Yours truly posted a general list of independent resources regarding thorium nuclear the other day. While the resources do cover thorium based nuclear weapons proliferation risks, the amount of misinformation online lead me to write this post focused on the issue.
Why would any
cult-like group of online astroturfers thorium ‘evangelists’ be so interested in covering up the fact that the object of their devotion thorium bred U-233 cannot be used to make nuclear bombs? Do they have ulterior motives?
We all should certainly hope not. Or, have them arrested.
Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents, astroturfers, evangelists,
or fanatics may claim. No “ifs” “ands” nor “buts” -Thorium can be used to make nuclear bombs.
You don’t have to trust me on this, check out what the experts at various respected institutions have to say below:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (yes, MIT) has quite a bit to say about the thorium fuel cycle in Appendix A of their freely available and authoritative online resource:
Appendix A starts on page 181 of the Appendices PDF file linked above. The relevant statement from MIT is:
- Proliferation And Security Groundrules:
Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. Policy decisions on appropriate ground rules are required before devoting significant resources toward such fuel cycles. U-233 can be treated two ways.
- Analogous to U-235. If the U-235 content of uranium is less than 20% U-235 or less than 13% U-233 with the remainder being U-238, the uranium mixture is non-weapons material. However, isotopic dilution in U-238 can significantly compromise many of the benefits.
- Analogous to plutonium. Plutonium can not be degraded thus enhanced safeguards are used. The same strategy can be used with U-233. A complicating factor (see below) is that U-233 is always contaminated with U-232 that has decay products that give off high energy gamma radiation which requires additional measures to protect worker health and safety. There has been no consensus on the safeguards / nonproliferation benefits of this radiation field.
The point being made here is that thorium can be used to make Uranium-233, which in turn can be used to make bombs. The complicating U-232 mentioned above is what many of the thorium
fanatics evangelists often refer to as making thorium somehow protected. MIT has more to say about this proliferation protection in their summary:
On one hand, high radiation dose [from U-232 decay] provides self protection to separated fissile material against diversion and misuse. On the other hand, it makes the U-233 recycling more complex and costly.
The point here is that the U-233 is in fact subject to ‘diversion and misuse’ (like atomic bombs) if it can be separated out from the highly radioactive U-232 contaminants. If the U-232 is not somehow processed out, however, there is no way to operate the reactor for peaceful purposes, or otherwise. It’s straight out of the book Catch-22.
Interestingly, filtering these highly radioactive contaminants out of thorium bred U-233 is no mysterious process. The US’ own Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) created a process way back in the ’50s to do this. They kindly wrote about it in a history included in the ORNL Review publication:
By 1954, the Laboratory’s chemical technologists had completed a pilot plant demonstrating the ability of the THOREX process to separate thorium, protactinium, and uranium-233 from fission products and from each other. This process could isolate uranium-233 for weapons development and also for use as fuel in the proposed thorium breeder reactors.
So, there are no technical issues for separating out Uranium-233 for weapons development. In fact, it’s pretty obvious to anyone other than
an idiot or a liar a thorium evangelist that the intent was to use thorium bred U-233 for nuclear bombs.
Other respectable organizations have also discussed the proliferation risk of thorium bred U-233. The United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) is the nationally owned nuclear lab, and amongst other activities, prepared a position paper on the thorium nuclear fuel cycle. In a brutally straightforward appraisal the NNL says:
Contrary to that which many proponents of thorium claim, U-233 should be regarded as posing a definite proliferation risk. For a thorium fuel cycle which falls short of a breeding cycle, uranium fuel would always be needed to supplement the fissile material and there will always be significant (though reduced) plutonium production.
NNL believes that U-233 should be regarded as posing a comparable level of proliferation risk to High Enriched Uranium (HEU) and comparable with the U-Pu fuel cycle at best; this view is consistent with the IAEA, who under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, categorise U-233 on the same basis as plutonium. Attempts to lower the fissile content of uranium by adding U-238 are considered to offer only weak protection, as the U-233 could be separated in a centrifuge cascade in the same way that U-235 is separated from U-238 in the standard uranium fuel cycle.
The argument that the high U-232 content would be self- protecting are considered to be over-stated. NNL’s view is that thorium systems are no more proliferation resistant than U-Pu systems though they may offer limited benefits in some circumstances.
Clearly, the thorium
astroturfers cult members ‘evangelists’ are misinformed when it comes to the safety of thorium nuclear fuel cycle based reactors. Or they know the fact and are intentionally attempting to misinform for some bizarre reason. Thorium can be used to make atomic bombs. In fact, if the dreams of the thorium cult members ‘evangelists’ dreams come true, everyone could have a nuclear bomb factory in their own neighborhood. Frightening.
hope doubt this will ever happen.
BTW, many of the other papers and sites I posted the other day in the Thorium Nuclear Information Resources post also cover the proliferation issue, but in less detail. Please do browse there, too!
Hope this was helpful! Please let me know if there are any corrections, additional bits of information you’d like added, or if you have any other comments!