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Power Hardware Science

Is Safe, Green Thorium Power Finally Ready For Prime Time? 258

Posted by Soulskill
from the much-more-reliable-than-Thor-power dept.
MrSeb writes "If you've not been tracking the thorium hype, you might be interested to learn that the benefits liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) have over light water uranium reactors (LWRs) are compelling. Alvin Weinberg, who invented both, favored the LFTR for civilian power since its failures (when they happened) were considerably less dramatic — a catastrophic depressurization of radioactive steam, like occurred at Chernobyl in 1986, simply wouldn't be possible. Since the technical hurdles to building LFTRs and handling their byproducts are in theory no more challenging, one might ask — where are they? It turns out that a bunch of U.S. startups are investigating the modern-day viability of thorium power, and countries like India and China have serious, governmental efforts to use LFTRs. Is thorium power finally ready for prime time?"
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Is Safe, Green Thorium Power Finally Ready For Prime Time?

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  • NO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mschiller (764721) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:39PM (#42341075)

    Why?
    NIMBY

    • Re:NO (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:42PM (#42341123) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, Global Warming and Peak Energy are going to fuck NIMBY in the ass soon.

      You'd be surprised what people will put up with when basic survival is on the line.
      • Re:NO (Score:4, Informative)

        by preaction (1526109) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:06PM (#42341447)

        Unfortunately, by the time the evidence is clear enough for even the most ardent skeptic to take seriously, it will be too late to reverse the effects.

        • The problem isn't climate skeptics, it is the some of the same people promoting AGW, namely green wing of the DNC. They don't want Petrol based fuels, and oppose any other "Green" alternative, especially in their own neighborhoods. An Nukular is definitely off the table.

          • Re:NO (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ApplePy (2703131) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:07PM (#42344597)

            What are you trying to say here? That we should quit wasting our breath arguing about AGW, and focus on the simple, easy ways we can clean up our environment? Concentrate on finding ways to use less coal and oil, instead of debating how many centimeters the sea level might or might not rise by 2100?

            Whoa.

            • I'm saying that the problem isn't the deniers, it is the people actively blocking attempts to implement BIG GREEN energy, while saying they are "green". You know, like the Kennedy Opposition to Wind Farms off Nantucket ... because it ruins the view. Or Al Gore's huge energy sucking house (green offsets bought by him from his company, how convenient) They are green as long as it affects everyone else.

              In other words, let me know when they start walking the walk. At least Ed Begley is not a hypocrite.

        • Re:NO (Score:4, Interesting)

          by terjeber (856226) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:51AM (#42345891)

          That is, to a large degree the fault of the AGW lobby. For decades we have heard how important it is for us to go green, and the two main areas that has been focused on is getting us into electric cars and putting solar panels onto our roofs. The latter is slowly becoming possible as an energy source, but is still significantly more carbon intensive than most alternatives, and the former is just a retarded idea. Electrical cars have a carbon foot print that is at least as high as gas guzzlers, and in most cases significantly higher. In addition, the gas guzzlers are close to totally irrelevant as CO2 sources, so the Electrical Car is a terrible solution to a non-problem.

          These things are easy to show, so the anti-AGW crowd has a field day with the morons in the AGW crowd. Irrespective of whether AGW is a real problem or not.

          • "The latter is slowly becoming possible as an energy source, but is still significantly more carbon intensive than most alternatives"

            Completely wrong. I'll quote figures from the most opposed source:

            http://www.world-nuclear.org/education/comparativeco2.html

            PV, wind and nuclear are all within a factor of 2. Hydro is half of any of those. All the others are at least one order of magnitude away, the best definition of "significantly" I can think of.

            • by terjeber (856226)

              Completely wrong

              It is? So electrical cars are less carbon intensive than gasoline cars?

              http://www.world-nuclear.org/education/comparativeco2.html

              Apparently not, you seemingly answered something completely different than I stated. OK.

