Thorium Nuclear Bombs

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:

MIT Energy Initiative, The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

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.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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.

UK National Nuclear Laboratory

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.

Cult of Doom + Cult of LFTR = Nuclear Terror

Personally, I 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!

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20 thoughts on “Thorium Nuclear Bombs

  1. Kevin, While I’m not a nuclear expert (but then again neither are most LFTR fans!) my understanding is that its easier to manufacture and extract plutonium than it is U-233 and turn it into bombs. So for the moment, that still remains the obvious route to nuclear weapons.

    Of course, if a nation want to build bombs on the sly, then the Thorium option becomes a possible work around. So it depends. If the US or Russia announced plans to build U-233 breeding reactors I won’t be overly worried (on a proliferation view, I’d be very worried about their sanity and bank balance!). But if Iran or Israel announced plans…..

    Either way, it blows the double-glazing-esque hard sell tactics of the “thorium trolls” out of the water. If you want to build bombs out of Thorium you can certainly do so. It is not “100% proferation resistant” as some of them assert.

    • Hi! I agree completely. Easy or not, it’s possible to make U-233 bombs. If the LFTR trolls have their fantasies there would be many more potential country wrecking bomb plants exponentially increasing proliferation risks.
      And, thanks again for your great feedback!

  2. Kevin–

    You say: ” 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.”

    This is not true. Any LFTR would contain some 232U as well as (much more) 233U in its core. The intense radioactivity of 232U’s decay products is of no particular concern while in the core–it’s a very radioactive place to be, after all!

    The pro-LFTR argument regarding proliferation goes like this: It is true that LFTRs run on HEU (233U), but that HEU will inevitably be contaminated with 232U because of n,2n reactions. You can’t just take the HEU (233U) out of the core without taking the unwanted 232U as well–they are chemically identical. Isotopic separation is possible, but difficult and expensive. Centrifuging the gas could work, but separating 235U from 238U is easier, due to the larger delta in the atomic masses. In the end, it would be easier just to build a pile and generate 239Pu from 238U/235U. Uranium bombs are easier to make, however, so simply enriching U is probably the fastest way to becoming a nuclear power for newbies like Iran.

    Now there probably is a way to generate pure 233U through Pa sequestration. In a breeder design, you put your 232Th in a blanket salt around the core so that the neutron flux breeds 233Pa from 232Th. 233Pa beta decays into 233U in a few weeks. You periodically remove the HEU from the blanket salt and inject it into the core. Since Pa is a neutron poison, the 1960s Oak Ridge guys proposed removing the Pa from the neutron flux and letting it decay in a separate tank. Outside the neutron flux of the core, the n,2n interactions don’t happen, and perhaps you could create very pure 233U with the proper procedures and plumbing. Working this out would be a major undertaking, and because of proliferation concerns, I doubt anyone is going to build LFTRs that include Pa sequestration.

    In other words, it’s complicated. Nevertheless, 232U is not a problem for LFTRs to operate, and if you never take it out of the core, you don’t have to handle it separately.

    • Thanks for your feedback. My point is that if a commercially viable LFTR is ever built, ways to deal with the byproducts would be developed and therefore, ways to pull out U-233 would be developed by unscrupulous parties. This was developed in the 1950s by ORNL as described above (see the THOREX reference above). Although you state this would be a “major undertaking”, ORNL scientists were able to successfully develop a pilot plant with technology from 1954. Somehow I do not think the undertaking would be beyond rogue countries or groups with less than pure intentions.

      The typical online astroturfing PR teams’ claims that Thorium and LFTRs cannot be used to make nuclear bombs is a fallacy. I prefer to leave a world with fewer, not more proliferation risks, to our decendents.

      • I agree that the claim that you can’t weaponize 233U from LFTRs is overblown. However, I do believe it’s true that an entity seeking to join the nuclear weapons club would likely choose the easier, well-proven paths of enriching for 235U or breeding 239 Pu in a dedicated reactor.

      • We agree. That’s because there are no LFTRs and probably won’t be for decades, if ever. The thorium ‘evangelists’ want every town and village to have one of their fantasy reactors. My point is that if this unrealistic fantasy were ever to come true, every town and village would have a potential nuclear bomb factory. Unacceptable IMHO.

  3. It’s a long way from a 700 deg C liquid salt core with 233U and a bunch of fission products dissolved within it to having a bomb factory. It’s true that you can extract HEU from the core salt if you have control of the reactor. It’s further true that you can theoretically make a bomb with HEU, but the HEU in the liquid core would be contaminated with 232U and its killer daughter products. It’s only if you design the plumbing specifically to let 233Pa decay into 233U outside the core that you can get pure (or mostly pure) 233U, which is what you need to be able to work with the stuff. I believe that once the science becomes clear to policy-makers, no one is going to be allowed to build LFTRs in that way for commercial use. I believe that widespread adoption of commercial LFTRs can be done without increasing proliferation risk.

    Now, some future rogue state could certainly attack the problem of building a specialized LFTR with the intention of creating bomb-making material from Th. But how is that different from the situation that obtains today, where any state actor with the will to defy the international community can pursue nuclear weapons? The genie is out of the bottle–witness Iran. And as I stated before, it is probably easier just to build a plutonium mill than to try to get pure 233U from a LFTR.

    • History is not on your side on this one, unfortunately. The relatively limited adoption of nuclear power has already caused frightening proliferation problems that were not supposed to happen (ex. India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran (possibly), etc.). This is despite a

      The world is far better off phasing out nuclear power and deploying clean, safe renewable energy sources. Nuclear power is no longer a necessary energy source.

      • I don’t believe that nuclear power is the driver for proliferation. Countries that want nuclear weapons need to enrich uranium. Electricity production is beside the point for them. Power reactors don’t create bomb material, plutonium production reactors and enrichment technology do. As I mentioned before, the genie is out of the bottle. Countries that want to create bomb-grade material will do so if they are willing and able to pay the price. This is going to be true whether or not nuclear power becomes more widespread. In fact, I would argue that cheap electricity, all things being equal, will bring greater prosperity to more people and lead to more political stability. Proliferation is a political problem, not a technological one.

      • I respectfully disagree wholeheartedly. It is widely recognized that proliferation risks expand with the expansion of nuclear power. This is an unfortunate reality. The more nuclear plants there are, the more chances there are for abuse, and the higher the possibility for an insane group of people to take out a major city or worse.

        Further, plentiful and cheap electricity is far easier and cheaper to produce via a full spectrum of safe and clean renewable energy sources. Nuclear has unfortunately proven to be an expensive way to generate power. It is time to move on to better solutions in the post fossil/nuclear world.

  4. Kevin –

    I do not at all appreciate your namecalling (see your many comments above, regarding “fanatics, cultists, etc…” etc.). It’s grossly unprofessional and all but destroys your credibility (that plus the fact that you – happily – admit you know no science and can only read documentation, the conclusions of which you’ve openly manipulated to suit your own spin).

    I nevertheless have to address your comments. People like you who take small pieces of science and use them to peddle spurious arguments are incorrigible and do nothing to help promote a mature, diversified energy landscape that we need both now as well as 100 years into the future.

