PricewaterhouseCooper has released a study saying that it will cost roughly a trillion dollars to “cap” the emissions of CO2. These kind of numbers will clearly scare many policy-makers who are convinced that reducing CO2 emissions is incompatible with healthy economic growth.
Without plunging into the debate over global warming, let’s consider a scenario–if conservative policy-makers thought that CO2 emission reductions would lead to economic GROWTH, they would be enthusiastic about embracing the cause of CO2 reduction, because there would be profit to be made.
It’s like expecting water to flow uphill. So long as emission reduction is seen as economic reduction, politicians and policy-makers with rather short-term “risk horizons” will not change the way things are going now. But if energy solutions are brought forward that have lower capital and life-cycle costs that CO2-emitting energy sources, they will proceed in that direction.
Specifically, I am convinced that the thorium-fueled liquid-fluoride reactor, coupled with the triple-reheat helium gas turbine, offers the potential for huge reductions in initial capital costs, and even greater reductions in life-cycle costs. I cannot quantify these numbers to the level that I would like to, but I can look at a nuclear plant that requires a fraction of the metal, concrete, and complexity of a conventional power plant and be reasonably assured that it has lower capital costs. And I can examine a fuel cycle that is a fraction of the complexity of today’s nuclear fuel cycle, which already offers the lowest fuel costs of comparable generators, and reasonably believe that there is money to be saved there.
With money to be made through generating energy in ways that have essentially no CO2 emissions, we can then expect political “water” to flow “downhill” and changes to be made that lead to a future with far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than today.
And it won’t cost a trillion. Rather, it will make trillions.
$48 million to remediate the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment? Not only does it sound like these guys are “milking” the job, but if this money was being spent on fluoride reactor DEVELOPMENT rather than “remediation”, the entire remediation task (which appears to consist of fluorinating the MSRE fuel) could probably be accommodated in the reactor development work. Then the salt could immediately be put to productive uses in new fluoride reactors. As it is, they’ll spend millions on paperwork just trying to throw away the U233 in WIPP.
While cleaning up the “Document Repository” I find fantastic papers written back in the hey-day of the fluoride reactor work at ORNL. This one from 1971 is really neat…an examination of the resources of the world and how they might be affected by the large-scale development of power from thorium-fueled fluoride reactors.
I love it when people think big like this.
Vladimir Putin wants to set up internation uranium enrichment facilities whose products would be available to all nations that want nuclear energy. Sounds quite a bit like Eisenhower’s concept of an international “uranium” bank.
But for those familiar with the thorium cycle, it is clear that practically unlimited amounts of nuclear energy can be generated without the need for any uranium enrichment at all, unless U-235 is used as the thorium reactor start-charge. And at this stage of nuclear development, fissile start charges could come from HEU, Pu, or be bred in chloride reactors from LWR waste.
A tip of the hat to Ralph Palmer, Baron Lucas of Crudwell and member of the House of Lords for mentioning thorium and this site on his blog…
I found this the other day in the 37th edition of “Steam: Its Generation and Use”, published in 1963, an industry standard reference which has been published by Babcock and Wilcox for about a century now. On page 27-4 it said:
Consolidated Edison Indian Point Station
In meeting the challenges and responsibilities of providing electricity to nearly nine million people in a 600-square mile area, which includes New York City and most of Westchester County, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. constructed one of the nation’s first large-scale atomic power plants at Indian Point, 24 miles north of New York City, on the Hudson River.
After considering several reactor types, Con Edison in 1955 selected for development a pressurized-water thorium-uranium converter reactor. This concept was proposed by the B&W Co ., the contractor for basic nuclear engineering and the designer and manufacturer of the major items of nuclear plant equipment.
Thorium in Power Reactors
The reasons for the interest in the use of thorium and the ultimate attainment of the thorium-uranium-233 fuel cycle are many:
1. Thorium occurs quite abundantly in easily mined deposits of monazite in a number of countries, notably India, Brazil, and Australia.
2. Conversion of thorium makes a better nuclear fuel for thermal reactors than does conversion of U-238.
3. Thorium metal has fair tensile strength, good mechanical-working properties, and machining characteristics comparable to those of mild steel. The oxide (ThO2) is very stable even at elevated temperatures.
4. Thorium can be used in many forms as a fertile or blanket material in power breeder reactors.
5. The operating temperature of thorium in reactors is not limited by allotropic transformation as is the case for uranium, where the alpha-beta phase change still limits the performance of certain reactors.
While thorium is disadvantaged in a pressurized-water reactor relative to a liquid-fluoride reactor, it still has a number of benefits. It is interesting to note that they were sufficient for B&W to fuel the Indian Point 1 reactor on thorium initially.