          • by saihung (19097)

            Your blanket statement about EVs is not correct.

            http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00532.x/full [wiley.com]

      • Re:NO (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mschiller (764721) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:10PM (#42341489)

        I agree, but that doesn't change the fact that there is an awful lot of NIMBY going on. We could've and should've been building new reactors since the 70's, but instead the reactors that are online are mostly still the original first generation designs from the late 50's and early 60's. The same whack job environmentalists who should be all for this, are also typically the most adament against it. Yet watch them and their energy use isn't substantially different then any other American....

        I suspect by the time we figure out that we can't put up with this NIMBY crap we will be OUT of oil OR have completely screwed up the environment once and for all...

        I mean really this was the first new nuke plant licensed in 30 years:
        http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/09/news/economy/nuclear_reactors/index.htm [cnn.com]

        And it's the AP1000. Still a Water based design and Generation 3.. Though from the look of it a lot safer than most of the reactors (Gen 2) in operation

        • Other than the anger at environmentalists, I agree with you. However, to answer TFA, NO. The world hasn't yet built anything more sophisticated as the original 10 MWt molten salt reactor from the 60's, and a real LFFR needs a lot of R&D. China's doing promising work, but we're looking at several years before they can start construction on a utility scale plant. Fund the heck out of this R&D! But, no, it's not "ready for prime time."

        • "awful lot of NIMBY going on. We could've and should've been building new reactors since the 70"

          The two are unrelated. As with all power sources, NIMBY is considerable and noisy, but has little real influence in the end.

          What killed nukes was a combination of cash-flow, overbuilding, credit problems and double-digit inflation. Even today, getting funding for reactors is extremely difficult. That has nothing to do with NIMBY and a whole lot to do with NINJA loans five years ago.

          "this was the first new nuke pl

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        Not really. NIMBY will just have IYBY appended, with the force of eminent domain.
    • Re:NO (Score:4, Funny)

      by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:43PM (#42341127)
      I'd love one in my backyard. /until I go to sell the place
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Some people like them. Unlike coal/gas/nuclear plants that no-one wants to live near.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      You kidding? I'd have one in my basement if I could.

    • by CptNerd (455084)

      Plus anything having to do with "nukyular" is going to raise a poisonous cloud of nukeFUD that will dissuade anyone from pursuing the technology.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:45PM (#42341173) Journal

    Isn't it usually blue [tumblr.com]?

  • by CajunArson (465943) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:49PM (#42341201) Journal

    Chernobyl was a graphite moderated water-cooled reactor. Any commercial nuclear plant in the U.S. is a water-moderated and water-cooled reactor.

      Despite the normal perception of the word, a "moderator" actually increases the nuclear activity in a fission plant since it slows-down ("moderates") neutrons and therefore increases the probability that the neutrons cause a fission event. In Chernobyl, the coolant (water) was blown away in the pressure explosion, but the moderator (graphite) remained in place which led to the runaway meltdown.

    By contrast at Three Mile Island & Fukushima, the loss of coolant led to a meltdown (literally heat causing melting to occur), but since the water moderator was also missing, the accidents did not lead to a runaway that was anywhere near as severe as Chernobyl. If Fukushima had included a pressure vessel of the same caliber as the one used at TMI, then hardly any radioactivity would have been released during the Fukushima accident.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fallen Kell (165468)
      Fukushima did have a pressure vessel. The problem was the pressure vessel was damaged by the earthquake. The other problem was the majority of the issues were from the spent fuel rod storage in which the pool lining was damaged by the earthquake leading to the loss of all the water in the spent fuel rod pools, which then lead to a partial meltdown of the spent fuel rods in the pool with the runoff radioactive materials leaking through the same cracks which allowed the water to escape and out into the enviro
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Rising Ape (1620461)

        That doesn't match all with the reports from Fukushima. There were some early thoughts that the fuel pool was leaking, but that proved to be false. The large quantities of short half life radioiodine released show that the leak was from the reactors, not the spent fuel pools.

