Researchers explore power of thorium for improved nuclear design

October 14, 2014, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

The UK is playing a key role in an international project to develop a radical new type of nuclear power station that is safer, more cost-effective, compact, quicker and less disruptive to build than any previously constructed.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the RCUK Energy Programme, a team at the University of Cambridge is exploring whether the element thorium could help to meet the new design's fuel needs. As well as being three to four times more abundant than uranium, thorium could potentially produce electricity more fuel efficiently and therefore more cheaply.

The aim of the overall project, initiated by the US Department of Energy and led by Georgia Institute of Technology, is to design a power plant whose size would be reduced and safety enhanced by breaking with convention and integrating the main heat exchangers inside the secure pressure vessel where the nuclear reactions take place. This innovation gives the design its name: Integral Inherently Safe Light Water Reactor (I2S-LWR).

Dr Geoff Parks, who is leading the Cambridge team, says: "The fact that we are part of such a pioneering international project not only reflects the UK's enduring reputation in nuclear science and engineering – it also provides a platform for the UK to develop a new suite of relevant, globally marketable skills for the years and decades ahead. If all goes to plan, construction of the first I2S-LWRs could begin in around 10 years, making deployment of more practical, more cost-effective and more publicly acceptable worldwide."

The I2S-LWR, which could also be constructed off-site, module by module, and then quickly assembled on site, would be suitable for deployment worldwide. In this country, it could contribute to a new era of nuclear power that helps the UK meet its carbon reduction targets and energy security objectives; no new nuclear power station has been built here since Sizewell B began generating in 1995. With a power rating of around 1GW, the output from the I2S-LWR would be comparable with Sizewell B's 1.2GW rating, but the station should be significantly less costly in real terms.

The EPSRC-funded part of the project will help the UK reinvigorate its technical expertise in and attract a new generation of engineers and scientists to the field. Expertise of this kind will be crucial to securing the UK's nuclear future but has significantly diminished during the 20 year 'nuclear hibernation' where no new have come on stream.

The Cambridge team will focus on how thorium, which can be converted into the isotope uranium-233, could be used alongside uranium silicide to fuel the I2S-LWR. The team will assess the question not just from the perspective of fundamental nuclear reactor physics but also in terms of the scope to achieve high fuel-to-power conversion efficiency and to recycle spent nuclear fuel – key issues impacting the cost-effectiveness of the thorium fuel option.

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1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 14, 2014
Have these people learned nothing from Fukushima?

Time to check out Fukushima Diary, WIPP, and Wanapum Dam, above the world's biggest store of nasty stuff on Earth.

No more nuclear stuff until they prove a way of storing their terribly-nasty left-overs.
not rated yet Oct 14, 2014
'Left overs'? As in mind-numbing ignorance?
1 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2014
Well, actually, I am a former Senior Engineer for PG&E, and well understand the quantities and quality of our nuclear waste from civilian operations, and know there is no long-term storage.

We have ignored this disaster for decades, in the ultimate kicking of the can down the road. I suggest you look into what is happening at Fukushima. The Japanese government will not tell you because there is a Secrets Act prohibiting negative information about Fukushima.

Before working for the utility, I helped test some safety components of those GE Mark I & II BWR's. They are unsafe. All types are unsafe. While we were running the tests, we had to stop for a while and watch Three Mile Island as that B&W PWR melted it's core to rubble.

Look into WIPP.
5 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2014
Well, actually, I am a former Senior Engineer for PG&E, and well understand the quantities and quality of our nuclear waste from civilian operations, and know there is no long-term storage.

Rather, you wish there isn't or won't be, so you could keep pointing at one of the many flaws of nuclear power that exist solely because there's no political will to solve them, or actual political opposition to their solutions.

There are solutions to the nuclear waste problem. The real problem is that the solutions are only good enough, while the anti-nuclear crowd demands a perfect solution that is patently impossible.

Tell me, what kind of solution for nuclear waste would satisfy you personally? What should it achieve and why?

helped test some safety components of those GE Mark I & II BWR's. They are unsafe. All types are unsafe.

Again. those were the Ford Model Ts of nuclear power, designed in the 50's. All you're offering is plain propaganda.
5 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2014
All types are unsafe.

Here's a little game I like to play. It's called "spot the double standard".

First we need a metric for safety that measures what actual harm comes out of a particular source of energy. Let's call it deaths per unit of energy, because that measures the positive contribution of the source of energy and its worst negative consequences on human life.

Then look at the numbers:


This data comes from the World Health Organization.

Coal power of course is the worst offender at an estimated 170,000 dead per PWh because of the pollution it puts out. Biofuels are also pretty bad at 44,000 dead/PWh because they too involve burning a lot of stuff, which releases particulate matter. Solar energy is nice with just 440 dead/PWh, and wind is even better with 150 d/PWh mostly due to accidents.

But the best of the bunch?

Nuclear power. 90 dead per PWh produced.

5 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2014

The whole "unsafe" argument is only sustainable if you don't declare what you mean by "safe". No-one can evaluate the claim.

So as we can see, the double standard is that people are willing to accept deadly risks when they come from non-scary sources such as wind energy, but not when they come from scary sources like nuclear power even though it's objectively less risky.

At this point I have to declare once again that I'm not pro-nuclear power. I'm anti-bullshit.

There are plenty of reasons why nuclear power is a bad idea - it's costly, inflexible, rife with political and social issues, etc. The point is that none of them are universal dealbreakers or necessarily there - you can work around them if you want to, but the anti-nuclear crowd just doesn't want to, and will lie and cheat to get their end.

And that's bullshit.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2014
That said, there are plenty of people who oppose nuclear power for the right reasons. Maybe they find it just economically infeasible at the moment, or politically risky, like buying a reactor from Rosatom. That's fine - it means they can give nuclear power credit where it's due because they maintain intellectual honesty about the matter.

Some of the worst kind of anti-nuclear people I've found are the jaded/naive hippy, who have simply decided that the "system" is bad after reading a few greenpeace pamphlets, and understand nothing of nuclear power. There is no pleasing these guys.

Then there's the "socialist", who opposes nuclear power for social change. I.e. "we need rolling blackouts because then we're forced to re-distribute wealth to make the system work again."

And finally there's the "renewable evangelist". People who advocate or sell alternative energy sources, get mad because nuclear power threatens to save the world before they do.

Question is, why?
5 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2014
Oh, I almost forgot:
I suggest you look into what is happening at Fukushima. The Japanese government will not tell you because there is a Secrets Act prohibiting negative information


Fukushima's Refugees Are Victims Of Irrational Fear, Not Radiation

(...)I've been studying the environmental effects of radioactive contamination for three decades (...) My enduring frustration: the extreme supposition that all radiation is deadly and that there is no dose below which harmful effects will not occur.

This idea, known as the Linear No-Threshold Dose hypothesis (LNT), was adopted in 1959 as the global regulating philosophy and remains entrenched against all scientific evidence.

It's keeping 100,000 Japanese citizens as refugees, as it did almost a million Ukrainians. It will waste $100 billion that's needed to rebuild...
1 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2014
Eikka, that's quite a jeremiad. I actually did read most of it.

Strangely compelling was the advertisement on the Physorg page.


I kinda wondered if I could test the glove by slapping you. Maybe help you snap out of your own misery.

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