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At last someone is building a Thorium LFTR



  • Registered Users Posts: 8,565 ✭✭✭K.Flyer

    I've been reading a lot about LFTRs lately, definitely seems the way to go as far as clean energy is concerned.

    Michael Moore's documentary, Planet of the Humans, shows a lot of the renewable green energy ideas are not so Green after all and that newer nuclear technology may be the way, or only way, forward.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    I'd recommend you also read this - - written by someone with a PhD in nuclear energy.

    In the past, I had been a nuclear energy proponent and would bore people by banging on about thorium any time the subject came up. But I no longer believe nuclear fission has a role in energy production. It had two advantages: the cheapness of produced energy and the fact that production didn't add any CO2 to the atmosphere. But it is now possibly the most expensive way of generating electricity at utility scale - it hasn't been price-competitive for generations (surpassed by coal in the 1990s, which in turn was overtaken by natural gas which is now being muscled out by wind and solar). And the carbon-free aspect might have been significant when there were no other options but now we have cheaper, more secure, simpler sources of carbon-free energy.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    What are the more secure sources of carbon-free energy?

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    Anything that doesn't require military-grade security for operation?

    To be fair there are so many negatives to generating electricity from nuclear fission, that it's fairly down the list these days.

    Primarily it's economics which have killed nuclear - until the mid 80s nuclear was relatively cheap. It's now the most expensive utility-scale source of electricity. Look at the Hinkley C contract for example where the project was only made viable because of a guarantee to pay twice the current average wholesale price for all its future output. Already the guaranteed price is twice the average electricity wholesale price in the UK - where like elsewhere in Europe the wholesale price has been dropping steadily over the last decade.

    Even if it a nuclear project promised to deliver electricity at prices competitive with natural gas (far more flexible - nuclear is very slow and expensive to ramp output up and down) never mind renewables, the industry is on it's knees - most nuclear energy companies have gone bust, and recent history in the west is just a litany of project failure after project failure: abandonment after spending $9B - - or endless delay and cost increases - (the only nuclear reactors being constructed in the US at the moment) or the Finish Olkiluoto 3 - - 13 years late and yet to produce a watt of electricity.

    Nuclear fission has turned out to be a technological cul-de-sac unfortunately. The promises have always been enticing but what the industry has delivered in the last 3 or 4 decades has consistently been overpriced, delayed, expensive and inflexible. Where wholesale generation markets have been liberalized, nuclear been out-competed by pretty much any other source of electricity on price and/or flexibility. If it wasn't for massive government subvention and military-strategic reasons (China primarily and to a lesser extent India and Russia), the global collapse of the industry would be stark. That the industry has done a complete volte-face and clutched on environmental concerns to try to align itself with the decarbonisation of energy through a lot of PR effort is just a measure of its desperation.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    Ah, I understood secure to be security of supply rather than actual physical security. Base supply is always going to be necessary, wherever that comes from.

    Also, of course coal is cheaper if we don't include the absolutely colossal societal, health and environmental costs of it.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    The problem is anything is cheaper.

    And I'm not sure why coal is being mentioned? Coal isn't considered a viable option these days either - it might be cheaper than nuclear at a fraction of the project risk but that isn't saying much since nuclear is the most expensive way of generating electricity. Typically electricity from a coal plant costs twice as much as that from a natural gas plant - hence its rapid decline as an electricity source over the last decade. Moneypoint has been written off entirely - same has happened all over the US with coal plants. Basically, you couldn't give away a coal plant for free these days since it cannot be operated profitably. Not a single new coal plant has been built in the US in nearly ten years.

    The only thermal electricity source that can keep its head above water these days is natural gas - particularly combined cycle. Traditional gas turbines have - just this year - suddenly found themselves to be out-priced by grid-scale li-ion storage. So it's pretty inevitable, they are about to start seeing a coal or nuclear like decline.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    You mentioned coal...

    Of course Germany shutting down its nuclear plants and reopening/delaying the closure of its coal plants was one of the biggest acts of environmental destruction I've seen in my lifetime and I can't believe they don't get more heat for it. My point was more that nuclear is expensive partly because almost the entirety of the waste collection and treatment is included in the cost which is not true for any fossil alternative. Natural gas is better than coal but its still not a long term alternative.

    If we want to move away from fossil fuels completely (which seems a laudable end goal) then there needs to be something that can contribute base load or else significantly better energy storage technology.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    I mentioned coal as a likewise "dead" electricity generation technology - not as an economically viable option in this millennium.

    Germany produced over 260TWh of electricity from hard coal and lignite in 2010, in 2020 the number was 130TWh. During that time nuclear production fell from 140TWh to about 65TWh.

    In the same period German renewable production grew from 105TWh to over 250TWh annually. Overall, seems like pretty good progress to me - a C+ at least, and hardly the biggest act of environmental destruction in a generation that you view it as?

    The move away from fossil fuels - particularly in electricity generation - is already happening at great pace with sustained year on year global double digit growth for solar and wind. Meanwhile utility scale li-ion battery charges have - as of 2021 - for the first time become actually cheaper than gas peaker plants for demand following and are currently the new gold-rush in American electricity generation. We don't currently have any problem that nuclear solves effectively or economically - too slow to deploy, too capital intensive, produces electricity than cannot compete on price, is no-good for demand following, politically unpopular, etc. It's a very effective way to burn a load of government money, mind you.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    German nuclear production fell because they shut them down following Fukushima. Germany being renowned for being on a major fault line 🙄 This resulted in the delay in the shutdown of numerous coal power production plants.

    Growth in renewable energy is great. The benefit of nuclear has always been the consistency of supply and the ability to respond to demand. Something that other renewable options can not currently do.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,207 ✭✭✭deandean

    If it wasn't for coal, there would have been rolling blackouts in Ireland over the past 6 weeks.

    Wind energy production was very low.

    Moneypoint (coal) and Tarbert (heavy crude) jave been central to keeping the lights on.

    The country needs investment in base load power stations for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. I.e. gas, and I would like to see the re-start of looking at the nuclear option.

    I'd rather a modern nuclear power plant in Ringsend over that incinerator.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,081 ✭✭✭GetWithIt

    I heard Norway had made big investments in Thorium reactors but had to shut down all work and refocus on oil and gas production due to the prospect of Russian intervention supported by the EU.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    "The benefit of nuclear has always been the consistency of supply and the ability to respond to demand."

    Not at all. The benefit of nuclear was that it was seen as the most economical way to produce electricity for decades. That era ended in the late 1980s.

    Nobody ever installed nuclear because of their "ability to respond to demand" because generally nuclear reactors are terrible at responding to demand.

    Most nuclear reactors are designed to output a constant amount of electricity more or less 24/7 and suffer wear and shortened life span if forced to vary the output regularly. It's a major disadvantage of nuclear compared to fossil fuels and is one reason why coal - for a while - was preferred by grid operators. It takes hours if not days to ramp nuclear generation up and down - far too slow to deal with the seasonality of demand at the daily scale.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    Right, I have not put that forward correctly.

    It is the constant level of output that is what I was trying to get to. It is something other environmentally sound options still don't provide for the most part. Wind can provide almost an entire grid or nothing depending on conditions.

  • Registered Users Posts: 718 ✭✭✭Heraclius

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    "It is the constant level of output that is what I was trying to get to."

