Energy Content of Thorium

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When a LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) is used to extract energy from thorium, we could effectively “burn rocks” for energy.

Imagine a cube, perhaps roughly the size of a small car.  In order to see the tiny amount of thorium that would be contained within the average dirt pile, we need to zoom in.

Thorium is only ~0.001% in an average pile of dirt, but it packs in so much energy, that – using LFTR, it contains the equivalent energy content of 30 times the amount of crude oil, compared to the size of the original dirt cube!

Thorium Energy Content Merged Final

Click here if you want to see the math in detail for a cubic meter of dirt.

 

About LFTR – Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors

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You wouldn’t use a 20 year old cellphone, so why are we using 20+ year old nuclear technology?  The curious reason we are, is because it works, but we could be doing so much better.

Here is the short overview on LFTR and Thorium (the fuel of the future):

 

Thorium

– Element 90, found as Thorium 232 in nature, is 4 times more common than Uranium and about 200-400x more common than U-235, the fuel we burn in Light Water Reactors (LWRs) in the US and much of the world.  That’s just the start…

– Thorium is naturally radioactive like uranium, and has a half-life equal to the age of the universe (about 15 billion years) so it will be with us for a long time

– It is found in large quantities in “Rare Earth” mines, which are rare in the US because they dig up Thorium.  Thorium is (weakly) radioactive, and US law requires it be treated as a radioactive waste and buried.  Too much Thorium in a rare earth mine makes it unprofitable, but it is these rare earth mines that bring up the high technology metals we need in society today, such as Neodymium for magnets (think generators and motors).

– A LWR (Light Water Reactor) in the US burns about 0.5%-5% of the fuel put in it, the remaining is disposed of as unburned fuel as part of the radioactive waste.  A LFTR on the other hand, running from Thorium could burn 100% of the fuel

– Because it can all be consumed, if you held a marble a little over an inch across (~3 cm) made of Thorium, it could power your entire (western world) needs for your entire life. (more:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbGZ_Y-xkPM)

– The “waste” products are far less than that of the Light Water Reactor technology used today.  Also, the amount of mining is far less – and a natural result of a rare earth mine (see above).  (more: http://energyfromthorium.com/2007/01/09/uranium-vs-thorium-mining-processing-waste-generation/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_fluoride_thorium_reactor#Economy_and_efficiency)

– The byproducts of a LFTR are radioactive, but contain few “transuranic” elements – which would be radioactive for a very long time.  Instead, much of the “waste” could be recycled into useful products after a month or a few years of cooling off, and by about 100 years, much of the radioactivity is gone.

– There is less risk of proliferation with LFTR (Thorium) fuel, since Thorium doesn’t fission in of itself, and stolen active LFTR fuel would contain U232 (a natural byproduct of the LFTR process, not required to be added).  U232 is very radioactive and would damage electronics and irradiate the people stealing it, and make any stolen material easy to find.

 

LFTR - Liquid Fueled Thorium Reactor  (A molten-salt reactor using thorium)

– A LFTR is a different kind of reactor.  It was invented during the 1950s and 1960s in Oak Ridge Labs, but was quickly abandoned since the nuclear reactions were found to be not good for bomb-making. (more: http://youtu.be/bbyr7jZOllI?t=1m6s)

– Since the focus was on bombs and Uranium originally, the infrastructure of LWRs (light water reactors) quickly grew and stabilized, ignoring Thorium technologies such as LFTR (more: http://youtu.be/bbyr7jZOllI?t=12m1s – hear the Nixon tape – very damning evidence, and a real shame).

– This kind of reactor can’t “melt down” as it is already liquid.  It runs in the 700°C [1300 °F] range giving far superior thermodynamic efficiency.  High pressure is nowhere near the core, since a hot salt loop transfers the heat to the generators.

– The reactor is designed with a “salt plug” in its base, cooled by a fan.  If power is ever lost, the system fan would shut down (due to lost power), and the plug melts, draining the fuel into a storage container where fission stops.  The fuel would also cool and solidify.  If there were ever a breach in the reactor, material would drain into the same tank.  Even if the tank broke, the fuel would simply solidify on the floor.  Safety can be done completely passively, no worries about hoping systems will be online when needed.   (more:  http://youtu.be/enjc4arwH7U?t=3m30s)

– The reaction has a natural “negative feedback”, which means that if demand for power grows, the reactor will run faster, but if it falls, it will reduce its output.  It also will run slower as it gets too hot, so more heat does not make the reaction go out of control, it actually slows the reaction (due to expansion making fission less likely).

