Robert Alvarez l Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 12 May, 2014
Excellent article from Bob Alvarez on why thorium is not the wonder fuel it’s being promoted as and a brief history of the US’s persistent failure in making thorium safe or efficient ending with the expected trail of dangerous, weaponizable, waste.
“…the United States has tried to develop thorium as an energy source for some 50 years and is still struggling to deal with the legacy of those attempts. In addition to the billions of dollars it spent, mostly fruitlessly, to develop thorium fuels, the US government will have to spend billions more, at numerous federal nuclear sites, to deal with the wastes produced by those efforts. And America’s energy-from-thorium quest now faces an ignominious conclusion: The US Energy Department appears to have lost track of 96 kilograms of uranium 233, a fissile material made from thorium that can be fashioned into a bomb, and is battling the state of Nevada over the proposed dumping of nearly a ton of left-over fissile materials in a government landfill, in apparent violation of international standards…”
“The federal government established research and development projects to demonstrate the viability of uranium 233 breeder reactors in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. By 1977, however, the government abandoned pursuit of the thorium fuel cycle in favor of plutonium-fueled breeders, leading to dissent in the ranks of the AEC. Alvin Weinberg, the long-time director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was, in large part, fired because of his support of thorium over plutonium fuel.
By the late 1980’s, after several failed attempts to use it commercially, the US nuclear power industry also walked away from thorium. The first commercial nuclear plant to use thorium was Indian Point Unit I, a pressurized water reactor near New York City that began operation in 1962. Attempts to recover uranium 233 from its irradiated thorium fuel were described, however, as a “financial disaster.” The last serious attempt to use thorium in a commercial reactor was at the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado, which closed in 1989 after 10 years and hundreds of equipment failures, leaks, and fuel failures. There were four failed commercial thorium ventures; prior agreement makes the US government responsible for their wastes.”