People of my age group (no I am not telling) – plus or minus twenty years, would have vivid memories of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident (April 26, 1986) and the Three Mile Island Accident (March 28, 1979).
Taken alone, these two accidents, one would hope, would be sufficient to terrorize the current generation into arguing that we ought to stay away from considering nuclear energy as a ‘Clean – Green’ energy source for this age and future generations to come.
You can count me as ‘one of those’ who has terror dreams of planetary disaster from nuclear accidents. I have never been in favour of going down this path way to supply electricity (an alternative power source) for the planet!
There is the terrible danger of an explosion or accident occurring. There is the ongoing danger of a terrorist threat, as in stealing nuclear material for bomb building purposes, or blowing up reactors to cause nuclear a winter! There is the ongoing question of mining and enriching of uranium for use in said reactors.
Currently nuclear sciences have the opportunity to do some good, as in medical imaging that uses radio isotopes. We do use nuclear power to provide alternative sources of energy as in powering some electrical grids. We have used nuclear power to do immense evil, as in killing and maiming millions – people, animals, and the planet we call ‘home’.
I did a web search using “nuclear accidents” as a criteria and was astonished at the number there has been (1940’s – 2000 – there are just far too many to list here), both on the civilian front and in the military – those that have been reported – heaven knows what other mishaps have been kept under wraps!
WIKI – had some easy to access information with a simple to understand search criteria stated thus: In listing civilian and military nuclear accidents, the following criteria have been followed:
There must be well-attested and substantial health damage, property damage or contamination.
The damage must be related directly to radioactive material, not merely (for example) at a nuclear power plant.
To qualify as “civilian”, the nuclear operation/material must be principally for non-military purposes.
The event should involve fissile material or a reactor.
WIKI also lists Military Nuclear Accidents with the following criteria:
To qualify as “military”, the nuclear operation/material must be principally for military purposes.
Follow the links at the end of this blog and find out (refresh your memories).
So If I am so terrorized when potential nuclear reactors are proposed for the new green economy, and trust me I would not vote for a political party that was pushing to go down the current nuclear path – why am I so intrigued with the possibility of a different kind of CLEAN Nuclear Reactor?
Including all of the above nuclear terrors of mine, there was one other I forgot to mention – one very important one which affects the entire planet.
The getting rid of and storing of the ‘spent’ reactor trash! Technically this is referred to as Radioactive Waste Management – but it is a lot more involved than simply putting out the weekly trash!
Now for the story of Thorium – do you know about it?
I have recently been introduced to Thorium….. Thanks to similar radioactive properties to the uranium used to power the world’s nuclear reactors – and its by product, plutonium, used in nuclear weapons – thorium can also be used to power a controlled nuclear reaction that heats water, producing steam to power turbines that produce large quantities of electricity.
PLUS POINT: From an environmental perspective, the good news about thorium is that it’s far less radioactively damaging than uranium: its naturally occurring form, monazite, is said to be reasonably safe for human exposure, while the waste products from its use in a nuclear reactor decay remain dangerous for only a fraction as long – decades instead of thousands of years, by some accounts.
Thorium is also, apparently, far less likely to result in Chernobyl-sized explosions: because it’s relatively stable compared with reactor-grade uranium, thorium-fuelled chain reactions are unlikely to spiral out of control. This also means the reactors are somewhat more straightforward to design, sidestepping the massively complex system of controls and fail-safe’s that sustains reactions within uranium reactors.
So why haven’t you heard more about thorium power? After all, thorium is already widely used for industrial applications such as welding and lending physical strength to magnesium. And its potential use as a fuel for nuclear reactors has been understood for half a century, as Wired reports: in 1958, nuclear scientist Alvin Weinberg, then-director of the US military’s Oak Ridge National Lab published a nearly 1000-page summary of research into thorium-fuelled power.
Despite its theoretical advantages over uranium, however, Weinberg’s advocacy of thorium for nuclear reactors fell onto deaf ears as Cold War-era governments jumped onto the uranium bandwagon. The reason, Wired tells us, is that politicians were just as interested in the weapons-grade plutonium-239 that the process produced. By the time Weinberg left Oak Ridge in 1973, research into thorium-powered nuclear reactors had all but disappeared.
Fast-forward through the 30-year Cold War and 20 years of nuclear detente, and thorium is slowly creeping back into the limelight. As countries like India and China race to find new ways to provide energy to their massive populations over their creaking infrastructures, governments are leading a change in thought that is paving the way for the potential commercial-grade use of thorium in a new breed of reactor.
France, which is known worldwide for its massive reliance on nuclear power, has returned to Weinberg’s original designs to see if they couldn’t inform a more environmentally-friendly nuclear reactor design. China is stockpiling thorium, India’s government has expressed interest in the technology, and US legislators are lobbying to give the US Department of Energy $US250m in seed funding under the auspices of the Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act.
The potential for a thorium rebirth bodes well for Australia:
2009 US Geological Survey figures suggest that we are sitting on the world’s largest reserves of thorium – 340,000 Imperial tons, compared with 300,000 tons each in the US and India, 180,000 tons in Norway, and 100,000 tons in Canada. Reserves here and abroad are largely untapped, with mining of thorium-containing monazite ceased in 1994 and stockpiles produced then continuing to support what small volumes are necessary for industrial use (USGS figures suggest just $US155,000 of thorium was used in the US in 2008).
