Scientists in the Netherlands swing into action on thorium molten salt reactor experiments

Scientists in the Netherlands swing into action on thorium molten salt reactor experiments
Filling of crucible with sample salt at JRC Karlsruhe

(Tech Xplore)—Researchers at the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) in the Netherlands have begun experiments for the first time in many years to test thorium molten salt reactors. The experiments, in Petten, mark the first of its kind in over 45 years.

A post in Medium from Gijs Zwartsenberg, chairman, the Thorium MSR Foundation, [MSR stands for ] spelled it out: "On August 10, 2017, a set of concentric sealed tubes was entered into the core of the High Flux Reactor in Petten, Netherlands. In the smallest of these tubes sits an even smaller set of four graphite crucibles, containing a mixture of salts: lithium fluoride and thorium fluoride."

Responding to the news, The Engineer said thorium reactor research has reached a "new dawn." Thorium hopefuls think it could power the next generation of nuclear reactors.

Steven Ashley in New Scientist said the researchers "want to use thorium as a fuel for a , one of the next generation designs for nuclear power."

Ashley said, "because nuclear power was traditionally tied up with nuclear weapons research, thorium was abandoned. Except for one test reactor that has been under construction in India since 2004, the last research into thorium reactors took place 45 years ago." Nonetheless, "Molten salt reactors are expected to be very well suited for using thorium as a fuel. The unique fluid fuel can incorporate thorium and U-233 fluorides as part of a salt mixture, to melt at very high temperatures."

Supporters think that thorium as an alternative to uranium could provide a cleaner, safer fuel source.

MIT Technology Review newsletter, "The Download" wrote that "Thorium has several advantages over uranium, the fuel that powers most nuclear reactors in service today. First, it's much harder to weaponize. Second, as we pointed out last year in a long read on thorium-salt reactors, designs that call for using it in a liquid form are, essentially, self-regulating and fail-safe."

(As mentioned earlier, "because nuclear power was traditionally tied up with nuclear weapons research, thorium was abandoned.")

Specifically, the August news centers around the Salt Irradiation Experiment (SALIENT) at the NRG research area in Petten.

The NRG describes itself as an internationally operating nuclear service provider. The company produces isotopes, conducts nuclear technological research, is a consultant on the safety and reliability of nuclear installations and provides services related to radiation protection.

The experiments are divided into steps and of course there are learning goals.

In the beginning step, the Petten team "will melt a sample of thorium salt fuel to see if, over time, the neutron bombardment triggers the nuclear reactions necessary to transmute the thorium into uranium isotopes that can undergo nuclear fission, and sustain the chain reaction needed to generate energy," said Ashley.

New Scientist walked readers through the steps to follow. "The next step is to study tough metal alloys and other materials that can survive the bombardment. Later research will examine how to deal with the waste from a molten salt thorium reactor. While safer than the long-lived products from a standard nuke, these will still need special disposal."

The discussion in Medium, in answer to why the team chose the lithiumfluoride/thoriumfluoride mixture as a start for their tryouts, said that was the salt of choice for the Molten Salt Fast Reactor (MSFR). That is a European concept for a waste-burning MSR. "For SALIENT-02, we will use a different mixture that will also contain beryllium, forming a mixture also known as FliBe, and uranium as the fuel."

Zwartsenberg's post in Medium quoted nuclear fuels expert and NRG scientist Ralph Hania: "SALIENT is a way to build up experience with the use of fission fuel in the form of a molten salt. That hasn't been done for decades and we're also doing it to train ourselves. It's important to notice that SALIENT is not a single experiment but really a series, and we'll build that up step by step. On the other hand, it is fundamental research, in which we look at the behavior of and the fission products that are formed in the salts."

What is the future of thorium? Ashley in New Scientist: "We need clean energy sources to stave off climate change, yet fears raised by Fukushima have caused nuclear power to stagnate. Maybe thorium's time has finally come."

The Thorium Energy World site: "Success at Petten might push countries like India to develop their technology faster; it may also give impetus to American startups, who have had some interesting ideas but struggle without the required funding and legislation to make them serious projects."

