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The Forum > Article Comments > Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors? > Comments

Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors? : Comments

By Noel Wauchope, published 23/5/2017

Australia is presently considering signing up to the International Framework for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF), which will commit this nation to take part in developing new nuclear reactors.

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Before long it will be realised that there is no easy alternative to coal. The cost of subsidies for intermittent generation plus increasingly expensive gas backup will be burdensome. Batteries won't scale up and emissions will remain very high by world standards. By the 2030s Australia will want to install numbers of small modular reactors on sites like Hazelwood. The light water SMRs will use overseas enriched uranium but the spent fuel rods will still contain 90% of the original potential fission energy.

That's where 4th generation nuclear comes in to extract useful material from the fuel rods. After reprocessing unusable material can be stashed down a hole in the outback. The new reactors may also directly use thorium and unenriched uranium. As to what type of reactor is hard to say. Russia's Beloyarsk 4 is going well which is a fast neutron type nearly ready for commercialisation. There are also molten salt and pebble bed designs (the latter suited to industrial heat or hydrogen) which may seek approval for repeat production.

One of the criticisms of nuclear is indirect fossil fuel use in mining and enrichment. An energy saving laser enrichment process spun off from ANSTO is now being used in the US. Since Australia has the world's largest uranium deposits we should be involved in the nuclear fuel cycle as a custodian and developer.
Posted by Taswegian, Tuesday, 23 May 2017 9:41:27 AM
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Yes, we should at least look and without prejudgment or preexisting bias.

The only future that includes essential development and growth in a carbon constrained economy, is a carbon free one. We could, if blessed with countless reliable mountain streams take a leaf from Switzerland's book and replace aging power station with wind, solar and hydro.

And doable given their available reliable water resources. They're taking that road so they can decommission aging nuclear plants.

We still have some water resources we might use, if that didn't include flooding valuable forests (Franklin) and farmland (Mary river) etc.

Yes we could and should look at nuclear, given no other viable sustainable reliable industrial option beckons? However, we need to ensure it's based on thorium. And for numerous reasons, some of which I'll outline.

The first being, thorium is fertile not fissile, which means unlike fissile material, it can't be compressed to create a nuclear explosion (bomb). While the reaction does of necessity produce more neutrons than it consumes, which as in all nuclear reactions, produces lethal gamma radiation. Fifties technology, abandoned for one reason, no weapons spin off!

The reaction is only possible inside a graphite core and like xray's which also produce gamma radiation, adequate shielding, prevents this from creating health risks for workers. And assured with worn radiation tags and Geiger counters.

Given we would follow current expertise, we would only consider LFTRS. Otherwise know as walk away safe, molten salt reactors. Which use non fissile thorium as the fuel, and then tasked with burning up current nuclear waste stockpiles and weapons grade plutonium.

Molten salt means, they can operate at atmospheric pressure, given the boiling point of the fluoride salt is somewhere north of 1200 C and the useful heat we'd want to employ is south of 1000 C. Meaning no containment vessel would be necessary or required.

Had these been employed at Chernobyl or Fukushima, they'd very likely be safely percolating away creating "green" energy.
TBC Alan B.
Posted by Alan B., Tuesday, 23 May 2017 10:38:12 AM
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It makes more sense than sending good money after bad to crooks flogging windmills and solar panels. The former are reaching their use by dates (fabulously expensive to replace) and the mugs who fell for the solar panel con are finding out that their panels need regular, expensive cleaning to be efficient. In SA, the winter is approaching less sun and high winds are coming to stop the windmills turning. Regular blackouts are on the way again.
Posted by ttbn, Tuesday, 23 May 2017 11:23:27 AM
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What other benefits can we gain from nuclear technology? Well the heat produced is enough to use it for the catalytic cracking of the water molecule to produce endlessly sustainable hydrogen as future very low cost fuel.

It also allows Co2 to be economically extracted from water, compressed into a liquid, which combined with liquid hydrogen produces liquid hydrocarbons. Molten salt allows miracle cure medical isotopes to be extracted from the reactor, without time consuming shut downs, and essential when the best of these has a half life of just 66 hours.

Folk need to understand these thing rely exclusively on safe alpha radiation, not lethal gamma radiation.

Thorium is as abundant as lead and given its longer half life, three times more abundant than uranium.

They can be mass produced and used wherever we want, with or without water.

All the costs are upfront. Why the security guard out front costs more than the fuel, which in it natural state, is less radioactive than a banana and requires no expensive enrichment before being available as fuel.

We have enough in our dirt to power the world for a thousand years and thousands more if we mine igneous rock!

Even when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow. And because they lend themselves to mass production, means energy deployed anywhere. Grid or no grid.

Finally, safest industrial energy option dovetails into vastly less costly new space age desalination, producing 90% potable water from sea water.

Meaning, with this vastly cheaper, clearer, safer energy, coupled to space age desalination, we can not only make our arid deserts bloom/reverse desertification, but drought proof this wide brown land for ourselves and countless generations to follow.

And as we do so, create a template other nations can follow and employ to reverse poverty, famine and drought related dislocation and conflict.

Strange but true Noel, some so called "green activists" don't want this, even as around 50% of their number have converted to thorium energy? As arguably the only viable/affordable option to fossil fuel!
Alan B
Posted by Alan B., Tuesday, 23 May 2017 11:31:02 AM
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We invented pulsed laser light enrichment, we could create fuel rods, which we could lease and take back to reprocess, time and again, as you rightly say Tas, still with around 0% of the available energy still locked inside them.

Until 85%+ is extracted as free energy and the half life is reduced to around 300 years. Then bury it in an already irradiated uninhabited island!

Sell enriched uranium to folks to use it in vastly safer Gen 1V reactors?

Why they would, when vastly cheaper safer cleaner more abundant thorium beckons to be deployed, given thorium gives everything fusion promised but hasn't delivered, is beyond comprehension.

I commend two required reading tasks, Super Fuel subtitled, green energy, and a PDF.

Alternatively suggest U tube, where if you persist with thorium as the topic, you will find an extremely interesting, highly informative, short talk by the highly acclaimed Author of Super Fuel, subtitled, green energy. And finishes with an equally informative and interesting Q+A session.

Most if not all our coal fired power stations will need to be decommissioned in around ten years; arguably, enough lead time to work up a practical, mass produced, safe clean thorium based reactor. Be it a fast or slow multipurpose, fast or slow breeder.

Kirk Sorensen, who built space deplorable energy options for NASA, is on the public record as saying he could build one, now today, for around 1 billion.

Given the current cost of building a coal fired, clean coal or solar thermal option, varies between 2.5-5 billion. It's an option we with our modest resources could look at, as opposed to spending around three times that pushing water uphill, with vastly more expensive than thorium, OP coal fired power?

Who are we looking after with that policy, we Aussies or debt laden, tax avoiding, profit repatriating, price gouging, foreign nationals?
Cheers, Alan B.
Posted by Alan B., Tuesday, 23 May 2017 12:40:36 PM
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Apologies and correction, the other, ( coal fired) [Ecuadorian bound,] user currently employing my computer, without my consent, has created a typo, which is the only one I missed? with the obligatory review.

And should be read as "ninety percent" instead of 0% in the opening paragraph, which would be and is scientific nonsense.

And has therefore used up my daily posting allowance. Unless I cleverly continue on another thread? Which would be his/her strategy?

However, given I can't add much, may chose another time and place.
Alan B.
Posted by Alan B., Tuesday, 23 May 2017 12:57:37 PM
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