Tag Archives: Nuclear Energy

10/10/2011 NY Times: After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future?

10/10/2011 NY Times: After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future? By STEPHANIE COOKE: A couple of months after the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant March 11, an American nuclear expert posed an interesting question. “The post-Fukushima public sentiment is surprisingly low-key isn’t it? What a difference between this event and TMI or Chernobyl,” he wrote in an e-mail, using an abbreviation for the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. “What do you think is going on? Why so quiet?”

I was not convinced. What he said was certainly true in the United States, but the accident had a profound effect in Germany, China and several other countries, serving as a fearful reminder of what can go wrong with nuclear power plants. Phase-outs were the order of the day in Germany (where Chancellor Angela Merkel also demanded immediate shutdowns of eight of the country’s oldest reactors) and Switzerland. China suspended approvals for new reactors pending a safety review, which is now reportedly completed. This has resulted in a downward revision of China’s unofficial pre-Fukushima goal to install 86 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020. It now looks like that will be set around 60 gigawatts (up from around 12 currently) or just a little higher.

Italy said no to new reactors for the second time, ending a relatively brief flirtation with nuclear planners after a long post-Chernobyl freeze. “I think there is now less than 0.01 percent chance for nuclear in Italy,” said Luigi De Paoli, energy economy professor at the Bocconi University in Milan, according to Reuters.

Taiwan appears on the brink of some kind of phase-out involving four reactors, although it is likely to allow a recently constructed fifth unit to operate. Venezuela and Israel, both countries that had harbored nuclear power ambitions, decided they could do without after all. “I think we’ll go for the gas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN. “I think we’ll skip the nuclear.”

In Japan, of course, the effect was most dramatic. Thirteen units were automatically “scrammed” when the earthquake struck, and a 14th was already out for maintenance. With 15 others offline because of previous quakes or for mandatory inspection and refueling, the country’s fleet of 54 operating reactors was cut to 25. In May, the government ordered a shutdown of three additional units (one of which had already been down for maintenance) at Hamaoka, situated in a particularly vulnerable seismic zone near Tokyo.

The nuclear “capacity factor” — a measure of how much electricity reactors generate as a percentage of what they could provide — had dropped precipitously, from 71 percent in February to 51 percent in May, but it would plunge even further in subsequent months.

Facing the prospect of broad electricity failures over the summer, Japan’s leadership did not dare order more plants shut down, but it hardly needed to. Because of the requirement for inspections every 13 months, more reactors were taken offline, one after the other. Now only 11 are operating. (The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum stopped publishing monthly capacity factors after July, when the figure stood at 34 percent, with 19 units operating.) While there certainly were electricity shortages, Japan survived the summer without the extensive blackouts that had been predicted.

Normally the reactors would have been restarted within several weeks of shutdown, but these are not normal times in Japan. Restarts require approvals from local and prefectural governments, and these have not been received since the disaster. The 11 reactors still in operation are due to go down for maintenance between now and next September, and that in theory could leave Japan with zero nuclear-generated electricity — although that is unlikely, given the pro-nuclear sentiment of governors in some prefectures and the intense pressure for restarts from Tokyo.

However, the Japanese government has ordered a gradual phase-out of the country’s reactors, reversing a previous policy of increasing nuclear’s share of the generating mix to 50 percent by 2030. (Japan’s reactors were generally credited with supplying about 30 percent of the electricity mix, but the figure was debatable, given the frequency of power failures even before Fukushima.) “To build new reactors is unrealistic, and we will decommission reactors at the end of their life spans,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in his first policy speech Sept. 2.

Despite this relatively dismal outlook for nuclear energy, the London-based World Nuclear Association predicts a 30 percent increase in global nuclear generating capacity over the next decade; it foresees 79 more reactors online by 2020, for a total of 514, even taking Fukushima into account. And it sees a 66 percent increase by 2030, with capacity additions in China, India, South Korea and Russia outnumbering projected declines in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Curiously, it assumes Japan will restart all but the six units at Fukushima Daiichi and continue to build new reactors to replace aging ones, for a net number of operating reactors in 2030 more or less the same as before Fukushima.

While the nuclear association is obviously bullish, it is less so than it was in its last forecast two years ago. And the projected increase would only keep nuclear energy treading water. As a percentage of global generation it would account for just 14 percent, the same amount the association says it currently contributes. (Other experts say the figure is lower.)

