A Review of 'Thorium: energy cheaper than coal' by Robert Hargraves

Guest post by David Archibald

Robert Hargraves lives in Hanover, New Hampshire. Mr Hargraves believes that “Global warming is harming us all.” Using the temperature – solar cycle length relationship from Friis-Christensen and Lassen theory, for cycles 24 and 25, this is what Nature has in store for Hanover, New Hampshire:

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So the coming years will be a severe test of his faith in the State-sponsored belief system.

In the meantime, he has done the World a good service by writing a book which describes why Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) are the solution to maintaining a high standard of living when the fossil fuels run out.

He starts the book by describing the basic physics of energy and then goes on to rehash IPCC material on global warming. Sometimes authors let slip, by their pronouncements, that they don’t have a good grip on the physical world. One of the better examples of that in Mr Hargraves’ case is this passage, ”Changes to life in the ocean will also be dire. Ocean life thrives in cold water; Caribbean water is blue and clear because it has less life than temperate and polar oceans.” Brian Fagin is another warmer author who betrays a lack of understanding of the physical world; in a number of his books he has describes arrow heads as weighing 1 kg. At any rate, on reading this sort of thing, the reader is alerted to not take any statement as being necessarily true.

The useful part of the book begins on page 115 with a discussion of the costs of existing energy sources – coal-fired power at 5.6 cents/kWh using coal at $45 per tonne and natural gas-based power at 4.8 cents/kWh using natural gas at $5/MBTU. Wind is far more expensive at 18.4 cents/kWh. Using pumped hydro storage to pacify it for the grid would add at least another 6 cents/kWh. Solar power is much the same cost at 23.5 cents/kWh.

Thorium is relatively abundant in the earth’s crust, as seen in this map of the USA.

Discussion of nuclear power begins in Chapter 5 on page 176. LFTRs will operate by having neutrons from the reactor core irradiate thorium in a blanket, converting it to fissile U233. That U233 is periodically rinsed from the blanket salt and fed to the core. Power from LFTRs is expected to cost of the order of 3 cents per kWh all up. The LFTRs will need a starter fuel at the rate of 1 kg per MW. The best source of that is the more than 72,000 tonnes of spent fuel rods that has accumulated in the US. That contains at least 648 tonnes of plutonium which is enough to start more than 3,000 200 MW reactors. Those spent fuel rods that have accumulated over the decades are a precious resource.

There is an interesting section on China’s LFTR project starting on page 260. China’s interest was triggered by an article in July 2010 in American Scientist. A delegation visited Oak Ridge National Laboratories where molten salt reactor work was done in the mid-1960s. The Chinese LFTR project was announced at a meeting of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in January 2011. Oak Ridge had 1,894 Chinese visitors in 2011! The project currently employs 432 people, expected to rise to 750 in 2015. A working 2 MW (t) reactor is expected by 2017 and a 10 MW (e) by 2020. The Chinese reaction to that July 2010 article reminds me of John Boyd’s OODA loop. There was a mere six months between reading an article and committing to a major new thrust in nuclear research. The contrast between that and the billions spent in the West on recreating medieval fear and superstition, and calling it climate science, could not be more stark.

This book is also comprehensive. A section on synthetic liquid fuels and how they might be made using nuclear power starts on page 355. It is realised that sources of carbon might become so scarce that the cheapest source might be carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere. A scheme to do that is illustrated on page 361. This is ironic in a book that asserts that carbon dioxide is the scourge of Mankind.

King Hubbert, of peak oil fame, realised that Mankind’s fossil fuel use would only be a blip in time and that the future, of necessity, will be nuclear-powered. This is Figure 30 from his 1956 paper “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels”:

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Mr Hargraves’ book has updated that insight and added flesh to the bones of the idea. His book is a useful addition to the comity. He is also to be lauded for self-publishing it. My edition is simply marked “Made in the USA; Lexington, KY; 09 September 2012”. The book’s website is: www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com It can be purchased from Amazon.

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Below is a video describing the concept. Long, but informative – Anthony

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jorgekafkazar

Flouride won’t work. Flour is dusty and makes people sneeze. Much better to use fluoride, which prevents tooth decay.

Doug Huffman

http://www.torium.se/res/Documents/124670.pdf
Molten-Salt-Reactor Technology Gaps, Charles W. Forsberg, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
(Session: 3.09 Liquid-Salt-Cooled High-Temperature Reactors-III
2006 International Congress on the Advances in Nuclear Power Plants (ICAPP ‘06)
Embedded Topical in the 2006 American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting
American Nuclear Society June 4–8, 2006 Reno, Nevada)

Tom in Worcester

Pardon my ignorance. Has a working one ever been built?

Betapug

The Chinese program to develop thorium MSRs is headed the US educated Dr. Jiang Mianheng, the son of the President of the Peoples Republic .China has huge stockpiles of thorium as a byproduct of the rare earth mining to supply all the neodymium for all those wind turbines they export. http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/01/30/china-initiates-tmsr/

What is wrong with the reactors like those used on US Navy ships and submarines. If there is a power failure they are SCRAMed by gravity, the operating experience with the reactors is extensive, and the designs are well understood. Contrast the US Navy reactors with those of Fukashima, which could not be SCRAMed without electric power to operate the pumps and servos that drive the SCRAM rods against gravity (perhaps not so good a design).
After the tsunami that overwhelmed Fukashima the issue of the safety of nuclear power became paramount in peoples minds. For educated non hysterical folks the issue of the differing safety properties of various reactor designs also come into focus. The video

Doug Huffman

@Tom, not that I know. MSR’s have been built. The most recent, the Japanese Monju has suffered a series of accidents and produced an hour of power at a cost of 10 -T- Trillion Yen.

Paul Martin

Liquid Flouride? Fluoride, surely? Though many a flour mill has gone up like a bomb due to a dust explosion.

pochas

“Power from LFTRs is expected to cost of the order of 3 cents per kWh all up.”
Ha, Ha, Ha! Cant begin to cover the costs from regulators, enviros and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers!

GlynnMhor

Tom asks: “Has a working one ever been built?”
To the extent that an experimental one counts as ‘working’, then yes:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment

Tom in Worcester says:
October 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm
“Pardon my ignorance. Has a working one ever been built?”
Yes.

Doug Huffman

The USN HEU PWR have the most experience of all reactor designs. They are fantabulously expensive. As economies are introduced, so are risks.

GlynnMhor

Chris asks: “What is wrong with the reactors like those used on US Navy ships and submarines?”
In order to generate considerable power in a small package, shipborne reactors use highly enriched Uranium or high concentration Plutonium (80%-90% is not atypical) as their fuel, approaching weapons grade reactivity.
In contrast land-based power reactors use 6%-10% fissible concentrations, well below levels required for nuclear warheads.

Bruce of Newcastle

Couple of comments.
First the SC25 estimate of temperature should probably be nearer to SC24 because the pSCL-temperature correlation appears to saturate above about 13-14 years cycle length. The Maunder was cold, but not that cold. Other than that I fully agree with David’s temperature expectation.
Second, the problem with LTFR’s is the engineering. As a guy who has direct experience with molten salt systems and many other halide systems they are a source of much engineering angst and failed processes. Very unforgiving. Corrosion and materials of construction issues have a high chance of killing this technology. Also if you get a contamination issue, such as moly or boron, then the whole big bath will be contaminated, whereas individual contaminated fuel elements could be segregated.
I’m concerned that the hype for LTFR will shoot the promise of thorium nuclear energy in the foot. Thorium would do much better as a fuel element or pebble bed design. KISS principle.

Doug Huffman

USS Seawolf’s S2G reactor was a liquid Sodium cooled reactor. The design was abandoned for PWR.

Paul Westhaver

I used to be a Nuclear Engineer… back in the day. My professional area of interest was reactor shut down and cooling systems for the CANDU 600, heavy water reactor using U235 as the fuel. I was a young engineer back then and have since moved onto other things.
Great reactor by the way. There would be more of them but the Green Peace types lied about nuclear energy in the 1970s and 80s so a moratorium was place on their construction.
Now that nuclear energy is looking good again, Thorium IS a practical alternative to fossil fuels. I don’t see anything wrong with fossil fuels by the way, I just think that we are going to need more and more energy, and in North America we have a well establish grid so put 1000 gigawatt nuclear plants here and there and let the middle east cave in.
I don’t like electric cars, and the battery systems are terrible but some people might like them for short commutes if the electricity was cheap, which it would be if there were more nuclear plants.
I don’t accept that CO2 from man has any effect on the climate that is measurable. That is not a motive in my book.
Nuclear energy is safe, abundant right here, and inexpensive.
I will still need gas for my V8 F250.
.

GlynnMhor

The thorium cycle (actually U233 is the active fissile product) can be utilized by existing CANDU reactors without major design changes.
And the CANDU is inherently way safer than Fukushima’s boiling light water reactors.

Richard G

Another good video about LFTR:
Kirk Sorensen (length 1hr 37min)
http://youtu.be/D3rL08J7fDA

Thorium Reactors… I’ll have to wait until I understand a bit more about them to even begin to form an opinion.
What is a CO2 Heating effect? No wait… never mind!

Paul Westhaver

Fukashima was a 1 in 1000 year event where there was 1 in 1000 year earth quake, a 1 in a 1000 year Tsunami and a total failure of the grid to boot. The answer is to increase the safety systems, NOT PUT THE SPENT FUEL IN THE ATTIC like GE did and move on with better systems. France is 80% nuclear.

Willis Eschenbach

Temperature records starting in 1835 in Hanover? Robert, does he say where he got them? The earliest records I can find for Hanover go back only to 1895 …
w.

Doug Huffman

I’ve asked Rod Adams of Adams’ Atomic Engines and Atomic Insights to stop by.

Stevec

PWR’s have inherently more risks which the nuclear industry didn’t want to discuss, especially compared to the essentially unpressurized Thorium Reactors, aka LFTR’s. Plus LFTR’s don’t produce much useable weapons grade nuclear byproducts. As a result LFTR’s were abandoned. What a shame then… and now an opportunity to use LFTRs!

Dan Evens

I work in the nuclear industry. When the “fourth generation” folks give their cost estimates, I always have to choke a bit. They have a couple experimental reactors. They have not gone through the licensing process. In some ways, they are pretty naive about the nature of this process. Design changes to satisfy regulators cost money. Now don’t get me wrong. In nearly every instance I agree with the regulator. But it inflates the cost of nuclear. Right now the fuel costs are, depending on the design, between 1% and 10% of the cost of the electricity. (That’s where the “too cheap to meter” thing came from.)
Now there are several passive safety features in 4th gen. So they hold promise and really should be worked on very vigourously. And Thorium is very attractive for several reasons. Just don’t expect cheaper than coal, at least not right away. Maybe after we built five or ten of them to work out the gnarly bits. So units 11 through 20 might compete on price with coal, and after that we might be very pleased.

John A. Fleming

Oohh, thorium, fluoride,rinsing fissile U233 out of molten salts from an operating reactor.
Is it even possible to get any farther away from the suplreme engineering principle of KISS? Here obviously is a guy who has never had to design, build and operate something while making a profit in all three stages.
And look, one guy writing a book about some inexplicably overlooked breakthrough complicated technology that will provide all the world’s energy, that all the engineers of the world have missed? If we just get started on his fabulous idea, it will work out great? Sorry, the world just doesn’t work that way.

Dan in California

Costs per KWH are not easily projected for nuke power plants. There’s a factor of two to three difference between Western and Eastern countries. Fuel cost is a small fraction of the total, which is dominated by capital costs. Depending on country, today’s nuke power costs between 4cents/KWH and 10 cents/KWH. In the West, power plants are built by private industry who have to borrow the money, and interest payments are large. Western plant owners also have to add years to construction time to get the many legal battles settled. Lots of well-meaning but stupid people, and people who *want* energy costs to be high, bring legal proceedings to halt construction. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html
Also, in the West, most employees of nuke power plants never enter the reactor buildings. They work next door in the admin offices pushing paper. Manpower costs are not trivial.
In my opinion, the reason to start using Thorium is plentiful supply, not fuel cost. That’s still an excellent reason though.

wayne

A lot of people know little of LFTR reactor designs. Here are a few advantages they could hold as I understand:
● No fuel rods. No control rods to jam of have no electricity to lower them. None. They are self-regulating by simple thermal expansion/contraction as power loads vary.
● The core operates at room pressure. No twelve inch thick steel trying to hold back the unbelievable pressure of super-heated steam within the core itself. High pressure steam may still be used on the generator side, could be gas, but the cores environment and the generating environment are completely separated by heat exchanges.
● If the core somehow were to leak out, like a cracked core, it will just turn to a glass-like salt. The criticality can only exist within the core itself. It is self quenching.
● If the core overheats, a plug of cooled salt at the bottom overheats, melts, and the entire core is dumped into catch containers by gravity. The Oak Ridge implementation did this every weekend, let it overheat, the plug melted, core dumped, the crew would spend the weekend at home. Monday, heat the the salt back to liquid state, pump back into the core and the core was restarted. Get that, weekly.
● Operating temperatures can be designed for much higher temperatures which boosts the generation efficiencies from about today’s 33% to nearly 50%, limited by available high temperature materials for the coatings of course.
● Continuous fuel replenishment. Shutdowns for refueling is unnecessary.
● They burn nearly all of the fuel put in, like 99%. Probably this is the greatest advantage, little waste left to store. If the thorium cycle can be perfected the waste has a very short half-life. Useable compounds can begin being extracted from the waste for medicine and space exploration within about ten years.
Now why would ANYONE not want us to see if this dream for mankind, or part of this dream, could be fulfilled? I can’t imagine, unless it being restrained by pure greed for other reasons.

Don K

Temperature records starting in 1835 in Hanover? Robert, does he say where he got them? The earliest records I can find for Hanover go back only to 1895 …
=========================
FWIW, Hanover, NH = Dartmouth College. I sort of vaguely think there are temperature records from there well back into the 19th century, but I have no idea where one looks for them.

India (rich in Thorium, but without uranium) is starting development of a small reactor (300 MW)
but it won’t be operational until 2020. China is also developing a Thorium reactor, in this case a molten salt version. As far as I can tell, a Generation 4 (fast reactor) can do everything a Thorium reactor can do, and fast reactors are here – they also consume nuclear wastes (there’s enough energy in our nuclear wastes to provide all the electricity this country will use for the next 1000 years), rendering the wastes low radioactive material, And a fast reactor is intrinsically safe as well. .Nor are we likely to ever run out of nuclear fuel for our conventional reactors : although not yet cost competitive, the technology exists that can extract uranium from seawater and there is a hell of a lot of seawater. Better still, last week a mobile plant shipped from Australia demonstrated the ability to extract almost all of the uranium from a phosphate stream at a fertilizer plant, leaving the stream otherwise unaffected. The cost is fully competitive with mining – about 20 to 30 dollars per pound. The output was shipped to a processing plant for our nuclear fleet.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear power became cheaper than coal in 1999
and currently is about 30% cheaper, around 3 cents and a fraction per kWhr. Uranium fuel cost component is around 6/10th of a cent per kilowatthour. These costs may be overstated, since
disposal of nuclear wastes will undoubtedly be less that what is being collected – those nuclear costs cited include nuclear wastes disposal and decommissioning costs, I believe.

Peter Laux

Thorium reactors can operate at normal atmospheric pressure and therefore there is no danger of a containment explosion.
It has never been the nuclear fuel of choice with the political class because you can’t build bombs from it.
Another plus is that thorium reactors will consume the worlds build up of uranium waste and has none of its own.

Dan in California

Paul Westhaver says: October 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm
Fukashima was a 1 in 1000 year event where there was 1 in 1000 year earth quake, a 1 in a 1000 year Tsunami and a total failure of the grid to boot. The answer is to increase the safety systems, NOT PUT THE SPENT FUEL IN THE ATTIC like GE did and move on with better systems. France is 80% nuclear.
————————————————————-
I think the 3 big lessons learned from Fukushima are:
1. Don’t put the diesel generators in the basement where they might get flooded.
2. Don’t let the hydrogen collect where it can explode.
3. Don’t evacuate people and scare them by telling them they might get cancer from a miniscule amount of extra radiation. Many places around the world have higher natural background radiation than outside the fence at Fukushima. http://www.radiation-hormesis.com/

Paul Westhaver

GlynnMhor says:
October 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm
The thorium cycle (actually U233 is the active fissile product) can be utilized by existing CANDU reactors without major design changes.
GlynnMhor, During my extensive training in the nuclear industry, I recall one of the physicists describing how much of the “U235 waste” may be reprocessed to be used in a Thorium reaction. I don’t recall the cascade but I do recall the assertion, as you state, that the conversion would be relatively easy in a CANDU.

Pamela Gray

Not sure if this blog post is about predicted temp swings based on solar cycles or sources of energy. Could you clear that up Mr. Archibald? Did you just use a bait and switch? If so, should we talk about the bait or the switch?

First, Hubberts “peak oil” is more Carbon control nonsense. Earth produces Hydrocarbons on a continious basis, likely less than current usage, but not finite in the near future. See “Fossil Fuel is Nuclear Waste” on this aboigenic reality. Next, the US operated a Thorium reactor at Indian Point, NY starting in Sept 1962. With a half-life of 14 billion years it is stable and the by-products are not nearly as dangerous as Uranium….BUT….the head of the NRC at the time was ADMIRAL Hyman Rickover. The decission to end Thorium research was based mainly on using the electricity rate payer to subsidize the nuke weapons industry. In the words of Ben Buchwalter:
“Before it was born, Thorium was killed by the sins of Uranium.”

MattN

Cycles 24 and 35?????

MattN

I do not understand why the US is not ALL OVER thorium reactors by now….

Paul Westhaver

Dan in California,
Absolutely. The Japanese engineers did design for a Tsunami. The seawall that surrounded the plant was just not tall enough. If they are to put anything below ground it should be the spent fuel and the core. In a worst case scenario, let gravity flood the spent fuel and core with any water. The CANDU core cooling system incorporates a cooling pond that, should an earthquake occur, or the plant gets hit by a missile, gravity would flood the core and the spent fuel.
The hydrogen is a problem of dynamics. It is a by-product of fission and will collect in high points if flow is stagnant. There are in-line hydrogen reactors to reduce the amount of H2 gas but you need power…or venting.

India has had Thorium research reactors for 30 years and has yet to build a commercial reactor, despite building (and planned) 20 conventional nuclear reactors. Which tells me significant issues still remain.

banjo

Good grief! Look at that graph, no wonder the catastrophists wanted the science `settled` so quickly. Just a few short years and the whole edifice will crumble into sea…or possibly land on the beach if sea levels fall.
And of course YAY THORIUM!

The Sorensen piece above is must viewing for those who know nothing about Thorium.
It is ubiquitous. Reaction products have much shorter half-life. Reaction products and fuel cannot be weaponized. No catastrophic meltdown, fuel is already liquid. Loss of power just shuts down reaction.
We should have been doing this in the 50s, but they needed the plutonium cycle for weapons. Westinghouse wins.

MarkB

What a terrible post. Since the first days of Internet comment sections, damn near every thread that touches on nuclear power ends up with at least one thorium or ‘nuclear pebbles’ comment. I can only assume that these people re-read old copies of Popular Science over and over. Did you know you can get 100 mpg with water as fuel? When A. Watts associates with this stuff, he just makes himself look bad. If this was a freshman writing assignment I’d hand it back for a rewrite before I”d even bother grading it.

REPLY:
Well, thanks for expressing how much you hate it, but the post stays whether you like it or not. China is jumping on LFTR reactor development, but obviously you know far more than they do. – Anthony

George

Sidebar – scrapped reactor glass is a favorite of hobby gem cutters. It has a high lead content and has refractive indices approaching that of diamonds. It is usually yellow, easy to cut, and makes a real sparkler. Just cut it wet as one of the precautions with the high lead content.

Don K

Peter Laux says:
October 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm
It has never been the nuclear fuel of choice with the political class because you can’t build bombs from it.
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I believe that it is perfectly possible to convert Thorium to fissionable U233, isolate the Uranium, and build a U233 bomb. In fact, I think India has actually tested a small (0.2 KT) U233 bomb. But you’re correct, The technologies to build U235 and Plutonium bombs don’t require a lot of additional R&D for countries that already have them in place.

Okay so my thoughts on the US Navy reactors was not so good. But is my notion that boiling water reactors like GE made and the Japanese used at Fukashima are at best crufty to SCRAM and as with the tsunami impossible to SCRAM essentially true.

I say – look at the prospect of buying stocks in Nickel-mining operations … the reason should become very apparent soon …
Oh, and look to prepare to short-sell your carbon/hydro-carbon stocks or rather what it takes to prepare for quantity hydrogen production.
/cryptic
.

dg

Thorium LFTR explained in the first 5 minutes:

RHS

SCRAM – Safety Control Rod Ax Man. Don’t fall asleep on the JOB 🙂

As I delve into this my understanding is that the US Navy reactor designs are pressurized water reactors. My point was that PWRs are a proven technology: the US Navy reactors, two generations of French reactors, the European Pressurized Reactor. There is considerable experience designing, building, and operating PWRs. The Thorium reactor is an interesting experiment, but it is still experimental.

Gunga Din

MarkB says:
October 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm
What a terrible post. Since the first days of Internet comment sections, damn near every thread that touches on nuclear power ends up with at least one thorium or ‘nuclear pebbles’ comment. I can only assume that these people re-read old copies of Popular Science over and over. Did you know you can get 100 mpg with water as fuel? When A. Watts associates with this stuff, he just makes himself look bad. If this was a freshman writing assignment I’d hand it back for a rewrite before I”d even bother grading it.
==================================================================
So what would you suggest Anthony put up as a post that would make him look good in your eyes? Anything?
If the US would invest $500,000,000 into researching this and it came to nothing, would we lose anymore than we lost on Solyndra?

Gunga Din

Paul Martin says:
October 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm
Liquid Flouride? Fluoride, surely? Though many a flour mill has gone up like a bomb due to a dust explosion.
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I think the world’s leading expert on liquid flouride is named Betty Crocker.
I tried to follow her directions once and, yes, my efforts bombed.

Paul Westhaver

Soyulent Green,
Back in the day AECL settled on the CANDU heavy water U235 system because it was believed that it produced no nasties, even in the heavy water D2O moderator fluid. After a few years of operation, and after many a soul waded chest deep in moderator fluid, it was found to contain T2O which is tritiated water. Titrated water is radioactive and has a half-life of 12.5 years.
It is further nastified because water is assumed into the human body and then the radioactive hydrogen are right there, mixing it up with your DNA…for the rest or your days.
Further still, tritium is the main supplement ingredient to the H-Bomb which an A-bomb packed with extra tritium to make a bigger bang.
Canada, in it’s effort to make a super safe reactor, accidentally made a breeder of Tritium. They never saw it coming. So who knows what will born in the womb of a Thorium reactor.