New pint sized particle accelerator leads the way to clean nuclear energy

Jun 20, 2011 by Bob Yirka weblog
The EMMA ring in relation to the main ERLP (ALICE) accelerator.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at Daresbury science park in Britain have offered a glimpse into what might be the future of nuclear energy production by showcasing a scaled down particle accelerator; one, that when combined with others just like it, could produce nuclear energy based on thorium, rather than uranium. Dubbed the Electron Machine with Many Applications (EMMA), the accelerator, a much smaller version of the kind used in physics research, such as the Large Hadron Collider, could be used to provide an accelerated beam necessary for the type of nuclear reaction used in a theoretical thorium plant.

Thorium, named for the Norse god of thunder, is a silver-white metal found in abundance all over the planet, and is only very slightly radioactive and as such is a member of the elements known as actinides which, like uranium, occasionally spin off particles which make it useful for energy production. But unlike uranium, thorium is relatively clean because it decays much faster leaving far less reactive behind; and because it requires a constant bombardment of particles to keep it reacting, is incapable of producing a meltdown; something on the minds of people in the aftermath the Fukushima disaster.

That’s where EMMA enters the picture. To produce the constant stream of needed to keep a thorium reaction going, an is needed, but it wouldn’t have to be the huge billion dollar kind, more like the kind you could fit in your garage, or in this case in a lab on the boggy Cheshire flatland, just east of Liverpool, where reporters from the U.K. newspaper Mail, were recently given a tour. They report that EMMA is “an object of scientific beauty...”

Scientists have known since the 1950’s that thorium could be used to produce electricity, just as uranium is today; what kept them from doing so was the desire to use technology that could be used in conjunction with atomic weapons, which pushed thorium research aside due to its impracticality for such applications. Today however, things have obviously changed, several countries besides Britain are taking a very hard look at thorium and the ways it could be put to good use and at small particle accelerators too; the team in Britain is also currently at work designing the for Medical Applications (Pamela) to be used to help treat hard to reach cancer in patients.

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User comments : 47

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MrGrynch
1.4 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2011
Sounds like too little too late. The Rossi Energy Catalyzer (E-cat) will begin shipping this year
aroc91
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2011
Sounds like too little too late. The Rossi Energy Catalyzer (E-cat) will begin shipping this year


Not sure if serious...

That thing's an obvious scam, rejected by peer-reviewed publication. They completely failed at explaining how it works and they don't even get consistent output.
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (1) Jun 20, 2011
Wasn't thorium looked into for research on neutron bomb or am i dreaming.

Either way it sounds interesting, I would love to see someone build a DIY garage accelerator with no supercooled magnets.

I've given thought to a mathematically derived funnel trap which would capture, excite and then condense or collide small particulate fuels.
But I'm just a poor kid with half baked ideas.
Makes me think we need more civilian/corporate synergy. Make everything open source and just let the corps buy up the people who can use all that open source info most efficiently.

This makes it profitable and much better for society. Portions of the population would take over publication/translation of the now open source info (would be like 1000 TBs) and if the govt. just taxed and used that money for economy stimulus instead of military development, talk about socialist paradise, and im sure there would be enough military tech developed in private sectors anyways.
robbscholl
2 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2011
I just started reading about the E-CAT and I don't find much criticism about it not being peer reviewed. Mostly I found that the device produces energy. And the reason it has not been peer reviewed is that they are waiting for patents.
Yevgen
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2011
I just started reading about the E-CAT and I don't find much criticism about it not being peer reviewed. Mostly I found that the device produces energy. And the reason it has not been peer reviewed is that they are waiting for patents.


You might have been reading the forums of Rossi himself, if
you did not see criticism. If you want so see deeper analysis by independent skeptics, search key-words "Rossi Randi".
At this point overall opinion tends to lean towards it being
a skillful fraud, mainly because no independent testers were
allowed to make measurement using their own equipment and procedures. This hints that "Ross's" own equipment used
for demonstrations is rigged.

Regards,
Yevgen
antonima
2 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2011
I really like the double functionality here - a power plant by day, a research tool by night. Having safe, clean nuclear power may even be able to reduce the costs to below that of the e-cat.

I hope that rossi's machine is a fraud, because I have my own and wouldn't want to compete with it. :) down with the second law of thermodynamics!!!!!!!
Javinator
5 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2011
To produce the constant stream of particles needed to keep a thorium reaction going, an accelerator is needed


I know that accelerated neutrons could be used to prime the fuel (to make Th-232 into U-233 which is a fissile isotope), but why is a constant stream of neutrons required to keep the reaction going? With enough priming, the reaction should be self sustaining.