In the United States, currently home to the world’s largest reactor fleet, only one proposed project, in Texas, was effectively canceled after Fukushima, but it had been teetering for more than a year since its largest backer, NRG Energy, decided to pull the plug. Plans for about 30 new reactors in the United States already had been whittled down to just four, despite the promise of large subsidies and President Barack Obama’s support of nuclear power, which he reaffirmed after Fukushima.

Perhaps most interesting to watch will be France, whose dependence on nuclear energy is the highest in the world, with nearly 80 percent of the country’s electricity produced by 58 reactors, a fleet second in size only to that of the United States.

A poll by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique in May, published in Le Journal du Dimanche, found 77 percent of the public favored some kind of nuclear phase-out. That is not completely surprising, given past polls showing French opinion toward nuclear energy to be lukewarm. What is clear is that Fukushima is prompting a major rethinking of the country’s energy policies and that the nuclear issue promises to be a big factor in the presidential election next year.

Against this background, it is not surprising that in the World Nuclear Association’s midcase scenario, both the United States and France show a gradual decline in the number of operating reactors over the next two decades.

It has been evident for some time that nuclear energy’s future increasingly lies in Asia. Whatever the reasons for the muted response to Fukushima, the European phase-outs prompted by the tragedy would make this trend even more pronounced. But even in Asia, a nuclear future is no certain thing. Twenty-five years apart, Chernobyl and Fukushima were events that nuclear plant designers assumed would never happen. Any further major accidents could spell the industry’s doom.

Stephanie Cooke is editor of the Energy Intelligence Group’s Nuclear Intelligence Weekly and author of “In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age.”

10/25/2011 EPA Stakeholder Meeting on Uranium Legacy Contamination Issues featuring EPA Assistant Administrator, Mathy Stanislis

10/25/2011 EPA Stakeholder Meeting on Uranium Legacy Contamination Issues at The Albuquerque Marriott featuring EPA Assistant Administrator, Mathy Stanislis

10/8/2011 Gallup Independent: Udall urges continued cleanup of area's legacy uranium sites

10/8/2011 Udall urges continued cleanup of area’s legacy uranium sites By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., received commitments Thursday from three federal agencies that they will continue to work together to clean up uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations. The testimony was presented during a federal oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children’s Health and Environmental Responsibility, which Udall chairs. The senator stressed that each agency continue ongoing cleanup projects and commit to providing necessary funding for the Five-Year Plan for the Navajo Nation begun in 2007 and a Five-Year Plan begun last year for the Grants Mining District.

“Recently, the Navajo Nation informed EPA that they intend to request a second five-year review plan,” James Woolford, director of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, said. “The agency plans to work with the Navajo Nation and our colleagues to put together that plan over the next year.” EPA is the lead federal agency for the cleanup plan.

EPA has been obligating about $12 million per year for Navajo cleanup efforts. However, the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution so EPA cannot commit to a particular figure for the upcoming year, he said.

David Geiser, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management, said DOE contributes about $4 million for the four legacy uranium mill sites it monitors on Navajo. In 2009, DOE received a $5 million special appropriation for cleanup of the Highway 160 site outside of Tuba City. That work was completed in August, he said.

Udall applauded EPA for its recent announcement of an approved plan to clean up the Northeast Churchrock Mine, the highest-priority abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation, and also raised concerns about Tuba City contamination.

“Since 1995 there have been more than 35 studies conducted on the Tuba City Open Dump,” Udall said. He asked whether they knew the source of contamination or whether there was a cleanup plan.

Woolford said the Hopi Tribe submitted a study to EPA in August which concluded there was groundwater contamination adjacent to the dump. “We’re currently reviewing it and we have plans to meet with the tribe at the end of October to go over the study.”

He said EPA has an enforceable agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a comprehensive investigation and feasibility study to ascertain whether the dump is contaminating the groundwater. “The groundwater is contaminated. Everyone knows that. We are not 100 percent sure of the source,” he said.

“Does the Tuba City Open Dump site pose a threat to drinking water for the Navajo Nation or the Hopi Tribe?” Udall asked.

“Yes, we believe it does,” Woolford said, however a cleanup remedy is contingent on the outcome of the BIA study.

Geiser said both Navajo and Hopi believe mill tailing material was disposed of in the open dump and that it is the source of the uranium contamination, but he said there is no evidence to support that claim. “There have been over 200 borings taken of the open dump, and none of them found mill material,” he said.

DOE also doesn’t believe there is a hydrological connection between the Tuba City uranium mill tailings disposal cell and the Moenkopi village wells, Geiser said.