Still, US scientists interested in thorium's potential are not deterred. New Scientist reported that "A US startup based in Utah says it's developing a thorium reactor, the first in the U.S. in half a century, and a consortium of eastern Utah counties is exploring whether to participate in the project. Last month, Utah's Seven County Infrastructure Coalition issued a request to evaluate 'a energy facility for producing electricity'."


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Hans Blix calls on scientists to develop thorium nuclear fuel

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Aug 27, 2017
Nuclear power is essential for activity in space and on other planets and moons. We've had 60+ years of field testing and improvement on this planet. Now we're beginning to explore meaningful alternatives.

Aug 27, 2017
Presently, we are making great strides of improvement in renewable energies. Worldwide, research of fusion reactors is also moving forwards. Both, renewables and fusion power leave a footprint that humanity and the rest of creation can live with. That is definitely not the case with nuclear - or salt derivatives thereof; whereby the latent danger (storage of nuclear wastes) of the latter may be reduced but not eliminated.

Aug 27, 2017
This is great news.

Aug 27, 2017
I have to disagree about the "footprint" of renewables being that we can "live with." Only an urban dweller with no true regard for, or at least informed understanding of deserts, range lands and endangered species can actually imagine the immense physical footprints of solar and wind farms have a minimal impact. Wind farms kill birds and bats indiscriminately and are licensed extra "takes" that would result in large fines for any other industry or private individual. I have personally seen dead bald and golden eagles at the foot of windmills on wind farms in California's Coast Range. The idea that solar farms in deserts is a good idea equally ignores habitat loss. South of the Tehachapi Mountains, solar farms covering thousands of desert acres are permitted and constructed in regions of desert tortoise habitat. You can't move a vehicle with a tortoise under it, even if it stays all day. Renewable power is environmentally destructive in a no nuclear reactor is.

Aug 27, 2017
Space colonization is inevitable. It is essential for the survival of the species. And this has been known and accepted ever since the possibility arose.

Nuclear power is crucial to this effort. There is no alternative. And so it is reasonable to assume that the 8k - 10k tons of fissiles currently in our possession cannot be incidental to this imperative.

It is reasonable to assume that forward-thinkers began to arrange for the creation of this material as soon as the possibility presented itself. It not only offers an explanation for it's puzzling existence, but for inexplicable events such as the cold war and the world wars before it.

The conditions created by these wars were exactly what was necessary to produce this dangerous material safely and in such enormous quantities.

This too cannot be regarded as incidental.

Aug 27, 2017
improvement in renewable energies


Have you hugged a fracker today? You should.

Aug 27, 2017
Dear God in Heaven.
'We need thorium because climate change and can't be weapons'
I am so so sorry thorium that they have turned you into this, you deserved better.
Weapons aren't a bug they are a feature, unless your leaders already gave your enemies your nukes and uranium ore rights.

Aug 27, 2017
I believe a great deal of the opposition to nuclear power is related to the fact that people associate the word nuclear with immense destruction at least subconsciously. The truth is that harvesting energy in all its various forms tends to be more costly and dangerous the more dilute it is. Consider all of the people who have lost life and/or limbs cutting down trees for firewood. The number of people who die each year from falling accidents associated with solar power is greater than the total number of people killed in nuclear power accidents since the manhattan project. (Check it out, google is your friend). I am excluding the chernobyl accident, simply because that particular reactor design was an accident waiting for a place to happen and should never have been allowed to be built.

Further, note that modern reactor designs have dead man switches which automatically shut them down in the case of disaster. Thorium designs are inherently failsafe. They can't melt down.

Aug 28, 2017
Eddorian "I have to disagree about the "footprint" of renewables being that we can "live with"
Well that is nice - but it does not change reality. We are transitioning to a low carbon energy system for many reasons. Do you write about the environmental cost of burning coal? Pollution, environmental degradation, and global warming, all dictate that we transition. There is environmental cost to everything we do. Driving cars kills birds. Have you given up your car? Power lines kill birds. There is much research going on right now into the topic of the impact of renewables, and how to limit it. But compared to fossil fuels, it is a no brainer. I am OK with nukes, except that they are costly. If we can bring the price down - that will be great. I don't think we can - and reality is saying that because of economics - wind and solar will rule the day. Let's wait and see.