        The issue is that a containment vessel can only tolerate a certain internal pressure. The reactor core produces heat even when shut down, and heating in a sealed space leads to a pressure increase. In the absence of some way of relievin

      • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @06:22PM (#42342519)

        Wrong in all aspects.

        The spent fuel pools at Fukushima were not compromised at all during the earthquake and the tsunami or indeed after the hydrogen explosions although it was suspected they had sustained some damage at the time of the accident. After engineers gained access to the top of the reactors a month or two after the accident cameras were lowered into the pools and the fuel rod bundles appeared to be totally undamaged. Two rod bundles were recently removed from reactor 4's pool for much closer examination (they were unused with no fission products and so could be handled without the shielding precautions exposed rods would need). Those rod bundles showed no noticeable damage or deformation and only a little surface corrosion from the use of seawater to top up the pool water levels just after the accident.

        The explosions were caused by overheating of the fuel elements within the reactors themselves after cooling stopped resulting in a catalytic reaction that produced hydrogen and oxygen gas via disassociation of steam. Pressure relief valves released this gas mix plus significant amounts of volatile radioactive fission products such as I-131 and Cs-134 and Cs-137 into the upper parts of the reactor buildings where the explosions occurred. Continued heating from the uncovered fuel rods in the reactors compromised the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels and some melted fuel may have made its way down into the primary containments, mixed with water and contributed to the releases.

        The spent fuel rods in the pools on the reactors and in the site central pool did not contribute at all to the contamination that resulted as far as anyone can tell. The site plan posted by TEPCO states they expect to empty reactor 4's spent fuel pool by the end of 2013 after building a weather shield and a crane system on top of the damaged reactor building, and then move on to deal with the spent fuel in the pools in the other reactor buildings in turn.

  • by bradleyjg (68937) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:53PM (#42341273)

    Molten salt has a lot of advantages as a working fluid over water, unfortunately the major big disadvantage outweighs all the positives.

    Viz. the conditions inside these reactors would be absurdly corrosive. F salts are chemically aggressive, and that aggressive increases with temperature. That is compounded by the fact that the reactor materials will also be bombarded with significant neutron fluxes, and by the presence of all dissolved decay products in the working fluid.

    We simply don't have materials that can stand up for any length of time to that kind of abuse.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:16PM (#42341579)

      Weinbergs team at Oak Ridge managed to work with the Fluoride salts. They used high-nickel alloys (Hastelloy N) which were able to resist the F salts. Other manufacturers have alloys of similar make up - I believe a Czech group are developing their own at the moment due to difficulty of supply from Haynes - google MONICR. The problems are not trivial, but they are surmountable.

      • by Artifakt (700173) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @10:10PM (#42344279)

        Weinberg and others as far back as the 1940s had to work with massive amounts of radioactive heavy metal-fluoride salts, as the gaseous diffusion process itself worked with Uranium Hexafluoride. The first US gasous diffusion plant was run from the early 40s to 1987, and employed over 12,000 people in a building of over 2,000,000 square feet, so it looks like the required safety protocols were very robust and should scale to any desireable degree for power plant use.
                  John W. Campbell wrote an Astounding editorial in the early 50s listing over a dozen materials that had been determined to be safe ways to handle fluorine compounds and were publicly declassified by then, and mentioned the various Nickle alloys among them. Surprisingly, many concrete and cement formulas that use Calcium Carbonates as their base are common, easy to produce materials which are highly Fluorine resistant, and various substances already incorporating Fluorine, such as the Flurocarbons and related, including Teflon, give flexable sealants, gaskets, and liners for containment vessels. There's a lot of very tough problems in this area which have already been well solved, often for half a century or more.

    • by TehCable (1351775) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:27PM (#42341719)
      Prohibitive corrosion is a common misconception about this type of reactor. The U.S. built an experimental MSR in the 60's and ran it for 5 years. According to the results section of the wikipedia article about the experiment, the corrosion was negligible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment#Results [wikipedia.org]
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:57PM (#42342159) Homepage

        Interesting article.

