(March 29, 2011) Energy Probe director of nuclear research Norm Rubin in the Toronto Star and The Week discussing why thorium is not the solution to the high costs of nuclear energy.
Toronto Star, March 25, 2011, Thorium touted as The Answer to our energy needs
Thorium pitches are really just “appeals for public funding,” he says: “Thorium reactors are only one of a significant number of long-term dreams to plant soybeans in Antarctica with the help of nuclear sun lamps. There is almost no limit to the dreams you can have with an endless, too-cheap-to-meter source of clean, benign, what-could-possibly-go-wrong energy.”
Needless to say, Rubin is not impressed. Not just with LFTRs, but with nuclear power plants in general.
“Thorium doesn’t eliminate the problems,” he contends. “If the nuclear industry’s problem was affording uranium, then switching to thorium might solve their problem. But that’s not their problem. The fuel cost in today’s reactors is a tiny fraction of the total cost. That’s not what is giving the Ontario government sticker shock about the next two reactors at Darlington. They’re solving a non-problem by substituting a cheaper fuel for uranium. Unless they solve the big problems, they’ve got a curiosity there instead of a practical solution to anybody’s problems.”
The Week, March 28, 2011, Could thorium make nuclear power safe?
First, it will take a lot of money to develop a new generation of thorium-fueled reactors — America’s has been dormant for half a century. China is taking the lead in picking up the thread, building on plans developed and abandoned in Europe. And part of the reason Europe dropped the research, according to critics, is pressure from France’s uranium-based nuclear power industry. Others just think the whole idea is being oversold. If “an endless, too-cheap-to-meter source of clean, benign, what-could-possibly-go-wrong energy” sounds too good to be true, says nuclear analyst Norm Rubin, it’s because it is.
Mr. Rubin characterizes the push for thorium-fueled reactors merely an appeal for public funding. How does he think the development of uranium-fuled reactors back in the 50’s and 60’s was funded? Remember that nuclear reactors were initially and primarily created as as sources for weapons-grade plutonium – precisely why the US government pulled the funding on thorium-fueled reactors, as they do not produce weapons-grade material. It was America’s single-minded desire to win the arms race against the Soviets that justified the billions of dollars required for the commercialization of today’s uranium-fueled reactors. So public funding for a truly safe, abundant and sustainable nuclear technology is somehow less appropriate than public funding for a much less safe power technology who’s primary reason for being was bomb production? That sounds like a pretty weak criticism of thorium-fueled power.
Mr Rubin’s criticisms of thorium based nuclear only make sense if you assume it used in a solid fuel, water cooled reactor. That is not what thorium advocates are proposing. A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor does NOT suffer from the many shortcomings he mentions. It does not need the massive, expensive pressure vessel because there is none of the high pressures, none of the risk of hydrogen build-up or explosion. It is not water cooled, so there is no risk of the massive discharges of contaminated water or steam. Most of all, there is no risk of melt-down. The fuel is already molten, and over-heating would simply result in the reactor draining itself into a passively cooled configuration. The liquid nature of its fuel allows continues filtering of waste products and the near total burning of the fuel (unlike solid fuel reactors), resulting in orders of magnitude less waste and waste that is far less toxic.
In short, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors really could answer all the most pressing problems with traditional solid fuel uranium reactors. Mr. Rubin should read up on the technology before commenting on it.
“Thorium doesn’t eliminate the problems,” … “Unless they solve the big problems, they’ve got a curiosity there instead of a practical solution to anybody’s problems.”
Mr Rubin, which problems are you speaking of? Without details, this is just sowing FUD.
From my reading, Thorium certainly does solve or ameliorate many of the problems with nuclear reactors. There are a number of different kinds of Thorium reactors, the safest being the molten salt reactor and the energy amplifier.
I love that Rubin pretty much ignores most of the benefits of Thorium: the safety features, reduced mining footprint, reduced waste output, reduced waste storage time, reduced plant cost, and reduced minimum efficient plant size; to suggest that the primary benefit is lower fuel cost, then attack that for being an invented problem.
Well, congratulations, Norm. Way to entirely miss the mark.
People like Rich Misty of Huffington post are clueless with regard to LFTR. They want to put the LFTR in the same category as a water cooled, solid fuel element reactor and point to the nuclear genie. Mr Misty is just one of Mr Rubin’s and the anti-nuclear acolytes. These anti-nuclear curmudgeons are the doom and gloom generation. They see Fukushima as a rallying cry to end all nuclear yet make no bones that renewables will take their place. Yet not today. Rubin needs an education and not just a policy perspective. Frankly, I am frustrated that policy wonks are touted as nuclear experts where it is clear they know nothing of the technology they are bashing. The problems with nuclear are not technical, as those are solvable. The problems are political. Thus it is up to those with law degrees, and liberal arts backgrounds that will ultimately decide the fate of a highly technical enterprise.
I’ve said that least 2728397 times. SCK was here