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Peter Gooley

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THORIUM. Is it really that safe and great alternative to Nuclear? Is it the Other Miracle that Bill Gates is looking for?

I've been against Nuclear all my thinking life.. so from about age 20 and am now 54. Japan has not helped me become a lover of Nuclear. One thing that I heard briefly in a news report, was the word Thorium. It is apparently a rare earth mineral that is found with Uranium and dug at the same time.
I read the following.. and are yet to check the facts...
* It is a very efficient source of power generating material.
* It has already been dug up and is sitting in piles
* If there is a problem, you just simply turn it off like a light
* The waste can not be used to make a bomb
* Current Nuclear plants can be converted to use it
* It's actually cheaper than Uranium
* It doesn't require those big exclusion zones

Personally, I don't know enough about it, but from what I've read in an article titled "A report on Thorium: The newest of the technology metals . by Jack Lifton" which certainly seemed comprehensive and informed, I'm starting to wonder why this conversation hasn't been had before.

Interestingly, I don't see any reference to Thorium on the Terrapower website even though Stewart Brand referenced it in his Debate FOR Nuclear Power at about the 7 minute mark in the debate. I do note that a search for Thorium on the Terrapower website gives no hits at all.. Refer 13:20 into the Bill Gates speech as well. Not sure why.

What do YOU think?

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  • Jul 6 2011: Fast Facts: What so great about a Thorium Reactor?
    •It’s safe: Nuclear reactors, like the one at Fukushima need constant cooling – even if they’ve been switched off. Nuclear ‘meltdown’ happens when these cooling systems fail (like in Fukushima) and the uranium fuel core overheats. But within a thorium reactor, a ‘meltdown’ simply isn’t possible – turn the power supply off and the reaction just stops.
    •It’s cheap: At the moment, thorium is being thrown away. In rare earth metal mines around the world, millions of tonnes of thorium are extracted. They don’t need it – and so these companies are literally paying someone to get rid of it!
    •It’s efficient: Thorium reactors (also called LFTRs) use liquid fuel rather than solid uranium. Liquid fuel means things can mix together better, meaning thorium reactors are 200-300 times more efficient than even the best uranium reactor. Powering 1,000,000 homes for one year needs only one ton of thorium! (compared to 250 tons of uranium)
    •It’s clean: Thorium ‘burns’ much more cleanly than uranium, and only produces 1% of the waste (see image below). Much of the ‘waste’ from a Thorium reactor is actually quite useful and can be re-used for powering space probes (amongst other things)!
    •Reactors are easy to build: Conventional nuclear power plants take about 15 years to set up and build. A thorium reactor is a much more simple structure and operates at a much lower temperature., therefore they can be much smaller and are faster to build.
    Advantages of Thorium 233 over Uranium 235
    1. Waste products can contain significantly less long-lived radioactive waste than uranium or plutonium.
    2. Weapons cannot be proliferated from Thorium.
    3. Thorium is more energy efficient, operating at higher temperatures.
    4. There are massive supplies of Thorium worldwide.
    5. Less environmental damage to the environment through mining, extraction, and processing.
    6. Less damaging health effects to workers during extraction.
    7. Thorium does not require enrichment.
    • Jul 22 2011: Wow.
      • thumb
        Jul 22 2011: your response got me to look at Tushar's response and in the interest of get the story straigh, there is a mistake in his post

        This is not correct.
        "A thorium reactor is a much more simple structure and operates at a much lower temperature... "

        Thorium fluid reactor, LFTR, or any molten salt reactor actually operates at a higher temperature than a conventional solid fuel reactor. That's one of it's advantages. Running at a higher temperature means it can use the more efficient gas turbines (Brayton cycle) rather than the less efficient fluid/steam turbines (Rankine cycle) found in conventional pressurized water reactors. The narrow range for water as a fluid is why conventional reactors run at high pressures, so that the temperature range can be increased to increase efficiency by running the reactor at higher temperature. But there are limits to this and it creates safety issues from both the high pressure and the presence of water. Water under such high pressure is the reason that containment vessels are so large because a loss of pressure would result in instant explosive conversion of water to a gas. A thorium fluid reactor like LFTR runs at higher temperature and the salt remains a fluid over a much larger range including the working temperatures so there is no need to pressurize. And this means your containment structure needs to be only slightly bigger than the reactor vessel. Far simpler for safety but the plumbing is very challenging requiring very smart careful engineering for the two fluid systems that would be the best.

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