        One unexpected finding was shallow, inter-granular cracking in all metal surfaces exposed to the fuel salt. The cause of the embrittlement was tellurium - a fission product generated in the fuel. This was first noted in the specimens that were removed from the core at intervals during the reactor operation. Post-operation examination of pieces of a control-rod thimble, heat-exchanger tubes, and pump bowl parts revealed the ubiquity of the cracking and emphasized its importance to the MSR concept. The crack growth was rapid enough to become a problem over the planned thirty-year life of a follow-on thorium breeder reactor.

        So not quite as problem free and viable in the long term as you were hoping. Long term operation is in fact one of the biggest problems for thorium reactors. Even if the salt doesn't damage them the reactor vessel itself becomes highly radioactive and thus difficult to examine and maintain. Decommissioning is similarly problematic.

        That's one reason no-one has built a commercial scale plant. It's a long term investment and there are many uncertainties about reliability over 40+ years, where as current designs are at least proven to mostly work at reasonable cost for that kind of lifetime.

        • by Creepy (93888)

          Most of these issues are solved in the LFTR design, from what I recall. Some of the problems with long term storage after decommission are known only because they mothballed the MSRE. Mainly, they know radioactive fluoride gasses build up, and the cracking issues should be resolved with changes to the blanket.

          Oh, and the only reason one hasn't been built is because Nixon killed the program (really, and pretty much exclusively because LWRs meant jobs in California and the MSRE threatened those jobs) and the

    • People that actually work with F, or UF6, actually know how to prevent that corrosion by using the correct materials.

      Imagine that.

      We built a few gaseous diffusion plants that exclusively used UF6 as the main working gas; K-25 ran for ~40 years.

      AFAICR, Weinbergs' 'star' molten salt reactor was the only one we ever built that could have exploded; the U233 apparently concentrated in the mix, and that had to be dealt with.

      Weinberg was a cool guy; I used to see him in my shop a few times a year in the 90's. I go

    • "Viz. the conditions inside these reactors would be absurdly corrosive. F salts are chemically aggressive, and that aggressive increases with temperature."

      The MSRE reactor proved this to be false. According to Wikipedia: "For example, it was demonstrated that: the fuel salt was immune to radiation damage, the graphite was not attacked by the fuel salt, and the corrosion of Hastelloy-N was negligible."

      That reactor was operated for 5 years. No problems. It was shown that plain fluorine can escape from the salt, but only at low temperatures... not while the reactor is in operation.

      There IS a real issue, but it is not from fluorine and is solvable: "One une

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:57PM (#42341323) Journal

    I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact -- acres upon acres of wooded hilltops have been deforested. I truly had no idea how obnoxious it was until Google Earth got updated images. Take a look at some before and after photos of a large wind farm and see for yourself how bad it is.

    All of this might be worth it if wind energy scaled the same as nuclear, or could provide the same power density, but both of those are utterly impossible. You'll never match nuclear reactions for power density, and the footprint of a nuclear power plant is no larger than that of any other modern industrial concern.

    Everything in life is a tradeoff, but having lived near Three Mile Island, and now living in the midst of a wind farm, I'd take the former any day of the week. You simply didn't know TMI was there, unless you happened to have cause to drive by it. Contrast that to dozens of wind turbines, visible for miles around, along with the obnoxiousness of their build process.

    Nuclear and low impact hydro are the way to go for base load. Natural gas, along with wind, and solar for the peak load.

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:13PM (#42341543)

      Indeed, another great advantage of nuclear power is that whenever there's a catastrophic meltdown, we get hundreds of square kilometers of new wooded nature preserve.

      • by jfengel (409917)

        With many fascinating new species of plants and animals.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:22PM (#42341633)

      So, what you're saying is, you don't like living next to a building site? What makes you think that subcontractors on wind farms are any worse in traffic than subcontractors on any other building site?

      #shakes head#

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:22PM (#42341635) Homepage

      I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact -- acres upon acres of wooded hilltops have been deforested. I truly had no idea how obnoxious it was until Google Earth got updated images. Take a look at some before and after photos of a large wind farm and see for yourself how bad it is.