Aug 28, 2017

Depending on whose history you read, the decision to establish uranium vs. thorium reactors as the standard was based on the fact that a byproduct is plutonium. They wanted this for nuclear weapon production. These were the imminent US scientists of the time. Theoretically a thorium meltdown could not happen.

Aug 28, 2017
"I believe a great deal of the opposition to nuclear power is related to the fact that people associate the word nuclear with immense destruction at least subconsciously."

Not in my case. I was part of a team which tested the safety systems of GE Mark I & II BWRs.

They are unsafe and uneconomical.

Aug 28, 2017
I believe a great deal of the opposition to nuclear power is related to the fact that people associate the word nuclear with immense destruction at least subconsciously. [straw-man examples of trees falling on individuals] I am excluding the chernobyl accident, simply because that particular reactor design was an accident waiting for a place to happen and should never have been allowed to be built.


You exclude the worst nuclear disaster and ignore Fukushima? Anything made by humans will have catastrophic failures, so we really should not generate long-lived radioactive byproducts.

Further, note that modern reactor designs have dead man switches which automatically shut them down in the case of disaster.


Like Three Mile Island?

Thorium designs are inherently failsafe. They can't melt down.


Well, we agree on that. But that's just their PR, at this point. It needs to be proven by experimentation like what they describe in this article.

Aug 28, 2017
That is definitely not the case with nuclear - or salt derivatives thereof; whereby the latent danger (storage of nuclear wastes) of the latter may be reduced but not eliminated.


The promise of thorium reactors is that they eliminate the long-lived isotopes, rather than generating them in excess. That's why the US and others chose uranium reactors--they wanted the dangerous isotopes for weapons.

But now they're saying that if you want to get rid of all the waste from your uranium reactors, you can dump it into thorium reactors instead of burying it. It's fuel again!

Let's see how it turns out. I'm kind of hopeful, but skeptical until it's proven. And proof for me would mean, they build some thorium reactors, force them into "disaster" status, and see if they shut themselves down without intervention, as advertised.

Aug 28, 2017
We do not need it.

How many more meltdowns, releases, contaminations and other disasters will it take to drive the stake into the filthy heart of nukes?

Aug 28, 2017
Trust in government. Nuclear power is good for you. They set the standard to go with U reactors in lieu of Th. In 1957 our US government passed Price-Anderson Act relieving the private nuclear industry from liability for nuclear accident including that from waste. This was done to encourage construction of nuclear power plants while leaving the only garbage can as the plant site. Fifty years later Yucca Mt. was initiated. Then Dirty Harry Reid and surrogates sabotaged utilization of Yucca Mt. They set the bar at "must be absolutely safe." This is an impossibility. Acting in the interest of the people our swamp political machine has since ignored the issue. Meanwhile the U fuel waste sits in cooling ponds on the nuke site, many of which have been decommissioned for decades. What a lovely target for terrorists.

Aug 28, 2017
Cont.

So what are the least of all evils? Biofuels are a crime. Wind and solar have promise, but have limits. Hydrocarbon fired plants are vilified for CO2 emissions. China and India aren't going to stop firing up 1 coal burning plant per week. Batteries don't exist which can do load leveling, which leaves only nukes and hydrocarbon fired plants.

I'd rather give China and India thorium nukes for free as both are ramping up U nuke.

@dnatwork

Further, note that modern reactor designs have dead man switches which automatically shut them down in the case of disaster.


That was my understanding too. I thought these were boron gravity dumps into the reactor chamber; however, both Three Mile Island and Fukushima didn't use them.
Wonder where they were?

Chernobyl was the same as giving guns to idiots (Communists). Surround a nuclear reactor with graphite, what a great idea. It was used in the Fermi reactor but that was not the same thing

Aug 28, 2017
"Wind and solar have promise, but have limits. Hydrocarbon fired plants are vilified for CO2 emissions. . . . . Batteries don't exist which can do load leveling, which leaves only nukes and hydrocarbon fired plants."

Solar powers my house and car, too. Wind power has grown explosively. They are both cheaper than most coal plants and all nukes.

Utility-scale batteries are in operation right now for load support, and many are used to complement PV and wind,resulting in power costs just over 4 cents/kWh total for production and storage.

Aug 28, 2017
@gkam

Are you saying that batteries are being used to manage load cycles for large urban and suburban areas? If they have been scaled up this level I would appreciate it if you could point out some information to this effect.

Thanks

Aug 28, 2017

Turgent, yes that is exactly what I was saying.

https://www.scien...rapidly/

https://www.navig...-storage

Not only that, but utilities have contracted to buy 24-hour power from battery-supported wind and PV systems at rates of 4 cents/kWh and 4.5 cents/kWh.

Aug 29, 2017
@gkam

Read and appreciate you citations.

"Battery Storage Poised to Expand Rapidly" definitely addresses that battery storage is about to take off. The only thing which makes me take pause is that it speaks almost exclusively of California, so how much of this storage capacity is being built because of Gov. Moon Beam's policies and subsidies versus fundamental economics. Moon Beam has created the 1.3-GW storage mandate so he has his boot on the utilities throat.

However, the "Market Data: Advanced Batteries for Utility-Scale Energy Storage" synopsis contains "Meanwhile, new business models and associated financing instruments are coming together to invest capital in battery energy storage projects." which sounds like economic viability may happen. It would be nice to read the whole report.

Aug 29, 2017
cont.

I'm not endorsing or recommending you read the full text of https://www.manha...565.html however it discusses much of the complexity and garbage that goes along with political environmentalism. NYS Gov. Cuomo is a wannabee president and has simply put out this BS so he will have propaganda and because he will not have any stake in the game after 2020.

Solar panels don't work very well in the Winter. Nobody in Upstate NY wants NYC windmill and solar farms in their backyard so NYC can feel good green.

Aug 29, 2017
Thank you for showing us how far we have to go in education.

Aug 29, 2017
@gkam

And critical thinking.

Aug 29, 2017
Turgent, this was my field. My answer was correct, but you added politics, so I responded in kind. If you are truly interested in what is going on, just ask.

We have a PV system on our house which produces power for house and Electric Vehicle, a VW e-Golf. It cost $12,400, and saved us $3,000 last year alone, mostly due to the car. We are clean.

With the EV we have saved at least 5-6 trips to the oil changers, and had NO other maintenance, but rotating the tires. In the 20,000 miles, it has had no work at all - well, I refilled the windshield washer fluid.

The future got here yesterday.

Aug 29, 2017
If you want to know why I oppose nuclear power it is because I helped to test some of it, and was a utility engineer in Technical Services for Pacific Gas & Electric as we were developing alternatives to this nasty technology.

Look up Plant Vogtle, the Summer Plant, the one at Hinkley Point, and many others to see the future of nuclear power.

We do not need it. We cannot afford it.

Aug 29, 2017
I read your citations and they were not about current utilization of batteries to meet load demand. They were about what is hoped to be viable tomorrow. It has yet to meet the test of viability. Hopefully it does.

You mean politics doesn't mess everything up and play a distorting part in this? Southern California Edison built a 20-MW battery storage facility at their Ontario, California site. The facility was built by Tesla. Neither party would disclose the cost of the project. Such secrecy does not support good decision making.

It's great that your energy footprint allows you to go all electric. Hopefully that can become more viable for others. It does impose collateral costs in different places and times. My citation to you discusses that and if this is your field the in depth study should be fully understandable.

Solar panels are lousy in NY winters.

Cheers

Aug 29, 2017
Turgent, Thanks for the reply.

It is not a good idea to force any technology which is not appropriate. Being appropriate is what made renewables so important and viable.

You look around and see what is available. Large daily temperature changes? Then mass heat storage might be a good idea. Where renewables really shine is in their integration.