    So, I AM a fluorine chemist whose PhD work explicitly involved lanthanide-doped fluoride salts. I make no bones at all about Th-based Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) being a panacea: they’re not, plain and simple. Those of us who view MSRs as a “best bet” as ONE ASPECT of a diverse energy landscape understand that. I will briefly address the items you list above, point by point:

    1) 232U (Uranium 232). You are grossly discounting the difficulty of separating out 232U from the 233U pile for several reasons, but I will list two here. REASON A: First of all, the ONLY method in existence of separating 235U from 238U is gas centrifugation. Something that the Iranians have literally spent billions on and over 20 years. Secondly, do the arithmetic: the %mass difference b/t 235UF6 and 238UF6 is 0.85% (look up the molar masses on any periodic table)!!! This is one of the reasons why gas centrifugation is necessary. Secondly, NO technology exists that even comes close to this method, in terms of efficiency – and it’s GROSSLY inefficient as we know, but it’s the only one humans have, which is why it’s been used for decades. Third, applying this same method to separating out U233 from U232 lowers the mass difference to 0.28% – so you’ve now made your task over 300% more difficult: 0.85/0.28 ≈ 3. REASON B: As you disingenuously exclude from your point above, the ORNL scientists by their own admission stated 233U enrichment was enormously more difficult than 235/238 separation and that 235/238 separation would be explicitly preferred if weapons-grade material was to be acquired. This is for the following reasons: 1) Less than 1% of 232U is produced as a result of (n,2n) reactions 2) The neutronic cross section of 232U (in other words, how likely it is to take on a neutron) is gargantuan, so even during a hypothetical enrichment process, 233U would be converting 232U, b/z 233U is a neutron emitter, so by definition, you’d still be losing 232U during separation. 3) what do YOU propose to do with the 232U? At least with 238U, you can hold it in your hand, or skin a tank with it, to protect soldiers (that’s what DU is – depleted uranium). 232U is a hard gamma emitter AND SO ARE THE NEXT COUPLA DECAY PRODUCTS that occur after. 232U also has a ≈ 68y 1/2 life. 3) You cherry picked out of the one website you posted and failed to mention the disastrous accidents that occurred with the THOREX pilot plant (which was shut down, btw). Here’s the actual report: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFMQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ornl.gov%2Finfo%2Freports%2F1962%2F3445600592598.pdf&ei=JZvLT6C9FqrC0QH-8shq&usg=AFQjCNHa1qKUPRDD0uaGFbzUY6xiaA7lIA 4) You also fail to mention that the THOREX process was actually meant to separate out the Th, Pa, U, etc. and was NEVER designed to separate out 233U from 232U, so yet another gross manipulation on your part.

    I am thoroughly disappointed at your spin and disinformation quest you appear to be on. The cherry picking is yet another attempt at pseudoscience. Thoroughly disingenuous and meant to sway the public taking small details grossly out of context.

    • Thanks for your feedback.

      Regarding spin, misinformation, and name calling, please do take a moment to examine search results for “Thorium” or “LFTR” online. It is quite common for anyone having any sort of criticism for thorium (or nuclear in general) to be the target of defamatory campaigns instigated by the nuclear industry public relations entities. Further, do take some time to research the history of the use of astroturfing PR campaigns. They are far more common in the fossil/nuclear energy industry than you may realize.

      I do not think that all scientists involved in various nuclear industry projects are ethically handicapped – I am sure that some are honestly doing what they think is right. The thorium LFTR PR team happens to be one of the most inflammatory groups. Their multitudinous personal attacks against myself and others online who rationally criticize the thorium fuel cycle or MSR/LFTRs lead me to the creation of this blog. The astroturfers are probably doing more harm to your credibility than any of my blog posts.

      As you are apparently involved in the nuclear industry, perhaps you could lobby your colleagues to take a less dishonest and inflammatory approach to the promotion of nuclear power in general, and thorium/MSR/LFTR more specifically. It would probably help the honest scientists that remain in the field.

      I fully agree with you that thorium/MSR/LFTR is not a panacea. Where we disagree is that while you believe that nuclear power is important, I believe that nuclear is not necessary to meet the world’s energy needs.

      A diverse energy landscape is available to us via the wide variety of renewable energy sources and technological solutions to harness them. There is no need for us (the human race or individual nations) to spend more time and valuable resources pursuing dangerous and costly nuclear. The opportunity costs are too high. I recommend you read some of the literature on 100% renewable energy scenarios – I’ve created a similar blog post to this one which links numerous reports on the topic.