This puts Australia in something of a quandary. With only one nuclear reactor, a major uranium exporting business, and an electricity infrastructure built around 19th-century coal-powered energy production, there is a strong financial case to support the status quo. Building a thorium production infrastructure is expensive, and there is currently no market for its products – not to mention the cost of the reactors themselves.
However, should other world powers ramp up thorium production to support a fledgling new power infrastructure, Australia will need to revisit its position on clean energy generation – and, specifically, where clean nuclear fuel like thorium fits in. Just how much of a role this wonder-metal plays will remain to be seen, but growing interest makes it as much an opportunity for Australia as a threat.
The world wants a reliable, affordable clean and renewable source of energy.
I do not know of anyone who truly believes we can go on indefinitely using and abusing fossil fuels as our sole source. Neither do I believe there are folks who truly want to go on polluting our home and killing our peoples…… other than those with a financial interest in perpetuating the myth that ‘all is well with the planet!’ But they would be the very same people who are denying the Gulf of Mexico Disaster can really hurt us indefinitely! OUTCH!
For those individuals who understand the global energy situation the answer is quite clear and it involves advanced technology, chemistry, money, and political support.
A 1000 MW nuclear reactor could produce 18,000 barrels of fuel a day with technology which currently exists. There have been several different Thorium reactors in operation within the past 40 years. So what happened?
The era when these reactors were brought online was during the cold war. Uranium-fuelled nuclear power plants are the suppliers of weapons grade plutonium which we use within our nuclear arsenal [hence their being favoured]. The Yucca Mountain project is simply a nuclear weapons storage silo in disguise. The question I ask — which is more important, being whether we will destroy our planet or save it from our destruction?
There will always be a need for man to have the capability of defending itself but at what expense?
The thorium nuclear fission cycle eliminates the risk of meltdown and weapons proliferation while the by products have a reduced half-life on the order of 1/2 century rather than thousands of years. Thorium can be recycled and poses no direct risks to our environment unless the facilities themselves were attacked. Even in this situation we would not have another Chernobyl. People fear nuclear energy because of the Three Mile Island incident and what they see on the History Channel. Thorium nuclear reactors have demonstrated their viability in the past so what is the problem?
In summing up today:
Nuclear Terror still exists, and I am not convinced that I am frightened for no reason. Historically, experience have proven that Plutonium and Uranium can and do cause devastation, disease and dire distress.
Meanwhile there is a re surfacing interest in Thorium and The Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), which is showing promise as a far less dangerous, and a much cleaner source of nuclear fuel.
As is usual, our governments are being incredibly slow in providing for research and open discussion on the possibilities of this most abundant resource and the power it could supply, IF it was shown to be clean and safe and productive.
NO – I have not changed my mind……. but I am open to learning more. Are you? If so, follow the links in the references below. Ask pertinent questions of your politicians? Find out why they are not open to researching and following down this path. You elect them to work for you. You pay their exorbitant salaries. You are entitled to answers.
Till next time, stay safe and keep learning all you can about different, clean, renewable, even free, sources of energy.
REFERENCES used in writing this blog – follow the links for complete information, dates etc.
Nuclear Fusion versus Fission
WIKI – Civilian Nuclear Accidents
WIKI – Military Nuclear Accidents
Document Friday: “Narrative summaries of Accidents Involving Nuclear Weapons.” According to a Department of Defense report, there have been at least 32 “accidents involving nuclear weapons.” And the report only counts US accidents which occurred before 1980
Nuclear and Chemical accidents
UN Atomic Chief says wars Nuclear Accidents may rise
Radioactive Waste Management
Could thorium help nuclear power clean up its act?
Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2009
Thorium Energy Institute
A few facts for you: Pertaining to Uranium:
All parts of the nuclear fuel cycle produce some radioactive waste (radwaste) and the cost of managing and disposing of this is part of the electricity cost, i.e. it is internalised and paid for by the electricity consumers
At each stage of the fuel cycle there are proven technologies to dispose of the radioactive wastes safely. For low- and intermediate-level wastes these are mostly being implemented. For high-level wastes some countries await the accumulation of enough of it to warrant building geological repositories; others, such as the USA, have encountered political delays.
The radioactivity of all nuclear waste decays with time. Each radionuclidea contained in the waste has a half-life – the time taken for half of its atoms to decay and thus for it to lose half of its radioactivity. Radionuclides with long half-lives tend to be alpha and beta emitters – making their handling easier – while those with short half-lives tend to emit the more penetrating gamma rays. Eventually all radioactive wastes decay into non-radioactive elements. The more radioactive an isotope is, the faster it decays.
A few facts pertaining to Thorium:
….. the thorium itself (as thorium tetrafluoride) is dissolved in another salt mixture (lithium fluoride and beryllium fluoride). The mixture is NOT corrosive in the right materials (nickel-based alloy called Hastelloy-N) and is totally chemically stable. It doesn’t react with air or water and can’t burn. It is also impervious to unlimited radiation damage, which is what allows you to completely extract the energy from thorium and minimize your waste to almost nothing.
…. Just a few details: Thorium is strictly speaking not a fuel. Thorium is regarded as “fertile”, not “fissile”: If thorium absorbs a neutron (which may come from the fission of U235 or Pu239) it undergoes two stages of decay and becomes a fissionable isotope of uranium.
A properly designed “breeder” reactor, starting with the right mix of uranium isotopes and thorium can create more fuel than it burns (unlike plutonium breeder reactors, it can be done with “slow” neutrons). Wikipedia has a lot of details. BTW India is working on a thorium breeder design.
(source) an excellent place to visit:- http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2010/01/is_thorium_an_answer_to_global.php
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