Aug 29, 2017
Instead of looking at separate technologies, look at systems. They are integrations of technologies. You are one. Your car, another.

A PV array with battery storage is a 24-hour power system. Integrate wind into it, and it becomes both cheaper and better as the technologies cover the weaknesses of the others, as overlaps provide reliability.

We have gotten to the point where that integration is both cheaper and better for us than the old ways.

Aug 29, 2017
"We have gotten to the point where that integration is both cheaper and better for us than the old ways."


If we are diligent and wise, we may someday achieve the virtues of plants. They've been doing it better for billions of years.

Quoting in this section is all messed up.

Aug 29, 2017

Something I found fascinating in the Manhattan study. It briefly mentioned a paradox. Who knows how it will play out but it scares me. As the US, Canada, Europe, and other developed countries move to electric vehicles the demand for petroleum will decline. With this the price will also decline, hence gasoline powered vehicles become relatively more attractive. Many countries suffer the curse of oil. That is their economies and for some their societies are built on oil revenue, i.e. Russia and Saudi Arabia. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others fear collapse if oil revenue falls too far. This will cause producers to ramp up production to keep revenue level. This amounts to a vicious cycle of price cutting and cheap oil. I can just picture most of the developed countries switching over to electric and China and India ramping up petroleum consumption.

Aug 29, 2017
That is an interesting surmise, Turge.

Aug 29, 2017
"Not in my case. I was part of a team which tested the safety systems of GE Mark I & II BWRs."

-george kamburoff is a compulsive liar who thinks that checkbook validation of one minor subsystem, offsite, as a jobshopper, for 6 months give or take, makes him knowledgeable on nuclear reactor design.

This is like people thinking that just because they eat food, they know how to grow it.

Good thing george is an incompetent psychopath or we might tend to fall for his bullshit yes?

He also can't understand that because he posts this sort of juvenile bullshit, no one can trust a single thing he says.

And a little follow up research has usually proven this to be the case.

No problem, psychopaths are incapable of feeling shame nor any other kind of emotion.

Aug 29, 2017
"If you want to know why I oppose nuclear power it is because I helped to test some of it, and was a utility engineer in Technical Services for Pacific Gas & Electric..."

-And BTW george was never any kind of engineer, except perhaps like a hairdresser is a bouffant engineer. He crapped out of 3 undergrad colleges and resorted to buying an honorary MS degree for bullshitting purposes.

George likes to bait people with these sorts of outrageous claims so he can commandeer threads and bullshit about himself. Because he's a psychopath you see, and to them any attention is good attention.

So engage at your own peril.

Aug 29, 2017
Go away, "otto". Grow up somewhere else.

Aug 30, 2017
Little georgie kamburoff is still playing pretend. And how old are you now george?

Sep 19, 2017
"Anything made by humans will have catastrophic failures, so we really should not generate long-lived radioactive byproducts."


It's ironic then that the byproduct of rare-earth elements produced for solar panels and wind turbines is literal mountains of thorium, as these elements exist as breakdown products of radioisotopes in the earth's crust.

There's so much of it that mining companies are dumping it all over the place. See for example: http://www.nytime...ide.html

Sep 21, 2017
Relatively I would expect the potassium 40 in a banana to be more than the thorium radiation in RE mine tailings, however U-238 can sometimes is part of the tailings. Civilized countries consider in the permitting process the water solubility mineral tailings. If not water-soluble leeching into the environment is not an issue. I believe there are two RE mines. The ion clays of China and Mountain Pass in CA.

I read the article. It makes sense that a refinery could concentrate uranium, however this article should have noted the increase in background radiation. The black sand (pitchblende) beaches of Brazil are highly radioactive and no one is missing a tan.

Sep 21, 2017
@gkam

There is some real hope for EVs. CA gov. mobsters and the UAW have decided to unionize Tesla. Tesla is screwed. Mercedes sees the market opportunity and have decided to take Tesla's market. Others will follow and use real capitalism in lieu of crony. This should really help.

Oct 12, 2017
Thorium is not benign. Its breakdown products are nasty. Read some background on IEER.org

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