Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.

http://kevinmeyerson.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/thorium-nuclear-bombs-short-version/  May 7, 2012

Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.

You don’t have to trust me on this, see what the experts at various institutions have to say below:

MIT Energy Initiative, The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Appendix A starts on page 181 of the Appendices PDF file. The relevant statement from MIT is:

  • Proliferation And Security Groundrules:
    Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. Policy decisions on appropriate ground rules are required before devoting significant resources toward such fuel cycles. U-233 can be treated two ways.
  • Analogous to U-235. If the U-235 content of uranium is less than 20% U-235 or less than 13% U-233 with the remainder being U-238, the uranium mixture is non-weapons material. However, isotopic dilution in U-238 can significantly compromise many of the benefits.
  • Analogous to plutonium. Plutonium can not be degraded thus enhanced safeguards are used. The same strategy can be used with U-233. A complicating factor (see below) is that U-233 is always contaminated with U-232 that has decay products that give off high energy gamma radiation which requires additional measures to protect worker health and safety. There has been no consensus on the safeguards / nonproliferation benefits of this radiation field.

The point being made here is that thorium can be used to make Uranium-233, which in turn can be used to make bombs. The complicating U-232 contamination mentioned above is what many of the thorium proponents refer to as making thorium resistant to proliferation. MIT has more to say about this proliferation protection in their summary:

On one hand, high radiation dose [from U-232 decay] provides self protection to separated fissile material against diversion and misuse. On the other hand, it makes the U-233 recycling more complex and costly.

The point here is that the U-233 is in fact subject to ‘diversion and misuse’ (like atomic bombs) if it can be separated out from the highly radioactive U-232 contaminants. If the U-232 is not somehow processed out, however, there is no way to operate the reactor for peaceful purposes, or otherwise.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Filtering contaminants out of thorium bred U-233 to make weapons grade fissile material is not rocket science. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) created a process to do this. They kindly wrote about it in a history included in the ORNL Review publication (search the long page for the words “THOREX” or “Uranium-233″):………..

Tax-payers in USA and China to cough up for Thorium nuclear reactors, (that have military uses)

 

SPECIAL REPORT-The U.S. government lab behind China’s nuclear power push Dec 20, 2013  Dec 20 (Reuters) – Scientists in Shanghai are attempting a breakthrough in nuclear energy: reactors powered by thorium, an alternative to uranium.

The project is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a government body with close military ties that coordinates the country’s science-and-technology strategy. The academy has designated thorium as a priority for China’s top laboratories. The program has a budget of $350 million. And it’s being spearheaded by the influential son of a former Chinese president.

But even as China bulks up its military muscle through means ranging from espionage to heavy spending, it is pursuing this aspect of its technology game plan with the blessing – and the help – of the United States.

China has enlisted a storied partner for its thorium push: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The U.S. government institute produced the plutonium used for the Manhattan Project and laid important groundwork for the commercial and military use of nuclear power.

The Tennessee lab, as it happens, helped pioneer thorium reactors. ……..

Thorium’s chief allure is that it is a potentially far safer fuel for civilian power plants than is uranium. But the element also has possible military applications as an energy source in naval vessels. A U.S. congressman unsuccessfully sought to push the Pentagon to embrace the technology in 2009, and British naval officers are recommending a design for a thorium-fueled ship.

In a further twist, despite the mounting strategic rivalry with China, there has been little or no protest in the United States over Oak Ridge’s nuclear-energy cooperation with China……..

Although it does not yield byproducts that can be readily used to make weapons, thorium does have military applications.

The fuel could be used to power Chinese navy surface warships, including a planned fleet of aircraft carriers. China’s nuclear submarine fleet has struggled with reactor reliability and safety, according to naval commentators, and thorium could eventually become an alternative.

Top British naval engineers last year proposed a design for a thorium reactor to power warships. Compact thorium power plants could also be used to supply reliable power to military bases and expeditionary forces.

Thorium also has military potential for the United States, experts say………

An electrical engineer trained at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Jiang told a conference on thorium in Shanghai last year China’s thorium project “is 100 percent financed by the central government.”…..

More about the weapons proliferation risks of Thorium nuclear reactors

 

 just 1.6 tonnes of thorium metal would be enough to produce 8kg of uranium-233 which is the minimum amount required for a nuclear weapon.

 ”Small-scale chemical reprocessing of irradiated thorium can create an isotope of uranium – uranium-233 – that could be used in nuclear weapons. If nothing else, this raises a serious proliferation concern.”

Thorium: Proliferation warnings on nuclear ‘wonder-fuel’ , Phys Org, December 5, 2012Thorium is being touted as an ideal fuel for a new generation of nuclear power plants, but in a piece in this week’s Nature, researchers suggest it may not be as benign as portrayed.

The element thorium, which many regard as a potential nuclear “wonder-fuel”, could be a greater proliferation threat than previously thought, scientists have warned. Writing in a Comment piece in the new issue of the journal, Nature, nuclear energy specialists from four British universities suggest that, although thorium has been promoted as a superior fuel for future nuclear energy generation, it should not be regarded as inherently proliferation resistant.

The piece highlights ways in which small quantities of uranium-233, a material useable in nuclear weapons, could be produced covertly from thorium, by chemically separating another isotope, protactinium-233, during its formation. The chemical processes that are needed for protactinium separation could possibly be undertaken using standard lab equipment, potentially allowing it to happen in secret, and beyond the oversight of organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the paper says.

The authors note that, from previous experiments to separate protactinium-233, it is feasible that just 1.6 tonnes of thorium metal would be enough to produce 8kg of uranium-233 which is the minimum amount required for a nuclear weapon. Using the process identified in their paper, they add that this could be done “in less than a year.”….. Dr Steve Ashley, from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge and the paper’s lead author, said. “Small-scale chemical reprocessing of irradiated thorium can create an isotope of uranium – uranium-233 – that could be used in nuclear weapons. If nothing else, this raises a serious proliferation concern.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-12-thorium-proliferation-nuclear-wonder-fuel.html#jCp