      Where is this exactly? Come on, don't just give us an unverifiable anecdote, give us hard facts that can be verified.

      A properly designed wind farm shouldn't require mass deforestation or environmental damage.

    • It's amazing what scores "informative". Why did they clear the forest? Is there really no farmland nearby which could have been used instead?

      Also, modern turbine towers can be built tall enough that trees are less of a concern, although that obviously does not work if we are talking redwoods. Some power will be lost and the towers will be more expensive, but that seems like a reasonable trade off if the forest is not just a tree farm with pines in neat rows.

    • I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact

      I think windmills look cool when I see them on hills driving by. The newer ones with super optimized blade designs look especially futurastic.

    • I really don't understand people who care that much about the appearance of wind turbines. We need power, and those are a good sources in many places. A round here, they've put the wind farms in existing farmland. No deforestation, just extra energy. The nuclear power plant nearby is actually more visible from a greater distance somehow. Maybe geology?

    • I have the misfortune of living at ground zero for an ongoing wind farm build. 24/7 truck traffic, massive clouds of dust, hour plus highway shutdowns while they move their superloads, obnoxious subcontractors that ignore traffic laws, etc, etc. Then there's the ecological impact -- acres upon acres of wooded hilltops have been deforested.

      I have family who live within a mile of a wind farm. They never mentioned the contractors being obnoxious, clouds of dust, or the roads being shut down for extensive periods during the construction, and not a single tree was felled. I think someone just made a mess of things in the planning and implementation stages of your wind farm.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:05PM (#42341433)

    Within microseconds of convincing any "environmentalist" that there is even the slightest possibility of a new class of reactor actually being built you will see the proponents vanish under thousands of lawsuits. Atomic energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without carbon emissions that we have, but it is not politically correct and a new reactor design not only won't change that, it will actually provoke a far more extreme response. Too much paranoia, too much stupidity, too much ignorance. It'll never happen, no matter how much it needs to. Americans can no longer deal with reality.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AK Marc (707885)

      Atomic energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without carbon emissions that we have,

      No matter how many times I see that lie, it's never going to become true. It's true if the question is: What's one and only one thing we can use to replace coal/gas/oil power generation, considering no other options?

      But if you ask, can we stop burning all petrochemicals by the end of 2013, the answer is "yes" so long as you allow for a variety of options. Hydro can't do it alone, but hydro plus wind plus PV plus concentrated solar, plus geothermal would be able to for the vast majority of the planet, an

      • Indeed there's more energy in the sunlight that hits the earth in a 'hour' than the entire planet uses in an entire year. It's just a matter of collecting and storing it.
      • *Everything* costs associated with the infrastructure.

        *Everything BUT renewable* has costs associated with fuel.

        So nuclear is the same as everything but renewables.

        Full lifecycle nuclear will have lower CO2 than coal or natural gas...unless processing the fuel is so massively expensive that we really shouldn't be using nuclear in the first place...
    • Atomic energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without carbon emissions that we have

      I could write that the opposite way "Coal energy is absolutely the only viable method of generating power without nuclear waste that we have".

      Nuclear waste is an 'emission' in every sense that CO2 is. Now nuclear is going to be a necessary part of our system for probably 50-100 years, meaning current reactor types. I'm not really up to speed on fusion reactors should we manage to get them actually working so maybe that works.

      But the renewable sources path is the only currently viable one we have ri

      • The nice thing about nuclear waste is that it's an "emission" that can be relatively easily collected, moved, and stored. Sure, it's radioactive, but it's a solid. You can put it in a truck, and store it somewhere safe.

        Now try to do that with a few cubic miles of (also slightly radioactive, and quite high in heavy metals) coal power station exhaust.

  • Safety is relative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Urban Garlic (447282) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:07PM (#42341453)

    So there is a trope in the engineering world that the safest reactors are the ones that are confined to paper studies, or, to put it more timely, to PowerPoint slides.

