The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 23. With Molten Salt Reactors, a catastrophe like Fukushima cannot happen..

With Molten Salt Reactors, a catastrophe like Fukushima cannot happen.  It began with a magnitude 9.0 earthquake not far from the Fukushima 6 Nuclear reactor complex. The impact was a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and the operators immediately scrammed the safety rods to stop all the reactors. This succeeded! The reactors were designed with earthquakes in mind, and they passed the test. The backup power started up successfully so the cooling pumps could operate. There was one major problem though. The earthquake was so bad that the water in the spent fuel holding tanks splashed out and exposed the spent fuel rods to air.

Image result for fukushima reactor design

The water pumps worked for a while, but then came the tsunami. All the reactors were inside a tsunami wall, so far, so good. But the fuel storage tanks for the backup power generators were outside the tsunami wall and were washed away. The batteries were only supposed to last until backup power was established, and with water circulation ended the meltdown started. This disaster was even bigger than Chernobyl and contamination is still spreading.

 

 

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 22. With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like Chernobyl are impossible.

With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like Chernobyl are impossible. The Three Mile Island accident was bad. The Chernobyl disaster was ten million times worse. Ah yes, I remember it  well.

One morning at work, a fellow co-worker, a Ph.D. Chemist working on an Electron Capture Detector, containing a small amount of Nickel 63, came with a surprising question: You know nuclear science, how come the reactors in Chernobyl don’t have a containment vessel? Well- I answered, it is because they are carbon moderated and their failure mode is that they go prompt critical, and  no containment vessel in the world can hold it in, so they skip it. He turned away in disgust. A few weeks later my wife’s father died, and we went to Denmark to attend the funeral. The day of the return back to the U.S. we heard that there had been a nuclear incident in Sweden, too much radiation had caused two nuclear power stations to close down. The Chernobyl disaster had happened 26 April 1986, and this was the first time anyone outside of Chernobyl has heard about it, two days later. This was still the Soviet Union, and nothing ever did go wrong in it worthy of reporting.

Image result for the chernobyl disaster

(Photo Courtesy of EBRD)

(But the carbon moderated Uranium reactors are the most efficient in producing Pu-239 the preferred nuclear bomb material.)

This has nothing to do with anything, but Chernobyl can be translated wormwood. It is mentioned in the Bible, Revelation 8: 10-11 “ And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Molten Salt Thorium reactors cannot be used to supply bomb material, and they are far safer than even Light water Uranium reactors.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 21. With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like the Three Mile Island disaster will not happen.

With a Molten Salt Reactor, accidents like the Three Mile Island disaster will not happen. Ah yes, I remember it well, March 28, 1979. We lived in South East Pennsylvania at the time, well outside the evacuation zone, but a fellow engineer at work took off, took vacation and stayed at a hotel in western Virginia over the weekend fearing a nuclear explosion. My wife went to a retreat just outside the evacuation zone, and none of them so much as heard of any problem, there never was any evacuation. There was concern though, and a disaster it was indeed with a partial meltdown of the core, rendering the installation a total loss, just a big, forever cleanup bill. The cost so far has totaled over 2 billion dollars.

A combination of personnel error, design deficiencies, and component failures caused the TMI accident, which permanently changed both the nuclear industry and the NRC. Public fear and distrust increased, NRC’s regulations and oversight became broader and more robust, and management of the plants was scrutinized more carefully. Careful analysis of the accident’s events identified problems and led to permanent and sweeping changes in how NRC regulates its licensees – which, in turn, has reduced the risk to public health and safety.

The side effect of increased regulation is increased cost and delay in construction of new nuclear plants. Eventually, more than 120 reactor orders were cancelled, and the construction of new reactors ground to a halt. Of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were canceled.

Another side effect of the TMI accident is fear of trying a different and safer approaches, since they conflict with existing regulations. The next Nuclear power reactor came online in 2016, but it is the same type of boiling water reactor as before, not a Molten Salt Thorium reactor with its increased safety.

 

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 20. United States used to be the leader in Thorium usage. What happened?

United States used to be the leader in Thorium usage. What happened?

The 40 MWe Peach Bottom HTR in the USA was a demonstration thorium-fueled reactor that ran from 1967-74.  and produced a total of 33 billion kWh.

The 330 MWe Fort St Vrain HTR in Colorado, USA, ran from 1976-89.  Almost 25 tons of thorium was used in fuel for the reactor.

A unique thorium-fueled light water breeder reactor operated from 1977 to 1982 at Shippingport in the USA– it used uranium-233 and had a power output of 60 MWe.

However, after 10 years passed and billions invested, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission abandoned thorium research, with uranium-fueled nuclear power becoming the standard. In the 1980s, commercial thorium ventures failed, such as the Indian Point Unit I water reactor near New York City, because of the vast financial costs and fuel and equipment failures. By the 1990s, the US nuclear power industry had abandoned thorium, partly because thorium’s breeding ratio was thought insufficient to produce enough fuel for commercial industries.

Some research and development is still conducted, but it is more concentrated in protecting the U.S. leading position in monitoring  and controlling existing nuclear technology. Even the Netherlands is developing a molten salt thorium reactor.

 

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 19. India is having an ambitious Thorium program.

India has an active Thorium program. • India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and did at one time expect to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032, but being India and subject to Indian bureaucracy and economic limitation the goals tend to get delayed. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. • Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009. • Due to these trade bans and lack of indigenous uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium. • Now, foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India’s nuclear power plans considerably.  All plants will have high indigenous engineering content. • India has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle. • India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core. India, which has about 25% of the world’s thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2011, following which five more reactors will be constructed. Considered to be a global leader in thorium-based fuel, India’s new thorium reactor is a fast-breeder reactor and uses a plutonium core rather than an accelerator to produce neutrons. As accelerator-based systems can operate at sub-criticality they could be developed too, but that would require more research. India currently envisages meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.

“[F]ast reactors can help extract up to 70 percent more energy than traditional reactors and are safer than traditional reactors while reducing long lived radioactive waste by several fold,” Yukiya Amano, Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, explained to the Times of India.

Uranium isn’t common in India, but the country has the second largest store of Thorium, so the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) in Kalpakkam uses rods of that element.

Arun Kumar Bhaduri, Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, told the Times of India that the technology is safe: “[F]ast breeder reactors are far safer than the current generation of nuclear plants.”

With the PFBR, India is pioneering a kind of nuclear technology that could potentially be the country’s greatest renewable energy source. That’s a big step, especially since nuclear fission remains the only kind of nuclear reaction we’ve managed to sustain, though efforts to make nuclear fusion viable are still in the works.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 18. 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.

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
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The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 17. 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.

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 or 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.