Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by tweakmonkey, Apr 23, 2015.
Anyone watch this yet? Wiskas? Will?
I've pretty much given up paying attention to stories about the potential implications of such and such scientific discovery, or so and so technology's benefits... it seems like 99% of things you hear about thorium, graphene, nano-technology, etc either never comes to fruition, never lives up to it's potential, or is decades away from commercialization and mass adoption. They always write about this stuff as if we're on the doorstep of a revolutionary change when really there are hundreds of hurdles still to overcome.
That said, thorium is a really interesting topic. I just have a hard time investing a lot of time reading about it, once I realized how long it's been known and how far away it is from becoming a reality.
A lot of development depends on who funds and owns/buys the rights for findings of the R&D.
I often wonder exactly how much technology is just being sat on until it's most profitable to release it.
(at first glance, I thought the thread title was "Thorian Nuclear Reactors" as in Mass Effect)
I think part of the trouble for thorium is that there is no single corporation that operates at every level of the process. Kind of like Uranium, no one company explores for Uranium, builds mines, operates mines, runs enrichment plants, develops and builds reactors, supplies electricity, and disposes of the waste. Typically that's 5 or 6 different companies, which focus on their particular specialty. Junior explorers find depsosits, they sell those deposits to major miners like Cameco who have the capital to and expertise and licencing to build a mine, they sell the raw material to be enriched, then it gets fabricated into fuel, then other companies buy the fuel, like Exelon, who use reactors made by GE or Westinghouse or whoever...
Thorium will effectively require all the same steps, PLUS thorium is entirely different than uranium and so existing methodoligies for exploration, mining, reactors, enrichment, and waste disposal may all go out the window. It's seems to me like it's going to take 5 or 6 different companies willing to enter into some kind of joint-partnership, and invest (take the risk) in trying to make this thorium idea take off, for it to ever go anywhere. And I just don't see that happening. I don't see how any public-traded company, accountable to shareholders, would ever have the manoeuvrability to take that kind of risk. Even private companies I can't really see it happening. I don't know that there's any precedent for such a thing.
It seems to me like the only way thorium will ever amount to anything is if the government (tax payers) fund the reasearch AT EVERY LEVEL. And then of course once all the hard work has been done the technology will be given to the private sector. :-\
Not in the publicly traded companies for sure. Especially when there's more will to buyback than reinvest.
Believe it or not, I don't know much about Thorium. I'll do a little research and see what I can find about it.
I remember the issues with those reactors, now. There are several different problems that must be overcome. First, the liquid salt used as a moderator in the reactors must be kept a a VERY high temperature and pressure. That means that although the reactor is more stable, you are dealing with a system which still must be able to maintain a high level of heat even when shut down. Otherwise, the liquid salt will solidify, and render the reactor useless. Next, the pressures necessary to keep the salt at the temperature necessary is ridiculous. So, you have a higher risk of the system failing. Also, dealing with maintenance and repairs of the components become much more difficult, since you are dealing with such ridiculous conditions. Materials to make the pipes, valves, pumps, and other components must be VERY strong to contain the fission products and prevent a blowout in the system. Finally, Thorium reactors develop pretty ridiculous amounts of very dangerous materials just due to the liquid salt. It creates various things that are extremely toxic to the environment and to anyone near the reactor.
Those problems are very difficult to overcome using conventional nuclear engineering means. They have very good ideas with these reactors, but I don't believe the good will outweigh the bad. It's been attempted several times (even in the US), but it's never been tested to fruition in the US. Those reactors just leave too much to question as far as the safety elements involved.
So it would be an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" scenario.
Uranium won out over Thorium for the single reason that Uranium was needed for Atomic Bombs, so all the research and development dollars flowed there, courtesy of the US Military. Thorium won't get this "free ride" funding, so it stays behind Uranium, which already has an infrastructure in place.