If the reaction were shut down then priming would again be required to start the reaction (since the fuel contains essentially no fissile material until it's primed). A constant stream of particles would be required to start the reactor, but not to maintain it.
hemitite
not rated yet Jun 20, 2011
Could they use some of the hot nuclear wast from our current generation of reactors to provide the necessary neutrons?
antonima
not rated yet Jun 20, 2011
A fusor is a good source of neutrons, but I'm guessing they have to be fairly energetic neutrons too.
wealthychef
5 / 5 (1) Jun 20, 2011
Sounds great -- 10 years away? :-)
Callippo
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2011
That thing's an obvious scam, rejected by peer-reviewed publication.
Peer-review system is crippled, as it's not able to distinguish real achievements from pseudoscience (the jealous individuals covered with anonymity will always bury them all). It's not surprising, Einstein hated it so much. Cold fusion is supported both with NASA (interplanetary flights), both US Navy (submarines).
Callippo
1 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2011
They completely failed at explaining how it works and they don't even get consistent output.
Nobody understands, how quantum mechanics is working. String theory never provided some consistent output. Apparently it makes no problem for thousands of theorists, if they could get some money for writing of publications. The Foccardi's cold fusion has been published before twenty years: nobody of mainstream physicists cared to explain, how it's working - although this is exactly, what the research is all about.

Who adheres on ignorant, nonscientific approach here, after then?
Callippo
1 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2011
no independent testers were allowed to make measurement using their own equipment and procedures
The E-Cat catalyst was replicated with MIT physicists already. And the complete & detailed description of original experiments of S. Foccardi is freely available on the web for twenty years. Everyone of us could check them comfortably.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2011
no independent testers were allowed to make measurement using their own equipment and procedures
The E-Cat catalyst was replicated with MIT physicists already. And the complete & detailed description of original experiments of S. Foccardi is freely available on the web for twenty years. Everyone of us could check them comfortably.
When you say something like this you need to provide links to back yourself up.
Callippo
1.1 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2011
]When you say something like this you need to provide links to back yourself up.
I do agree with such praxis too, unfortunately the current anti-spam filter at PO prohibits it. On the other hand, it's quite easy to google it. Many ignorant stances here follow just from inability of their proponents to find the source of relevant information. As a homework, try to find the oldest source about nickel-based fusion on the web, for example. You would be surprised 1) how old the whole stuff actually is, 2) how well it is actually documented.
Deesky
4.1 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2011
Many ignorant stances here follow just from inability of their proponents to find the source of relevant information.

Yup, it's called selection bias. And you're guilty of it. You know when a patent cites previous work on cold fusion that your critical faculties should engage.
Callippo
1 / 5 (6) Jun 20, 2011
Yup, it's called selection bias
You should say it to Galileo before barbecuing him.
FenderFennec
4.6 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2011
"Wasn't thorium looked into for research on neutron bomb or am i dreaming."

Thorium can be used to make the pushers for a fusion bomb, since fusion neutrons are hot enough to cause thorium to fission.

"I know that accelerated neutrons could be used to prime the fuel (to make Th-232 into U-233 which is a fissile isotope), but why is a constant stream of neutrons required to keep the reaction going? With enough priming, the reaction should be self sustaining. "

Thorium is 100% Th-232, an even-number isotope which means that ordinary fission neutrons are not hot enough to cause chain-reaction fission. The neutrons from a hot-enough accelerator can cause fission to occur but if the accelerator stops bombarding the thorium, all fission reactions stop.

FenderFennec
1 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2011
"Thorium can be used to make the pushers for a fusion bomb, since fusion neutrons are hot enough to cause thorium to fission."

For some reason I neglected to add that a "neutron bomb" does not use fissionable pushers.
Callippo
1.4 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2011
Fission produces toxic radioactive waste, cold fusion not. It doesn't require accelerators, neutrons and another BS and it's scalable in wide extent.
Deadbolt
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2011
Sounds like too little too late. The Rossi Energy Catalyzer (E-cat) will begin shipping this year


Not sure if serious...

That thing's an obvious scam, rejected by peer-reviewed publication. They completely failed at explaining how it works and they don't even get consistent output.


But who is he scamming? He's purely putting his own money into this to show that it works at a powerplant first.

If it doesn't work and he claims that the experiment was a success, then when he starts selling the devices it won't be long before people realize that he was lying, and they only have to check how much energy is going in and coming out to know that it is nuclear and not chemical, so this would be a VERY easily exposed scam, screwing Rossi over shortly, and landing him in jail.