    It's true that the LFTR reactors don't have the same failure modes as the pressurized light-water reactors, but they still have the same basic issue, namely that there is a very large amount of power-generating capacity in a relatively small volume. Even pebble-bed reactors [wikipedia.org], similarly touted as "intrinsically safe" during their design phase, have had a radiation-release accident -- scroll down to "Criticisms of the design" on that Wikipedia page. The lesson (which I learned from Charles Perrow and Fukushima) is that complex systems with high power densities are intrinsically hazardous, because unexpected interactions (which arise from the complexity) tend to be highly destructive (because of the power density). LFTRs are less complex, and so less dangerous, than PLWRs, and that's good, but it doesn't make them safe.

    The stupid cliche you hear over and over again is true -- safety is a process. You can design reactors so that the safety process is easier to implement, but what actually makes things safe is conservative management schemes that retain the redundancy and margin for error that the process demands, and not cutting them out because of the money, or, worse, because of complacency induced by faith in the design.

    There's another industrial safety joke, particularly applicable to complex systems -- accident analysis consists of filling in X and Y in the phrase, "Nobody imagined X could happen whlie Y was true."

    • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:50PM (#42342053) Homepage

      So there is a trope in the engineering world that the safest reactors are the ones that are confined to paper studies, or, to put it more timely, to PowerPoint slides.

      Yes. Here's the original source of that [ecolo.org], from Hyman Rickover, 1953:

      "An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now."

      "On the other hand a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated."

      Looking at the history of reactors, almost everything other than water-cooled reactors has been an operational failure. Pebble-bed reactors have pebble jams. Helium-cooled reactors leak. Sodium-cooled reactors have fires. Boiling water reactors are basically simple devices, and even they have problems. Complexity in the radioactive side of a reactor system has not worked well in practice. The environment is hostile and the required lifetime without maintenance is decades long.

      • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @06:39PM (#42342749)

        The British fleet of fourteen AGRs (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors) have been running successfully for thirty years now and some of the fleet will probably operate for another ten to fifteen years with licence extensions. Based on the earlier Magnox design, they use carbon dioxide as coolant. They're a little bit more efficient than boiling-water or pressurised-water reactors since their cores run a bit hotter. The increased efficiency doesn't make up for the extra cost of construction though since the fuel costs are so low, and no-one else outside the UK licenced the design. The next generation of nuclear reactors built in the UK will be BWR or PWR designs.

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @06:48PM (#42342847) Homepage Journal

      complex systems with high power densities are intrinsically hazardous

      Can we just generalize that to say that producing and distributing energy has inherent risks? IIRC about 30 people have been killed installing and maintaining wind turbines in the US so far. When those big hydro plants were being built by the WPA, lots of people fell, sometimes into an active concrete pour. When solar goes massive, there will be big factories and some people will die in manufacturing, and probably people have fallen from roofs installing solar panels, and we can probably figure in many deaths in China from the areas where the rare earths are mined. There are numbers on the exhaust from coal plants, and of course coal mining is incredibly dangerous (not like fisherman-dangerous, but still high). Even US nuclear, which hasn't had any fatalities at the civillian plants, depends on people driving to and from work. I have to imagine some of them have been killed en route.

    • by Terrasque (796014)

      The thing is, the same problem will manifest any place you have a large energy potential. Just look at, say, simple and friendly water [wikipedia.org].

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:19PM (#42341609)
    There is no "technological fix" that will make nuclear power safe. All the bad outcomes at nuclear power plants are due to organizational failures. TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima all resulted from bad decisions, both short term and long term.

    One of the units at San Onofre is indefinitely off line because an upgraded heat exchange system was designed incorrectly. This is not exactly new technology, but somehow a flawed design made it through all the review processes. This is ultimately a organizational failure, not a technical failure.

