Senate bill would slash U.S. reliance on China for vital metals while also securing an energy future
— By Mark Halper on February 11, 2014, 7:13 AM PST
The Pentagon and its contractors have killed this bill in committee. Good time to write your senator's.
I'm slightly disappointed that this bill, as described, seems to be ignorant of the superb alternative breeder reactor technology that was abandoned by Clinton in 1994.
Neutron bombardment can convert Th-232 to U-233, just as it can U-238 to Pu-239. In both cases, a fissile nucleus is created from one that is non-fissile by "ordinary" means.
The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) produced a proliferation-resistant, meltdown-immune reactor with a liquid metal coolant and metal fuel cells. It breeds its own fuel, and creates no trans-uranic (long lived) waste.
The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is a design that is proliferation-resistant, meltdown-immune, and creates no trans-uranic waste. Its fuel system is a liquid solution of thorium and uranium fluorides in a eutectic solvent consisting of lithium and beryllium fluorides.
Both get about a hundred times as much energy from a kilogram of the fuel, as what currenty deployed reactors do. Note that currently deployed nuclear power provides 20% of our electricity, which is 8% of out total energy. Multiply that 8% by 100, and you realise that nuclear fuel resources are actually far more plentiful than sunshine or fossilized solar energy (coal,oil,methane).
That's what makes Mark Halpern breathless.
Wonder fuel? Mr. Halper's breathlessness is palpable.
As with all nuclear fuels, thorium is a potential ingredient for making weapons, and seriously bad weapons at that. Any shift to nuclear power will bring with it the need to institute more or less a police state, needed to protect concentrations of radioactive materials from getting in the hands of bad guys. Much better would be a reduction in energy usage, a pull back from the intensive industrialization that has put us all in an energy coma, unable to think straight and focused only on more, more, more. No matter where the energy comes from - wind, coal, water, or thorium - consuming too much of it leads to social inequality and a severe diminishment of participatory democracy.
Hope they can get this done. I don't understand why Thorium isn't more front and center for new generating plants. It would be a giant step forward for less polluting energy and a safer way.
I think these people are way behind the curve:
How the Great Rare-Earth Metals Crisis Vanished. China's attempt to control the market for materials essential to the tech industry is turning to dust.
This looks more to me like there are some special interests here in America that would like to cartelize rare earths in the same way that the Chinese have tried (and failed) to do.
@WartimeKissThorium is no more fissile than the common isotope 238 of uranium. The LTFR is a breeder reactor that produces fissile uranium.
The original AEC research into breeding and consuming fissile uranium from thorium was canceled during the Nixon administration, for the reason that the fissile U-233 produced tends to contain enough U-232 or U-234 to be useless for bomb-making.
The difference between nuclear energy and chemical energy is that for a given mass of fuel and waste, nuclear energy resources are millions of times as productive.
And the second part of the post perhaps reveals the real agenda of nuclear opponents. Peddle your social engineering somewhere else. Almost all of us like industrial society, and the wealth and comfort it provides. You'll never get any traction at all on that score. Just look at the public's response to the *slight* loss of material standard of living during the last economic downturn.
Nuclear power plants, whether fueled by thorium or low-enriched uranium, have ZERO impact on nuclear weapons proliferation risk, period. Only fuel cycle facilities (enrichment or reprocessing plants) represent any risk.
Nuclear power plants convert low-enriched uranium into something that is far MORE difficult to use in a weapon, i.e., spent fuel. Using power reactor spent fuel is extremely difficult even before you consider the fact that its plutonium isotope distribution makes it unsuitable for a weapon. It is far easier to just mine and enrich raw uranium ore (present in most countries), as Iran is indeed doing. Any nation that desires a bomb can do that. Nuclear power has nothing to do with it.
Associating nuclear power with any significant change in society or governace (e.g., a "police state") is simply fatuous. It's not like nuclear plants are the only guarded facilities. The US has ~100 nuclear plants right now. Are we a police state? Well, to the extent that IS true, it has nothing to do with nuclear power.
@WartimeKiss I like the sentiment Wartime but I'm afraid the idea might require an unplatatable population cull and an unlikely return to agrarianism...
@JohnMcGrew Special interests? Could be. But I'm not sure I agree with you on the Chinese point John. China is always tampering with its rare earth industry structure, export quotas etc. The long and the short of it seems to be that it still owns a huge part of the market. However, you're right, it's been interesting to see industry look elsewhere for the elements, and to find innovative work-arounds. I've now added a few links to the bottom of my story on this. Here's another one: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/toyota-breaks-out-of-chinas-rare-earth-shackles/ - in which a certain JohnMcGrew applauds the market forces that, yes, are counterbalancing China's control. Thank you as always for weighing in!
@JimHopfIt is indeed downright hypocrisy in the USA, to ban the reprocessing of spent fuel, while at the same time letting the DoD demand of the DoE that the TVA's essentially civilian power reactors include facilities for converting lithium into tritium to maintain the supply of thermonuclear weapons, easily the most diabolical of the AEC's products, and one that even many members of the Manhattan Projects found abhorrent.
@markhalper @WartimeKiss Mark, I like your stuff. I wonder if you suspect, as I do, that the world's present population (of humans) is only made psiible by fossil carbon and the Industrial Revolution. The book "The Alchemy of Air" realtes how Haber and Bosch, with their nitrogen capture processes, managed to replace the dependence upon dwindling stocks of fossil nitrates for agriculture. Presumably nuclear breeder power (not necessarily from thorium) could fill the gap. I am convinced nothing else can.