Udall asked for further details on the Northeast Churchrock cleanup and a potential time-line. Woolford said they ultimately chose “a pretty simple remedy,” which is to move more than 870,000 cubic yards of contaminated waste rock and more than 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil “almost across the street” to the United Nuclear Corp./General Electric Superfund site.

Beginning this fall, community members will be offered relocation opportunities, according to Woolford. Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9 said Monday that residents could take a temporary move-out of their house during the cleanup, “but that would be in a hotel for potentially years,” or they could take advantage of an EPA “cash-out” offer for a permanent residence of comparable value.

Geiser said EPA approached DOE about two years ago with the idea of combining mine waste with the mill waste. “For the last 10 to 12 years, the department has agreed to accept non-mill waste in the disposal cells under certain conditions,” he said. Northeast Churchrock would be the “single largest volume” of that type material to be put in a disposal cell.

NRC’s Weber said they will prepare an environmental assessment to support a revision to the reclamation plan for UNC’s tailings impoundment and there will be opportunity for public comment on the UNC license amendment. Barring any legal challenges or glitches, cleanup could be done by 2018 or 2019 with DOE’s Legacy Management as the ultimate overseer.

9/12/2011 Explosion Rocks French Plutonium – Plant Leak risk after France nuclear site blast

9/12/2011 Explosion Rocks French Plutonium Plant – Leak risk after France nuclear site blast by Agence France-Presse NIMES, France — There is a risk of a radioactive leak after an explosion in an oven Monday at the Marcoule nuclear site near the city of Nimes in the south of France, emergency services said. The southern French nuclear plant of Marcoule. The plant produces MOX fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons, but does not include reactors. The blast hit the Centraco nuclear waste treatment center belonging to the Socodei subsidiary of national electricity provider EDF, said a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Commissariat (CEA). “For the time being nothing has made it outside,” the spokesman said, asking not to be named. A security perimeter has been set up around the installation, firefighters said, without being able to provide further details. © 2011 Agence France-Presse

8/22/2011 Guardian UK: Fukushima disaster: residents may never return to radiation-hit homes

8/22/2011 Guardian UK: Fukushima disaster: residents may never return to radiation-hit homes: Japanese government will admit for first time that radiation levels will be too high to allow many evacuees to return home: Residents who lived close to the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant are to be told their homes may be uninhabitable for decades, according to Japanese media reports. The Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, is expected to visit the area at the weekend to tell evacuees they will not be able to return to their homes, even if the operation to stabilise the plant’s stricken reactors by January is successful.

Kan’s announcement will be the first time officials have publicly recognised that radiation damage to areas near the plant could make them too dangerous to live in for at least a generation, effectively meaning that some residents will never return to them.

A Japanese government source is quoted in local media as saying the area could be off-limits for “several decades”. New data has revealed unsafe levels of radiation outside the 12-mile exclusion zone, increasing the likeliness that entire towns will remain unfit for habitation.

The exclusion zone was imposed after a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant following the earthquake and tsunami in March.

The government had planned to lift the evacuation order and allow 80,000 people back into their homes inside the exclusion zone once the reactors had been brought under control. Several thousand others living in random hotspots outside the zone have also had to relocate.

However, in a report issued over the weekend the science ministry projected that radiation accumulated over one year at 22 of 50 tested sites inside the exclusion zone would easily exceed 100 millisieverts, five times higher than the safe level advised by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. “We can’t rule out the possibility that there will be some areas where it will be hard for residents to return to their homes for a long time,” said Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretaryand face of the government during the disaster. “We are very sorry.”

Edano refused to say which areas were on the no-go list or how long they would remain uninhabitable, adding that a decision would be made after more radiation tests have been conducted.

The government has yet to decide how to compensate the tens of thousands of residents and business owners who will be forced to start new lives elsewhere. The state has hinted that it may buy or rent land from residents in unsafe areas, although it has not ruled out trying to decontaminate them.

Futaba and Okuma, towns less than two miles from the Fukushima plant, are expected to be among those on the blacklist. The annual cumulative radiation dose in one district of Okuma was estimated at 508 millisieverts, which experts believe is high enough to increase the risk of cancer. More than 300 households from the two towns will be allowed to return briefly to their homes next week to collect belongings. It will be the first time residents have visited their homes since the meltdown.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, is working to bring the three crippled reactors and four overheating spent fuel pools to a safe state known as “cold shutdown” by mid-January.

Last week the company estimated that leaks from all three reactors had dropped significantly over the past month.

But signs of progress at the plant have been tempered by widespread contamination of soil, trees, roads and farmland.