    But that's NOT a useful feature of nuclear - the opposite in fact. Peak to trough demand can vary by a factor of 2 or more on a daily scale. Say your base load (off-peak demand) is 3GW and you've built a 3GW nuclear plant. The grid operator will hate you for a number of reasons. The existence of the nuclear plant providing constant "base load" amplifies the effects of the variance in the demand for all the other generators. You now need 3GW of dispatchable power plants to cover the peak demand but because of the nuclear plant, these generators which will have to sit fully idle for 12 or 16 hours a day. At least with wind, you might get to run the plants at reduced capacity when the wind is higher but you don't have the situation where you're guaranteed that the brand new gas plant you were FORCED to build to avoid blackouts will have to sit fully idle for 60% or more of the time.

    The other problem is that you'll probably need to build at least two such nuclear plants. On average, a US nuclear plant is down for 10% of the time. It's not a complete disaster in a big diverse market like the US but if a small country like Ireland was relying on a single nuclear plant then you clearly will need a back-up to cover this unavoidable downtime or at least some spare reactors.

    Nuclear just doesn't solve any of the problems of modern grids. And the problem it does solve - producing lots of electricity - can only be done at prices that are simply too expensive. Wind and solar are worse in some ways for demand matching but they have the advantage that they're super cheap (1/4 to 1/5 of the price of nuclear on a levelled basis), super quick and easy to deploy and that they are highly predictable (particular solar - wind up to 2 or 3 weeks) unlike thermal plant failure which is almost completely random (and thermal plants fail regularly).

  • Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 21,810 Mod ✭✭✭✭bk

    "Moneypoint (coal) and Tarbert (heavy crude) have been central to keeping the lights on."

    Err.. The current issue is due two to natural gas plants being off line! Last year Moneypoint was off line for almost a year. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for fossil fuels!

    As for the physical security of a Nuclear plant, that is a great point that I've never thought about, despite knowing about the signicficant specialist military/police units both US/UK use to protect theirs.

    Our military/Gardai are in no way resourced to protect a Nuclear station, most obviously our Air Corp has neither helicopter gunships, nor fighter jets for overhead cover that both the US/UK use. We would need to spend at least a billion+ there to equip them with enough resources.

    I'd also doubt that our army is big enough or has the correct equipment for this job. I'd guess they would need at least a couple hundred extra soldiers (keep in mind training, reserves, different tours, duty shifts, replacements, etc.), plus specialist equipment and vehicles.

    Ouch overall.

    I'm very glad that the Chinese are working on a Thorium reactor, it is a good idea to have a plan B, just in case.

    I don't think they would change the case for Nuclear in Ireland, they still wouldn't make economic or logistical sense for such a small, isolated grid, with such rich renewables resources. But perhaps some day we could be importing over the interconnnectors electricity generated from mainland European Thorium reactors.

    For us, the focus has to be on maximising the use of our significant renewable resources over the next 10 to 30 years.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 23,788 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl

    Ah I wasn't really thinking about it in Ireland anyway - with the interconnectors built/being built its not really as relevant where these things physically are.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,068 ✭✭✭Ger Roe

    Except when some natural disaster or political instability cuts off the flow or makes it more expensive and we then realise that we can't generate enough power to sustain ourselves. We rely too much on outsourcing for other critical goods and services in this country, we should be careful about planning for a reliance on outsourcing our electricity generation.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,001 ✭✭✭gjim

    Ireland's energy import dependency has dropped from about 90% around 2008 to 65% now. We relied far more on imports for energy before renewables took off. If the vehicle fleet could be replaced by BEVs, Ireland could easily become a net energy exporter within a decade or two. The quicker more wind and solar gets deployed, the quicker the country reduces its dependence on imports for energy.

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  • Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 21,810 Mod ✭✭✭✭bk

    Yes, it seems many people don’t know the history of our energy dependence, how bad it use to be and how much better it is now!

    In the 60’s and 70’s the majority of electricity was generated by imported oil! Obviously we saw the foolishness of that with the oils crisis in the 70’s and as a result in the 80’s we switched to coal. Not great as we still had to import most of it from Poland, etc. More politically stable then oil, but still completely reliant on others.

