Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reactor

Discussion in 'Europe and Russia' started by LETHALFORCE, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Norway ringing in thorium nuclear New Year with Westinghouse at the party | SmartPlanet

    SHANGHAI - A privately held Norwegian company will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reactor owned by Norway’s government with help from U.S.-based nuclear giant Westinghouse, the company revealed here recently.

    The four-year test at Norway’s government owned Halden reactor could help thorium inch closer to replacing uranium as a possible safer and more effective nuclear power source. Many people believe that thorium is superior because it leaves less long- lived dangerous waste, makes it far more difficult to fashion bombs, runs more efficiently, and can be made meltdown proof.

    Oslo-based Thor Energy will deploy a mix of solid thorium mixed with plutonium - a blend known as “thorium MOX” - Thor’s chief technology officer Julian Kelly told the Thorium Energy Conference 2012. I first reported this for the Weinberg Foundation, a London-based non-profit that promotes safe, alternative nuclear power, for whom I covered the conference.

    “We don’t often spend a lot of time being excited in the nuclear industry these days, but this is an exciting thing for us,” Kelly told the conference. “We’re ready to go.”

    The Norwegian town of Halden looks serene. It also looks like the possible future of nuclear power, as its reactor hosts a thorium trial. The "test" reactor provides steam to a nearby paper mill.
    According to some experts, thorium’s advantages are most pronounced in alternative reactor designs such as molten salt reactors and pebble bed reactors, rather than in the conventional solid-fuel, water-cooled reactors in use today.

    But other thorium enthusiasts believe that the best way to assert thorium into the energy scene - and thus help deliver CO2-free power - is to first put it to use in reactors that already have regulatory approval.

    Thor is testing the thorium fuel in a conventional reactor at Halden cooled by “heavy water” - water that contains an isotope of hydrogen called deuterium. (Although Halden is typically described as a “test reactor,” it also provides steam to a nearby paper mill).

    Thor hopes to show that the thorium MOX can operate safely and efficiently in a conventional design.

    PROCESSES WASTE, TOO

    “We expect this experiment to yield data that will be used to demonstrate the safe, long term performance of ceramic thorium MOX fuels, and that this information will directly support the approval of commercial irradiation of such fuels,” Kelly said.

    By including plutonium in the fuel mix, reactors would not only generate power, but they would also eliminate dangerous waste left over from other nuclear operations and thus help address the problem of what to do with that waste. (The uranium community has similar ideas).

    Thor will fabricate some of its own thorium MOX in partnership with Norway’s Institute for Energy Technology. Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory - owned by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change - will also provide some, as will the European Commission’s Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU).

    Westinghouse is helping to fund the project, as are other of Thor’s industrial partners including Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd., a South African company that is developing a thorium-fueled pebble bed reactor. Other partners include Finnish utility Fortum and French chemicals company Rhodia.

    Although Cranberry, Pa-based Westinghouse does not like to discuss its thorium activities publicly - presumably because it could undermine the company’s conventional nuclear business - it has at least a few thorium-connected and alternative nuclear projects in the works.

    Besides the Norwegian test, Westinghouse is the commercial adviser on the U.S. Department of Energy’s collaboration with China on developing a molten-salt cooled reactor, for instance. Westinghouse also helped organize many of the alternative nuclear sessions at the American Nuclear Society confab earlier this month in San Diego.

    Thor Energy is part of a Norwegian technology incubator called Scandinavian Advanced Energy Technology, whose track record includes the spinout of solar firm Renewable Energy Corp
     
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  3. Known_Unknown

    Known_Unknown Devil's Advocate Stars and Ambassadors

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Wasn't India supposed to be the world leader in thorium reactor R&D? I read that Indian scientists had been working on this technology for decades, while those in the west had almost abandoned it because it was unfeasible.

    Or is this going to turn into another useless white elephant like the LCA, Arjun tank etc??
     
  4. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Looks like the Norwegians have joined the race, they are ready to start using Thorium fuel in a reactor.
    The burecratic process in India is the biggest obstacle to progress.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
  5. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    The Thorium burning Kalapakkam Mini Reactor (KAMINI) has been running for a long time, and generates enough power to light a single bulb, and has been generating immense data for the researchers. I think we've had enough of this data, and its about time we pulled the plug on the benefits of these scientists until they come up with a design of a reactor of capacity in the vicinity of 350 MWe.
     
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  6. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    We are also using thorium in a three phase process . I always wondered why we just
    didn't use thorium reactors alone, While the Fast Breeder reactors were being built??
     
  7. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Thorium, just by itself, cannot be burnt. We need to enrich them to fissile levels, IMHO.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong.
     
  8. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Naturally occurring thorium has one isotope- thorium-232. In the DBI reactor, the initial start up fuel mix is a combination of thorium and uranium-235. The uranium acts as the “seed” source of neutrons needed to achieve criticality for the first reactor. This combination of fuels decreases the time and capital required to start the thorium fuel breeding cycle. As the DBI reactor design begins producing electricity, Uranium-233, bred from the Thorium-232, increased core reactivity and power output. Over time, the original uranium-235 is burned up and subsequently the reactor is fuelled only with Thorium-232. Over the life of the DBI reactor design (approx. 60 years), about 3% of the original load mass (thorium only) will be added every 18 months. Depending upon operational choices available with the DBI designs, no or very little additional uranium will be needed. _

    [​IMG]

    http://alfin2300.blogspot.com/2012/02/thorium-reactors-and-fast-breeder.html
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
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  9. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Let me check. Will get back in a bit.
     
  10. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Edited the post gives more details.
     