      The descriptive document you linked notwithstanding, the separation of U-233 was doable back in the 1950s – I am still at a loss as to why you believe it would not be doable today?

      • Your presumption that LFTR advocates are in reality part of an astroturf campaign by the nuclear industry is laughable. Seriously, if you could hook me up with a nuclear industry corporation or organization that would pay me to campaign for LFTRs, I’d be much obliged, because I could use the cash. As it stands, neither I nor my friends in the Thorium Community can find a single cotton-pickin’ corporation or organization that has offered, or even vaguely implied, that that would be willing to do such a thing – the reason being that the last thing the nuclear industry wants is a new reactor on the market that will make their Model Ts obsolete.

        You are being attacked when you post anti-LFTR stuff because the stuff you post is nonsense. You don’t know the science, you ignore attempts to educate you on the science, and to make matters for yourself even worse, you paranoiacally presume that there is some vast, well-funded, glow-in-the-dark conspiracy to astroturf for LFTRs, when in actual fact the Thorium Community is a collection of scientists and advocates who spend their own money organizing conventions and going to those conventions, and blogging and posting, when they’re not spending the rest of their spare time writing and researching.

        Why? Because they happen to think that MSR/LFTR has a very good chance of substantially bettering the conditions on this planet, and they happen to genuinely care about the future. Are LFTRs totally, utterly, completely safe? No. But how many more deaths would result from not stopping carbon emissions? Sadly, wind and solar won’t do the job; the numbers simply aren’t there to produce the terawatts of power the planet needs 24/7/365.

        Energy has to be collected and directed to do work, so wind and solar are always operating under a handicap, whereas nuclear energy has already been collected in the nuclei of heavy atoms. The wind don’t always blow and the sun don’t always shine, but reactors are nearly always online – and radiator-cooled LFTRs could be built in the harshest desert , or deployed to a frozen tundra, or even at the seashore in an underground vault. A tsunami or a typhoon would roll right over them like a truck over a manhole cover.

        You may not agree with LFTR advocates, but you do nothing but destroy your own credibility by trying to destroy theirs. Seriously, Kevin – you are making a fool of yourself with the posturing and nattering that you’ve displayed online. If you truly, actually, genuinely wanted to discuss the pros and cons of LFTR, and nuclear in general, the Thorium Community would be happy to do so. But we simply don’t have the time or the patience for carping natter, paranoid innuendo, and accusations of indutry-funded astroturfing. 

        Tell me – Why in would the nuclear industrial complex bother to fund an astroturf campaign for a technology that would render their products obsolete? That’s like Bill Gates funding a campaign to promote Mac OSX and diss MS-DOS. It’s an accusation that is worse than illogical – it’s downright, laugh-out-loud goofy.

      • Stephen accused you of a spin on a very specific issue. If I read correctly you answered it by making a fallacious argument (hasty generalization). :/

        You sign your tweets with ‘#thorium is #cancer’ regardless whether the subject of the tweet is related to these subjects or not. This campaign is hurtful to those who see the solutions to world problems in thorium and appeals to emotions rather than reason. You can help the civil discourse by showing respect towards others.

        Many of us have the same goal here regardless where we stand on thorium. Our common enemy is global climate change that leads to species extinction, poverty, wars, etc. We’re both in the business of phasing out dependance on fossil fuels. We only differ on how we see it realistically achievable. The two routes you and the thorium people representing are not mutually exclusive. I for example stand for both.

        Regards and thanks for blog!

  5. Kevin –

    Please point me to any 1) dishonest statements and/or 2) unacceptable namecalling and I will set both (or all) parties straight. You are grossly mistaken that there is some sort of cogent PR campaign. It’s grass-roots, at best and there is currently no corporate funding whatsoever. Further, the bias against MSRs (and thorium in particular) stems directly from DoE – feel free to simply search for recent quotes from DoE officials.

    Secondly, your lack of reading the link I sent you is now obvious – it explicitly says that separation of 233U from 232U (et alia) either in-situ or ex-situ is FAR more difficult than the streamlined, industrial-scale, gas-centrifugation means of enriching 235U we have today. Practically speaking, no one on earth would even consider re-inventing the wheel, particularly when the dross (232U, 229Th, 233Pa) are FAR more dangerous to handle than benign 238U.

    I never stated or implied that it couldn’t be done…that said, who the hell would want to? You can simply buy the centrifuges from the borderline-many rogue nations who have manufactured them (or simply download the plans)? Why don’t you see the simple pragmatics of these two choices?

    Yes, Th-based MSRs are by NO MEANS, a panacea, but the weaknesses are technical (and tractable!!!!) in origin and do NOT warrant the henny-penny hand wringing and wild polemics that people like you carelessly throw around. Are they soluble? Yes. Are we going to be abjectly stupid and sell the plans or units to rogue nations like Syria, Iran, Sudan, et al? Of course not. My gawd, N. Korea set up a plutonium breeder reactor in Yongbyong, explicitly for making weapons-grade 239Pu. You as a non-scientist have NO CLUE how much easier it is to do this (load the damn thing with your bare hands, b/z 238U is so benign!!!) than to try and distill out 233U from a hot gamma emitter like 232U. Start a breeder filled with 238U and give it a neutron kick start and you’re right at 239Pu (the numbers should give you a clue!). The chemistry of 239Pu is largely distinct from uranium, so it’s no surprise that from this extremely small breeder, the North Koreans have distilled almost 5kg of weapons-grade 239Pu. Need I remind you that you can see North Korea from the West Coast of your beloved Japan?

    That said, what is YOUR suggestion for getting rid of the over one-hundred-thousand metric tons of 235U-based waste on the planet, over 70kT of that here in the U.S., alone? I have a solution and it’s an MSR. Given the fact that there is near zero proliferation issue, a near unlimited fuel supply (232Th), NON-fissile Fission Products as short-term (300y) half lives which are vendable, and operability at atmospheric pressure (1ATM), that’s carbon-free, I’d stack this up against humanity’s current and geometrically growing future energy needs any day. I am a fan of wind and solar as part of an intelligently crafted energy landscape, but you’re comPLETELY ignorant of the TWh of scale we currently consume annually and think that even quantum leaps in wind and solar tech can even nip the hairs off that beast in any reasonable fashion.

  6. Kevin,

    You seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest! Why is it that LFTR fans run up such huge emotionally charged blog strings, the LFTR lady doth protest too much me thinks!

  7. Kevin,

    Also I recall it being pointed out to me by a pro-nuke engineer, that LFTR’s would require a supply of U233, U235 or Plutonium for start up purposes (unless they plan on keeping them running non-stop!). Of course all three of these offer obvious routes to nuclear weapons. Thus any nation building LFTR’s could likewise argue it has the right to include such a fuel production stream as well, material that can easily be diverted to nuclear bomb production.

    Suggesting that inspectors will magically catch them in the act once such a fuel production system is in place is naive at best, stupid at worse and ignores recent history. Consider that the Israeli’s and South Africans both build nuclear bombs right under the noses of the IAEA. The Kerr-McGee plant in Oklahoma (where Karen Silkwood worked) “lost” 40 lbs (18.1 kg’s) of Pu, that the Selafield THORP plant “lost” 160 kg’s of Pu (temporarily) due to a pipe leak. I’m guessing the Iranians/NK’s/Saudi’s/Insert-name-of-future-nuke-terrorist-supporting-state-here/ will similarly “lose” a few kg’s here and there, and there will be little the IAEA can do to prove anything….until Tel-Aviv or NY mysteriously disappears under a mushroom cloud!

    Suggesting, as Stephen above does, that the blueprints for a LFTR can be somehow kept secret is very naive. Already thanks to LFTR fans the ORNL documents are all over the internet, they’ve run up on lengthy blog strings on their own sites discussing Thorium bombs (and I can guarantee you someone from Iranian or NK intelligence has taken note of it all). If the LFTR genie ever gets out of the bottle (which I doubt, but they seem to think so) a little industrial espionage will fill in the blanks. Indeed given that the Chinese are one of the few countries doing serious research on LFTR’s (that doesn’t simply involve use of powerpoint and photoshop) its possible they’ll just give the designs or reactors away to anyone who asks and pays in oil barrels.

    Consequently, if LFTR’s were allowed to proliferate at the megalomaniac rates LFTR fans would like them to be build, you would inevitably be creating a serious proliferation risk. To downplay this risk, or suggest that LFTR’s are “100% proliferation resistant” as its supporters suggest is simply not true.

    Now while yes, I agree with Stephen that this is as much a political as well as a technical issue. But the first rule of geopolitics is never underestimate the ingenuity, or stupidity, of millions of suitably motivated human beings.

  8. Mike,

    “neither I nor my friends in the Thorium Community can find a single cotton-pickin’ corporation or organization that has offered, or even vaguely implied, that that would be willing to do such a thing”

    That certainly seems to be my impression too, the mainstream nuke industry is not interested in LFTR’s, but not for the reasons you or you’re pals crack pot conspiracy theories suggest. The bulk of the old guard of the nuke industry are soon due to collect their bus passes and retire, much of the West’s nuclear infrastructure is ageing and will shortly need replacement. A huge turnover of staff and kit is due to happen in the nuke industry in the next few decades and the fear in the industry is that both staff and hardware will simply not be replaced. If LFTR’s worked as well as you suggest, they’d be the first people hoping on the band wagon.

    But by an large I am told by experts in the field that they reject LFTR’s because they don’t consider them a plausible alternative to LWR’s on technical, economic nor practical level. Their commitment to the present paradigm of LWR’s fuelled by Uranium is due to a very simple fact – it works and is “cheap” (well cheap by the standards of the voodoo economics nuclear energy supporters apply anyway!) and they can be build reasonably quickly (although not as quickly as renewables, the historic maximum build rate for nuclear power (in the 70’s) was 30 GW’s, currently they’re not building plant quickly enough to replace worn out kit, while 100 GW’s of renewables was added last year).

    Now while post-Fukushima I sense some wriggle room as regards safer reactor designs, these are mostly directed towards Gas-cooled reactors such as the VHTR, as these represent “proven” technology (well proven to work, just not economically! I’d argue). Similarly I sense some hint of concession towards Thorium, but only in the longer term and only if future energy costs prove to be much higher AND Fusion power doesn’t arrive according to the timetable that they’ve long assumed (and that’s a lot of if’s, but’s & maybe’s!). Also, again, the consensus seems to be towards using Thorium in various cycles tied to existing heavy water, Gas-cooled or breeder reactor designs, rather than LFTR’s.

    Now, while I’m skeptical of the nuclear industry myself, I do have to follow their logic here, which is that if you want passively safe thorium compatible reactors, the Gas-cooled method seems to be the obvious route (although of course the skeptic in me would question the economic viability or indeed the longer term issues if nuclear waste, decommissioning, etc.).

  9. Also,

    Astroturfing, while, as noted the bulk of the nuke industry is not favourable towards the LFTR, there are one or two smaller companies, research units and org’s that are focusing on them. Granted these are mostly amateurish outfits on the fringes of science, indeed photoshop and powerpoint seems to be their main research tools. But any pro-LFTR bloggers who happen to have a vested or emotional interest in the success of such org’s (or works for them!) are indeed thus “astroturfing” and Kevin’s claims are thus valid.

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