Thorium reactors may dispose of enormous amounts of weapons-grade plutonium

January 22, 2018, Tomsk Polytechnic University
Ass. Prof. Sergey Bedenko demonstrates a simulation model of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors with thorium fuel. Credit: Tomsk Polytechnic University

Scientists from the School of Nuclear Science & Engineering of Tomsk Polytechnic University are developing a technology for the creation of high-temperature, low-power reactors with thorium fuel. The scientists propose to burn weapons-grade plutonium in these units, converting it into power and thermal energy. Thermal energy generated at thorium reactors may be used in hydrogen industrial production and for desalinating water. The results of the study were published in Annals of Nuclear Energy.

Thorium reactors are used in areas where there are no large water bodies and rivers, which are needed for classical reactors. They can also be used in arid areas as in remote areas of Siberia and the Arctic. Associate Professor Sergey Bedenko from the School of Nuclear Science & Engineering says, "As a rule, a nuclear power plant is constructed on the riverside. Water is taken from the river and used in the active zone of the reactor for cooling. In thorium reactors, helium is applied, as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) or hydrogen, instead of water. Thus, water is not required."

The mixture of thorium and weapons-grade is the fuel for the new kind of reactors.

Sergey Bedenko says, "Large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium were accumulated in the Soviet era. The cost for storing this fuel is enormous, and it needs to be disposed of. In the US, it is chemically processed and burned, and in Russia, it is burned in the reactors. However, some amount of plutonium still remains, and it needs to be disposed of in radioactive waste landfills. Our technology improves this drawback since it allows burning 97 percent of weapons-grade plutonium. When all weapons-grade plutonium is disposed of, it will be possible to use uranium-235 or uranium-233 in thorium reactors."

Notably, the plant is capable of operating at low capacity (from 60 MW), the core thorium reactors require a little fuel and the percentage of its burnup is higher than that at currently used reactors. The remaining 3 percent of processed weapons-grade plutonium does not present a nuclear hazard. At the output, a mixture of graphite, plutonium and decay products is formed, which have no industrial applications and can only be buried.

Sergey Bedenko says, "The main advantage of such plants is their multifunctionality. First, it efficiently disposes of one of the most dangerous radioactive fuels in thorium reactors, and second, it generates power and heat. Third, it will contribute to industrial hydrogen production."

The authors of the study say that the advantage of such reactors is their higher level of safety in comparison with traditional designs, enhanced efficiency (40 to 50 percent), absence of coolant phase transitions, increased corrosion resistance, the possibility of using different fuels and their overload in operation, and simplified management of spent nuclear fuel.

Thorium fuel can be used both in thorium reactors and widely spread VVER-1000 reactors. The scientists expect these reactors to function at least 10 to 20 years, and when this is spent, the core may either be reloaded or disposed of. In addition, can be desalinated at reactors.

Explore further: Hans Blix calls on scientists to develop thorium nuclear fuel

More information: I.V. Shamanin et al, Neutronic properties of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors with thorium fuel, Annals of Nuclear Energy (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.anucene.2017.11.045

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14 comments

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EyeNStein
4 / 5 (2) Jan 22, 2018
No one in their right mind will hand over the security responsibility for weapons grade plutonium to someone in industry.
Its currently under heavy lock and key under heavily armed guard.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (6) Jan 22, 2018
Its currently under heavy lock and key under heavily armed guard
-including underpaid, corrupt Russian troops eager to make a fast buck.

"Soviet-era plutonium that was never accounted for after the Cold War could fuel roughly 25 nuclear weapons as powerful as the "Fat Man" atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in World War II, former Air Force Secretary Thomas Reed said..."

But seriously, why would we want to destroy the most valuable commodity that a civilization at our level of development can possess?

Nuclear explosives and compact reactors are essential to creating musks million-person colonies on mars. They are the only things capable of destroying dangerous asteroids or powering ships and stations out past the asteroid belt. They are irreplaceable security in the event of worldwide catastrophe, and can provide power and move dirt like nothing else can.

Come on, get serious.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Jan 22, 2018
Promises, promises. We have had thousands of them since the dawn of the Atomic Age.

Whatever happened to "Too cheap to meter"?
Bongstar420
5 / 5 (1) Jan 22, 2018
No one in their right mind will hand over the security responsibility for weapons grade plutonium to someone in industry.
Its currently under heavy lock and key under heavily armed guard.


Plutonium burns could stay in state certified reactors while civilian reactors burn standard Throium fuels mixtures...or micro reactors could be denatured to the point where making your own Plutonium would be more economical.
Caliban
4.8 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2018
Bad news for you guys- nuke has just been made obsolete:

https://techxplor...ive.html

I agree that it would be handy to commission a handful of these reactors to dispose of the aforesaid Cold War remnants, while producing some hydrogen, electricity, and desalinating seawater, but once the plutonium and whatever other radionuclides can be rendered harmless, then the reactors need to be shut down, since they simply cannot compete in terms of power generation with grid-scale renewable energy, but would ALWAYS constitute an existential risk on one level or another.

Finally, and most importantly, ANY nuke generator will be rendered entirely unnecessary by grid-scale renewables.

That amount of power might even make it possible to deal with radiowaste entirely without any other fission/fusion process. It would really be nice to live in a world completely free of the Nuke Supply/Waste Chain.
Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Jan 23, 2018
@Caliban - why in the world would anyone think of advances of battery technology as bad news?
Caliban
5 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2018
@Caliban - why in the world would anyone think of advances of battery technology as bad news?


@Parsec,

I read your comment as being sarcasm, and thus voted it a five. But just in case, my point was that this breakthrough would be bad news for the(too often) knee-jerk nuke supporters.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 25, 2018
they simply cannot compete in terms of power generation with grid-scale renewable energy
They certainly can when regional natural or man-made disaster happens.

Nukes are security. They can continue to provide power during disruptions in fossil fuel supply, megavolcano eruptions, meteor impacts, or nuclear winter.

They are essential for national security.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2018
Nukes are toast, and from now on, will be the focus of scorn for their promises and failures and dangerous operation. When the public finds out now much it will cost to just find ways to store the disgusting intensely-radioactive waste they will rebel against the industry.

They are absolutely dangerous in natural disasters, as we have seen.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2018
Nukes are toast, and from now on, will be the focus of scorn for their promises and failures and dangerous operation
I'd have to say the same thing about lying cheating psychopaths.

"RESULTS: Spectral HRV indices were able to detect psychopathic inmates at a significant level, while IAT experiments and the IGT could not discriminate them. HRV indices showed a more significant difference when assessing the affective-interpersonal dimensions of psychopathy."

-'What can't be cured must be endured'.

Uh no, it doesnt.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jan 25, 2018
Hilarious, . . . but writing here will not get you the help you need.

Meanwhile, "clean coal" took another hit with the abandonment of the Kemper facility, after a 7.5 BILLION dollar investment, and they will turn it into gas-fired unit instead.

The financial squabbling over the abandoned VC Summer Nukes is still in progress, as are the negotiations over the cost overruns at Vogtle, which, before their last set of problems were already projected to produce power at 15cents/kWh versus about three for wind and four cents for PV both including electrical storage, giving 24-hour continuous power.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 26, 2018
Hey georgie I was reading about your disability and found out that as you people age you become less prone to actively victimizing (too much effort) but more prone to paranoia (which explains your nukophobia, your fantasies of energy independence, and your barrels full of water in the backyard)

See? Youre an open (comic) book.
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2018
Gkam exactly what does the Kemper project prove other than the fact that government regulations and bureaucracy can make any form of power prohibitively expensive. This utterly stupid project even had carbon capture as part of the plan.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jan 26, 2018
You absolutely hate government.

Got it.

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