Thursday, April 22, 2010

Norway and Sweden Team Up to Test Thorium Reactor

Although Norway separated from Sweden in 1905, the two countries can still get together for special occasions and projects. Alf Bjorseth, founder of a large solar energy company Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), is promoting an important reactor test of thorium energy concepts by the energy startup company Thor Energy PDF. The project is being sponsored by Swedish utility Vattenfall, and will be conducted at a Norwegian reactor site.

The experiments by Thor Energy are aimed at generating vital data to test the feasibility of safe, large-scale power production using the thorium cycle.
Thorium, he noted, isn't perfect. Thorium power plants do create radioactive waste. The nuclear waste from a thorium reactor, however, would mostly consist of unspent fuel. It does not result in materials that can be upgraded into weapons easily. (This slide deck from Thor has more info.)

"It is still a nuclear reaction, but we don't get plutonium at the end," he said.

Plutonium, in fact, could be mixed into the thorium fuel rods so the reactors could effectively help reduce the stockpile of nuclear waste while generating power. Additionally, the 232-isotope material that is needed for a thorium reactor occurs naturally, eliminating the need to enrich it.

The Indian government, small outfits like Thorium Power and TerraPower in the U.S. and even some established nuclear companies have discussed the possibilities of thorium for years. NuScale Power, which has created a modular reactor, is said to be examining thorium. Coastal thorium reactors potentially could even be exploited to power desalination plants. Senators Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid have promoted thorium in the U.S. -- that's a thorium accelerator in the picture.

Although some early reactors burned thorium, the industry shifted to uranium because of the large amounts of heat generated by that fission reaction, which in turn throws off the capital-per-gigawatt calculation. Thorium proponents [hope] those controversial side effects, combined with more information about thorium, could change the picture.

"We believe it is not a technical challenge. The challenge is to generate the data," he said. _GreentechMedia
It is telling that one of the world's leading proponents of solar energy finds it necessary to invest a significant amount of time and effort into developing a form of nuclear energy. If the experiments are successful, and point the way toward large scale utilisation of the thorium cycle, it is likely that China, India, and perhaps Japan and France, will be in a position to scale the technology up.

The US, under Obama - Pelosi, has been in full-scale energy starvation mode toward any viable forms of large-scale power and energy production. The US will almost certainly be caught flat-footed under the current administration.

Thor Energy powerpoint slides PDF



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