While reading up on Nuclear Weapons my path led me in and out of material on Nuclear Power for energy. I came across some stuff called Thorium. Now I am no expert and I am sure there are hundreds in the long tall grass, but the future of nuclear power is important for the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and other atmospheric pollutants. Nuclear power could be one option for reducing carbon emissions. Any alternative to uranium is worth having: if it removes the nuclear, how are you threats.
Existing reactors use uranium or plutonium—the stuff of bombs.
Uranium reactors need the same fuel-enrichment technology that bomb-makers employ, and can thus give cover for clandestine weapons programmes. Plutonium is made from en-riched uranium in reactors whose purpose can easily be switched to bomb-making.
We have seen (If you have read) the series on Nuclear weapons that nuclear power entails potential security risks, notably the possible misuse of commercial or associated nuclear facilities and operations to acquire technology or materials as a precursor to the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.
It also has perceived adverse safety, environmental, and health effects, heightened by the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl reactor accidents, but also by accidents at fuel cycle facilities in the United States, Russia, and Japan. There is also growing concern about the safe and secure transportation of nuclear materials and the security of nuclear facilities from terrorist attack.
However if in the future carbon dioxide emissions carry a significant “price,” nuclear energy could be an important — indeed vital — option for generating electricity.
At present, however, this is unlikely: nuclear power faces stagnation and decline.
In 2002, carbon equivalent emission from human activity was about 6,500 million tonnes per year; these emissions will probably more than double by 2050. It ain’t the CO2, it’s the methane that is in real runaway problem.
Today, nuclear power is not an economically competitive choice, to clear up the environment but it must be preserve as an option while it endeavors to overcoming the four challenges described above—costs, safety, proliferation, and wastes, and to zap the odd incoming Asteroids ever few thousands year.
Anyway it appears to achieve any of the targets a critical factor for the future of an expanded nuclear power industry is the choice of the fuel cycle.
Atomic energy is seen by many, and with reason, as the misbegotten stepchild of the world’s atom-bomb programs: ill begun and badly done. But a clean slate is a wonderful thing. And that might soon be provided by two of the world’s rising industrial powers, India and China, whose demand for energy is leading them to look at the idea of building reactors that run on thorium.
According to what I have read on the subject Thorium, though hard to turn into a bomb; is not impossible, but sufficiently uninviting a prospect that America axed thorium research in the 1970s.
Here is the amazing thing.
It is also three or four times as abundant as uranium.
In a world where nuclear energy was a primary goal of research, rather than a military spin-off, it is certainly worthy of its investigation. It could be the solution to Iran problem and perhaps the first positive move by governments to dismantle the nuclear cloud hanging over the earth.
Recently, thorium has generated a fair amount of excitement for its potential as so-called “green nuclear” power, especially in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown that occurred after the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
What is Thorium I hear you saying. What’s green about thorium? If Thorium was an economic solution why hasn’t it been taken up?
Thorium named after the Norse god of thunder is a silvery-black metal basic element of nature, like Iron and Uranium. Its properties allow it to be used to fuel a nuclear chain reaction that can run a power plant and make electricity (among other things). Thorium itself will not split and release energy. Rather, when it is exposed to neutrons, it will undergo a series of nuclear reactions until it eventually emerges as an isotope of uranium called U-233, which will readily split and release energy next time it absorbs a neutron. Thorium is therefore called fertile, whereas U-233 is called fissile. Don’t ask me why.
Thorium reactors are more efficient than uranium reactors, because they waste less fuel and produce far more energy. Thorium yields little waste and is less radioactive. It is its relative abundance in the Earth’s crust. Thorium may at least do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas,
The energy potential of the element thorium was discovered in 1940 at the University of California at Berkeley, during the very early days of the US nuclear weapons program. Although thorium atoms do not split, researchers found that they will absorb neutrons when irradiated. The United States has tried to develop thorium as an energy source for some 50 years. They have dropped the ball. Why? The answer is nuclear weapons. The 1960s and ’70s were the height of the Cold War and weaponization was the driving force for all nuclear research. Any nuclear research that did not support the US nuclear arsenal was simply not given priority.
Almost all its nearly 100 remaining reactors will be more than 60 years old by 2050.
China’s thorium project was launched as a high priority by princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin. He estimates that China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for “20,000 years”to build the first fully functioning thorium reactor within ten years, instead of 25 years as originally planned.
China’s nuclear reactors account for almost 40% of the world’s total.
India has abundant thorium reserves, and the country’s nuclear-power programme, which is intended, eventually, to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity (up from 3% at the moment), plans to use these for fuel. This will take time. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research already runs a small research reactor in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai plans to follow this up with a thorium-powered heavy-water reactor that will, it hopes, be ready early next decade.
China’s thorium programme looks bigger.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences claims the country now has “the world’s largest national effort on thorium”, employing a team of 430 scientists and engineers, a number planned to rise to 750 by 2015. This team, moreover, is headed by Jiang Mianheng, an engineering graduate of Drexel University in the United States who is the son of China’s former leader, Jiang Zemin (himself an engineer). Some may question whether Mr Jiang got his job strictly on merit. His appointment, though, does suggest the project has political clout. The team plan to fire up a prototype thorium reactor in 2015. Like India’s, this will use solid fuel. But by 2017 the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics expects to have one that uses a trickier but better fuel, molten thorium fluoride.
Will thorium be a fool’s errand or the fuel that heralds the dawn of a new age of nuclear power? It is certainly too early to say, but one thing is for sure: Thorium has great potential and with the right backers, could become a viable adjunct to uranium, if not a serious competitor.
Nuclear fission using thorium is easily within our reach, and, compared with conventional nuclear energy, the risks are considerably lower. Thorium’s faces formidable technological challenges and it may take at least a decade or more for the technology to become feasible. Until that time, uranium miners have other things to worry about.
Have a look at the below Video.
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