Scrutinising the claims of the thorium nuclear lobby

Don’t Jump on The Thorium Bandwagon – It’s Not Green, Not Viable, And Not The Answer To Our Energy Problems Prevent Disease.comNov 10, 2013 by KELLEY BERGMAN

“………Numerous claims of advantages for thorium as a nuclear fuel and for LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) design have been made over conventional solid fuel reactors.

Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Claim: thorium reactors do not produce plutonium, and so create little or no proliferation hazard.

Response
: a LFTR could be adapted to produce plutonium of a high purity well above normal weapons-grade, presenting a major proliferation hazard. Beyond that, the main proliferation hazards arise from:

  • the need for fissile material (plutonium or uranium) to initiate the thorium fuel cycle, which could be diverted, and
  • the production of fissile uranium 233U.Claim: the fissile uranium (233U) produced by thorium reactors is not “weaponisable” owing to the presence of highly radiotoxic 232U as a contaminant. Response: 233U was successfully used in a 1955 bomb test in the Nevada Desert under the USA’s Operation Teapot and so is clearly weaponisable notwithstanding any 232U present.


Safety

Claim: LFTRs are intrinsically safe, because the reactor operates at low pressure and is and incapable of melting down.

Response
: the design of molten salt reactors does indeed mitigate against reactor meltdown and explosion. However, in an LFTR the main danger has been shifted from the reactor to the on-site continuous fuel reprocessing operation — a high temperature process involving highly hazardous, explosive and intensely radioactive materials. A further serious hazard lies in the potential failure of the materials used for reactor and fuel containment in a highly corrosive chemical environment, under intense neutron and other radiation.


State of Technology

Claim: the technology is already proven.

Response
: important elements of the LFTR technology were proven during the 1970s Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, this was a small research reactor rated at just 7MW and there are huge technical and engineering challenges in scaling up this experimental design to make a ‘production’ reactor. Specific challenges include:

  • developing materials that can both resist corrosion by liquid fluoride salts including diverse fission products, and withstand decades of intense neutron radiation;
  • scaling up fuel reprocessing techniques to deal safely and reliably with large volumes of highly radioactive material at very high temperature;
  • keeping radioactive releases from the reprocessing operation to an acceptably low level;
  • achieving a full understanding of the thorium fuel cycle.


Nuclear Waste

Claim: LFTRs produce far less nuclear waste than conventional solid fuel reactors.
Response: LFTRs are theoretically capable of a high fuel burn-up rate, but while this may indeed reduce the volume of waste, the waste is more radioactive due to the higher volume of radioactive fission products. The continuous fuel reprocessing that is characteristic of LFTRs will also produce hazardous chemical and radioactive waste streams, and releases to the environment will be unavoidable.

Claim: Liquid fluoride thorium reactors generate no high-level waste material.
Response: This claim, although made in the report from the House of Lords, has no basis in fact. High-level waste is an unavoidable product of nuclear fission. Spent fuel from any LFTR will be intensely radioactive and constitute high level waste. The reactor itself, at the end of its lifetime, will constitute high level waste.

Claim: the waste from LFTRs contains very few long-lived isotopes, in particular transuranic actinides such as plutonium.
Response: the thorium fuel cycle does indeed produce very low volumes of plutonium and other long-lived actinides so long as only thorium and 233U are used as fuel. However, the waste contains many radioactive fission products and will remain dangerous for many hundreds of years. A particular hazard is the production of 232U, with its highly radio-toxic decay chain.

Claim: LFTRs can ‘burn up’ high level waste from conventional nuclear reactors, and stockpiles of plutonium.
Response: if LFTRs are used to ‘burn up’ waste from conventional reactors, their fuel now comprises 238U, 235U, 239Pu, 240Pu and other actinides. Operated in this way, what is now a mixed-fuel molten salt reactor will breed plutonium (from 238U) and other long lived actinides, perpetuating the plutonium cycle.

What Can You Do? 

Spread the word about Sardinia. More information is available athttps://docs.google.com/open?id=0B-F67wRS5N7sR3hYMl9id0xkNWs where the original 7500-word research document is stored.

Contact your congressional representatives and demand the closure of the Sardinia NATO bases.

Do we really want another polluting energy source with high-level waste which is non-renewable and highly carcinogenic? Before jumping on the thorium bandwagon, please share this information, do your own research and think twice before spreading the hundreds of myths (not facts) about this very dangerous alternative to uranium.

Sources:
nuclearfreeplanet.org
nonukes.it
industrytap.com
envirosagainstwar.org

Kelley Bergman is a media consultant, critic and geopolitical investigator. She has worked as a journalist and writer, specializing in geostrategic issues around the globe.http://preventdisease.com/news/13/111013_Dont-Jump-on-The-Thorium-Bandwagon-Not-Green-Not-Viable-Not-The-Answer.shtml

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