THORIUM-POWERED NUCLEAR: The destructive force of American protectionism

As we have seen with the TPP, facing as it does an inevitable economic decline, the US could rather protect than compete. Now the game has spread to Thorium  (left) – the cleaner, safer, cheaper and more abundant alternative to Uranium…Thorium’s only downside being that you can’t make bombs out of it.

Current legislation in the US classifies thorium as a dangerous radioactive material. This is in spite of the fact that it has a very long half life of 12.5 billion years, and is an alpha emitter – viz, the radiation is stopped by a few centimetres of air or by your skin. As a dangerous substance, it is to uranium what paracetamol is to pure heroin.

But rather than change the legislation dealing with thorium – and address the root cause of concerns about the safety and sustainability of nuclear power – the US government has announced that it is launching a WTO case against China…which, like India, is increasingly hot to trot towards thorium. Whatever one thinks of the Beijing regime (and I try not to think about it at all, because it’s inhuman) a trend is developing in Sino-American relations whereby if the Chinese find a better way of doing something – and more raw materials with which to effect the change – the US sues them.

This is a short-sighted view, because even if the Pentagon still wants its lovely-wovely bombie-wombies, the very ubiquity and safety of thorium compared to uranium is irrefutable. But as usual, the West is about to get left behind as Asia powers ahead with the development of this superior alternative.

This was the main thrust of a piece at French News two days ago, in which scientists at the Grenoble nuclear research centre warned that, unless more government backing and industry support (aka EDF, the French electricity giant) is forthcoming, China, India and Japan will overtake France as current leader in this field. (As I posted previously, given the invasion of Britain by EDF, we’re becoming a backwater too).

But EDF says its main priorities lie in fast-breeder solid fuel uranium reactors — a 651.6 million euro sodium-cooled programme driven by the National Scientific Evaluation Committee (CNE) and Astrid (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration).

On the other side of the world, global thorium enthusiasts will gather at the Shanghai Hope Hotel for the IThEO Conference from October 29 and November 1, 2012. ITheo is an independent privately-funded US-based body, which seeks to promote Thorium as an alternative to the uranium fuel cycle. You see, Americans outside the mad elite know what’s coming.

This conference is most likely to confirm China’s lead in exploring fresh approaches to nuclear power generation. China produces large amounts of thorium as a by-product of its rare earth mining operations and the ThEC12 conference is  partnered by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) – an institution answering to the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), which has specific responsibility for developing Thorium Energy in China.

So, no bias then. But Beijing’s agenda is irrelevant: until such time as the sun’s power is properly harnessed to power earth cheaply and safely, thorium is by far the best alternative. It is odd, is it not, that the free trade theories of Levitt and Friedman can also embrace naked, negative protectionism.

It is The American Way.

Earlier at The Slog: Scam No 24,650 at RBS

29 thoughts on “THORIUM-POWERED NUCLEAR: The destructive force of American protectionism

  1. Wildly O/T but I had to smile:
    Posted by Wealth Wire – Monday, October 1st, 2012

    On June the 30th 2009 oil mysteriously jumped by more than $1.50 a barrel during the night, to reach its highest price in eight months, the kind of swing that is caused by a major geopolitical event.

    The amazing, true cause of this price spike has now been released by a Financial Services Authority investigation (FSA).

    Although not authorised to invest company cash in trades Steve Perkins, a long standing, senior broker at PVM Oil Futures, had managed to spend $520 million on oil futures contracts throughout the night.

    On the morning of the 30th an admin clerk called Mr Perkins to ask why he had bought 7 million barrels of crude during the night. Mr Perkins had no recollection of the transactions, and it turned out that he had made the trades during a “drunken blackout.”

    By the time PVM had realised the transactions had not been authorised by a client, they had incurred losses of $9,763,252.

    Between the hours of 1.22am and 3.41am, Mr Perkins gradually bought 69 percent of the global market, whilst driving prices up from $71.40 to $73.05, by bidding higher each time.

    At 6.30am, presumably sobering up and realising what he’d done, he sent a message to his managing director claiming an unwell relative meant he would not be able to make it into work.

    Following an official investigation Mr Perkins admitted to having a drink problem, had his trading license revoked for five years, and was given a fine of £72,000.

    The FSA have said that they will re-approve his license after the five year period, if he has recovered from his drink problem, although they warned that “Mr Perkins poses an extreme risk to the market when drunk.”

  2. You really lost me there John. In what possible way can the U.S. try to stop development of the this technology? What are you suggesting that they are doing at the WTO exactly?

    I doubt very much that they really need to enrich any more uranium for weapons purposes. If I recall correctly, the whole problem with disarmament processes, such as START, was that they ended up with more fissile material than they know what to do with.

