Friday, January 01, 2010

LFTRs: Nuclear power revisited

I have been hearing a lot over the past few years about LFTRs (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) and their numerous advantages over Uranium reactors.
  • Thorium is abundant and cheap.
  • Thorium doesn't require costly processing, as opposed to Uranium-235, which must be purified from Uranium-238.
  • Zero risk of meltdown.
  • Chain reaction is self-regulating and more efficient (more energy from less fuel)
  • Waste only needs to be stored for 100's of years, as opposed to 100,000's.
  • Waste cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.
This is an added bonus for national security. If Thorium technology becomes ubiquitous, it will be impossible for any nation to justify a Uranium reactor for "civilian" purposes. The only reason to build one would be to create Plutonium.

So why aren't we doing this already? Basically, we were in an arms race with the USSR. In the 1960's, the US government chose to build Uranium-fueled reactors (partially) because the the waste can be refined to make bombs. And in 1973, Thorium's fate was sealed by the Arab oil embargo. That year, the US nuclear industry signed contracts to build a record 41 nuke plants, all of which used Uranium.

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