Experts say that while health risks can be lowered by measures including the removal of layers of topsoil, vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children should avoid even minimal exposure.

“Any exposure would pose a health risk, no matter how small,” Hiroaki Koide, a radiation specialist at Kyoto University, told Associated Press. “There is no dose that we should call safe.”

Any government admission that residents will not be able to return to their homes will be closely monitored in Japan.

Suspicions persist that the authorities privately acknowledged this situation several months ago. In April, Kenichi Matsumoto, a senior adviser to the cabinet, quoted Kan as saying that people would not be able to live near the plant for “10 to 20 years”. Matsumoto later claimed to have made the remark himself.

Reuters: UN slams Fukushima safety measures before tsunami

France 24: 24/7: REUTERS: UN slams Fukushima safety measures before tsunami: A report from the UN’s atomic energy agency criticised Japanese regulators Sunday for failing to assess and review steps taken at Fukushima after 2002 to protect against tsunamis. The report indicates several shortcomings before the March 11 tsunami. Japanese nuclear regulators failed to review and approve steps taken after 2002 to protect against tsunamis at the Fukushima plant and these proved insufficient to prevent the tidal wave disaster three months ago, a U.N. report showed. A detailed assessment by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency – the first outside review of Japan’s nuclear crisis – suggested several shortcomings both before and after a tidal wave crippled the power station three months ago. But it also praised the way workers on the ground dealt with the situation at Fukushima Daiichi after the massive earthquake and huge tsunami devastated its reactors on March 11, triggering the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe in a quarter of a century.

Given the extreme circumstances it is doubtful “that any better solutions than the ones actually chosen could have been realistically implemented”, said the 160-page report, prepared for a ministerial nuclear safety meeting in Vienna next week.

A three-page summary was issued at the end of the 18-member team’s May 24-June 2 inspector mission to Japan. It said the country underestimated the threat from tsunamis to the Fukushima plant and urged sweeping changes to its regulatory system.

Japanese authorities have been criticised for failing to plan for a tsunami that would surge over the 5.7 metre (19-ft) wall at the nuclear power station in the country’s northeast, despite warnings that such a risk was looming.

The wave that crashed into the complex after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake was about 14 metres (46 feet) high.

In another setback to efforts to restore control over the quake-stricken plant, a rise in radiation halted the clean-up of radioactive water at Fukushima on Saturday only hours after it got under way. The full IAEA report said there had been “insufficient defence-in-depth provisions” for tsunami hazards, even though they had been considered in the design and siting of the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco.

Decision delays

Extra protective steps were taken as a result of an evaluation after 2002 – the projected tsunami height was increased – but they were insufficient “to cope with the high tsunami run-up values and all associated hazardous phenomena”.

“Moreover, those additional protective measures were not reviewed and approved by the regulatory authority,” said the report. It added: “Severe accident management provisions were not adequate to cope with multiple plant failures.”

The document, obtained by Reuters, was submitted to IAEA member states on Friday but has not yet been made public.

At the June 20-24 IAEA-hosted meeting, some 150 nations will begin charting a strategy on boosting global nuclear safety, but differences on how much international action is needed may hamper follow-up efforts, diplomats say.

Japan’s crisis has prompted a rethink of energy policy around the world, underlined by Germany’s decision to shut down all its reactors by 2022 and an Italian vote to ban nuclear power for decades.

Three reactors at the Japanese complex went into meltdown when power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation leakage and forcing the evacuation of some 80,000 people.

Japanese officials have come under fire for their handling of the emergency and the authorities have admitted that lax standards and poor oversight contributed to the accident.

In 2007, the IAEA was ignored when it called on Japan to create a more powerful and independent nuclear regulator, and the report underlined the need for greater regulatory control.

“An updating of regulatory requirements and guidelines should be performed reflecting the experience and data obtained during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami,” it said.

Japan has a well organised emergency preparedness and response system but “complicated structures and organisations can result in delays in urgent decision making”, it added.

The report also listed wider lessons for improving nuclear safety worldwide and help avert any repeat of the disaster, saying reactors should be built so that they can withstand rare and “complex combinations” of external threats.

France 24 International News 24/7: Protesters rally in Fukushima against nuclear power

France 24 International News 24/7: Protesters rally in Fukushima against nuclear power By News Wires: AFP – An estimated 1,700 people rallied in the capital of Japan’s Fukushima region, home to a crippled atomic power plant, on Sunday, calling for an end to nuclear energy, local media reported. “Abolish all the nuclear power plants!” and “Give radiation-free Fukushima back to us,” the demonstrators chanted as they marched in Fukushima City, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the nuclear plant. The rally, joined by residents evacuated from areas outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, was organised by the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs as part of its longtime campaign against nuclear weapons.

