Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thorium - 21st Century Nuclear Power

Great article in Wired magazine about the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR):

...thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Energy Facts

Go to page three of the report to get to the lists by topic. Here are some of my favorites:

American nuclear decision-making process
2. Radiation treated as more harmful than other biological hazards, such as chemical or biological threats.
3. “Man-made” radiation declared more dangerous than same radiation from natural sources.
5. Nuclear charged up-front for decommissioning, insurance, financial viability, etc.
6. Unique multimillion-dollar licensing process continues despite 50-year, nearly flawless safety record.

American LWR commercial nuclear power plants
3. American commercial nukes have > 90% availability vs. 20-40% for wind or solar. No radiation deaths.
6. Nuclear power is potentially renewable. Enough fuel and “fertile material” to last for many millennia.
8. Peer-reviewed article in Science concludes American nukes cannot create a radiological catastrophe.
9. Yet NRC requires mass evacuation procedures, involving large numbers of people and organizations.
10. Government officials state: Predicting deaths from low-dose radiation is scientifically indefensible.
11. Yet radiation protection practice claims: There’s no safe radiation level; one gamma ray can kill you.

Wind and Solar Energy for the American electric power grid
  • Cannot supply power on demand. Electricity that is not dispatchable is hard to sell, and harder to store.
  • Shut down > 60% of the time, sometimes for long, unpredictable periods, over wide area.
  • Fossil plants backing wind-farms showing increased degradation from unaccustomed power swings.
  • Photovoltaic (PV) systems use highly toxic materials. Must be treated like radwaste, but forever.
  • PV panels on all US south-facing roofs could generate only few % of electrical output from one nuke.
  • Federal subsidies for wind-power total $23 per megawatt hour, vs. $1.59 for nuclear.
  • Federal subsidies for solar power total $24 per megawatt hour, vs. $1.59 for nuclear.
  • These tax-payer subsidies could buy nuclear electricity directly at market cost with money left over.
  • Windmills have reportedly caused 651 accidents, 61 deaths, from blade and ice-throw, fires, etc