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Atomikrabbit 
Member since Apr 15, 2012


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Re: “Back to the future with thorium

If I have one pet peeve about the energy from thorium advocates, aside from their sometimes not-quite-technically-accurate enthusiasm, is their (inadvertent?) libel of the Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology that has served us well for over 60 years (if you count the submarine prototypes).

The author says “uranium eventually won out as America's nuclear fuel of choice, largely due to one very deadly factor: uranium-powered reactors produce the plutonium needed for nuclear bombs”, and talks about “a nationwide grid of constantly-bubbling plutonium stills”.

Well that’s only true in that the AEC’s military reactors at Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Savannah River – purpose built machines designed expressly for plutonium and not power production - necessarily contained the U238 that would be converted into suitably pure Pu239, the preferred material for conveniently-sized weapons.

The choice of commercial power reactors fueled by uranium enriched in U235 and cooled with light water came about largely because that was the favored technology chosen in the early ‘50s for naval vessels, especially submarines, and the US already had ample enrichment facilities in place. Canada, with no enrichment capability, chose a different technology, the natural (unenriched) uranium heavy- water moderated CANDU design, for their plants.

As for “a grid of bubbling plutonium stills”, let’s be absolutely clear - NO weapon was EVER built from material from commercial nuclear power plant LWRs, in the US or anywhere else, and NEVER will be - the isotopic concentration of the high-burnup fuel is all wrong, and so is the defueling design of the reactor vessel to get ready and regular access to it. So let’s not continue to pile onto the huge mountain of misinformation that is already so rife on this topic.

4 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Atomikrabbit on 04/15/2012 at 5:31 PM

 

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