It was the first time that the leading anti-nuclear organisation staged a rally in Fukushima to observe the anniversaries of the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.

“We have tended to focus on abolition of nuclear weapons while being weak in our campaign against nuclear power plants,” Koichi Kawano, a Nagasaki atomic-bomb survivor who heads the organising group, told the rally.

“Let there be no more nuclear plant accidents.”

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami ravaged the Fukushima plant on March 11, leading to radioactive leaks.

Hiromasa Yoshida, a 45-year-old school teacher evacuated from the town of Namie inside a 20-kilometre no-go zone outside the plant, told the rally: “Let us become the last victims of any nuclear plant accident.

“Now is the time to shift away from nuclear power generation.”

The organisation is due to hold similar rallies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the run-up to the 66th anniversaries of the bombings.

Beyond Reason: The Story of Depleted Uranium

Beyond Reason: The Story of Depleted Uranium

7/13/2011 Thorium Reactors: Back to the Dream Factory: The Nuclear Dream Factory

Thorium Reactors: Back to the Dream Factory: The Nuclear Dream Factory by Gordon Edwards, July 13, 2011: Every time a nuclear power reactor idea doesn’t work out, and ordinary people get down-hearted and even start to doubt the magnificence and benificence of nuclear energy, the nuclear proponents rush back to their well-stocked dream factory to fetch another idea — one that is sufficiently unfamiliar and sufficiently untested that ordinary people have no idea whether it is good or bad, safe or dangerous, feasible or foolish, or whether the almost miraculous claims made about it are true or false.

Just a few years ago, nuclear proponents were pushing Generation 3 reactors — enormous plants that would generate huge amounts of electricity, yet be cheaper and faster to build than earlier models, as well as being safer and longer-lived.

Then Areva ran into a blizzard of problems trying to build one of these behemoths in Finland — the cost soaring by billions of dollars, the construction time extended by years, and fundamental safety-related design problems surfacing late in the game. Check and mate.

Undaunted, nuclear proponents quickly executed a 180-degree turn and are now promoting small reactors which can be mass-produced by the thousands and sprinkled on the landscape like cinnamon on toast. Pebble-bed reactors, molten-salt reactors, thorium reactors, have been paraded before the public with as many bells and whistles as the nuclear industry can muster, to distract people’s gaze away from the construction fiascos, the litany of broken promises from the past, the still-unsolved problems of nuclear waste and weapons proliferation, and the horror that is Fukushima.

The following paragraphs are written to dispel some of the mystique surrounding the idea of “thorium reactors” — a very old idea that is now being dressed up in modern clothes and made to seem like a major scientific breakthrough, which it is not.

Thorium is not a nuclear fuel: The fundamental fact about thorium is that it is NOT a nuclear fuel, because thorium is not a fissile material, meaning that it cannot sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction. In fact the ONLY naturally occurring fissile material is uranium-235, and so — of necessity — that is the material that fuels all of the first-generation reactors in the entire world. Thorium cannot replace uranium-235 in this regard. Not at all.

Thorium is a “fertile” material: But thorium-232, which is a naturally occurring radioactive material, is about three times as abundant as uranium-238, which is also a naturally occurring radioactive material. Neither of these materials can be used directly as a nuclear fuel, because they are not “fissile” materials.

However, both uranium-238 and thorium-232 are “fertile” materials, which means that IF they are placed in the core of a nuclear reactor (one that is of necessity fuelled by a fissile material), some fraction of those fertile atoms will be transmuted into man-made fissile atoms.

Some uranium-238 atoms get transmuted into plutonium-239 atoms, and some thorium-232 atoms get transmuted into uranium-233 atoms.

Both plutonium-239 and uranium-233 are fissile materials which are not naturally-occurring. They are both usable as either fuel for nuclear reactors or as nuclear explosive materials for bombs. (The USA exploded an atomic bomb made from U-233 in 1955.)

Reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel: In general, to obtain quantities of plutonium-239 or uranium-233, it is necessary to “reprocess” the irradiated material that started out as uranium-238 or thorium-232. This means dissolving that irradiated material in acid and then chemically separating out the fissile plutonium-239 or uranium-233, leaving behind the liquid radioactive wastes which include fission products (broken pieces of split atoms, including such things as iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90, etc.) and other radioactive waste materials called “activation products” and “transuranic elements”

Reprocessing is the dirtiest process in the entire nuclear fuel chain, because of the gaseous radioactive releases, liquid radioactive discharges, and large quantities of highly dangerous and easily dispersible radioactive liquids. Reprocessing also poses great proliferation risks because it produces man-made fissile materials which can be incorporated into nuclear weapons of various kinds by anyone who acquires the separated fissile material.

Advanced Fuel Cycles and Breeders: “Any nuclear reactor-fuelling regime that requires reprocessing, or that uses plutonium-239 or uranium-233 as a primary reactor fuel, is called an “advanced fuel cycle”. These advanced fuel cycles are intimately related with the idea of a “breeder” reactor — one which creates as much or more fissile material as a byproduct than the amount of fissile material used to fuel the reactor.

So it is only in this context that thorium reactors make any sense at all — like all breeder concepts, they are designed to extend the fuel supply of nuclear reactors and thus prolong the nuclear age by centuries.

The breeder concept is very attractive to those who envisage a virtually limitless future for nuclear reactors, because the naturally occurring uranium-235 supply is not going to outlast the oil supply. Without advanced fuel cycles, nuclear power is doomed to be just a “flash in the pan”.

Thorium reactors are most enthusiastically promoted by those who see “plutonium breeders” as the only other realistic alternative to bring about a long-lived nuclear future. They think that thorium/uranium-233 is a better fate than uranium/plutonium-239.

They do not see a nuclear phaseout as even remotely feasible or attractive.

“Molten Salt” reactors : Molten salt reactors are not a new idea, and they do not in any way require the use of thorium — although historically the two concepts have often been linked. The basic idea of using molten salt instead of water (light or heavy water) as a coolant has a number of distinct advantages, chief of which is the ability to achieve much higher temperatures (650 deg. C instead of 300 deg. C) than with water cooled reactors, and at a much lower vapour pressure.

The higher temperature means greater efficiency in converting the heat into electricity, and the lower pressure means less likelihood of an over-pressure rupture of pipes, and less drastic consequences of such ruptures if and when they do occur.

Molten salt reactors were researched at Oak Ridge Tennessee throughout the 1960s, culminating in the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), producing 7.4 megawatts of heat but no electricity. It was an early prototype of a thorium breeder reactor, using uranium and plutonium as fuels but not using the thorium blanket which would have been used to “breed” uranium-233 to be recovered through reprocessing — the ultimate intention of the design.

This Oak Ridge work culminated in the period from 1970-76 in a design for a Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) using thorium as a “fertile material” to breed “fissile” uranium-233, which would be extracted using a reprocessing facility.

Molten Salt Thorium reactors without reprocessing?: Although it is theoretically possible to imagine a molten-salt reactor design where the thorium-produced uranium-233 is immediately used as a reactor fuel without any actual reprocessing, such reactor designs are very inefficient in the “breeding” capacity and pose financial disincentives of a serious nature to any would-be developer. No one has actually built such a reactor or has plans to build such a reactor because it just isn’t worth it compared with those designs which have a reprocessing facility.

Here’s what Wikipedia says on this matter (it happens to be good info): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor

To exploit the molten salt reactor’s breeding potential to the fullest, the reactor must be co-located with a reprocessing facility. Nuclear reprocessing does not occur in the U.S. because no commercial provider is willing to undertake it. The regulatory risk and associated costs are very great because the regulatory regime has varied dramatically in different administrations. [20] UK, France, Japan, Russia and India currently operate some form of fuel reprocessing.

Some U.S. Administration departments have feared that fuel reprocessing in any form could pave the way to the plutonium economy with its associated proliferation dangers.[21]

A similar argument led to the shutdown of the Integral Fast Reactor project in 1994.[22] The proliferation risk for a thorium fuel cycle stems from the potential separation of uranium-233, which might be used in nuclear weapons, though only with considerable difficulty.

Currently the Japanese are working on a 100-200 MWe molten salt thorium breeder reactor, using technologies similar to those used at Oak Ridge, but the Japanese project seems to lack funding.

Thorium reactors do not eliminate problems: The bottom line is this. Thorium reactors still produce high-level radioactive waste, they still pose problems and opportunities for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they still pose catastrophic accident scenarios as potential targets for terrorist or military attack, for example.

Proponents of thorium reactors argue that all of these risks are somewhat reduced in comparison with the conventional plutonium breeder concept. Whether this is true or not, the fundamental problems associated with nuclear power have by no means been eliminated.

Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility