Oil and natural gas are running low. Wind power is limited to a few locations, biofuels require much more land than we have, and solar is still far from practical after decades of intensive research. Nuclear fusion has made even less progress. The supply of uranium for conventional nuclear power will run out within this century. Right now, almost every new power plant has to be fueled by dwindling supplies of natural gas or uranium, or by dirty coal, which spews out not only vast amounts of carbon dioxide but millions of tons of toxic soot, poisonous heavy metals, and radioactive isotopes.

Whenever the construction of a nuclear reactor is delayed because of a false hope in "renewable" energies that never materialize, a coal or natural gas plant has to be built instead, polluting the air we breathe and driving global warming faster and faster. But even conventional nuclear reactors produce waste, and because they use only a tiny fraction of the energy in uranium, that resource is also being depleted.

Enter Thorium. Half a century ago, a different kind of nuclear reactor was invented, one that burns Thorium - an inexhaustible supply of fuel, and much cheaper than the enriched-uranium fuel used by current reactors. It can even use the nuclear waste from other reactors as fuel! The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, or LFTR for short, operates at low pressures, so it could never explode like the reactor at Chernobyl, and its liquid-fuel design makes it physical impossible to overheat, like the reactor at Three Mile Island.

Unfortunately, it was the Cold War - energy was still cheap, global warming was just a theory, and the LFTR wasn't good for making weapons-grade plutonium, so it was abandoned. Now, a growing group of scientists and engineers are working to bring the LFTR back to life - to free us from filthy coal and turn stockpiles of nuclear waste into the clean, cheap energy we need.

Thorium (pronounced /ˈθɔːriəm/) is a chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. As a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal, it has been considered as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium.

Lightbridge Corporation's nuclear fuel designs are based on a proprietary seed-and-blanket fuel assembly configuration invented by the Dr. Alvin Radkowsky, the Company's founder. The designs have been further refined over the past decade in R&D activities managed by Lightbridge Corporation, which have included cooperation with hundreds of nuclear scientists and engineers from several leading Russian nuclear entities and other international nuclear experts. Lightbridge Corporation has transformed the original fuel design into a reactor-compatible product that is now undergoing testing in a live research reactor in Moscow. The fuel is subsequently expected to be demonstrated in a full-size commercial reactor.

Lightbridge Corporation's patented seed-and-blanket fuel assembly consists of two sections:

(1) the central region called the seed that is surrounded by

(2) fuel rods in the outer region called the blanket.

The blanket is comprised of thorium-uranium fuel rods whose basic design is similar to that of conventional fuel rods presently used in commercial light water reactors. The main difference between blanket fuel rods and conventional fuel rods is material contained in the pellets: thorium-uranium oxide mixture in the blanket rods vs. uranium oxide in conventional uranium fuel rods.

The seed incorporates proprietary elements different from conventional fuel rods that offer certain reactor safety and cost benefits. It is comprised of single-piece metallic fuel rods, having a proprietary shape, that are produced using a co-extrusion fabrication process. The basic design of the seed builds upon decades of successful operating experience with metallic fuel used in icebreaker reactors. The seed is different in each of Lightbridge Corporation's fuel designs and is comprised of a zirconium alloy along with (1) uranium, (2) high-grade plutonium.

Thorium/uranium fuel that stops the reactor from producing weapons-usable plutonium and reduces the waste
Thorium/reactor-grade plutonium disposing fuel that has the above benefits plus disposes of plutonium extracted from non-thorium-based used nuclear fuels 
Lightbridge Corporation's thorium/uranium fuel incorporates a uranium-zirconium seed and thorium-uranium oxide blanket and has four major advantages over conventional uranium fuel for commercial reactors:

Minimizes proliferation concerns as Lightbridge Corporation's fuel technology does not produce weapons-suitable material in spent fuel
Potential reduction in the total fuel cycle costs
Improved reactor safety due to lower operating temperatures of Lightbridge Corporation’s fuel and a higher melting point of thorium compared to uranium (over 500°C higher)
Significant reduction in the volume, weight and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel.

Thorium/Reactor-Grade plutonium disposing fuel
Reactor-grade plutonium is plutonium created in reactors during the uranium fuel cycle. Currently, this plutonium either stays in the spent fuel or is extracted during reprocessing and stored. Reactor-grade plutonium can be used in new nuclear reactor fuels.

