Monday, March 21, 2011

UPDATED: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: "Safe nuclear does exist, and China is leading the way with thorium"

Update: If you are in NYC and looking for something completely different , the Cornelia Street Cafe (hyperlinked in comment below) puts on their Entertaining Science show on the second Sunday of each month. Here's a bit of the descriptor:
...Founded in 2002 by Roald Hoffman, professor of chemistry at Cornell Universtiy and Nobel laureate, and today hosted alongside composer Dave Soldier, aka David Sulzer, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia University, Entertaining Science is our chance to place the wonders of science (and its interactions with the arts) on the café scene....
Original post:
Folks who have been in and around the energy biz know about the stuff, the rest of the world will soon learn.
The promise of thorium has been a siren song for the last couple decades, back in 2008 I dropped this comment at the WSJ's Environmental Capital blog:
    • C’mon guys, get with it!
      Global warming is so last year.
      Everybody, from Al Gore to the blogs you link to are reinventing themselves and talking energy.
      Energy production
      Energy cost.
      Energy security.
      It’s all about framing and re-framing.
      Low impact man’s time has come and gone. The eco-soirée has moved on to erudite discussions of thorium between nibbles at the canapés.
      By this winter the only references to carbon among the salon crowd might be Carbonic acid (H2CO3).
      You watch.
 Before that, in May 2007's EC (actually it was still the WSJ's Energy Roundup back then) it was:
 In Today’s Journal: Nearer a Nuclear Pact
10:09 am May 30, 2007 
Climateer wrote:
I was just told I was a bit cryptic in the comment above.
If you want to know more about thorium you can catch the poet at
Here’s some awards he’s collected:
* Nobel Prize
* Priestley Medal
* Arthur C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry
* Inorganic Chemistry Award (American Chemical Society)
* Pimentel Award in Chemical Education
* Award in Pure Chemistry
* Monsanto Award
* National Medal of Science
* National Academy of Sciences
* American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow
* American Philosophical Society Fellow
* Foreign Member, Royal Society
Here Ambrose at the Telegraph:

A few weeks before the tsunami struck Fukushima’s uranium reactors and shattered public faith in nuclear power, China revealed that it was launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium. 
This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.
If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.
China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.
Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.

“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.

“They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”

Thorium is a silvery metal named after the Norse god of thunder. The metal has its own “issues” but no thorium reactor could easily spin out of control in the manner of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or now Fukushima.

Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University said thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord,” he said.

Dr Cywinski, who anchors a UK-wide thorium team, said the residual heat left behind in a crisis would be “orders of magnitude less” than in a uranium reactor.

The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years....MORE
You caught that rare earth reference did you? See also:
Repost: Hard Truths About the Rare Earth Element Business (MCP; REE; AVL.TO;; LYSCF: REMX) 
Rare Earths: "U.S. Sitting on Mother Lode of Rare Tech-Crucial Minerals "