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The Future of Nuclear Energy is the...

Wallstreetatheist
Posts: 7,132
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1/12/2013 2:13:01 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

With the recent scares and bans on nuclear energy, as seen in Japan and Germany, it"s hard to wonder if there"s a safer, better alternative to replace them. Well, there is: its called thorium, an abundant element (much more so than uranium!) that gives cleaner waste products, and runs with no risk of melting down! Thorium can produce energy through a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), which are currently being tested; uranium plants have had a 50 year head-start and we have just recently began bridging the technological gap.

LFTR is a type of molten salt reactor (MSR). Some of the earliest MSRs were aircraft reactor experiments, to make nuclear powered bombers. Originally, submarine reactors were to be used, but they were not viable. A different design was required, thus research into MSRs began. Scientists searched for a way to cool the reactors quickly; water could not cool at the speed necessary. In the early 50s, research into liquid fluoride began at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to cool the reactors. Results were positive, and the Aircraft Reactors Experiment (ARE) went online in 1954.

However, the reactors were deemed inefficient by the military, but could still be used in thermal breeder reactors. By 1961, design and construction began on MSRs. Zirconium and uranium tetrafluorides were dissolved into lithium7-beryllium fluoride solvent and used in these experiments, which proved to be successful. The United States Atomic Energy Commission was not interested though, so support for MSRs faded. Now, LFTR is being researched privately across the globe, except in China, where research is government funded.

On a functional level, LFTR"s employ a thorium fuel cycle to produce fissile material, undergoing nuclear fission for power generation. In a thorium fuel cycle, thorium-232 is used as fertile material, and must be transmuted into fissile uranium 233 to initiate nuclear fission. Natural thorium-232 only has trace amount of fissile material, which is why this technique is used. LFTR is a breeder reactor that breeds uranium-233 through neutron-capture. After neutron-capture, the thorium-232 undergoes radioactive decay to produce uranium 233. This fuel cycle is far more advantageous than a uranium fuel cycle, because of throium"s superior nuclean and chemical properties. Thorium is also much more abundant, and is in a single isotope, so it does not require isotope separation.

Since a LFTR operates at a high temperature, its thermal efficiency of 45% is higher than other power reactors. LFTR can be paired with either the Rankine cycle or Brayton cycle, too. The Rankine cycle takes advantage of the high operating temperatures, resulting in increased steam temperature, improving thermal efficiency. The Brayton cycle, compresses working gas to high pressures to take advantage of the expansion to extract energy.

The waste from the reactors are not as dangerous or harmful as uranium reactors too, but cannot be weaponized; hence, they were not popular when development began (which is why uranium plants have a 50 year head-start). The products from a LFTR can also be used in other industries. Moreover, LFTR has a small generator footprint on the environment. Lastly, and most importantly, a thorium reactor is at no risk of meltdown: if the reaction goes critical, the reactant expands and the reaction slows down. Therefore, they don"t require active systems to stop meltdowns.

Since it was shown in the past the MSRs were highly successful with fluoride, they are definitely viable. But, uranium plants have a 50-year head-start because of their weaponizable products; now, the time gap is being bridged to introduce thorium reactors. Currently, Flibe Energy is working on LFTR research in the US, and not only wants to use them for energy, but also have plans to use LFTR for desalination, district heating, hydrogen production, synthetic fuel production, and more. Flibe Energy hopes to have a utility reactor by 2021.
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malcolmxy
Posts: 2,855
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1/12/2013 10:35:35 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Every Thorium plant I'd ever heard of still required Uranium.

I like it because the waste that is produced is easily vitrified, so that's cool, but it has been out there for a while, and I hear about it every so often, and it's always "gonna happen by ______" and then then next time I hear it, it's 5 years past the last date I heard.

I like the harvesting CO2 thing, but despite what he said, we will run out of it eventually. Might take a while (I've always heard we got @2000 years worth in America), but "we'll never run out" was heard often when we 1st started using oil. I'm not positive, but I think they might have spoken a bit too soon on that one.

I hope it works out. I've been waiting for a Thorium plant for decade.
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bossyburrito
Posts: 14,075
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1/13/2013 8:06:44 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 1/13/2013 7:05:06 PM, FREEDO wrote:
Zombie generators.

/rest case

A house with outward facing treadmills which harvest energy.
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Ramshutu
Posts: 4,063
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1/14/2013 5:42:04 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I really love the idea of LFTRs, the really horrible thing is that there is practically no research going into them, even though the ooncept is fairly well proven and the technology is pretty much available.

At 1/12/2013 10:35:35 PM, malcolmxy wrote:
Every Thorium plant I'd ever heard of still required Uranium.

Thorium isn't used as the fissile matieral, but when Thorium 232 captures a neutron to Thorium 233, it can Beta decay into Uranium 233 which can be used as a fissile material (but incidentally cannot be used easily in nuclear weapons).

But saying that, existing breeder reactors use a combination of thorium and uranium. LFTR and others are better technologies, but more expensive. PWR's are relatively cheap but in a way more complex, than types of MSRs. The benefit is fuel price and safety really; outlay capital is a massive downside.

Nuclear Engineering is one of my favorite subjects :)
Ore_Ele
Posts: 25,980
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1/14/2013 9:07:55 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Finally a science topic that I actually feel worthwhile discussing (and that isn't a rouse for a religious debate).

Molten Salt Reactors are one of my favorites when it comes to the future of nuclear energy, however, there are concerns that should be addressed (these concerns vary based on the nations using MSRs). It was said that the waste could not be used to weaponize, but this is not accurate. MSRs produce a large amount of Tritium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons (and more devastating weapons than what Uranium or Plutonium can makes).

But apart from that, they only need to catch up technologically. One of their main benefits is that they can be much smaller, and so they would not be limited to large population and large energy consumption areas. This allows tiny power plants (as big as just a large home or small office building) to be much closer to lower population areas, helping with the cost of transporting power across large distances.
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DirkBergurk
Posts: 32
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1/16/2013 11:53:25 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 1/14/2013 9:07:55 PM, Ore_Ele wrote:
It was said that the waste could not be used to weaponize, but this is not accurate. MSRs produce a large amount of Tritium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons (and more devastating weapons than what Uranium or Plutonium can makes).

While true, I would argue that tritium itself is pretty useless from a weapons standpoint without some sort of fissile trigger. From what I understand, all fusion related bombs use some sort of fission primary. So I would argue that the waste is quite proliferation resistant. Are there any other types of weapons that do not? I would also add that some Pu is almost undoubtedly created, although the quantities must be quite small.

With regard to the OP, I think that more research into MSRs is a great thing and they certainly do have some advantages. I am especially fond of Thorium, and I think some countries like India are heavily pursuing their own Thorium fleet of plants (although with heavy water). However, MSRs, like every other type of nuclear power plant, have some drawbacks. The wiki page on these reactors lists quite a few engineering challenges. I think just dealing with the FLiBe is a major headache. Not to mention the large tritium production as Ore_Ele mentioned, which has been a publicity nightmare for some fission plants like Vermont Yankee.

http://en.wikipedia.org...
Ore_Ele
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1/17/2013 12:37:19 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 1/16/2013 11:53:25 PM, DirkBergurk wrote:
At 1/14/2013 9:07:55 PM, Ore_Ele wrote:
It was said that the waste could not be used to weaponize, but this is not accurate. MSRs produce a large amount of Tritium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons (and more devastating weapons than what Uranium or Plutonium can makes).

While true, I would argue that tritium itself is pretty useless from a weapons standpoint without some sort of fissile trigger. From what I understand, all fusion related bombs use some sort of fission primary. So I would argue that the waste is quite proliferation resistant. Are there any other types of weapons that do not? I would also add that some Pu is almost undoubtedly created, although the quantities must be quite small.

With regard to the OP, I think that more research into MSRs is a great thing and they certainly do have some advantages. I am especially fond of Thorium, and I think some countries like India are heavily pursuing their own Thorium fleet of plants (although with heavy water). However, MSRs, like every other type of nuclear power plant, have some drawbacks. The wiki page on these reactors lists quite a few engineering challenges. I think just dealing with the FLiBe is a major headache. Not to mention the large tritium production as Ore_Ele mentioned, which has been a publicity nightmare for some fission plants like Vermont Yankee.

http://en.wikipedia.org...

Though, in reality to fear stirred up by nuclear waste leaks is vastly overplayed. Apart from Chernobyl (which would never have happened to a US reactor even in the 80's, let alone today), the death and damage from them is zip in the US and I believe world wide.

Heck, even in Japan at Fukushima, after the meltdown there were stories of brave people going on basic suicide mission to help clean up [1][2] only to find out now, almost 2 years later we find that none are dead or have cancer as related to their work. Other such famous incidents, like 3 mile island, no one died, no one got cancer form it.

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com...
[2] http://www.newsmax.com...'SuicideMission-/2011/03/16/id/389673

As for the tritium, yes, all fusion bombs require a fission trigger, however, with 1/10 the fission material, you can create 100x explosion, so more danerious weapons can be produced faster. Also, with more potent material, you can get the same bang out of a smaller bomb. We've been able to create nuclear missiles that are fired from fighter planes (and ever a personal rocket launcher, but that was just for giggles).

I think the only reason that the Lithium mixture is tough to deal with is a lack of experience. It really isn't any more complex than dealing with enriching uranium.

On the plus side, this does create a gateway for getting into more fusion power plants as tritium is the primary fuel for many designs and if one power plant's waste can be another's fuel, then that is good for all.
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DirkBergurk
Posts: 32
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1/17/2013 8:54:55 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 1/17/2013 12:37:19 AM, Ore_Ele wrote:
At 1/16/2013 11:53:25 PM, DirkBergurk wrote:
At 1/14/2013 9:07:55 PM, Ore_Ele wrote:
It was said that the waste could not be used to weaponize, but this is not accurate. MSRs produce a large amount of Tritium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons (and more devastating weapons than what Uranium or Plutonium can makes).

While true, I would argue that tritium itself is pretty useless from a weapons standpoint without some sort of fissile trigger. From what I understand, all fusion related bombs use some sort of fission primary. So I would argue that the waste is quite proliferation resistant. Are there any other types of weapons that do not? I would also add that some Pu is almost undoubtedly created, although the quantities must be quite small.

With regard to the OP, I think that more research into MSRs is a great thing and they certainly do have some advantages. I am especially fond of Thorium, and I think some countries like India are heavily pursuing their own Thorium fleet of plants (although with heavy water). However, MSRs, like every other type of nuclear power plant, have some drawbacks. The wiki page on these reactors lists quite a few engineering challenges. I think just dealing with the FLiBe is a major headache. Not to mention the large tritium production as Ore_Ele mentioned, which has been a publicity nightmare for some fission plants like Vermont Yankee.

http://en.wikipedia.org...

Though, in reality to fear stirred up by nuclear waste leaks is vastly overplayed. Apart from Chernobyl (which would never have happened to a US reactor even in the 80's, let alone today), the death and damage from them is zip in the US and I believe world wide.

Heck, even in Japan at Fukushima, after the meltdown there were stories of brave people going on basic suicide mission to help clean up [1][2] only to find out now, almost 2 years later we find that none are dead or have cancer as related to their work. Other such famous incidents, like 3 mile island, no one died, no one got cancer form it.

True. Most are vastly overplayed. However, it is hard to say conclusively that damage from them is zip since they do release radioactive material from time to time, and the effect of small doses of radiation is still unknown (likely to remain that way for a long time). Still, the radioactive releases are still smaller than what is released from hospitals and coal plants. Something that the vast majority of people don't realize.

On a side note, I believe the NRC calculates finite probabilities of 'Chernobyl-type accident.' They are obviously low, but they definitely exist. It is certainly not impossible. Take for example the Davis-Bessie Nuclear Power Plant in 2002. There the staff discovered serious corrosion in the reactor vessel head that if gone unnoticed for much longer would have resulted in a LOCA and quite possibly a very serious accident far worse than TMI.

http://en.wikipedia.org...


[1] http://www.cbsnews.com...
[2] http://www.newsmax.com...'SuicideMission-/2011/03/16/id/389673

As for the tritium, yes, all fusion bombs require a fission trigger, however, with 1/10 the fission material, you can create 100x explosion, so more danerious weapons can be produced faster. Also, with more potent material, you can get the same bang out of a smaller bomb. We've been able to create nuclear missiles that are fired from fighter planes (and ever a personal rocket launcher, but that was just for giggles).

Lol at rocket launcher. Only in America...

As far as the tritium goes, let's assume a terrorist was able to acquire enough fissile material to make a weapon. The way I see it is that he has two choices: use the fissile material to make a fission bomb or try and increase the yield by creating a fusion bomb. It is far more simple to create a fission bomb, so I would imagine a terrorist wouldn't bother with a fusion since the psychological effect of a nuclear weapon would likely be his main purpose. However, even if he did decide to create a fusion weapon, why would he bother to raid a LFTR reprocessing facility to obtain possibly pure tritium (which will likely be heavily guarded). He would most likely just use lithium which is more easily obtainable and easier to work with though it may require some chemistry. It is for these reasons I say the tritium poses no real threat.


I think the only reason that the Lithium mixture is tough to deal with is a lack of experience. It really isn't any more complex than dealing with enriching uranium.

I suppose uranium hexafluoride isn't pleasant either, but the Be in FLiBe is nasty stuff too. It certainly would be possible to work with, but unpleasant.


On the plus side, this does create a gateway for getting into more fusion power plants as tritium is the primary fuel for many designs and if one power plant's waste can be another's fuel, then that is good for all.

I agree with this sentiment. A ready supply of tritium will be needed to start fusion reactors until they are able to breed their own reliably on site. Still tritium has a half life of 12.3 years, and we are still a good 60+ years from commercial fusion.
Greyparrot
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1/17/2013 10:44:17 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 1/14/2013 9:07:55 PM, Ore_Ele wrote:
Finally a science topic that I actually feel worthwhile discussing (and that isn't a rouse for a religious debate).
: Molten Salt Reactors are one of my favorites when it comes to the future of nuclear energy, however, there are concerns that should be addressed (these concerns vary based on the nations using MSRs). It was said that the waste could not be used to weaponize, but this is not accurate. MSRs produce a large amount of Tritium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons (and more devastating weapons than what Uranium or Plutonium can makes).

But apart from that, they only need to catch up technologically. One of their main benefits is that they can be much smaller, and so they would not be limited to large population and large energy consumption areas. This allows tiny power plants (as big as just a large home or small office building) to be much closer to lower population areas, helping with the cost of transporting power across large distances.

Psalm 111:2
tmar19652
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1/18/2013 4:55:19 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
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