Preface: I just watched episode 7 of season 7 of the West Wing. I’d watched most of it before, but haven’t watched this season before. Episode 7 was basically a no-holds-barred debate between Santos and Vinick. One of the issues raised was energy independence. It’s an issue that rises in every single debate since the oil crunch of the 70s. What every single president has failed to mention is Nuclear Thorium Power.
Wait, what? Lemme edumicate.
I hate most nuclear power. Mainly wasteful pressurized water reactors. But not all nuclear power.
TL;DR? Watch the youtube video. You’ll learn something. Otherwise, read on:
- Uranium is 800,000 tons of ore for 35 tons of enriched uranium (215 tons of depleted uranium), which produces a little less than 35 tons of spent fuel, which rots at yucca mountain for about 10,000 years.
- Thorium starts with 200 tons of ore, which yield 1 ton natural thorium. All of which is converted to energy. We get no uranium as byproducts, and no plutonium as byproducts. 83% of the fission products are stable and pose no risk after 10 years. The rest can be buried for 300 years, after which they pose no risk.
- Thorium is present in every clump of dirt you’ve ever picked up. We have enough of it in reserve to power our country for the next hundred - if not five hundred - years.
- Thorium is not used in any modern industrial process.
And now with your regularly scheduled post:
I hate nuclear power. No - let me qualify - I hate traditional uranium fission nuclear power.
Its waste lasts hundreds of thousands of years.
It’s reliant on fallible mechanical systems for regulating the temperatures and fission rate of reactors.
Thorium’s a little bit different. It requires an up-front injection of uranium. From then onward, it requires regular injections of thorium as a fuel. The fuel life cycle is a little bit more complicated than typical reactors, but let me give you the up-sides — and the down-sides.
- Nuclear waste from liquid flouride thorium reactors lasts tens of years, instead of hundreds of thousands of years.
- We have more than enough thorium fuel - in the form of ingots - to last our country hundreds of years, even considering exponential growth in energy usage.
- Nuclear waste from thorium reactors is almost impossible to use for nuclear prolification
- LFTR reactors are self-regulating: they do not need control rods. Fluid dynamics dictate that the density of a liquid is reliant on its temperature; as temperatures rise, density decreases. The reaction in LFTR reactors is reliant on the density of the molton reactionaries. If the density decreases, the reaction rate decreases, cooling the reactor.
- If the reactor gets too hot, the reactive fuel melts plugs at the bottom of the reactor that drain the reactive fuel into a flat cooling pan - which further decreases the density of the fuel, ensuring that it does not melt down. Please note that both this and the above are naturally passive events: they do not require an engineer staring at a gauge to remember to push the big red button. The laws of nature ensure that they happen.
- There was a working LFTR-style reactor at Oakridge National Laboratories. It was safely shut down on friday, and brought back to criticality on monday, many times over. Safely. WIthout incident.
Now, the two downsides (with rebuttle):
- Nuclear waste from liquid flouride thorium reactors is immensely dangerous - not for nuclear proliferation, but because of the kind of radiation it emits. It’s dangerous to even be in the same room as the stuff - with safety suits. But it cools off to safe levels within a century.
- The temperatures these reactors are efficient at are high. Materials science isn’t quite where it needs to be to provide the kind of piping needed to ensure long-term safety of the site. What about short term? What if we had three reactors? When there’s a concern in its line, take it off-line. We’ve seen how easy they are — in comparison with traditional pressurized water reactors — to bring back on-line. Take it off-line, replace the piping. If you have a triple-redundant system, that means you have at least two reactors on-line for every single reactor off-line.
And wouldn’t you rather that, than a Yucca mountain filled with nuclear waste for the next mellenia?
And wouldn’t you rather that, than a century of children born with mercury poisoning due to the coal power plants in use?
And wouldn’t you rather that, than a multitude of endangered species killed off by irresponsible oil spills?
I’m not even asking about wind, or hydro, or solar. I’m asking for people to - maybe - give a chance to the kind of nuclear power envisioned before the navy took the wheel?
Keep in mind, the navy took the wheel because: a) it worked well in ships, and b) it produced raw plutonium usable for nuclear weapons.
The major thing standing in the way?
Thorium power can’t create weapons. So who wants to fund it?