    Going from uranium to thorium will not make any difference in the long term. Serious nuclear accidents are low probability events will hugely destructive outcomes. Any claims that a technology change will result in a safe system is dangerously naive thinking.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by abies (607076)

      Technology CAN help. Problem with current reactors is that that when mismanaged or left alone when problems happen, they go hotter and hotter. Some of proposed reactor designs are opposite of that - if system breaks, they will calm down.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_nuclear_safety [wikipedia.org]

      If we ever plan to have sustainable civilisation, we need 4th+ generation atomic power AND reduce the population. Only then we can think about civilization surving and expanding for next thousand of years. Without reducing p

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Assuming it was designed flawlessly, all possible eventualities were predicted and accounted for, it was built exactly to spec and is fully maintained and operated by knowledgeable and skilled people, then yes.

        There seems to be an assumption that the designers of older nuclear plants were idiots and came up with these terrible designs through incompetence, but of course that is far from the truth. There were things they didn't know, there were commercial pressures, there were practical issues in manufacturi

      • by Sperbels (1008585)
        bad mod undo
    • by amorsen (7485)

      LFTR accidents are more likely to be similar to industrial chemical plant accidents than to TMI or Fukushima. Of course that is little comfort to those who know about chemical plant accidents, but society is much more accepting of chemical plant accidents than of nuclear accidents.

      LFTR is a potential game changer when it comes to risk perception.

    • There's also "no technological fix" that will make driving an automobile safe, but we do it every day and have learned to live with the risk. I guess we could make everyone drive 10mph, but choose not to. According to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year) there were 32,367 automobile deaths in 2011. There have NEVER been anything like that number of deaths in a year from a nuclear reactor. Chernobyl had approximately 4000 deaths and the entire list on wikip
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:28PM (#42341725) Homepage

    It is unsinkable.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:31PM (#42341783) Homepage

    The article indicates that Adm. Rickover didn't like molten salt / sodium cooled reactors because the "Navy knew how to handle water". In reality, Rickover's nuclear program tried both approaches. The Nautilus (SSN-571) used a boiling water reactor, and the Seawolf (SSN-575) used a sodium cooled reactor. Both were built, both went to sea, and both performed reasonably well. But the sodium-cooled reactor turned out to be harder to maintain than the boiling water reactor, and couldn't be run at full capacity because of some design problems. so after a year, Seawolf was returned to the yards and converted to a boiling water reactor.

    That was very typical of the military approach of the period - fully develop several alternatives, operate them, then dump the losers. The history of 1950s jet fighters is a striking example.

    • Also, before they had subcontractors for everything so costs weren't orders of magnitude more than they should be.

    • Nit: Nautilus was built with, and Seawolf was converted to, a pressurized water reactor - a PWR, not a BWR.

  • I have long marvelled at the level of hype that every power generating scheme manages to come up with: Coal, Oil, Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydro. Every one of them has positives and negatives - but none will ever will be perfect.

    Let's use that as a starting point before we all jump on the latest band-wagon.

    That said, Thorium appears to make a lot of sense. For countries such as Japan, it might offer a reasonable solution to their current power production woes.

    To my mind, the bigger issue will be to produce

  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @06:57PM (#42342947) Journal

    Still talking about large centralised power plants, are we?

    I'll put my money behind decentralised power. In fact, I already have ... 3.5kw PV system just installed on the roof.

    Cogeneration units for at-home are also gaining popularity, particularly in Germany and Spain. Whispergen.

  • I don't like the idea of radioactive substance in liquid fluoride. First people might be killed by liquid fluoride. If this doesn't happen, the whole core can evaporate as a volatile compound and then form more complex organic compounds readily absorbed by plants, animals and people.

  • This widespread "don't tell me until I can bet it from Walmart" obsession is a blight. Technologies like this do not spring fully formed from the lions of Zeus but instead require R&D, pilot plants etc, and THEN you start rolling things out.
    Those with the liquid fluoride worries have a valid point which is why you don't put such devices in the middle of cities, just like with oil refineries (which use a bit of HF) etc.

    Any sort of nuclear debate appears to suffer from fanboys spouting counterproductive

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.

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