– The fuel is cheap (see Thorium above), and since there is no high pressure, huge thick walls and buildings are not necessary.  This lowers the space and cost requirements of a building.

– Any nuclear fuel generates Xenon gas while in a reactor.  This gas slows reactions and in the case of LWRs and other solid fueled reactors that we use today, it cracks and damages the fuel pellets.  Since LFTRs are liquid, it simply bubbles out of solution.  It can also be collected, and in a few months is no longer radioactive and can be sold.  This is also one reason the fuel in our current LWRs is only 0.5%-5% consumed, because if it were to be left in longer, the expansion from this would damage the fuel tubes inside of the reactor.

– LFTRs can make isotopes of materials we desperately need.  Mo-99 is needed by hospitals for radiation treatments, Pu238 is needed by NASA for space missions to the outer reaches of the solar system, and Bi213 for new targeted (Leukemia and Pancreas) cancer treatments. (more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2at8C8YrX80)

– LFTRs can also burn radioactive “waste” we are currently storing, made from the LWR units of today.  We could actually reduce our radioactive waste using LFTRs and other Molten-Salt Reactors (MSRs) (more:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1fqB6p9pgM).

– China is already working on LFTR technology and stockpiling Thorium.  India is working on Thorium for solid fueled reactors, but will probably move to LFTR as a natural part of that research. (more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_fluoride_thorium_reactor#Recent_developments)

 

Did you know?

– A typical coal burning plant emits far more radioactivity into the air than any nuclear plant.  Nuclear plants keep their fuels inside the building, but the smoke from coal contains all manner of poisonous materials (mercury, cadmium, etc) and several naturally radioactive ones such as Uranium and Thorium.  These materials are fairly safe as rocks, but as a breathable dust, not so much.

– Nuclear power is over 1,000,000 times more energy dense than burning fossil fuels.  The comparison is nuclear energy to that of a carbon-hydrogen bond. (more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG2jN–D2Es – See a visit to Arizona’s Palo Verde Energy Education Center outdoor exhibits)

– US current needs for energy burn a rail car of coal about every 1-3 seconds.  That’s about 100 tons per rail car.

– There have been far more deaths from coal mining than all nuclear power accidents combined. (more:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E2GTg7W7Rc – graphs at 2m:40s)

 

 

 

Our Nuclear Future

What I would like to see for the world’s energy solution.

In response to:

http://thebulletin.org/myth-renewable-energy

I do NOT like this Energy Gruel rationing idea at all. It flies in the face of anything else I’ve learned about energy.
 
I agreed with this article up until the very end. We do have good solutions (though not perfect) and we need more energy, not less. Energy directly contributes to quality of life, health and is necessary to the developing world to curb population growth and improve quality of life. If it is not provided somehow, then people will do anything to get it, and that means usually burning dirty sources (biofuel, coal, stolen oil, tar, dung, etc).

We need a source of energy that outputs lots of reliable energy with minimal eco-footprint. I’ve news for you, we already have it and it is nuclear power. While “current/old” nuclear is good, we will be able to do so much better. Exploring first current nuclear, about an ounce of uranium fuel pellets would power the typical US home for a year. By contrast, it takes 4 tons of coal, or about 30 sq meters of solar (in AZ, and you need backup) for the same supply. The same 1 oz of fuel becomes one oz of “waste” which is nothing more than ceramic material housed in metal tubes. The fear surrounding waste and radiation is irrational, but lets just look at some facts – about 70,000 tons of “waste” has been generated from 50 years of US nuclear, supplying ~20% of the country’s demand. It would take up ONE football field, less than 10 ft high.

Now the fun part – that “spent” fuel really has only had a small portion (mostly the enriched U-235) used. With Gen IV designs, we could consume the plutonium that was created, and consume the unused uranium (which is 94% of the remaining “spent” rod). This would roughly multiply the output by ~30-100x and reduce the volume of the waste by as similar amount. Further, the duration of the remaining waste becomes similar to background in about 100-300 years, rather than 100,000+ years.

Not enough? Consume thorium instead – a byproduct from the mining of rare-earths (mentioned in the article), thorium is found everywhere on earth in large amounts. It can be consumed by other Gen IV reactor designs, such as the MSR and LFTR technologies. It too would generate 100-300 year rather than 100,000+ year waste. If we had lots of MSR/LFTR/WAMSR plants, we would have vast amounts of reliable electricity at low cost as well as a number of wonderful “process heat” sources – these can MAKE liquid fuels, which means you can now fuel your planes and cars with sensible, energy dense liquid fuels, rather than throwing away dead batteries.

The future becomes limitless when you focus on this kind of power – space exploration (Pu238), indoor food growth, targeted nuclear cancer therapy (MATT), water desalination, liquid fuel production, medical isotopes, consumption of “spent” fuel, oh… yeah, and electrical power at an actual low cost – making whatever country that implements this an economic powerhouse. Thanks for reading.

 
-LFTRnow

Green Tree

Having seen this “tree” around in Facebook memes, I knew it wouldn’t work.  It is about as useless as “solar roads”.
green-treeSo, I did the math (don’t worry, it is pretty painless).

The website itself lists the output of the unit, and for a strong average wind, output is expected at about 3000 kWh per year (they don’t mention year, but the numbers work out).  Since power is worth roughly 15 euro cents per kWh, you multiply and get 450 EUR of output per year.  Divide the price tag by the output, and get:
65 YEARS

Wind also has the interesting physical property of the energy content being relative to the CUBE of its speed.  If the average wind speed were cut in half of this example, you can cut your output by 8x, and therefore multiply your time of return by 8, giving you 500 years.

I’m doubting something with that may rotating parts will last much more than 10 or 20, which makes this a net loss in energy, money and sanity.

Does no one check these things before propagating memes, articles, or investing?

Here is the link if you care to do the math yourself:
http://www.arbre-a-vent.fr/Arbre-vent_31.html

 

Palo Verde Arizona Nuclear Energy Education Center

If you happen to be in Arizona near Phoenix, you might want to stop by the Palo Verde Energy Education Center and have a look.

Getting to the EEC

Getting to the EEC – Click to view map.

 

 

Its focus is on nuclear power and offers some very well done and modern, interactive exhibits with touch screens and large monitors.

The Palo Verde Plant is an amazing feat of engineering:
– largest nuclear plant in the US (energy output of nearly 30,000 GWh per year)
– only nuclear plant in the world using effluent (waste) water for cooling
– the energy produced is cheaper than from coal
– emits less radiation to the environment than a coal plant
– Green Energy – the equivalent of 84 million cars off the road

The actual Palo Verde Plant is about 25 miles west of the Education Center and doesn’t generally offer tours, so they put together the Energy Education Center to show the public what the Palo Verde plant and nuclear energy is all about.  The center was completed at the end of 2013.

Learn more about the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Verde_Nuclear_Generating_Station

Whether you can make it for a visit or not, take a peek at my video channel “LFTRnow” on YouTube to check out my tour of the EEC, each video is about 5 minutes long.  One has more of a documentary style and only looks at the outside.  The video featuring the inside blasts though all of the exhibits in a whirlwind tour with music, giving you an idea of the quality of exhibits and information.   I hope you enjoy!

Outside at the EEC

Outside at the EEC

Inside the EEC

Inside the EEC

 

 

Replacing Nuclear with Solar (part 2)

I did the math (and maps) recently to compare Arizona Public Service’s (APS’s) brand new “Solana” solar power plant to the current Palo Verde Nuclear power plant.

The Solana plant is one of the most efficient solar thermal plants in the US today and it has thermal energy storage to be able to continue to produce power when the sun goes down.   It is so new, I was unable to locate a Google map to display it, so I’ve just represented it as an orange box to compare the area.  Here is how it roughly compares with the Palo Verde Nuclear power plant (outlined in blue) in area.

PVvsSolarThermal-Sml

It doesn’t look too bad right?  The nuclear plant takes up roughly 1.5+ square miles including the nearby cooling ponds to the east, and the solar plant is 3 square miles.

However, where it gets interesting is when you compare Wikipedia for the total annual output in GWh (gigawatt-hours).  On your electric bill, power is paid for and measured in kWh.  1 million kWh = 1 GWh, so that should give you a sense of scale.

The Solana plant is expected to produce 944 GWh per year!  Amazing.

The Palo Verde plant will produce 29,250 GWh in the same year.  Oh.  Its about 31x more than the solar plant even though the nuclear plant is about half the size of the solar plant.  That’s about 60x less space for the same power.