As recent reports indicate, there is 274 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium (equivalent of 15,000-20,000 nuclear weapons) stored around the world. Another 1,400 metric tons of this fissile material is embedded in spent fuel and stored at hundreds of commercial reactor sites. While not called weapons-grade, separated reactor-grade plutonium is weapons-usable.

Lightbridge Corporation's thorium/reactor-grade plutonium disposing fuel technology is expected to offer a more economically viable way to dispose of separated reactor-grade plutonium than conventional fuel technologies currently used in a number of European and Japanese nuclear power plants. Moreover, our technology combined with available reactor-grade plutonium inventories makes it possible for commercial reactors to achieve superior fuel economics.

Lightbridge Corporation's proprietary fuel designs have been engineered to be compatible with the world's existing and planned light water reactors without significant change to the reactor. When a reactor implements Lightbridge Corporation’s proprietary fuel designs, the following major advantages are anticipated:

Enhanced proliferation-resistance of spent fuel, stopping the reactor from producing nuclear weapons-usable plutonium
Significantly reduced volume, weight and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel
Improved economics
Increased safety margins

In reality the first thorium will likely be burned commercially in heavy water reactors. Both China and India have active programs to fuel their CANDU reactors with Th. AECL has done a fair amount of work in this area already and several fuel bundles have already been tested in Canadian reactors.DV82XL Homepage 08.01.09 - 741 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- CANDU reactors were built to burn very low enriched fuels and have long been considered a good platform for Thorium fuel adoption. It would be a good thing in my opinion. Thorium Powers fuel was originally designed for Plutonium disposal. At the Global 2009 fuel cycle conference in Paris Areva is giving a talk concerning their head to head analysis of MOX vs Thorium Powers design. Interestingly Thorium Power filed an 8-K statement with the Sec detailing revenues it has received from Areva for entering into a collaboration with them to study how to design Thorium Power assemblies into the EPR core. Is this a coincidence Probably not. The WNA states on their website that the Thorium Power design is three times as efficient for Plutonium disposal as MOX. Plutonium disposal is really the same thing as Plutonium utilization and so this design might constitute a way the French and others could efficiently utilize the tons of Plutonium it has left over from enrichment for power production which might be more important to them than the idea of using Thorium. At the same time it has other advantages such as producing less waste in the Thorium blanket which is left in the reactor for a decade.Ken 08.01.09 - 1047 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I have been reading Kirks blog extensively and he does a great job showing the advantages of a molten salt reactor. This technology seems well suited to a large investor Gates Buffett etc teaming with a university to produce a test reactor right sized for modular use 70mw to 125 mw. Perhaps the NRC would give special permission for a test reactor in this context. I dont think that a light water reactor is the best use of thorium for the same reasons that Rod is quoting in the blog.David Phillips 08.01.09 - 1217 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Plutonium from the spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors could be utilized in CANDU thorium reactors to convert up to 94 of the plutonium into clean energy while also producing substantial quantities of fissile uranium 233. CANDU thorium reactors could potentially reduce uranium demand by nearly 90. CANDU thorium reactors could be the perfect solution towards dramatically reducing the volume of spent fuel produced by the commercial and military nuclear industry while also producing more clean nuclear energy.Marcel F. Williams Homepage 08.01.09 - 346 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Marcel CANDU thorium reactors could potentially reduce uranium demand by nearly 90. As an investor in Cameco Corporation which also owns a significant share of Bruce Power why should I be excited or even supportive of reducing uranium demandBeing a bit of a smart aleck here but please remember we are talking about a business here not just esoteric technology that does not affect real markets real investors and real jobs.Rod Adams Homepage 08.01.09 - 411 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- CANDUs are able to burn all sorts of fuels natural uranium enriched uranium thorium MOXeven discharged LWR spent fuelwithout reprocessing unfortunately these reactors are not licensed in places where these fuels are available.That CANDU thorium reactors could potentially reduce uranium demand by nearly 90 is no comfort in a country that is the top producer of uranium at the moment. As a consequence these alternate fuels will be developed by others while we in the West just watch.DV82XL Homepage 08.01.09 - 415 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rob beat me to it.DV82XL Homepage 08.01.09 - 416 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ive never seen any nuclear expert comment on the THTR 300 reactor that germany operated 20 whole years ago.httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiTHTR-300any thoughts this rodjody 08.01.09 - 430 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rod Im assuming that the nuclear renaissance in the long run is going to be real. And countries around the world will finally realize that nuclear power is not only a solution for producing electricity without producing greenhouse gases but its also the solution to our transportation and industrial chemical fuel