Energy From Thorium Discussion Forum

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PostPosted: Sep 01, 2012 1:10 pm 
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Dumb question time...

How many bombs have ever been made from the by-products of any power-generation, regardless of the technology?

Isn't the answer zero?


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PostPosted: Sep 01, 2012 3:15 pm 
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There have been some dual purpose reactors. But from reactors intended solely for commercial use no weapons have been formed to my knowledge. (Can't say that about fertilizer plants or diesel fuel refineries though).


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PostPosted: Sep 01, 2012 9:25 pm 
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Didn't Canada get real POed at India for using some CANDU reactors to make their first weapons?

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PostPosted: Sep 02, 2012 1:00 am 
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I believe India used the basic Candu design to come up with their own reactor targeted for military purposes. Yes, Canada got really PO'd about the whole affair.


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PostPosted: Sep 02, 2012 7:25 am 
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Did India use a CANDU reactor in the 1970's to make an atomic bomb?


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PostPosted: Sep 02, 2012 11:38 am 
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From Wikipedia
CIRUS (Canada India Research Utility Services) is a research reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay near Mumbai, India. CIRUS was supplied by Canada in 1954, but uses heavy water (deuterium) supplied by the United States. It is the second oldest reactor in India. It is modeled on the Canadian Chalk River National Research X-perimental (NRX) reactor.[1] The 40 MW reactor burns natural uranium fuel, while using heavy water as a moderator.[2] It is a tank reactor type with a core size of 3.14 m (H) × 2.67 m (D). It first went critical July 10, 1960.[2]

The reactor is not under IAEA safeguards (which did not exist when the reactor was sold), although Canada stipulated, and the U.S. supply contract for the heavy water explicitly specified, that it only be used for peaceful purposes. Nonetheless, CIRUS has produced some of India's initial weapon plutonium stockpile,[3] as well as the plutonium for India's 1974 Pokhran-I (Codename Smiling Buddha) nuclear test, the country's first nuclear test.[4] At a capacity factor of 50–80%, CIRUS can produce 6.6–10.5 kg of plutonium a year.


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PostPosted: Sep 02, 2012 6:00 pm 
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Considering the proliferation risk, these are fundamentally different for two groups:
1. States which wish to develop nuclear weapons.
2. Terrorists which wish to acquire:
a. Nuclear bombs
b. Dirty bombs

Case 1 would suggest LFTR is more proliferation resistant. However, an advanced nuclear country (e.g South Korea, Japan) could if they wanted make a nuclear bomb within a short time frame. I'm sure they could do this whether they had LFTRs or PWRs.

If terrorists want nuclear bombs, they'll probably get them from a nuclear armed country.

What about dirty bombs?

The other question relates to question 1 and is a concern for all nuclear power forms. If we have about 1 reactor for 1 million people, a country like Iran will have 50 operating reactors. They'll have the expertise to do anything, as well as 50 targets for any enemies.

On the other hand, with abundant energy, there's less to fight about. But that won't stop some countries trying.


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PostPosted: Sep 03, 2012 5:37 pm 
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alexterrell wrote:
If terrorists want nuclear bombs, they'll probably get them from a nuclear armed country.


!! Very unlikely. That nation would put its existence at risk.


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PostPosted: Sep 04, 2012 3:37 am 
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SteveK9 wrote:
alexterrell wrote:
If terrorists want nuclear bombs, they'll probably get them from a nuclear armed country.


!! Very unlikely. That nation would put its existence at risk.


With or without permission.

I don't see terrortists building their own nuclear device. They will either steal them from a state or be given them by a state. More likely still, they'll acquire them from certain elements within the state, with or without approval from the Supreme Leader. In either case, Supreme Leader will deny any knowledge of this.

If that state is a fully capable nuclear power state, which does not want nuclear weapons (think of South Korea or Japan), then there will only be "dirty" material to steal. No weapons. No 97% enriched Uranium. If the country wants nuclear weapons (think of Iran), or more nuclear weapons (Pakistan), then a Uranium 235/238 fuel cycle is much better than a Thorium fuel cycle.

The question I have is which fuel cycle is more resistant against terrorists stealing spent fuel or other radioactive material for dirty bombs?