    Today we get 40%+ of our electricity from our own wind and the rest is mostly natural gas from our own reserves, with a relatively small amount being imported from nearby neighbours UK and Norway in the North Sea.

    Not since Ardnacrusha was opened in the 30’s have we been so independent from outside resources as we are today.

    And it is only going to get better, throughout our history we have been using imported oil for our cars. As grim points out if we can move those to EV’s then we greatly reduce our reliance on imported oil. And then over the next 10 years we will be moving to 70% renewables.

    Long term, as we add more and more renewables, hydrogen production and interconnconters, it is quiet possible we will switch to being a net exporter of energy.

  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 89,265 Mod ✭✭✭✭Capt'n Midnight

    Thorium has been the fuel of the future since 1946.

    It's all been tried before, but not in an era where renewables costs are in free fall when measured over the timescales it would take to develop, commercialise and large scale rollout of new nuclear plants.

    How long will it take to breed enough fuel to prime another reactor ?

    China is trying everything, including solar power from space.

    Solar power collected in space has the advantage of being unaffected by weather or that pesky thing called "night".

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,447 ✭✭✭celtic_oz

    Built and testing begins in 2 weeks..

    Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 89,265 Mod ✭✭✭✭Capt'n Midnight

    the Wuwei reactor is designed to produce just 2 megawatts of thermal energy, which is only enough to power up to 1,000 homes. But if the experiments are a success, China hopes to build a 373-megawatt reactor by 2030, which could power hundreds of thousands of homes.

    Back in 1966 the Germans started using the AVR 15MW thorium reactor, by 1989 they had a 300MW one the THTR-300. They will still be paying the decommissioning costs for years to come. They were pebble bed reactors so somewhat like molten salt in that it's a high temperature reasonably homogenous core and no fuel or control rods or water.

    Those who claim molten salt reactors are safe need to be aware that basic research into the chemistry is still ongoing even though the history goes back to "the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, operated from 1965 to 1969"

    And it cannot be stressed often enough thorium requires economic use of fast neutrons for breeding. Turning thorium-232 into uranium-233 is directly comparable to turning uranium-238 into plutonium-239. The history of fast neutron reactors doesn't bode well due to the engineering problems and insane costs. It's a process the best engineers have been working at, on an industrial scale since they built multiple reactors in 1944 for the Manhattan project.

  • Registered Users Posts: 12,486 ✭✭✭✭Danzy

    Hopefully it will be a thing within the next 40 years, hopefully.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,447 ✭✭✭celtic_oz

    In this week's episode, we take a look at China's Molten Salt Reactor program they're rolling out, plus the United States' plan to destroy its U233 stockpile and the subsequent consequences.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,447 ✭✭✭celtic_oz

    The Next Generation of Nuclear Power Is Here

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,928 ✭✭✭cgcsb

    Recent studies on laser-induced annihilation seem positive:

    Laser-induced annihilation: Relativistic particles from ultra-dense hydrogen H(0) - ScienceDirect

    Obviously a lot further off commercialisation than fusion technology but in the long term this could superseed a lot of our current power production. Interesting times. Curious that we don't here more about it in mainstream media.

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,176 ✭✭✭Shoog

    There are two ways to get Thorium to fission state and neither is attractive. You either load the fuel with Uranium to provide the fast neutrons to sustain the reaction - which makes the reactor just as dirty as uranium reactors with all the security and waste mangement issues, destroying any claims that Thorium is a cleaner process.

    Secondly you bombard the core with a particle accellerator producing a neutron stream, problem is no greater than unit particle accelerator of sufficiently small size has ever been developed so its basically a none runner.

    There have been Thorium reactors around for decades - but they have never made it out of the development stage and they have never been commercially viable for utility scale energy production. Another distraction tactic from a dying industry which will never be commercialized.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 3,176 ✭✭✭Shoog

    The question is why don't Thorium fanboys ever mention the uranium thats needed to fuel the reaction, maybe because the publicity blurb never mentions it either.