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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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  • Mar 16 2011: OK.. thanks Wayne and Jouko.
    If that is what education institutions are putting in our kids heads, then I also have concerns Wayne. I look at the comment that was thrown out there almost off the cuff that if this was a Thorium Reactor, then you would just turn it off.. From what Jouko has just educated me on, I see I was completely mis-informed... good thing I have an enquiring mind and clever people in my life.. well at the end of a keYboARD.. and an 18month old grandson pressing caps lock with his toes..
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      May 14 2011: Jouko misinformed you so the kids are alright after all LOL

      Turn off the power on Thorium Liquid Fuel Reactor and it shuts itself off with any human intervention. It's what they did weekly for 5 years with the test reactor in the 1960's. On Friday, they would shutoff the power and go home for the weekend and come back on Monday and turn it back on by heating up the salts and pumping the back into the reactor core.

      The problem with solid Uranium fuel is that it is a ceramic and has very poor heat dissipation properties. Got to be constantly pumping water to get that heat out.
    • Jul 9 2011: This whole topic is quite tricky. We "onverts"think that LFTRs are the greatest, but let's be aware that when some , even knowledgable,people talk about "Thorium Reactors" , they may very well be thinking of the solid furel, "fast breeder" reactors, simply using Thorium instead of Uranium; this is not much of an improvement over the Fukushima type, as far as saftety goes. It's good if you want to make bombs, I suppose. I heard a talk by Nobel prize winner head of the NRC who seemed to be thinking this way, I understand it is possible to get a degree in Nuclear Engineering and not even hear a word about LFTR. i am a retired engineer, civil , but I must say I never heard a word about it before a couple of months ago. It looks like it was all (internal) politics in the atomic bomb program of years ago, and of course was "Top Secret". Now there is the promblem that the large nuclear power industry "business model" completely depends on keeping soliid Uranium fuel rods as the standard fuel. Thorium is so cheap in the US , it'sthe status of a waste product (I mean the ore residue from "Rare Earth" production; its not radioactive particularly.)
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        Jul 11 2011: @Shawn, Excuse me for saying this as a physicist, but you need to do a lot more reading. All the comments you have made here seem to be just as someone who has barely touched the subject.

        Also, a Nobel prize is nothing more than a recognition of an achievement in your area of expertise. It doesn't necessarily make you any smarter or more knowledgeable than any other scientist outside their area of expertise. Just as a black belt in Judo may not be much more knowledgeable about karate than a white belt in karate, and likely to make white belt mistakes, head of the NRC which is head of an organization that spends all it's time thinking about solid fuel uranium pressurized water reactors and that has never studied in real depth liquid reactors would also be unlikely to get the facts straight on LFTR.

        LFTR doesn't need converts, it needs people willing to look at it with an open mind because like any dense energy system there are risks. It's just happens to be a system where engineering safety doesn't have to fight the physics making it very attractive when compared to current LWR designs.
        • Jul 12 2011: You're absolutely correct.. I HAVE barely touched the subject. I am not an engineer or a physicist, and come from a place of totally ignorance, hence me query out to the world to find people like yourself and Shawn who will know more than me so I can learn the TRUE facts rather than just what I can find on the web.
          Thank you very much for being a large part of my learning. I'm off to those links you suggested and more research.
        • Jul 12 2011: Craig: You are certainly right that I have just touched the subject; I thought I sort of explained that myself. Did you mean to say that what I said was incorrect? And about Nobel prize winners was, I thought , almost exactly what you said as well: he's very capable, no doubt, but perhaps overspecialized. As to engineering safety, is it not correct to say thlat LFTRs are potentially "failsafe " in the sense that no outside actions or powered devices are required for an automatic shudown? I am of course, just repeating what some actual nuclear engineer said; is it not correct? I do not consider the usual run of industrial accidents as in the same risk class as a "critical " meltdown like at Fukushima. As to my admitted lack of qualifications: since we all are going to suffer the consequences of nuclear accidents, we are naturally curious about the whole thing. It's sort of like being a passenger on the Titianic. But any clarifications you can provide would be most welcome. Incidentally, I think LFTRs really DO need converts; even the technical people I've discussed it with are all too quick to say "Oh, it's been tried, and found wanting, otherwise we'd have it now.

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