This is a recent discussion and eye opener for those who wish to know more about which reactors are competing with LFTR. It is also a basic crash course on why the LFTR is better than a Sodium-cooled Fast Breeder reactor.
Energy from Thorium is the voice of Kirk Sorensen
Energy from Thorium:
I strongly disagree with the content of this letter. The sodium-cooled, fast-spectrum breeder reactor is a bridge to nowhere. It has derailed thorium reactor efforts before and if allowed to continue it will do so again. It will be more expensive than current nuclear reactors which are already too expensive. I am d…isappointed that so many people that I consider good friends signed this letter.
Joel Riddle: Hmm, they probably should have left out any specific technology in their letter. I agree with what I saw as the main idea – that America HAS to make a commitment to nuclear energy as a whole.
Energy from Thorium: But the direction they propose–the sodium fast-breeder–has been tried and has failed economically over and over and over again. There are legitimate safety concerns with the design, and its overall goal (reducing the cost of the fuel) is already a small cost in nuclear operation anyway.
Jack Gamble: Given the amount of $ we send up smoke stacks and out tail pipes, I don’t see how any reactor, be it LFTR or FBR would be considered too expensive. Why not do both?
Given the state of all things energy, I don’t think one nuclear technology will derail another even though it did occur in the past when the two technologies were in their infancies
I think the far more likely problem would be antinuclear activists and dirt burners derail all nuclear work as a whole. In-fighting between Uranium and Throium proponents hurts both IMO and can only help the wrong people.
Joel Riddle: I would definitely say that thermal spectrum thorium reactors would deserve some “air-time” at this summit, and I dare say many of the signatories would agree with that sentiment. If America doesn’t develop a LFTR first, I would imagine that India will.
Robert Margolis: I consider the letter as the impetus for furthewr discussion rather than a final plan. Upon getting nuclear going again in the US, there will be opportunities to investigate thorium. Lightbridge is already doing a lot work on the thorium cycle.
Adam Freidin: I think a nuclear summit would be nice, it’s not a forgone conclusion that it would result in a sodium breeder.
Let’s have the summit. Then we can discuss the pros of LFTR and the cons of fast-spectrum breeders.
@Robert: I thought lightbridge was going the route of solid-fuel thorium cycle, which has worse spent-fuel and reprocessing issues than uranium? EFT raised some serious concerns in this regard about lightbridge that haven’t gone away.
Jim Stevens: Kirk: What are your thoughts on Hyperion and the small reactors mentioned in this letter?
Energy from Thorium: The war between fast-spectrum and thermal-spectrum is a war between plutonium and thorium. It’s really just about that simple. Although I understand that most people don’t know what that means and don’t care, we should care, and here’s why. If we take the fast-spectrum, plutonium route, we drastically limit the potential expansion of nuclear power in a future world. The difficulty of taking this approach will sop up all available funds just like it did in the 50s through the 70s. There won’t be any room for thorium in this scenario, no matter how well-intentioned people are at the outset.
It is very much like the war between DC electricity and AC electricity a hundred years ago. Most people at the time had only a vague idea what electricity was or how it worked. Among those who knew, there was a sense that DC was more straightforward and easier to understand, and indeed it was. AC was more complicated. But AC had a profound advantage that was worth fighting for. It was extremely versatile and could be transformed easily and inexpensively in ways that DC simply couldn’t. If DC had won the “war of the currents” then most of the country wouldn’t be electrified today. Only in big cities with power generation close to the consumer would electricity be available.
By extension, there is a “war of the spectra” and though it may seem esoteric it is not. Thorium and the thermal-spectrum and the salt-reactor technology is versatile and adaptable. Plutonium and the fast-spectrum and solid fuel is rigid, expensive, and difficult. If the plutonium fast-breeder again becomes the dominant reactor in future planning, it is a win for fossil fuels as surely as solar and wind power. Because we won’t build 1000s of those reactors. They are simply too dangerous. We will build a handful and spend billions trying to get them to behave properly. It will be much like the fusion effort.
Thorium, the thermal-spectrum, and liquid-fuel are the “AC electricity” of the nuclear industry. They’re different, poorly understood even by nuclear engineers, but versatile and capable of taking us to the widespread nuclear-powered energy economy of the future.
Joel Riddle: Disclaimer: I am “merely” an ME, not an NE. Kirk, it seems that the bottom line of what you are saying is that the advantages of a LFTR versus all fast-spectrum reactors need to be articulated in a form that could be easily understood, even by non-technical types.
