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.

 

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 16. 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 building 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. (To be fair, the Texas grid is separately controlled from the rest of the grid.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 15. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will work both as Base Load and Load Following power plants.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will work both as Base Load and Load Following power plants. LFTR’s operate at a much higher temperature than conventional power plants and operate at about 45% electricity conversion efficiency, as opposed to 38% or lower for steam generators. In addition, because of the higher operating temperature it is ideal for hydrogen generation. The reactor would use the electricity generation to satisfy the current demand and produce hydrogen during times of low demand. This hydrogen would be temporarily stored and used for electricity production at peak demand. And  hydrogen power produces only water when burned, no CO2  or polluting fumes are generated.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 14. No need for evacuation zones, 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.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 13. Thorium Nuclear Power generators  scale  beautifully from small portable generators to full size power plants.

Thorium Nuclear Power generators  scale  beautifully from small portable generators to full size power plants. One of the first applications was as an airborne nuclear reactor.

Granted this was not a Thorium breeder reactor, but it proves nuclear reactors can be made lightweight. Thorium reactors can be made even lighter as long as they are not of the breeder type.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 12. 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 am following the events at Fukushima Nuclear Power plants with great interest. How ironic that the greatest risk is 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. Molten Salt Thorium nuclear power works differently from  conventional Uranium 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 one to ten thousand in the size of the problem. It is high time to rebuild and expand our Nuclear power generation by switching to Thorium.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 10. Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors have a very high negative temperature coefficient leading to a safe and stable control.

Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors have a very high negative temperature coefficient leading to a safe and stable control. This is another beauty of the molten salt design. The temperature coefficient is highly negative, leading to a safe design with simple and consistent feedback. What does that mean?  It means that if temperature in the core rises, the efficiency of the reaction goes down, leading to less heat generated. There is no risk for a thermal runaway. In contrast,  graphite moderated generator can have a positive temperature coefficient which leads to complicated control, necessitating many safety circuits to ensure proper operation and shutdown. Their failure mode is they go prompt critical, and no containment vessel can contain the explosion that would occur, so they are built without one.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 9. Molten Salt Thorium Reactors cannot have a meltdown, the fuel is already molten.

With Molten Salt nuclear Reactors there is no risk for a meltdown, the fuel is already molten, and that is a safe design. The fissile fuel in a Thorium reactor is U-233 in the form of UraniumFluoride (UF4) salt which also contains Lithium and Beryllium. In its molten form it has a very low vapor pressure. The salt flows easily through the heat exchangers and the separators. The salt is very toxic, but it is completely sealed. Being a fluid, it is constantly mixed for optimum efficiency. The reactor will never have to be shut down for refueling, it is a continuous flow process. Uranium-235 Nuclear reactors on the other hand have to be shut down for refueling and rebalancing of the fuel rods a little more often than once every two years. The average shutdown is 35 days, or about 5% of the time. Then comes the major problem of safely and securely transporting and reprocessing the spent fuel.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 8. Molten Salt Thorium Reactors are earthquake safe.

Molten Salt Thorium Reactors are earthquake safe. Thorium reactors have a very simple and compact design where gravity is the only thing needed to stop the nuclear reaction. Conventional nuclear reactors depend on external power to shut down after a SCRAM, where poison rods fall down to halt the reaction.  The next figure shows the concept of a Thorium reactor.

The idea is to empty the fissile U-233 core through gravity alone. All that is needed is a melt-plug that is constantly cooled by cold air. In an earthquake the cold air flow automatically shuts off, and since the fuel is already molten, it will then run down into channels like pig-iron into cooling heat exchangers with  water supplied through gravity alone.

As we can see the reactor hardened structure is compact, and can be completely earthquake and tsunami proof. What can be sheared off are the steam pipes and external power, but the reactor shutdown will complete safely without additional power, even if the earthquake is so bad the reactor is broken into pieces.