needs. Opponents of nuclear energy often argue that theres not enough uranium to entirely power and fuel our society. Thorium uranium from seawater spent fuel reprocessing and fast reactor and nuclear breeding technologies address those arguments. And CANDUs are here right now. I wouldnt worry about your uranium investments since any significant move towards thorium is going to take several decades to have any significant impact on uranium prices.Marcel Williams Homepage 08.01.09 - 729 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Marcel CANDUs are never going to be approved in the U.S. the U.K. or anywhere in the E.U. They compete with local builders of LWRs. They cannot be considered a solution for anything because of this.DV82XL Homepage 08.01.09 - 813 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- DV82XL - It is a travesty - though probably true - for the US nuclear licensing process to be used to protect established players in the game. That is especially true since none of the established players are actually US companies any more. GE does not really count since they are a multinational that could not build a plant without a great deal of assistance from Hitachi. I think that the CANDU has a lot to offer and it should be allowed to compete in the US market especially considering the potential of the DUPIC fuel cycle that can make use of our current inventory of used nuclear fuel. Having to move the material across an international border would add significant complications. It pains me to think that the NRC licensing process might be used to attempt to keep Hyperion NuScale and Babcock and Wilcox right sized reactors out of the market not because they will compete with local builders of other reactor designs but because they will compete head to head with suppliers of natural gas and coal.The only way to prevent that from happening is to keep pointing out that it might be happening. The umpires may get upset to be continually accused of bias but they just might have to change their behavior to prove us wrong.Rod Adams Homepage 08.01.09 - 845 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jody - thank you for reminding me that I still need to produce an article about what I have learned about the Thorium High Temperature Reactor. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from that experience. Maybe I will get a round tuit sometime this weekend or early in the week. It is a bit too much to tackle right now.Rod Adams Homepage 08.01.09 - 847 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It is my understanding that CANDU reactors have a positive coefficient of reactivity associated with a loss of coolant event. Consequently they are illegal in the USA. To me this looks like excessive regulation being used to stifle the fission technology.Randal Leavitt Homepage 08.02.09 - 101 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I originally learned the biggest drawback to licensing the CANDU design in the US was their positive void coefficient. That was before the Chernobyl accident and Chernobyl was greatly made worse by an inherent positive void coefficient. I am not saying the CANDUs are potentially as dangerous as the Russian RBMKs. There are many reasons why the CANDUs are safer. But the question is whether the NRC will ever license a reactor with a positive void coeffPete 08.02.09 - 109 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- CANDU reactors have been operating safely for over 35 years. The positive coolant void reactivity feedback is well known and understood and has been properly studied and documented by both AECL and plant operators around the world.The current fleet of CANDUs was designed with full knowledge of this characteristic and uses numerous features and limits to control it. This includes two independent fast-acting shutdown systems and the operation of the fleet at levels well below the conditions under which the power pulse could begin to cause a problem. The containment system which includes a large concrete structure prevents any uncontrolled release of radioactive material into the environment.Not to put too fine a line under it but Three-Mile Island was a LWR.DV82XL Homepage 08.02.09 - 204 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- DV82XLWestinghouse which is owned by Toshiba is building new nuclear reactors in the US. But I dont think private industry will build CANDUs in the US either. They dont need to IMO. I want the CANDUs to be used as plutonium burners. And I want the US government to order CANDUs from Canada as plutonium burners for plutonium from the military and commercial spent fuel which technically the US Federal government already owns.Marcel F. Williams Homepage 08.02.09 - 425 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If I understand correctly CANDUs positive void coefficient is only very slight. CANDU has other safety feature that make up for it.The ACR-1000 has a NEGATIVE void coefficient is cheaper to build and is much safer.Anonymous 08.02.09 - 1101 am -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Anonymous my understanding is that the NEW ACR-700ACR-1000s are not like regular CANDUs. CANDUs are illegal here in the US because of the void coefficient. But the new GEN III ones have negative void coefficients by using a combination of both light and heavy water.DavidDavid Walters Homepage 08.02.09 - 1255 pm -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ACR-700ACR-1000 have a negative void coefficient because they use slightly enriched uranium for fuel but really you could do this with any current CANDU as well.I do not have a good feeling about the ARC design. AECL is not the same organization that it was and it has never been successful with a LWHW design. The last time was a total failure that ran for just about 100 days before being mothballed.But ether way the ARC never got approval in the US despite having applied for it.DV82XL Homepage 08.02.09 - 304 pm

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