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The Forum > Article Comments > Clean electricity, cheap electricity, safe electricity > Comments

Clean electricity, cheap electricity, safe electricity : Comments

By Alex Goodwin, published 23/12/2009

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor can save on carbon emissions, produce electricity and desalinate water.

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I don't think Australia is big enough to pioneer new nuclear technology; even the locally invented SILEX enrichment process is first being used in the US. Moreover the signs are that liquid metal fast reactors will be ready before molten salt thorium reactors. I also disagree that we should use the heat exchangers and turbines on existing coal stations. They should be secure new squeaky clean sites. Desalination would be done most cheaply using multiflash distillation as part of the reactor's external cooling system. Some membrane (reverse osmosis) could be done for water 'polishing' but it uses a lot of electricity as ratepayers are now finding out. Coal should be left in the ground, not exported, not upgraded, not burned anywhere.

Putting those objections together I still see a niche for thorium reactors down the track. Australia should build several current generation reactors (eg the Westinghouse AP1000) on coastal sites not too far out of the major cities. They should incorporate MF desal with the water pumped to city reservoirs or mixing stations. Those sites would have sufficient acreage to expand to include a next generation nuclear power station next door. If that was liquid metal technology it could reprocess the waste from the current generation plant. If it was thorium that pre-existing waste could still be used elsewhere. Either way that waste will be vastly smaller and with less unshielded radioactivity than the millions of tonnes of dust and CO2 now spewing out of coal stations.
Posted by Taswegian, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 8:55:47 AM
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Taswegian,

If you think something that had the guts of it proved out in 1968, in the US, is "new", what do you count as "old"?

You appear to have confused RO for membrane distillation - as you say, RO does use electricity (not as much with pressure recovery, but still a fair bit). Membrane distillation, on the other hand, I picked because of its ability to operate with low-temp hot sides and need for vast quantities of waste heat in its operation, as a supercritical CO2 (oh, the irony!) gas turbine would reject in a new-plant setup.

However, for a higher heat rejection temp, I do see your point about a combined cycle desalination system - MF off the top, then MD to grab some of the rest and use up more waste heat. Wish I'd thought of that.

As for coal, you are of course entitled to your opinion, but I am no genius, doing the impossible thrice before breakfast without turning a hair. How quickly would coal's objection to nuclear evaporate if it was in their interests to roll out LFTR cores ASAP?

LFTR isn't big - its core is smaller than sodium-cooled reactors of equivalent power output, and needs no pressure-tight containment. The MSR mentioned in Cassino et al's work is rated at 100 MW electrical, the same as the cores I have been advocating, with perhaps half the underground volume. The only reason to need large exclusion zones like with current reactors would be regulatory demand.

If we go your route, the half-used, recyclable fuel from AP1000 or the like can actually serve as the spark plug - 10 kilos of non-U heavy metal per tonne of recyclable fuel is what takes so darn long to decay. Burn it up in the co-located LFTR under your proposal, and the problem goes away - the uranium can be recovered for reuse, and the residual ash can then be partitioned and on-sold.
Posted by Alex Goodwin, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 10:16:56 AM
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Thankyou to both the author and Taswegian. It was so nice to read something by somebody who knows science and a response from another person who is also very knowledgeable re nuclear issues. After all of the bleating for solar panels and wind farms it was a pleasure to read this article. The discussion is purely about which nuclear method is preferable, not whether we should go nuclear at all.

Sadly we all know that Australia/Australians are hopelessly stuck in a mind set that 'thinks' that anything to do with newkeullar is axiomatically bad. I see little chance that we will grow up anytime soon.

I knew about Thorium reactors some years ago and they seemed to have real promise but cost was seen as a major isssue. I did not know much about modern methods so this article and the link to scientific detail is very interesting indeed.

It is to be hoped that a few people at least will read the article and, if they can manage it, think about nuclear systems as a real viable option today.

Well, I'm allowed to hope!
Posted by eyejaw, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 4:17:05 PM
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Gentlemens,
I've read a little about thorium reactors and by no means am I a scientist.

So far I've read the piece and some parts of the 50+ page document.
As a citizen, at least one who is prepared to learn, I'm wondering if you can calm my fears of radioactivity of thorium. While the physical amount is comparatively small my concern is it's half life and it's toxicity bothers from minute amounts, bother me no end.

Perhaps, you can explain to me how this is not going to end up as a need to dump 'low level' (sic) waste products once the myriad of units have been decommissioned. It is the disposal/storage of waste dead bits that bother me.
Notwithstanding I tend to agree with the author that the solution isn't with big anything rather a decentralised mix of options.
Clearly on the surface this seems like something requiring much closer examination.

Particularly since coal isn't going to go away and big reactors frighten the bejesus out of me on several levels, not least that they require big corps to operate and this leads to unhealthy domination of governments.

Can you please explain or direct me to readable/accessible literature commensurate with my limited nuke science abilities e.g."idiots guide to Thorium reactors" or "simple answers for 100 dumb questions about thorium reactors".
Posted by examinator, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 7:07:14 PM
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examinator there is the US website http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/ or perhaps http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/
However Australia's Barry Brook prefers a different approach to 4th generation nuclear http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/29/ifr-fad-1/
Posted by Taswegian, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 7:32:23 PM
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Ah, the assumed simplicity of it all: A corralling of complexity; public-private-projects fogged by constraint of information due to confidentiality; the trend toward lessened expertise within Governments in regard to adequate oversight of contractors in complex industries; the bucketing of funding into concentrated areas of energy supply.
The latest generation nuclear power generating systems thorium based or otherwise - may very well be kosher: Let the industry prove it at their own expense enough subsidies have already been thrown their way over the past half-century. Let them give adequate (can they?) guarantee that, in addition to other concerns, liquid metal cooling can have adequate supervision, continuously that no-one will idly piddle onto a block of sodium.
While they are addressing that task, let us put our resources into the numerous alternatives begging for a fair go.
Posted by colinsett, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 9:14:07 PM
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