fuel gets generated in the breeding process itself and nearly all fuel gets consumed as it is generated. When the process shuts down, that is it. Only the radioactivity that is en route so to say will have to be accounted for, not everything generated thus far in the process. The difference is about ten thousand to one in the size of the problem. It is high time to rebuild and expand our Nuclear power generation by switching to Thorium.

The case for Thorium. 7. Thorium based nuclear power is not suited for making nuclear bombs.

 Thorium based Nuclear Power does not produce much Plutonium-239, which is the preferred material used in nuclear bombs. The higher Plutonium isotopes and other TRansUraniums are about as nasty as they get, need expensive protection against terror attacks, and need to be stored for a very long time.

One anecdote from my youth. The time had come to apply to University, and to my delight I was accepted to Chalmers’ University in Sweden as a Technical Physics major. I felt, maybe I can do my part by becoming a Nuclear Engineer and help solve the energy needs of the future. The Swedes at that time championed the heavy water – natural Uranium program together with the Canadians. Sweden is a non-aligned country, so it was not privy to any atomic secrets, it had to go it alone. They settled on the heavy water moderated natural Uranium process because Sweden had an ambition to produce its own nuclear bomb. Officially this was never talked about, and I was not aware of it at that time. They could have gone with Thorium instead, but a Thorium based nuclear reactor  produces very little Plutonium, and what it produces is nearly all Pplutonium-238, not fissile and as such not suitable for bomb making.

I was excited to learn about all the possibilities and signed up for a couple of nuclear classes. One lab was to design a safety circuit, then run the heavy water research reactor critical and hopefully watch the reactor shut down from the safety circuit before the system safety circuit shutdown. About that time the word came that U.S. will sell partially enriched uranium at bargain basement prices if Sweden agreed to abandon the heavy water project and sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a treaty being formulated by U.N.

Sweden was in awe about U.N, all the problems of the world were to be solved through it, and it had such a capable General Secretary in Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swede. I looked at the light water, partially enriched Uranium nuclear power plants being developed and decided to have no part with it, not due to safety concerns but it was the design that produced the most nuclear waste of any of the available designs. At that time there was still optimism that fusion would be ready by about the year 2010 or so. The cost of maintaining spent fuel in perpetuity was never considered, so light water reactors became the low cost solution.

India on the other hand refused to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, kept their heavy water program going and had by 1974 produced enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb, which they promptly detonated. They still use heavy water moderated reactors, but since India is low on Uranium but rich in Thorium they have now converted one heavy water reactor to Thorium with a Plutonium glow plug. It went on-line in 2011.

They are also developing molten salt Thorium reactors, but full production is still a few years off.

There we have it. We could have gone with Thorium from the beginning, but the cold war was on, and the civilian peaceful use of nuclear energy was still all paid for by nuclear weapons research and development. Once all the bombs we could ever wish for were developed the greatest asset of nuclear power became its greatest liability.

The case for Thorium. 6. Radioactive waste from an Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor decays down to background radiation in 300 years compared to a million years for U-235 based reactors. A Limerick.

The nuclear waste meant for Yucca

would destine Nevada the sucka

But with Thorium we rid

us of waste that is hid

No need for that waste to be trucka!

Radioactive waste from an LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor)  decays down to background radiation in 300 years instead of a million years for U-235 based reactors. Initially LFTRs produce as much radioactivity as an U-235 based nuclear reactor, since fission converts mass to heat, but the decay products have a much shorter half-life. See the figure below.

Where is the storage for spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste now? Look at the map, it is scary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And these are just the U.S. installations!

Many years ago I studied Engineering at Chalmers’ University in Sweden and I thought I would become a nuclear engineer. Sweden had at that time a peaceful heavy water based nuclear power program together with Canada and India. The advantage with heavy water as moderator is that it can use natural, un-enriched Uranium. One of the end products is of course Plutonium 239, the preferred material to make nuclear bombs, but it could also use Thorium, and the end product is then mostly Plutonium 238, used in space exploration, and we were dreaming big. One of the advantages of Thorium as fuel is that it produces about 0,01%  of trans-Uranium waste compared to Uranium as fuel. About that time the U.S. proposed we should abandon the heavy water program and switch to light water enriched Uranium based nuclear power. They would sell the enriched Uranium, and reprocess the spent fuel at cost. They also had the ideal final resting place for the radioactive waste products in Nevada. This was an offer the Swedish government could not refuse, at the height of the cold war. This was  in the 1960’s! India on the other hand did refuse, and they eventually got the nuclear bomb. Since that meant Sweden was never going to use Thorium as nuclear fuel, and I could not figure out how to get rid of all the radioactive waste products, I switched my attention back to control engineering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did President Trump mean with innovative approaches?

Is this where Thorium comes in!?

The case for Thorium. 5. Thorium nuclear power is only realistic solution to power space colonies.

Thorium nuclear power is the only realistic solution to power space colonies. To form space colonies, power has to be provided to sustain the colony. This means that Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors  (LFTR) have to be fully developed and operational here on earth before serious space colony development can even begin. It need to get started in earnest NOW!

Kirk Sorensen has provided an intriguing teaser on the cause for Thorium nuclear energy.

Watch it and enjoy!

The case for Thorium. 1. A million year supply of Thorium available worldwide.

We live in challenging times with enormous environmental challenges. It takes a lot of energy to clean up the pollution we have generated over the ages. It would be a shame to use up our remaining coal, oil and gas to produce the electricity needed to clean up. Oil coal and gas will eventually be depleted and we need to save as much as possible for future generations, so they can enjoy flying like we have become accustomed to. It would be a shame to convert the remaining fossil fuel to CO2 for electricity production, it is far too valuable a resource in limited supply. Like the famous conservationist Sarah Palin once said: “for when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The need to develop a Thorium based molten salt fast breeder nuclear reactor to develop our energy needs for the future can not be overstated. Lest anyone should be threatened by the words fast breeder, it simply means it uses fast neutrons instead of thermal neutrons, and breeder means it produces more fissile material than it consumes, in the case of Thorium the ratio is about 1.05.

 There is enough Thorium around to last for a million years at today’s worldwide electricity generation levels. Uranium is in short supply. Consumption exceeds production, and the worldwide major importer of Uranium is the U.S. (The fact that we sold 20% of  our uranium ore to the Russians did not help)

There are of course the sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal, tidal and wave energy, and they should be pursued where economically and environmentally appropriate. These are separate but important subjects.