If you wanted to build 31 Solana’s (at about $2 billion x 31 total cost), you could then equal the output of the Palo Verde plant (which cost $6 billion in 1988).  It would take up roughly 100 square miles.  Here is what that looks like comparing the current nuclear plant (blue), the solar plant size (orange) with the required equivalent solar (yellow).    Note the size of Phoenix to the east.  The blue box is hard to see at this scale. PVvsSolarThermal

 

It depends on where you say Phoenix ends and the suburbs begin, but I’d say it would need to be quite a bit larger than the city of Phoenix in size.

Speaking earlier of costs, APS is to lease the power from Solana for about 14c/kWh, or put simply higher in cost than the current price of electricity consumers pay in Phoenix.  That means the costs for electricity will be going up, and/or it will be coming out of tax subsidies.  The nuclear plant generates energy for less than 2c/kWh.

The nuclear plant is cheaper than coal and about 7x cheaper than solar thermal, and takes up less than 60x the space for the same yearly energy output.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Verde_Nuclear_Generating_Station

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solana_Generating_Station

 Coming soon – I visited the Palo Verde Energy Education Center in Buckeye (located between Phoenix and the plant).  I took some video…

 

Replacing Nuclear with Solar

You sometimes hear:  “We should use the nuclear station in the sky for all of our power needs”

I did some interesting math to look at the environmentalist idea of replacing all of our current power plants with solar plants.

In Pickering, Ontario, Canada, is the “Pickering Generating Station” consisting of 8 CANDU reactors, each producing about 0.5 GW.  Put together they are over 4.1 GW.  I wondered how much space this would take up as solar panels…

The picture shows clearly the efficiency between a 4.1GW nuclear plant and its equivalent in solar.  To actually replace solar in Pickering would actually take up twice the space shown, since the solar radiation is about half of what was used in the calculation.  In short, you would have to cover the entire town in solar panels, to do what one plant can do (see the light blue box in the lower right corner).

Proof (warning, MATH!)

To give this a fighting chance, I imagined that the solar is put in Phoenix AZ (well known for its 300+ days of sun/year), and looked up the solar “insolation” – a measurement of the average power of the sun in an area over a year.  Phoenix is about 6.5 kWh per square meter.

With 15% efficient panels (normal) and ignoring all other losses, it results in about 1 kWh.  Multiplying by 365, gives about 365 kWh of output every year, per square meter.

The nuclear plant on the other hand is 4.1 GW of output, all day, every day, or 4.1 GW x 365 x 24 hrs x 1 million kWh per GWh = 36 thousand million kWh = 36,000,000,000 kWh per year from the plant.
Divide this by 365 kWh per year: 36,000,000,000 / 365 = 100,000,000 square meters, or 100 square km (roughly).

End of THE MATH

 

The purple line drawn is 10×10 km to make 100 square km.  In reality, if you replaced the actual Pickering plant, and put the panels in Pickering, you would need about 200 square km of them, since the solar insolation is about half that of phoenix, and don’t even get me started on the snow removal on 200 square km of solar panels.

Consider also the cost of building and installing and maintaining 100-200 square km of solar panels, or the environmental damage of that much shade (if you built it somewhere remote).  Or, consider that they will need to be replaced about every 30 years, or that there is only power generated when the sun shines.

The original technology for the CANDU reactor used in this example (sitting operating in Pickering), is over 40 years old.  It isn’t even a thorium LFTR reactor, which would be about 100x more efficient than the CANDU or about 300x more efficient than the standard US based light-water reactors.

The math took care to use an average number for the year, but unless you don’t mind either huge costly energy storage solutions, or not having power at night – other solutions must also be added in.  It is just too bad we don’t have:  something that is on 24/7, doesn’t use vast amounts of resources, and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases – like nuclear power.  Hmm!  How about that – We do!  And with thorium and LFTR, it could be better.

 

 

Awesome News – Bill Gates is looking at Thorium

Some people reading this might be aware of Gate’s Terrapower company which is in the process of building a uranium based traveling wave reactor, but this is news!

“TerraPower, the Gates-chaired nuclear power company, has garnered attention for pursuing traveling wave reactor tech, which runs entirely on spent uranium and would rarely need to be refueled. But the concern just quietly announced that it’s going to start seriously exploring thorium power, too.”

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/bill-gates-is-beginning-to-dream-the-thorium-dream

 

Full article (original source) at the Weinberg Foundation:

http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2013/07/23/bill-gates-nuclear-company-explores-molten-salt-reactors-thorium/