This is the "Fairewinds Energy Education" article on Thorium Reactors. http://fairewinds.org/demystifying/thorium-reactors
This is my point by point rebuttal.
** = Fairewinds
>> = me
** According to questions we have received, proponents claim that thorium reactors produce less waste and its half-life is “only” a few hundred years rather than thousands. That still means hundreds of years of waste. However, contrary to proponent’s claims
If the spent fuel is not reprocessed, thorium-232 is very long lived (half-life: 14 billion years) and its decay products will build up over time in the spent fuel. This will make the spent fuel quite radiotoxic, in addition to all the fission products in it.
>> This seems an odd statement from an organization that lables itself to be educational. One would think that an educational organization would understand that generally speaking, the longer the half life, the lower the radiotoxicity. Thorium has a VERY long halflife meaning that it is darn near stable. The radioactivity of thorium is very low, and it is prevelent throughout the whole earth.
**It should also be noted that inhalation of a unit of radioactivity of thorium-232 or thorium-228 (which is also present as a decay product of thorium-232) produces a far higher dose, especially to certain organs, than the inhalation of uranium containing the same amount of radioactivity. For instance, the bone surface dose from breathing an amount (mass) of insoluble thorium is about 200 times that of breathing the same mass of uranium.
>> I have looked for a scientific basis for this statement which I find in most anti-thorium literature but cannot find it. The anti-thorium literature alway references some other hit piece (this reference) or anti-thorium blog or anti-nuke rally powerpoint. Not a real good source. (Whether the item is true may not be an issue anyway if the "bone surface dose" is always small no matter what. No level is actially given.)
** And there is still no geologic repository for the waste in the USA and most of the world, and even if there was, the encapsulation process designed to hold the waste has recently been shown to last only 100 years.
>> False, false, and false.
- WIPP exists in the US.
- Several repositories exist in Europe and more are on the way.
- But in truth, this is a red herring. If the material is reprocessed as proposed, the need for a repository will effectively vanish. You don't need a repository for a 300 year issue.
**On the question of safety, here is how the Union of Concerned Scientists in its Statement on Thorium Fueled Reactors, answers:
Some people believe that liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which would use a high-temperature liquid fuel made of molten salt, would be significantly safer than current-generation reactors. However, such reactors have major flaws. There are serious safety issues associated with the retention of fission products in the fuel, and it is not clear these problems can be effectively resolved.
>> This is an odd statement coming from "scientists". Do they not know that the fission products in a LFTR salt solution are in their most stable chemical condition? This isn't like LWRs where the Cesium is in metallic form that has a low boiling point and will vaporize during a meltdown. All fission products are generated in known amounts and known forms and are appropriatele handled for safety as soon as created. They don't sit in the fuel salt for long periods unless they are stable in those salts.
** Such reactors also present proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks because they involve the continuous separation, or “reprocessing,” of the fuel to remove fission products and to efficiently produce U-233, which is a nuclear weapon-usable material.
>> Misleading in a bunch of ways, but the real test is... current uranium based weapons = ~19,000. Thorium based weapons... ZERO.
** Moreover, disposal of the used fuel has turned out to be a major challenge. Stabilization and disposal of the remains of the very small “Molten Salt Reactor Experiment” that operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s has turned into the most technically challenging cleanup problem that Oak Ridge has faced, and the site has still not been cleaned up. 2
>> I am surprised that even "Fair"ewinds would stoop to bolluxing this one up. When the program MSRE was canceled, the program requested $50,000 to remove the uranium from the salt. Their request was declined. As a result, the fuel salt solidified. During the next decades, some fission products decayed and lost valance states. This released some of the fluoride that was bonded to it. The fluoride attached to the UF4 bcoming UF6 and volatilized. No commercial facility would ever do that. It takes a special kind of thinking (government or NGA) to do that sort of thing.
** Another claim thorium proponents make is that a thorium reactor is nearer to closing the nuclear fuel cycle. In an interview discussing that topic, Arnie Gundersen said,
The French, and actually the Japanese bought into this. No one has really what we call closed the nuclear fuel cycle. The Japanese tried for years and spent trillions of yen or hundreds of billions of dollars in trying to reprocess fuel and it failed every time. My point is if we had spent that money on alternative energy sources, we would be much more likely to have a solution right at hand that is really cheap. And instead we put all our money on the wrong horse in this race.3
>> For being a "nuclear engineer" AG really kerfuffled that one. Neither the French nor the Japanese have EVER tried to close the fuel cycle for a LFTR. Condemning LFTRs for possible flaws in other designs should be below even AG.
** Following a review, even the U. S. Department of Energy has concluded placed Thorium Reactors in the same category as all other nuclear power reactors.
The choice between uranium-based fuel and thorium-based fuel is seen basically as one of preference, with no fundamental difference in addressing the nuclear power issues [of waste management, proliferation risk, safety, security, economics, and sustainability]. Since no infrastructure currently exists in the U.S. for thorium-based fuels, and the processing of thorium-based fuels is at a lower level of technical maturity when compared to processing of uranium-based fuels, costs and RD&D [research, development and deployment] requirements for using thorium are anticipated to be higher. 4
>> Use of thorium in solid fueled reactors is not vastly different than using U235/U238 except the bred fuel is better in a LWR. Thorium needs a liquid fueled reactor to truly shine. But the author seems determined to confuse the reader by condemning LFTRs with solid fuel issue. It is just ... sneaky.
** Thorium 232 is not fissile, that means it can’t split and create power. Thorium 232 needs a uranium reactor to get it started by sending out neutrons that the thorium 232 can absorb. When that happens, the thorium 232 changes to U233, which is fissile. So behind every thorium reactor there still is uranium and plutonium that must be disposed of.
>> Wow, this is a truly awsome display of bone-headedness. The LFTR burns the starter fuel charge. If started with plutonium, the plutonium burns up and goes away. It is converted into fission products with a ~300 year dangerous life. The reactor is what disposes of the plutonium. I mean REALLY? They got that wrong? Oh my.
** To date, Fairewinds has seen no evidence that Thorium Reactors are ready for prime time. Thorium Reactors face the same environmental risks as the current fleet of nuclear power plants. And as Hurricane Sandy has proven, those issues will be even more challenging as global warming and its subsequent impact on weather patterns throughout the world continues to impact energy production. Nuclear power plants like Thorium Reactors need a stable geological location as well as long-term storage solutions.
>> First, the current fleet of nuclear plants, even with the occasional low probability accident, are still the cleanest safest energy source around. And they are getting cleaner and safer all the time. But LFTRs will be a quantum step forward in safety.
Oe nice thing is that LFTRs can be air cooled so location near shorelines or rivers/lakes is not needed. And the stated need for long term storage solutions is false. LFTRs produce ~300 year waste, not mega-year waste. It is not a problem.
** As climate change becomes impossible to ignore, the nuclear industry is attempting to market itself as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. While nuclear reactors do not generate sooty particles that wind up in the atmosphere, the heavy dependence on cooling water for nuclear power plants makes nuclear power unfeasible as water temperatures rise around the globe. Additionally, mining and transporting uranium are carbon heavy activities. Finally, studies in Sweden have shown that the ceramic encapsulation, the anticipated solution to keep waste secure for hundreds of years will not even last 100 years, so there currently is no long term viable storage solution for nuclear waste.
>> Again, condemning LFTRs for the issues with other reactors. This is getting to be a pattern of disengenuousness.
Edited to improve readability.