If the LFTR is going to happen in America, it will most certainly require some level of government support, even if it received immense private sector support (maybe through the Gates Foundation or Intellectual Ventures? Assuming they could simultaneously back the TWR and LFTR).
So, the message needs to be clear and easily understandable, and it needs to be heard by the right people.
How would you rank “competing technologies” in terms of their distraction from thorium/LFTR deployment (SMRs, the IFR/sPrism, the TWR, or any other reactor designs)?
Energy from Thorium: Joel, I’m an ME too, and almost an ME and NE.Yes, this is a story that needs to be told and told clearly.
Energy from Thorium: ME = mechanical engineer
Robert Steinhaus: Pushing Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology in the letter to President Obama just represents one more large opportunity loss for Thorium Fuel Cycle and holds off for another miserable decade the commercialization of Thorium Fuel Cycle in LFTR and the development of the safe and cost effective technology that America and the developing world needs to live in energy abundance and peace.
Lars Jorgensen: I think we need to look to find synergies with other approaches to jointly support funding of key aspects of the R&D we need for LFTR.
Specifically, Dr. Peterson’s AHTR has the heat exchanger, salt pumps, in common. It may also have the He purge and tritium isolation in common. There may be other choices for him but I think he likes LFTR long term so he may be willing to tilt his selections to make them common with ours.
IFR extraction of TRU’s has some commonality with our central repository processing especially in extracting the Am, and Cm components. I doubt we will have any influence with this group but we can still use their results.
One could create a recycling flow to process LWR wastes that looks an awful lot like the flow we want for LFTR (of coarse with some extra steps to convert the solid fuel to liquid fluoride salts). The first stage could extract the gases and noble metals and uranium. The second stage would separate the TRUs from the salt seeking fission products. This could be a way to do the R&D we need for the chemical processing portion of LFTR without engaging in a battle royal with IFR etc.
We still need funding for a prototype reactor itself that we will have to win on our own but by getting some of the R&D completed jointly with others we can reduce the funding required to get the reactor running.
Energy from Thorium: Lars, if we lived in a logical world I would totally agree with you. Unfortunately, the list of supporters of fast-breeders is long and worldwide. This is mostly because of the billions that have already been expended in the pursuit of plutonium breeders and the past experience many of these people have with this technology. There is no such huge expense or experience with thorium reactors, thus our list of advocates in the nuclear industry is far smaller. But we have the right answer. Thorium reactors can operate in a thermal-spectrum that is vastly safer than the fast spectrum. Only thermal-spectrum reactors can operate in their most-reactive configuration, and that is a huge safety feature.
Lars Jorgensen: So it really comes down to a political call on how do we get sufficient funding to make LFTR a reality. I’m not particularly worried (within limits) about how much funding solar,wind, or uranium reactors get so long as we get sufficient funding.
Daniel Riggs Fielder: The safety issues are paramount, feasibility aside. One mishap is all it would take to sink nuclear power for yet another 20 years. The fast breeder reactor is more of a threat to thorium than wind and solar ever will be.
Robert Margolis: Fast reactors have good safety features as well. Not sure attacks on fast reactor safety will help the overall cause. Please remember that Vogtle 3/4 and other reactors in COL stage are neither fast reactors or thorium. If the renaissance is not started with these light water reactors we’ll all be waiting a long time or be working in Asia.
Robert Steinhaus: The US cannot currently build LWRs that it pioneered at the dawn of the nuclear age in commercial sizes without help from foreign industrial nations. Large forgings like Reactor containment vessels on the order of ~600 tons are beyond the industrial infrastructure that currently exists in USA. The queue to obtain heavy commercial forgings from … Japan Steel is substantial and will limit the rate at which the US nuclear renaissance can happen. Japan Steel currently can build a total of about 4 LWR reactor vessels per year in their facility for all domestic and international customers. Areva Newport News hopes to make heavy forgings eventually but it is not clear at this time whether the facility will be able to make modern commercial forgings (~600 ton) for current NRC certified commercial reactors. LFTR does not require heavy forgings to be safe (everything in the primary loop operates at near atmospheric pressure). LFTR could be built in America today without foreign industrial help given current US industrial infrastructure. Manufacture of LFTRs in the USA could be practically scaled to permit LFTRs to replace the electricity produced from all US coal fired power plants in less than a decade.
Energy from Thorium: Robert, I would disagree that fast reactors have good safety features. By design, they eliminate many of the physical mechanisms that contribute to a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. This is troublesome, as are the contrary “desirements” between controllability and breeding ratio. One wants a softer spectrum and the other wants a harder spectrum.