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PostPosted: Sep 04, 2012 9:45 am 
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alexterrell wrote:
The question I have is which fuel cycle is more resistant against terrorists stealing spent fuel or other radioactive material for dirty bombs?
The one with the least of it outside the primary containment?

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PostPosted: Sep 04, 2012 9:51 am 
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alexterrell wrote:
Considering the proliferation risk, these are fundamentally different for two groups:
1. States which wish to develop nuclear weapons.
2. Terrorists which wish to acquire:
a. Nuclear bombs
b. Dirty bombs

I like your three-part outline, Alex. It is extremely helpful for thinking about different actors, motives, security infrastructure, and political contexts. Usually all three parts are lumped together in discussions about proliferation, which makes the discussion more confusing and makes the problem seem more intractable. Breaking out the parts allows a more rational and focused response and a more accurate evaluation of risk.


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PostPosted: Sep 04, 2012 10:32 am 
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"Dirty bombs" are a media invention. They would be so utterly impractical even stupid terrorists wouldn't imagine doing it. They have no detonative force (no potential for fission) and have so many gamma-emitting nuclides that finding and tracking them would be effortlessly easy. They would require incredibly thick shielding (just like a dry cask). Even an attempt to try to put explosives around them would be suicide. One would have to take off the shielding, and the gamma emissions would kill anyone dumb enough to try. You would see a pile of dead terrorists holding sticks of dynamite around spent fuel and you'd know someone had actually attempted it.

It's just another way the anti-nuclear forces of the world try to construct a scenario (one involving fission products that all reactors generate) that prevents the use or expansion of nuclear energy, even if it has no connection with reality.


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PostPosted: Sep 05, 2012 6:12 am 
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In terms of fission weapon proliferation, technically probably the most resistant fuel cycle is a hybrid U238-Th232 cycle. The U233 would be diluted to way below weapons levels by U238. The plutonium would be denatured by large amounts of Pu238. So something like a DMSR is about the most resistant as you can get.

But like Kirk said, it is quite academical. We're really worried about various hypothetical "back door" risks of proliferation. But the result is that we've forgotten about the two "super highways" of proliferation. Which are, uranium enrichment and dedicated plutonium production reactors.

The former, uranium enrichment, we are in fact helping along by sticking to enrichment-hungry reactors, the light water reactors of our time. Ironically by not reprocessing fuel and developing more fuel efficient reactors, we need more enrichment. In trying to close the back door, we've just added several more lanes on our proliferation super-highway - by creating a large global enrichment market to serve the various enrichment hungry reactors we all have. Even that though is a low risk because, safeguards and regulations actually work. Safeguards and regulations have not worked very well with fossil produced weapons, which are prolific everywhere. You get a gun when opening a bank account these days.

The latter, dedicated reactors, we really can't do much about. Buy some high purity graphite from China. Buy some aluminium pipes and demineralized water. Buy a standard heat exchanger. Make your own control rod out of some boron containing mineral. Even I could do this, using my company it wouldn't even be very suspect. Then get some natural uranium from, say, bunch of granite or seawater. Really not much we can do to ban seawater and granite.

This is really one of the big ironies of the proliferation debate. Anti-proliferationists, which are generally really just anti-nuclear-anything at the core, criticise the back door approaches and in so doing retard any sort of development on nuclear energy, so we're stuck with keeping the proliferation super highways open forever.


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PostPosted: Dec 05, 2012 9:34 pm 
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Old news to this group but Stephen Ashley is making press with it:

Proliferation warnings on nuclear wonder-fuel

I'm writing a paper on the early days of thorium research, during the Manhattan Project, and the concern he brings up has been known for 70 years. Any reactor that has any neutron flux (fission or fusion) could be used to expose thorium and form U-233, yet neither thorium or U-233 is used in any operational weapon.

Ashley is a researcher whose education is nuclear physics and who is working on a grant devoted to non-proliferation. My guess is he was in a publish-or-perish situation and decided to make a big stink about thorium. I really don't like the tone of his article.


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PostPosted: Dec 06, 2012 12:46 am 
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To me, the least resistant system would be a DMSR. With the U238 there, it would be easy to use simple chemical means to remove high purity Pu239 for bomb making. This is why I prefer FLiBe Energy's dump and dilute plan to add the U238 at the last moment, only if needed.

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