Even though I find the device hard to believe, I don't see how a scam is viable, unless Rossi is an incredibly stupid individual.
Deesky
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2011
Even though I find the device hard to believe, I don't see how a scam is viable

He could pre-sell lots of units and it might take a while for the energy claims to be verified, depending on the units operation, by which time he could take the money and run. It makes no sense that a so-called breakthrough in energy production would not be detailed in a patent. In fact, he can't get an international patent for this very (secretive) reason.
StandingBear
3.5 / 5 (8) Jun 21, 2011
Not sure where all the 'cats' came from, but EMMA is what is being discussed in the article before the comments ran off track. Lets see, power drives small accelerator; accelerator drives th232 reactor producing a surplus of energy, part of which is fed back to the accelerator in order to keep the process going. The profit, energy speaking, is the amount of surplus power over that which is needed for the system and for lost work in the sub-processes. Should work well, be reliable, and safe, and installable everywhere in small stations. What's not to like. Especially cool for renewable poor places like Germany which just shot itself in the foot by saying they want to become international energy beggars and later suppliers of 'personal aides' for whoever will buy them in a new nuclear powered world. They better take a real good look at some of their 'greens'....may turn out to really be very 'red'.
Javinator
5 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2011
Thorium is 100% Th-232, an even-number isotope which means that ordinary fission neutrons are not hot enough to cause chain-reaction fission.


I was more asking whether the neutrons from fission of the initial U-233 atoms created by the accelerator would be enough to breed enough U-233 from the Th-232 while maintaining the neutron flux to make the reaction self sustaining.

Are there not enough neutrons in the economy for this? Wouldn't that depend on the type of reactor?

I was/am a little confused as the article is pretty vague. Is the article suggesting that the Th-232 is being fissioned directly by the accelerated neutrons?
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 21, 2011
]When you say something like this you need to provide links to back yourself up.
I do agree with such praxis too, unfortunately the current anti-spam filter at PO prohibits it.
No it doesn't. People post links all the time.
As a homework, try to find the oldest source about nickel-based fusion on the web, for example.
Yeah. You're just lazy, or you're chock full of shit. Post links.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2011
@callipoo
Here's one. See it's easy.
http://www.urband...erm=noob
CKeizer
not rated yet Jun 21, 2011
Fender, am I correct to conclude from your comment that the neutrons from Thorium fission are NOT "hot" enough to cause fission in other Thorium atoms? Only the accelerator neutrons are able to cause Thorium fission? Sweet "off" switch, if I'm understanding this right.
FenderFennec
2 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2011
Fender, am I correct to conclude from your comment that the neutrons from Thorium fission are NOT "hot" enough to cause fission in other Thorium atoms? Only the accelerator neutrons are able to cause Thorium fission? Sweet "off" switch, if I'm understanding this right.


Yes, that is a large part of the reason for using thorium--there is no way for a pure-thorium "reactor" to go into runaway, and thus it cannot melt down. Only odd-number isotopes (U-233, U-235, Pu-239) will support a runaway chain reaction or make a bomb. To quote the article, "it requires a constant bombardment of particles to keep it reacting, is incapable of producing a meltdown..."
FenderFennec
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2011
Thorium is 100% Th-232, an even-number isotope which means that ordinary fission neutrons are not hot enough to cause chain-reaction fission.


I was more asking whether the neutrons from fission of the initial U-233 atoms created by the accelerator would be enough to breed enough U-233 from the Th-232 while maintaining the neutron flux to make the reaction self sustaining.

Are there not enough neutrons in the economy for this? Wouldn't that depend on the type of reactor?

I was/am a little confused as the article is pretty vague. Is the article suggesting that the Th-232 is being fissioned directly by the accelerated neutrons?


Th-232 will not fission under bombardment from the neutrons produced by fission. Those neutrons do not carry enough energy. A beam of neutrons from an accelerator, if hot enough, can fission thorium but if the beam is removed, fission reactions cease.
FenderFennec
4 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2011
@Javinator:
My reply was incomplete--although it is probably theoretically possible to achieve what you describe, that is not the point of the type of thorium reactor being described in the article. The idea is to have a reactor that cannot go into meltdown and does not produce vast quantities of violently-radioactive byproducts of a uranium or plutonium reactor.
Javinator
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2011
Do you have some kind of source I can check for what you're saying? I'm really not aware of how you're planning on directly fissioning Th-232 and I don't think that's what's being proposed here.

