LFTR: A Better Nuclear?

By A.G. Moore 6/10/2014
MSR Reactor
US Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee
From Wikimedia Commons, Public DomainThree Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima: disasters that changed the way many people view nuclear power. Once touted as “greener” than fossil fuels, nuclear’s reputation has taken a battering in recent years. Governments and industry representatives have a hard time convincing people that nuclear plants have fail-safe measures built into them. So, if nuclear is to increase its share of the global energy picture, it has to revamp its somewhat tarnished image.That’s where the liquid fluoride thorium reactor–LFTR–comes in. This reactor is supposed to be  safe and clean. The case for LFTR technology is presented enthusiastically. Considering how high the stakes are in the game of energy roulette, it’s probably wise to apply a little skepticism to the LFTR optimism.One of the arguments advanced by the LFTR camp is that nuclear waste, with this technology, would no longer be a problem.  That’s because–we’re told— the LFTR is designed to recycle fuel.   At the end of many cycles, very little radioactive material is left.Another benefit of the LFTR is supposed to be that it is Inherently…safer than conventional light water reactors, According to one website, the LFTR has “no high pressure or chemically reactive ‘driver’ to expel radiotoxic substances into the environment”.  In the event of a breach,  molten fuel is designed to drain “down the side of the vessel into non-critically configured drain tanks”.  And, in the event of overheating, the fuel is supposed to flow “to the drain tanks” and solidify.One more claim of LFTR  proponents is that diversion of material for bomb-making is not likely.  In the words of an LFTR cheerleader the reactor is “worthless for making nuclear weapons”

Many are the claims about the benefits of LFTR technology; I have touched on only three. To rebut these claims, I offer opinions from a variety of experts. Most of the opinions are given in the form of direct quotes–with links to lengthy explanations.Read the statements below; follow the links to associated articles. Then form your own judgment about whether or not you believe thorium,  LFTR  or any kind of nuclear is a good idea.
Radioactive Waste:
1. “Keep in mind there are waste concerns since thorium needs a uranium-233 catalyst and then there is still the same security needs surrounding thorium as any other reactor on the market.” From: Blue Phoenix

2. “The waste problem becomes easier with a LFTR as most of it is low level after 10 to 20 years and safe after about 500 years.” From: The Register

3. “LFTRs are theoretically capable of a high fuel burn-up rate, but while this may indeed reduce the volume of waste, the waste is more radioactive due to the higher volume of radioactive fission products.” From: Kelley Bergman4. “The fact that a substantial portion of the nuclear waste generated from these plants will be mixed in with Fluoride salts also complicates the spend fuel issue, probably resulting in relatively higher spent fuel storage costs, relative to other reactor designs.” From: daryanenergyblog

Safety:
1 “Fluoride salts naturally produce hydrofluoric acid (when in contact with moisture) as well as decomposing into Flourine gas over time when cold. Both of these can lead to the release of toxic fumes…” From: daryanenergyblog

2, There is “… the danger of both routine and accidental releases of radiation, mainly from continuous ‘live’ fuel reprocessing...” From: Thorium, No Silver Bullet for Nuclear Industry

3. One challenge facing development of operational LFTR plant: “Developing the continuous on-site reprocessing technology…so that it can operate reliably without accident or releases...From: Oliver Tickell in WMD Junction4. The LFTR runs …”at temperatures of 800 degrees Celsius, it is quite likely that UF4, ThF4 and fission by-products would react with other materials to cause a criticality event, major fires and/or explosions…From: American ScientistWeaponisation:
1. “LFTRs could be used as highly efficient factories for very pure fissile material eminently suitable for bomb making…”  From: Oliver Tickell in WMD Junction

2 “If you have uranium-233 separated out, then it could be
weaponisable,” 
From: PE Magazine

3.(On separating-U-233 for bomb-making): …”a few screw turns from a suitably qualified engineer would undo such a setup”  From daryanenergyblog

4. “U-233 was successfully used in a 1955 bomb test in the Nevada Desert under the USA’s Operation Teapot and so is clearly weaponisable notwithstanding any 232U present.  ”
From Kelley Bergman


As for viability of this design–the chance that the LFTR will actually work as designed:

1.At present, my excitement for thorium is more like a mirage in the desert—meaning I can see there are possibilities”
From Blue Phoenix

2. “More Work still needs to be done of course“. From the Register



Many are keen to see uranium supplanted by thorium for use as nuclear fuel, but there are challenges to overcome before these projects get off the ground”  From PE Magazin 4. “…there are huge technical and engineering challenges in scaling up this experimental design to make a ‘production’ reactor.”  From Kelley Bergman
Keep in mind as you review these statements that investment in LFTR may come at great cost to other kinds of energy development. There’s a finite supply of private and public money. As we make decisions about how to allocate that money, we should be sure the expenditure benefits us today and in years to come.Resources: Information not likely found on sites that favor nuclear powerThe Nuclear Dream Factory


Don’t Believe Thorium Nuclear
Reactor Hype No Silver Bullet…Radiation is Poison…

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