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  11. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Thorium Cycle in a nutshell (Wiki)

    In the thorium cycle, fuel is formed when [SUP]232[/SUP]Th captures a neutron (whether in a fast reactor or thermal reactor) to become [SUP]233[/SUP]Th. This normally emits an electron and an anti-neutrino (v) by β[SUP]−[/SUP] decay to become [SUP]233[/SUP]Pa. This then emits another electron and anti-neutrino by a second β[SUP]−[/SUP] decay to become [SUP]233[/SUP]U, the fuel:
    [​IMG]

    Source: Thorium fuel cycle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
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  12. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Re: Norway will start burning thorium fuel in a conventional test reac

    Norway Hopes to Develop Thorium Nuclear Power

    Norway Hopes to Develop Thorium Nuclear Power


    Norway holds a resource of 170,000 tonnes of thorium, which amounts to 15% of the world’s total of 1.2 million tonnes. There is far more thorium than that within the earth’s crust all told, averaging 8 ppm compared with around 2.8 ppm for uranium, but the above figures refer to richer ores, most commonly monazite sand which contains up to 12% of thorium. There is some opinion that thorium nuclear power might be a better environmental/energy-strategy for Norway than relying on carbon-capture which many consider to be uneconomic. However, the matter of thorium reactors is not straightforward. Professor Egil Lillestol of Bergen University has been pushing thorium for some years now, and thinks that Norway should set the trend in building a prototype accelerator-driven reactor in which a massive particle accelerator converts thorium-232 to uranium-233 by irradiating it with slow (spallation) neutrons generated by the impact of a 1.6 GeV proton beam on a lead target. The conversion is not direct, and involves the initial formation of thorium-233, which decays rapidly to protactinium-233, and then to uranium-233 over a period of about a month. Hence presumably reprocessing is involved in the final stage, since if the protactinium-233 is left in the reactor it will be at least partly converted to protactinium-234, which is not a useful fissile material.

    It may well turn out that thorium is the better nuclear fuel as compared with uranium, since it offers the advantages that: (1) it is present in around 3 times the abundance of uranium on Earth, overall, (2) it can be bred into the fissile nuclear fuel uranium-233, (3) far less plutonium and other transuranic elements are produced than is the case from uranium fuel, (4) the thorium fuel cycle might be used to consume plutonium, thus reducing the nuclear stockpile while converting it into useful electrical energy.

    However, it is a very big accelerator that will be needed to do the job, and the estimated costs for the project are about 500 million Euros. There are various advantages cited for this type of reactor, including the claim that it can be stopped easily if things get out of hand, and that it produces less long-lived nuclear waste than the uranium-fuelled fission reactors that are currently in common use. However, there are a whole host of scientific and engineering challenges that need to be overcome, and even identified in the first place because nobody has ever built one of these reactors, and hence the plans are still only on the drawing board.

    As I have already stressed, it is a very big accelerator that will be needed if the project has any chance of success, so big in fact that there are none with sufficient power anywhere in the world. Some of the suggestions include using molten lead as the coolant for the system, but the reactor would run at a temperature above 700 degrees C. when the material becomes corrosive. A number of countries (including the US, Russia, the UK, France and Japan) have entrenched firm investments in uranium based reactors, and will use them for as long as they can. There are sizeable quantities of uranium on the world market, although the price has recently soared. Nonetheless, there is likely to be resistance to the research and development of a brand-new technology based on thorium, in view of huge costs that will effectively be borne by the Norwegian taxpayer if they go it alone down this unlit path.

    The immediate future doesn’t look optimistic for thorium, certainly with the untested accelerator-driven reactors, and yet two thorium reactors have been operated, which were of the far simpler molten-salt reactor kind. Thus it might prove more expedient to invest in this at least tried technology, which could extend the useful lifetime of nuclear power by hundreds of years. The reason is that converting thorium-232 to uranium-233 is a form of “breeder” technology meaning that practically 100% of the thorium can be processed ultimately into nuclear fuel, rather than just the 0.7% uranium-235 isotope that exists in naturally occurring uranium, and which requires enrichment before it can be used. Indeed, the 99+% of uranium-238 can be converted into plutonium-239 and this used in fuel-rods, but there are many negative connotations attached to plutonium, which is almost the “p-word” for the nuclear industry: i.e. unmentionable, certainly in the tabloid press. There are serious issues of terrorism – dirty bombs at the very least, if not an out and out A-bomb detonation involving plutonium. The word alone would swathe a city and the world with fear. Uranium-233 made from thorium is harder to conceal than plutonium, since it is always contaminated with uranium-232, a strong gamma-ray emitter, and accordingly quite easily detected “in a suitcase” than plutonium which is principally an alpha-particle emitter and far more readily hidden.

    There is no doubt that we will see a rise in nuclear power and for a number of reasons – cutting CO2 emissions, and securing energy supplies. Most of current thinking is based around using uranium as the fuel to drive it, but thorium could prove a very useful supplement and might power a new generation of reactors when we are short of uranium and do need to “breed” fuel if it proves uneconomic to mine poor quality uranium ores. I maintain my reservations about how long other resources, e.g. oil and gas will last, with which to mine and process either uranium or thorium, but if the latter appears viable in the longer run, I suggest that molten salt (liquid fluoride) reactors would be a better approach than the far more complex (and as yet untested) accelerator-driven systems.

    The latter are reminiscent in scale to the putative nuclear-fusion reactors, said to mimic processes in stars, e.g. the sun, of which a working model is not expected for at least another 60 years. No one should forget that we need to make our energy provisions against a backdrop of 10 – 20 years at best, as oil and then gas begin to run short (the “Oil Dearth Era”). We do not want to back a loser now, as it is a one-off bet with the future of civilization resting on the outcome of this particular race.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
  13. LETHALFORCE

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