Typical thorium reactors are Th-232 seeded with other fissile material where the Th-232 absorbs neutrons to because U-233 after some beta decay and continues to fission. Generally people aren't talking about direct fission of Th-232 when discussing thorium reactors.

From what I understand from bumming around google for similar concepts, what they're actually planning here is to purposely run the reactor sub-critically with respect to fuel (ie. neutron flux is too low for a sustained fission reaction), and are going to use the accelerator for extra neutrons to reach criticality. When the accelerator was off, there wouldn't be enough neutrons to sustain the reaction and the reaction would shut down.
Javinator
5 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2011
The process I think they're describing is described after slide 15 in this slideshow:

http://energy.nob...bbia.pdf
FenderFennec
not rated yet Jun 21, 2011
Do you have some kind of source I can check for what you're saying?...


I am not quite sure what sort of information you are trying to find. I am -reasonably- sure that the article is implying the use of pure thorium as the fissionable element, without fissiles being added. Bombarding pure thorium with a stream of neutrons which carry enough energy to fission the thorium nucleus seems straightforward enough. The type of reactor you describe breeds U-233 but again, that does not seem to be the point. If neutrons are being supplied externally to produce fission reactions (eg, the sub-critical reaction you mention), then there is no particular reason to add fissile material to the thorium and then have to deal with the waste products. Fission reactions do not produce neutrons with enough energy to cause Th-232 to fission (this is true of U-238 as well).
Javinator
5 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2011
I'm trying to find information about the practical fission of Th232 directly with high energy neutrons.

Due to the incredibly low cross sectional area and the high energy required for fission of Th232, I highly doubt that's what they're referring to. Also, the energy of unmoderated "fast" neutrons produced from fission are very fast. They're not "slow" until they've been moderated.

If you check my source, it fits exactly what they're describing in this article. They're not adding fissile material. The idea is that, with appropriate priming, you hit an equilibrium where the U-233 is being generated from the Th-232 at the same rate it's being fissioned.

Regardless of what you're fissioning you'll have to deal with waste products. U-233 as a nuclear fuel generates less long lived transuranic waste than U-235 or U-238 from typical uranium fuel. This is what people are referring to when they talk about the preferable waste from a thorium reactor relative to a typical nuclear reactor.
Javinator
5 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2011
From the article cited in this article:

http://www.dailym...rld.html

This type of plant dubbed the Energy Amplifier by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia in 1993, when he patented the basic design wouldnt be simple. Because neutrons carry no electrical charge, the magnets in a particle accelerator have no effect on them.


A google search of an energy amplifier plant gives this from wikipedia:

http://en.wikiped...mplifier

The energy amplifier uses a synchrotron or other appropriate accelerator (e.g. cyclotron, fixed-field alternating-gradient) to produce a beam of protons. These hit a heavy metal target such as lead, thorium or uranium and produce neutrons through the process of spallation...Thorium nuclei absorb neutrons, thus breeding fissile uranium-233, an isotope of uranium which is not found in nature.
FenderFennec
not rated yet Jun 21, 2011
I'm trying to find information about the practical fission of Th232 directly with high energy neutrons.


Please understand that I am not suggesting that the EMMA team's concept is in fact practical. I was only responding to some questions about the fissionability of thorium. Thorium does fission with sufficiently-hot neutrons, yes, but whether the EMMA approach is practical is not for me to say. However, I can say that fission neutrons do not fission Th-232 or U-238. They are not hot enough. If they were, there would be no need to for isotope separation. Moderators are used to slow down neutrons so that more time is available for odd-number fissiles to capture them. Waste products from thorium fission are less hazardous than from uranium or plutonium.

Thank you for discussing this subject, you presented some very interesting ideas!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2011
Re thorium fission, you gentlemen ever hear of this?
http://en.wikiped...THTR-300
EWH
3 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2011
The main application proposed for accelerator-driven systems is transmutation of part of the high-level waste from conventional nuclear plants. Thorium power is a less frequent proposal, but certainly a good possibility. For an in depth analysis of some of these these ideas see:
"Accelerator-driven Systems (ADS) and Fast Reactors (FR) in Advanced Nuclear Fuel Cycles, A Comparative Study" Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development www.oecd-nea.org/...-ads.pdf (350 pages)

derphysiker
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2011
Please go and read http://en.wikiped...mplifier

You cannot accelerate neutrons, as they don't have a charge. You accelerate protons and hit a heavy target like lead or thorium with them so they "shave off" neutrons.

Th232 plus neutron gives U233, add another neutron and it fissions, giving off only two neutrons in the process. This means that the reaction cannot go super-critical (you'd need 3 neutrons for that).