    It would be great to see the Chinese or Indians develop this on their own initiative. I’d be curious how carefully they would protect their innovations or whether the technology they develop will be open to all. I imagine the American concern is that they become a backwater in nuclear technology. So they are maybe trying to sow seeds of doubt about the Thorium cycle. Either that, or they are worried this let’s the energy genie out the bottle and reduces the power they derive from their close relationships with Saudi Arabia and the like based on the world reliance on oil. They must be really worried the Chinese and Indians get this working and, based on the lack of public control over building reactors in their respective nations, roll out a cheap source of energy at a time when it otherwise is in short supply. That would be a spectacular competitive advantage.

    I also doubt that a thorium cycle reactor is quite as clean and harmless as you portray it. Remember that the uranium 238 isotope is also relatively harmless from a radioactive sense (but enormously poisonous nonetheless). You can’t make blanket statements about an elements radioactivity or non-radioactivity, each isotope of an element has it’s own radioactive characteristics. Also, if you read the wikipedia article on the thorium fuel cycle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle#Nuclear_reactions_with_thorium) you’ll see no less than 16 different species involved, including our beloved uranium 235. Until a cycle is properly up and running and the long term performance assessed then the jury is surely still out on how much cleaner it is. Perfectly clean? I doubt very much. Cleaner than existing cycles? Based on the evidence available, probably.

    Incidentally, I was lucky enough to get to look inside a nuclear reactor once during a nuclear chemistry course and admire the awesome blue glow of the Cherenkov radiation. So a uranium pile can sit happily at the bottom of a pool of water, doing it’s fission thing and not pose a huge risk to spectators. Your point about alpha radiation is somewhat valid, but if you swallow the alpha source then assuming it doesn’t poison you outright the alpha radiation will still be extremely destructive.

    • It’s clean for a few reasons. The high fuel burning efficiency i.e. the amount of waste left is approx 3-4% of initial mass comapred to virutally 100% of a uranium reactor. It also destroys existing nuclear waste, it uses it as a neutron source and reactions that follow use up the original waste. That and the waste storage requirements are in the 10^2 magnitude not 10^4 combined with the relative mass make it a far more sensible option. The main stumbling block I understand at the moment is a constant supply of sufficient neutrons. Nothing a few billions dollars won’t sort out. But no one will care till the lights go out.

      Better get the bicycle hooked up to a dynamo.

    • Since only mankind uses terms such as ‘wreck’ or ‘shame’ this is uniquely our concern, the rest of nature literally doesn’t give a shit. Given the complete indifference to the state of planet most people show, only a few will be aware anything is actually occurring.

      In fact, when you consider such acts of vandalism as the deforestation of the Scottish highlands (http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/forest/humanimpacts/deforestation.html) and the fact that most Brits consider that the state of mountainous areas such as these to be both natural and aesthetically pleasing, I doubt that anything short of a complete melting of the antarctic would raise more than an eyebrow. Even then, people will adapt and find the new situation normal.

  3. ….and meanwhile ….over in Japan yesterday, the J-Power company, resumed construction of an Uranuim atomic reactor 650 kilometres north of Tokyo, despite government plans to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. They apparantly plan to have it operational in the next two years

    ….and meanwhile…over in Japan…..here is a list of the latest 4+ mag earthquakes off the East Coast of Japan since the start of October (Yup, I am talking since Yesterday morning !!)…
    4.8 126km E of Miyako,
    4.6 32km ESE of Oarai,
    5.1 107km E of Miyako,
    6.2 96km ENE of Miyako,
    5.2 18km ESE of Iwaki,
    4.8 53km ENE of Hasaki,
    4.4 95km NE of Miyako,

    Conclusion 1: The lust for Mamon causes gross collective amnesia !
    Conclusion 2: Developing Thorium reacters in any earthquake zone would seem like a jolly spiffing plan !

    • It seems the Indo-Australian plate is splitting in 2 down a new fault line, just west of Sumatra, which is putting stress on all the other faults around the world……..could be a bumpy ride for anyone in an earthquake zone, let alone one with nuclear reactors lying around the place !!

  4. Pingback: John Ward – Thorium-Powered Nuclear : The Destructive Force Of American Protectionism – 2 October 2012 | Lucas 2012 Infos

  5. The answer is China. Forget the US, it’s not dead but it no longer has a hegemony/monopoly. Of course all countries concerned want uranium reactors for their weapons programs. But that does not mean they have to generate all their electricity that way. Some serious investment in thorium or other solutions will sort the problem within 20 years.

    As for the UK nuclear market, we tend to shoot ourselves in the feet. The ultra-short term, often coloured by personal gain, rules in the UK. You can’t do energy, especially nuclear energy, without very long term thinking. It’s time TPTB started thinking about the collective good, and stopped thinking about the next election and the umpteen million they can collect on the side from shady deals.

    • Carys:”It’s time TPTB started thinking about the collective good, and stopped thinking about the next election and the umpteen million they can collect on the side from shady deals.”

      I’ve been mulling that statement over and have come up with a reasoned response: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA…………

  6. Thorium is being researched as a source of energy due to ease of extraction,coal etc.When up and running,the reactor itself would be used along with electricity itself is producing to convert dirty hydrocarbons to oil and eventually petrol,as long as petrol is needed.Interestingly,Frau Merkel is well aware of this technique and even using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce hydrocarbons-but of course that is the future.
    Imminently one reactor is coming online within the next three years,just as a test,yeah right.
    All this is for energy security which is the real worry and we in the UK have consistently turned down plans for a test reactor since at least 1980.

  7. As far as I understand it, Thorium reactors have a passive shutdown as against active shut down for Uranium reactors.
    So if there were to be a shutdown the Thorium wouldn’t need constant power to shutdown and stay shutdown.

    I wonder where the Human race might have been by now if we hadn’t been held back for millennia by the PTB and their greedy murderous systems.

    • Thorium needs a constant supply of neutrons, i.e. it needs to be constantly ‘fed’ or it stops producing energy. It’s also kept at atmospherical pressure rather than the high pressures of a urnaium reactor making it impossible for it to go into ‘meltdown’.

  8. The physics/chemistry of it aren’t quite as simple as is being made out here.
    Let me say I’d love to see thorium reactors on line there is abut though and I’m damned if I can remember what it is.

    Yes thorium is an alpha emitter but there’s more to it than that which may, just may, be why there aren’t any on line. I’ll see if I can dig out the bumf on it.

  9. I’ve found some of what I read in a physics module:-
    “Thorium reactors use Thorium as a fertile fuel that transmutes into fissile U233. While the spent fuel does not contain the same ratios of elements as a uranium fuel cycle, it does indeed contain bomb worthy isotopes as well as some longer lived fission and daughter products. In fact, the thorium cycle was used to produce some of the fuel for Operation Teapot in 1955″.

    It would seem not only can weaponisable radioctive material be made from its by products but also that the spent material i.e what the thorium degrades to after it releases its alpha particle is another uranium isotope.

    • Yes, but the U-233 in the proposed reactor most supported among the thorium advocates (the LFTR – liquid floride thorium reactor) would be inevitably contaminated with U-232. The very hard gamma radiation of U-232 daughter products (thallium…) would immensely complicate bomb manufacture, destroy its electronics and reveal its location.
      So while its theoretically possible to make a bomb (as with any fissile material), in practice it would be very hard to make it from the LFTR fuel or products.

    • Very interesting. I still think local/personal power creation via solar/gasification et al is the way to go.
      What technology we have now will grow and grow if we see the future World as a more self-responsible/mutually beneficial for all who want that World because I think they are the majority.
      I see people being crushed with their fuel bills and food bills, council tax, water rates et c. this is going to get worse as the borrowed money dries up.
      older people in your community are more vulnerable than most and often forgotten about.
      More imagination required for a chance for all to thrive. Local collective schemes for electric and heating/hot water generation, some local grown food et c.
      On a small scale and due to burglary rates(necessity being the mother of getting off your arse) , all(most) of the people in the streets around where I live have created a fiction to collectively pay in monies to pay for supply and fit, with monies for insurance and maintenance, of security gates to cover the entrances to our back alleyways, this could be scaled up to other local projects. (ability to pay was taken into consideration), also a few people gave their time/knowhow for free.
      There are so many ways and systems that we could use to live. Lets take our lives back.

      • I second that wholeheartedly. A lack of self-sufficiency is killing our creativity and leaving many dis-empowered, without the skills or self confidence to fix even the simplest of problems in our immediate environment or home.

  10. When Hussein Obama was elected, I was saying to myself: “with some luck, he will see the light and the US will come out of the recession by builging a dozen or two GW of nukes, thorium or whatever. Large 1600-1800 MW and compact 125, 250 MW (I wuld love one of those). But Noooooo, Eurosocialist Green was the recipe for a party that looks, sounds, and acts as if it is on the take from the same characters that are bringing Greenery thoughout Euroland.

  11. Talking about protectionism, I just had to laugh when I read an article positing that the French nuclear power industry strongly lobbied the French goverment to ban ‘fracking’ in France. Apparently they were concerned about cheap gas as an alternative to their monopoly hold on electricity generation in France. It could be true…!

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