Busting the “spin” about Thorium nuclear reactors

thorium is merely a way of deflecting attention and criticism from the dangers of the uranium fuel cycle and excusing the pumping of more money into the industry…..  the nuclear industry itself is also sceptical

 ‘ these arereally U-233 reactors,’   This isotope is more hazardous than the U-235 used in conventional reactors, he adds, because it produces U-232 as a side effect (half life: 160,000 years), on top of familiar fission by-products 

Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a ‘greener’ nuclear option Ecologist, Eifion Rees 23rd June, 2011 It produces less radioactive waste and more power than uranium but the UK would be making a mistake in looking to it as a ’greener’ fuel. The Ecologist reports….. nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), says the world shouldn’t hold its breath.

‘Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.’

China’s development will persist until it experiences the ongoing
major technical hurdles the rest of the nuclear club have discovered,
he says.

Others see thorium as a smokescreen to perpetuate the status quo: the
closest the world has come to an operating thorium reactor is India’s
Kakrapar-1, a uranium-fuelled PWR that was the first to use thorium to
flatten power across the core. ‘This could be seen to excuse the
continued use of PWRs until thorium is [widely] available,’ points out
Peter Rowberry of No Money for Nuclear (NM4N) and Communities Against
Nuclear Expansion (CANE).

In his reading, thorium is merely a way of deflecting attention and criticism from the dangers of the uranium fuel cycle and excusing the pumping of more money into the industry…..
Why is the nuclear lobby so quiet?

And yet the nuclear industry itself is also sceptical, with none of
the big players backing what should be – in PR terms and in a
post-Fukushima world – its radioactive holy grail: safe reactors
producing more energy for less and cheaper fuel.

In fact, a 2010 National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) report concluded the
thorium fuel cycle ‘does not currently have a role to play in the UK
context [and] is likely to have only a limited role internationally
for some years ahead’ – in short, it concluded, the claims for thorium
were ‘overstated’.

Proponents counter that the NNL paper fails to address the question of
MSR technology, evidence of its bias towards an industry wedded to
PWRs. Reliant on diverse uranium/plutonium revenue streams – fuel
packages and fuel reprocessing, for example – the nuclear energy
giants will never give thorium a fair hearing, they say.

But even were its commercial viability established, given 2010’s
soaring greenhouse gas levels, thorium is one magic bullet that is
years off target. Those who support renewables say they will have come
so far in cost and efficiency terms by the time the technology is
perfected and upscaled that thorium reactors will already be
uneconomic. Indeed, if renewables had a fraction of nuclear’s current
subsidies they could already be light years ahead.
Extra radioactive waste

All other issues aside, thorium is still nuclear energy, say
environmentalists, its reactors disgorging the same toxic byproducts
and fissile waste with the same millennial half-lives. Oliver Tickell,
author of Kyoto2, says the fission materials produced from thorium are
of a different spectrum to those from uranium-235, but ‘include many
dangerous-to-health alpha and beta emitters’.

Tickell says thorium reactors would not reduce the volume of waste
from uranium reactors. ‘It will create a whole new volume of
radioactive waste, on top of the waste from uranium reactors. Looked
at in these terms, it’s a way of multiplying the volume of radioactive
waste humanity can create several times over.’

Putative waste benefits – such as the impressive claims made by former
Nasa scientist Kirk Sorensen, one of thorium’s staunchest advocates –
have the potential to be outweighed by a proliferating number of MSRs.
There are already 442 traditional reactors already in operation
globally, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The
by-products of thousands of smaller, ostensibly less wasteful reactors
would soon add up.

Anti-nuclear campaigner Peter Karamoskos goes further, dismissing a
‘dishonest fantasy’ perpetuated by the pro-nuclear lobby.

Thorium cannot in itself power a reactor; unlike natural uranium, it
does not contain enough fissile material to initiate a nuclear chain
reaction. As a result it must first be bombarded with neutrons to
produce the highly radioactive isotope uranium-233 – ‘so these are
really U-233 reactors,’ says Karamoskos.

This isotope is more hazardous than the U-235 used in conventional reactors, he adds, because it produces U-232 as a side effect (half life: 160,000 years), on top of familiar fission by-products such as
technetium-99 (half life: up to 300,000 years) and iodine-129 (half
life: 15.7 million years).

Add in actinides such as protactinium-231
(half life: 33,000 years) and it soon becomes apparent that thorium’s
superficial cleanliness will still depend on digging some pretty deep
holes to bury the highly radioactive waste.

Thorium for the UK?

With billions of pounds already spent on nuclear research, reactor
construction and decommissioning costs – dwarfing commitments to
renewables – and proposed reform of the UK electricity markets
apparently hiding subsidies to the nuclear industry, the thorium dream
is considered by many to be a dangerous
diversion……http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/952238/dont_believe_the_spin_on_thorium_being_a_greener_nuclear_option.htm

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