And you can use the remaining neutrons to "burn up" radioactive waste, converting it into short-lived isotopes.

Sounds good to me. But with all that nuclear hystery going around... *sigh*
Javinator
not rated yet Jun 22, 2011
Re thorium fission, you gentlemen ever hear of this?
http://en.wikiped...THTR-300


That reactor uses U-235 fissions as its source of neutrons instead of external neutrons sent into the core from spallation as described in this article.

From a conceptual point of view they're similar (breeding fissile U-233 from Th-232 from a neutron source), but the designs of the reactors would be very different with respect to cooling, geometry, fuel type (bundles/rods/pebbles), and operating conditions (temperature and pressure) and just about any other factor you can think of.

Pretty cool stuff though for sure.
Javinator
not rated yet Jun 22, 2011
Th232 plus neutron gives U233, add another neutron and it fissions, giving off only two neutrons in the process. This means that the reaction cannot go super-critical (you'd need 3 neutrons for that).


That's not exactly true. If you think about it, ramping up the power of a nuclear reactor requires it to be slightly supercritical for a short amount of time while power is increasing. If it was 1 consumed: 1 produced all the time by itself, power could not be increased (except by the external beam I guess) and control mechanisms would never be required (which they are).

While usually fission results in 2 neutrons being produced directly, there can be from 2-4 produced directly from a fission depending on what fission products are formed. Also, certain fission products will decay and give off what are known as "delayed" neutrons (since they show up after the original fission). These are actually very useful for reactor control (see http://en.wikiped..._neutron ).
Javinator
not rated yet Jun 22, 2011
Generally you'd have more neutrons than you'd need in the core if it was just fuel. Control rods would be in the core to absorb the excess neutrons to hold power steady. Inserting them further would absorb more neutrons and shut the reaction down and retracting them would put the reactor slightly super critical and raise the power. The control rods would them be adjust to hold the ratio at 1:1 again when the power is at the desired level.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2011
AVR- germanys precursor to THTR:

"The AVR was originally designed to breed Uranium233 from Thorium232. Thorium232 is about 400 times as abundant in the Earth's crust as Uranium235, and an effective thorium breeder reactor is therefore considered valuable technology. However, the fuel design of the AVR contained the fuel so well that the transmuted fuels were uneconomic to extractit was cheaper to simply use natural uranium isotopes."
that_guy
not rated yet Jun 24, 2011
Could they use some of the hot nuclear wast from our current generation of reactors to provide the necessary neutrons?

Yes and no. They can use nuclear waste as fuel in thorium reactors. They can also use nuclear waste as a neutron source for nuclear reactions.

HOWEVER - if they use nuclear waste as a sole neutron source in a self sustaining reaction, you have a traditional nuclear design that can melt down, and you can't use very much thorium. Thus, using other nuclear materials as a neutron source or catalyst would entirely defeat the purpose of modern thorium reactor design.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2011
Could they use some of the hot nuclear wast from our current generation of reactors to provide the necessary neutrons?

Yes and no. They can use nuclear waste as fuel in thorium reactors. They can also use nuclear waste as a neutron source for nuclear reactions.

HOWEVER - if they use nuclear waste as a sole neutron source in a self sustaining reaction, you have a traditional nuclear design that can melt down, and you can't use very much thorium. Thus, using other nuclear materials as a neutron source or catalyst would entirely defeat the purpose of modern thorium reactor design.
Unless you use a pebble bed design... right?
knowledge_treehouse
not rated yet Jun 25, 2011
Doesn't the Electron Machine with Many Applications (EMMA) shoot electrons instead of neutrons?

Also: http://episin.blo...rgy.html
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2011
Just what is the energy required? I find it hard to believe a
'pint sized' accelerator could ever do the trick. My field, Ion Implantation for semiconductor manufacturing, uses machines that accelerate from a few hundred EV to 20 MEV, most maxing out at 200 KEV. These machines accelerate usually one of the big three for doping semiconductors, Arsenic, Phosphorus or Boron 11. Boron 10 is viable also as a dopant but only about 1/4 as abundant so makes a beam only 1/4th the intensity. Ion Implanters are anything but 'Pint Sized', and use up a lot of energy to boot. They use 3000 pound magnets, some of them have 3 or 4 of them for various functions, steering the ion beam and so forth, but they are the size of a small room and can weigh in at 30,000 pounds. So how much energy do neutrons have to have, or how many KEV or MEV do the protons have to be accelerated to to get sufficient spalling of neutrons? I fail to see how that could come about with a 'pint sized' accelerator. Any help here?

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