The Ergosphere
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
 

Steven Den Beste misses the mark on thorium

Over on Hot Air, Steven Den Beste claims that thorium reactors are a huge proliferation risk.

Unfortunately, he

  1. oversimplifies and gets it wrong, and
  2. is going to be taken as gospel by lots of people anyway

Here's the real dope, in a nutshell:

That's why nobody's ever tried to base a weapons program on thorium; if it was so easy, Kim Il Sung, A.Q. Khan and Saddam Hussein would have gone that way.  Even the USA realized that neither a weapons program nor a plutonium economy could come from thorium reactors (which we now know is a good thing).  Nobody did because they know more about nuclear technology than Steven Den Beste.

For more information, start with this lecture by Dr. David LeBlanc and the supporting materials.

 
Comments:
Thallium is Tl.

Th is for Thorium...
 
Thanks, corrected.
 
Interesting article and interesting technology. I know a little chemistry but do not know enough nuclear science to really comment.

However, I've seen a number of blog-rants _against_ nuclear energy and as I scan them, I do not even find any possible pseudo-facts. Just the empty bloviation.

I have come around to believing that we are doomed, not so much by a lack of technical solutions as the idiocracy we now live in. If, for example, it were feasible to put a little power station in everyone's garage (or on their roof), it would be actively discouraged because it wouldn't enhance the power of any central political authority nor boost the ego or bank account of any of the 'management' class.

And I can see that dynamic working on a large scale, for nuclear technology which does not lead to weapon material.
 
U234 does fission - if the spectrum is VERY fast. Pa also fissions a bit more in a very fast spectrum. More U232 is made too, since n,2n gets much bigger with faster spectra.

This is possible with a chlorides MSR. Recently, I've been interested in a single fluid once through chloride DMSR started up with transuranic gunk. No online processing required, with a 95+ percent conversion of transuranic waste to useful U233 at the end of the cycle. EP, you really should come comment some more on Energy From Thorium Forum, if you have the time...
 
Not true. Whilst interned at Farm Hall on 14 August 1945 where conversations were secretly recorded by British captors, Heisenberg revealed that the Nazis during WW2 created a project to build an atomic weapon with Protoactinium (aka procatinum). Heisenberg worked closely with von Laue and Dallenbach at a research institute called Forschungstelle D which was devoted to creation of a heavy particle accelerator (termed "Zyklotron") for breeding Uranium 233. Whilst the weapon contemplated was referred to as a Proactinum bomb, OSS informant Respondek had access in 1942-43 to information about the funding intentions for Forschungsstelle D which clearly identified the aim as a Uranium bomb. Nor was this a dirty bomb. All reference to the Nazi Proactinum bomb has been expunged from the official record of WW2 history, yet there are surviving references which remain overlooked.
 
Suppose it's true that the Nazis attempted to use accelerator-driven transmutation ("zyklotron" is a cyclotron) to make a U-233 bomb.  It would still be impossible to make a reproducible and storable weapon from U-233 generated in a solid-fuel thorium LWR or a single-fluid thorium MSR (without Pa separation).  There would be far too much U-232 in the products to make a bomb that could be used much later; the decay to Tl-208 proceeds inexorably and irradiates everything nearby, and neither explosive lenses nor control electronics can be shielded very much in a missile warhead.
 
U-232 has a significant neutron absorption cross section for fission (thermal neutrons 75 barns (b), resonance integral 380 b) as well as for neutron capture (thermal 73 b, resonance integral 280 b).
 
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