Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Archive for the ‘thorium’ Category

Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008

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This interesting legislation has been introduced in the US Senate today by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Harry Reid, with the intention to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide support for nuclear power generation using thorium nuclear fuel cycles.

It’s said that the thorium deposit in Lemhi Pass, Idaho contains 600,000 tonnes of thorium. Australia’s total identified thorium resources are put at 452,300 tonnes which Geoscience Australia estimates are extractable at less than US$80 per kilogram of thorium.

Just considering the Lemhi Pass thorium and Australia’s thorium reserves, alone, we have 1,052,300 tonnes of thorium available – not to mention all the uranium.

A thorium nucleus has a mass of 232 amu, obviously. Let’s assume that the energy ultimately yielded from each nucleus is 200 MeV, and the thorium is transmuted, and its energy harnessed via U-233 fission, with an overall efficiency within the reactor of 75%, and a further 50% of the energy is lost in a Brayton-cycle engine. Then, we can work out that one tonne of thorium gives about exactly one gigawatt-year of energy.

Current world electricity demand is estimated at a total of about 16,330 TWh. At current consumption, then, this 1,052,300 tonnes of thorium could supply all the world’s electricity needs, all of it, for an astonishing 565 years.

That’s with no use of deuterium or lithium, and effectively no use of natural uranium, or accumulated plutonium.

Food for thought, or thorium for thought, isn’t it?

The text of the bill follows

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Written by Luke Weston

October 3, 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in nuclear fuels, thorium

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Embarrassingly predictable?

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Here’s a powerpoint presentation from an excellent presentation given by Kirk Sorensen about the use of thorium as a nuclear energy resource.

Of course, the Powerpoint slides themselves are not as good as the whole presentation, and in and of themselves they can be a little hard to follow, without the presenter, but unfortunately you have to deal with that with any presentation where you’ve only had a chance to pick up the slides after the fact.

This presentation was prepared over a year ago – but I was only reading it last week. As for the title of this post – there was something, on a related note, that I found a little amusing.

Check out the 6th slide, in Kirk Sorensen’s presentation, and compare it to the oh-so-factual and educational graphics used in Joseph Romm’s recent post on GristMill. Isn’t it uncanny – just when you thought that nobody trying to construct a coherent (?) argument of some kind against the use of nuclear energy could actually be that silly.

Joe Romm has got another post up recently that’s worth looking at as well, in which he attempts to reinforce the notion that the linear-non-threshold hypothesis is somehow factually motivated, and that every little contribution to low doses of ionising radiation is dangerous. I’m sure some readers will be interested in going and leaving a comment in response to that.

Still, Romm deserves some credit for correctly pointing out that on the grounds of ionising radiation dose, as well as numerous other ecological and health impacts, coal-fired electricity generators are far more dangerous than nuclear power plants.

Also, in one final note, congratulations to Rod Adams on the momumental 100th episode of The Atomic Show podcast. That’s a monumental effort, producing 100 episodes of interesting, unique high-quality podcasting, interviews and commentary, and I look forward to the next 100 episodes to come.

Interesting posts roundup.

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A few interesting pieces from the blogosphere over the last week or so:

Fellow Melbourne based blogger Robert Merkel is discussing some, well, nuclear power stuff over at Larvatus Prodeo.

Tim Dunlop’s Blogocracy blog (affiliated with ) is taking a look at Thorium as a nuclear fuel. It’s good to see some level headed discussion of nuclear energy systems in such a popular media outlet.

Finally, Sovietologist is taking a look at Russia’s proven nuclear “micropower”. I wonder what Lovins has to say about that?

Written by Luke Weston

June 22, 2008 at 6:55 am

All the electricity needs of the US for the next decade, solved, clean and easy.

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Between 1957 and 1964, the US Department of Defence National Stockpile Centre procured 3215 tonnes of thorium from French and Indian sources – thinking that, hey, that stuff will probably prove useful some day.

Recently, due to “lack of demand” for it, they buried this entire inventory of thorium nitrate at the Nevada Test Site. (It is designed, however, so they can dig it up in future if they want, thankfully).

Assuming 50% overall efficiency in the utilisation of the thorium in a nuclear reactor (preferably an elegant, safe, economical, efficient and technically sweet molten liquid fluoride reactor) and the thermal energy conversion (efficiency of 50% is quite do-able using an efficient Brayton cycle system) and annual US electricity consumption of 3.717 trillion kWh, that thorium contains enough energy to meet the entire current electricity needs of the United States for ten years just by itself.

3215 tonnes * (200 MeV / 232 amu) * 50% / 3.717 PWh per year = 10 years.

No mining is needed – it’s just sitting there, pure thorium nitrate packaged in drums, waiting to not be considered “waste”.

Nuclear “waste” is not a substance. Nuclear waste – wasting nuclear material – is something that some stupid governments do.

10 years, with no mining of anything – fossil fuels or nuclear fuels – no reliance on foreign fossil fuels for stationary energy generation, and no dangerous discharge of the dangerous waste of fossil fuel combustion straight into the environment.

It’s a good place to start, isn’t it?

Written by Luke Weston

April 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm