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India To Build A Thorium Reactor 277

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the someone-has-to-save-us-from-the-nimbys dept.
In their first story, slowLearner writes "India will build a working Thorium reactor. [Quoting the Guardian] 'Officials are currently selecting a site for the reactor, which would be the first of its kind, using thorium for the bulk of its fuel instead of uranium – the fuel for conventional reactors. They plan to have the plant up and running by the end of the decade.'" Before anyone gets too excited, this is only a modified Heavy Water Reactor and not one of those fancy Molten Salt Reactors folks like Kirk Sorenson have been evangelizing for a while now.
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India To Build A Thorium Reactor

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:33AM (#37919212)

    "India will build a working Thorium reactor."

    Building a non-working Thorium reactor would be an absurd plan.

  • Too bad, a LFTR would have made my day.

    • by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @11:23AM (#37920814) Journal

      Geeks interested in safe practical thorium power really need to read the history of molten salt reactors here [earthlink.net]. I hope India and China have the sense to invest in this path. The LFTR is the long term theoretical evolution of the molten salt reactor path. My only problem with the whole LFTR hype is it's pushing for massive research instead of building reactors we know how to build now. We should get back in the game now, first building a new MSR taking into account what we learned in the 60's and new advances since then, and then build a few commercial plants.

      To be specific about some of the hype I don't like, check out the claimed advantages of LFTRs [energyfromthorium.com]. Some of the advantages that LFTR theoretically inherit from MSR I wont dispute, including inherent safety, small size, and low operational cost, as MSR research proved that already in the 60's. However, I take issue with "load following" which means ramping the reactor up and down to follow the load. That's what all our other generators are good for, but to get your investment out of a nuclear reactor, you want to take advantage of it's low fuel cost and run it at 100% capacity almost all the time. This also greatly simplifies the engineering involved, and given the economics, there's simply no way our early LFTRs will be designed for load following. Then they claim minimal end-of-life expense. Cleaning up the MSR plant turned out to be massively more expensive than anyone would have guessed, though with knowledge gained from that experience, we should be able to do a better job next time. Then, they assume that the first LFTRs will use a new turbine design, rather than standard steam turbines. That might be where we eventually get, but build the first plants using cheaply available and well understood technology! This sort of hype looks more like fishing for DARPA grants than solving the energy crisis.

      • by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @01:33PM (#37922744) Homepage
        Well, as a steam turbine engineer, their plan for the turbine is borderline ridiculous.

        The turbine system believed best suited for its operation is a triple-reheat closed-cycle helium turbine system, which should convert 50% of the reactor heat into electricity compared to today's steam cycle (~25% to 33%).

        Firstly, triple reheat turbines are more efficient from a thermodynamic point of view. But nobody builds them because the increased complexity and cost just aren't worth it. Double-reheat steam turbines were relatively rare for coal turbines- only a handful were built and the design concept was abandoned, but they may be common on the nuclear side.

        The next problem is using helium for the working fluid. I'm not saying it couldn't be done, but the turbine would have to be enormous in order to work with helium. I'm talking so big that you need to install the blades on site because you can't move it by road or rail. This adds a huge amount of extra cost also- assuming you can find a material to make blades that long with. Currently the longest blades for steam turbines available are Titanium 52" or maybe 60" (for 50hz systems). A longer blade would probably require an even stronger material with the desired properties, which does not currently exist at anything approaching a reasonable price.
  • India.reputation++;
    Belgium.reputation--;

  • How much does this resemble the Molten Salt Reactors everyone's talking about?

    Will experience from this reactor be able to be applied to the new-style reactors?

    • It reembles it in two points; it generates electricity and it uses thorium as fuel source.
      But that's already about it. Canada's CANDU reactor design is also capable of using theorium for fuel source and is really close to India's design; so not very 'new'.

      LFTR have 2 distinct advantages over this (more or less) proven design; they do NOT have a solid fuel source and thus can be designed to be passive-shutdown,
      and they require nearly no chemical pre- nor post-processing of the fuel source. Additionally,
  • I wonder why they went for solid fuel rather an a liquid fluoride thorium reactor setup. There are many advantages to the liquid setup plus it is a technology which has been done and proven. Also, the by-products are valuable, so offer additional revenue streams and there is vastly reduced risk in terms or proliferation and melt down capability. As a system, its about as safe as you can get.
    • Re:Why solid? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kiran.kamsetti (952393) on Wednesday November 02, 2011 @09:59AM (#37919594)
      India has to go for nuclear power generation in a big way using thorium-based reactors. Thorium, a non fissile material is available in abundance in our country. - Abdul Kalam, Former Indian president and former nuclear scientist. I guess that is the reason. I also remember reading vast reserves of Thorium on the Moon :)
      • by Kokuyo (549451)

        Either I misunderstand you or you misunderstood your parent poster:

        A LFTR reactor is still powered by Thorium... I believe even more so than this setup India i doing now, since a LFTR only needs a bit of uranium or plutonium to start the chain reaction.

        But the really big difference is that the design of a LFTR is much less expensive and less dangerous.

        The question remains: What keeps us from building them? The fact that they do not produce waste than can be weaponized? For a nuclear power like India, perhap

        • by Strider- (39683)

          But the really big difference is that the design of a LFTR is much less expensive and less dangerous.

          Eh? The heavy water design used by India (Derived from the CANDU technology we sold them) is a comparatively simple and safe design. It doesn't require any heavy machining (as the majority of the reactor operates at low pressure) and is an inherently stable design. Managing hot, corrosive liquids that have to be kept molten once the reactor is started up, is just asking for trouble, and horridly complicated. In effect, once you turn it on you can never turn it off again until you shutter it.

        • by mosb1000 (710161)

          The question remains: What keeps us from building them?

          If you are referring to the US as us, I'd assume that the thing stopping us from building them is the same that is stopping us from building any other kind of nuclear reactor. Such projects lack the popular support necessary to gain needed subsidies and permits for construction.

          • If you are referring to the US as us, I'd assume that the thing stopping us from building them is the same that is stopping us from building any other kind of nuclear reactor. Such projects lack the popular support necessary to gain needed subsidies and permits for construction.

            Nothing to do with subsidies. A lot to do with lawsuits.

            You announce plans to build a nuclear power plant in the USA, and before you get back to your desk, you've been sued by every anti-nuke group in the country.

            You pick a site,

            • Every neo-con nut job runs around speaking of taxes and regulations killing industry in America. Yet, a number of foreign industrialists point out that taxes are not a big deal (you simply add them in to the price) and regs help them stay out of trouble with the govs.. Their issue is that we have become a sue happy nation that will every single fucking lawyer will sue for a penny. Then these liberal nut jobs tie up projects like this. So what happens? Not only do foreign nations build cheap coal plants, bu
          • by HiThere (15173)

            The original reason the US didn't build Thorium reactors is they weren't useful for military purposes. So the military had no interest in them. Now it's because the path we *did* take left a very bad taste in the mouths of a very large number of people. It wasn't mainly technical problems, it was mainly political and managerial problems. This doesn't keep them from being very important problems.

            *I* wouldn't be in favor of a new nuclear plant. And it's not because I think the technology isn't worth it,

        • GE doesn't have a design ready yet.
    • by compro01 (777531)

      Because they already have the heavy water reactors (They're basically a CANDU derivative, so getting them to run on thorium is pretty simple), as opposed to having to build a new system from scratch.

    • They are following the working model from Fort St. Vrain that General atomic did. The only difference is that they have no experience working with helium, so they will stay with water.
    • I wonder why they went for solid fuel rather an a liquid fluoride thorium reactor setup. There are many advantages to the liquid setup plus it is a technology which has been done and proven.

      Probably because there are some *dis*advantages as well - like the need for a complex continuous reprocessing system to clean the salt of fission daughter products, chemical reaction byproducts and various contaminants. Or the extreme toxicity and handling hazards of the fuel salts. Or their tendency to breed corrosive

  • Not sure what the poster means by "fancy" when referring to the liquid flouride thorium reactor. It may be a novel concept to many folks, but if anything it's simpler compared to a light water or pressurized water reactor design. (Or any other solid fuel design, for that matter.)

  • If it works, and we finally develop batteries worth a crap, then humans may just survive the next centuries without a 90% die-off.

    • by danbert8 (1024253)

      Umm, in a century, the die off rate is nearly 100%. Regardless of the sources of power and the accessibility of good batteries.

  • Is it my imagination, or does nuclear-power advocacy have a moving-goalposts problem? For myself, I guess I'm like most folks here, I'd love it if there were a technologically advanced carbon-free power source we could all use, so we could all be techno-optimists, and superficially, it seems that nuclear power could be that power source.

    But at this point, even fission-power advocates seem to be betting the farm on future designs, rather than trying to convince anyone that any actually operational system is

    • by Pecisk (688001)

      "we've heard for a while that thorium reactors will be better, but now that someone's actually building one, it turns out to be the wrong kind of thorium reactor."

      Well, you probably heard that mentioned reactor is *not* this one:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR [wikipedia.org]

      It's called "Liquid fluoride thorium reactor" and it is quite tested for almost 10 years already in scientist reactors. More, it's designs has been improved more and more. Problem is - big powers are more interested in burning Plutonium and friends (

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      I want this to work, but I'm having trouble shaking the sense that fission power is only safe when it's confined to PowerPoint slides, and becomes dangerous when it collides with reality.

      The record of operating plants says differently.

      The problem in some ways is similar to airplanes vs. cars. Without questions cars are more dangerous than airplanes. However airplanes are almost universally perceived as more risky because when an accident occurs it is highly visible in the news, involves dozens or even hundreds of people, and was completely out of the control of nearly everyone involved. It's a psychological truth that people feel safer when they feel in control of their destiny, even if

    • by JSBiff (87824)

      "we've heard for a while that thorium reactors will be better, but now that someone's actually building one, it turns out to be the wrong kind of thorium reactor."

      If the reactor is almost exactly the same as the old kind of reactor, but you just fill it with a different fuel, why would you expect to get the benefits of a new reactor design?

      Just about everyone talking about the benefits of Thorium (at least outside of India) is talking about molten salt reactor/liquid fluoride thorium reactor technology.

    • by mcguiver (898268)
      The reason why there has been a lot of focus on new designs is because anti-nuclear groups are calling for retrofits on old plants that just do not make any financial sense. The anti groups are arguing that nuclear is unsafe because the plants are getting old and that almost all of the internals should be replaced. In the same breath they are arguing that because nuclear is unsafe we shouldn't build any new plants. How is the industry supposed to respond? We can spend the cost of a new plant completely
  • If they were smart, they would have saved their gold and bought a fel iron reactor in a few levels.

  • Not even CLOSE to accurate. [wikipedia.org] If you noticed the post stated that the Indian plant would use thorium for the BULK of the fuel. Like FSV, they will have uranium. Why? For the neutrons. Thorium is fertile (meaning that it can under go nuclear fission), BUT, it is not fissile (capable of generating neutrons to keep the reaction going). For that, you need an outside source. SMALL amounts of Uranium has been the main item used. The interesting part is that the uranium is not a lump, but separated throughout the
    • by mzs (595629)

      An alternative approach is to use an accelerator to add neutrons, but yes using the uranium as you say is what the plan is here.

      • It would be interesting to use the accelerator, but at this time, I would love to see GA go back to producing thorium reactors, only smaller ones. They can make use of the waste product that is on-site to get the neutrons needed. Likewise, a small fast breeder reactor that can burn up this waste fuel makes so much sense. Better to get energy out of it, and then have minimal amounts of waste, then to simply ignore it.
  • The only reason that Uranium was used was because of the potential for producing weapons-grade isotopes as a by-product. Thorium reactors do not allow for that. The Indians are on the right track here. Pardon the pun but more power to them!
  • Indian engineers have been reported camping known spawn points in Ungoro. News at 11.

  • In India nuclear power and the workings are poorly understood by the masses. They built a nuclear power plant at a place called Koodangulam, TN. The opposition parties believe in opposing anything the ruling party does, even if it has supported the very same idea/principle/project when it was in power. This time the Church also joined the fray, its priests went on hunger strike etc and have effectively blocked the plant from going on line. This plant is in a Christian majority district of that state.

    Almost

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