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  • New Nuclear Fuel 3 comments
    Jun 15, 2009 12:18 PM

    Many analysts have predicted a future shortage of Uranium. Some rumors on the net and in the broadcast media say that known reserves of Uranium will only last 50 years at current usage rates. For this reason, many commodity traders and speculators have been bullish on Uranium in recent years. The spike in new reactor permits would tend to lend credibility to their arguments. Increased demand with limited supply will lead to higher prices.

    So, how high can it really go? The beautiful thing about free markets is that they are self-correcting. High prices are the cure for high prices. As the price for Uranium increases, there is a price that is high enough that it is no longer economical to produce electricity. For example, it might be cheaper to produce your power from wind, solar, oil or natural gas, depending on their prices. The situation is a little more complicated than a single supply & demand curve. Now, factor in nuclear fuel pre-processing, safety and nuclear proliferation issues, and nuclear waste concerns, and you’ve found yourself in a big mess.

    However, there is a substitute for Uranium. Thorium is a similar element that can also be used to produce nuclear power. It is easier to process into fuel, safer to operate, easier to dispose of, and is much more abundant on Earth than Uranium. The Thorium fuel cycle also does not produce Plutonium 239, which is used to make nuclear bombs. It really is a much better source of nuclear fuel. That is why modern nuclear “Generation IV” reactor designs are built to run on Thorium, NOT Uranium.

    I could only find one stock ticker to buy into the Thorium future: THPW. Might make for a good investment. Make sure to read up on the company at

    Disclosure: Long THPW

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  • steve graves
    , contributor
    Comments (80) | Send Message
    Thorium Power is the only company on the planet whose sole focus is the development of thorium reactors, They currently have consulting and development deals with the U.A.E. and India, as well as a joint research effort w/Russia. Interesting company and a technology that holds truly amazing potential...
    15 Jun 2009, 02:30 PM Reply Like
  • MIT Gearhead
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    The "50-year" quote is very, very soft. Basically it is saying that *at the current price point* of $130/kg, there is only enough *proven* reserves for the next 50 years. There are two important points to note here: one, proven reserves are likely to double or treble with further exploration, and then double again with improvements in mining technology. Furthermore, since uranium only constitutes 5% of the levelized cost of nuclear power, even if prices for uranium doubled, the levelized cost of nuclear power would only go up by 5%, which is just a few tenths of a cent per kilowatt hour. Then, on top of that, the amount of available uranium ore goes up roughly by a factor of ten when the ore quality is halved, meaning that generally speaking, at twice the cost you will find five times the reserves (10x of half-grade ore means 5x the uranium at ~2x price). In the end game, you can recover uranium from seawater, providing a nearly limitless supply, for about $260/kg.


    Uranium supply is a non-issue-- you could run the entire planet off of uranium for a millenium and the see the levelized fuel cost increase by $0.002/kWh. Take it from an MIT nuclear engineer, thorium is a stupid idea.
    16 Sep 2009, 07:12 AM Reply Like
  • loquacite
    , contributor
    Comments (8) | Send Message
    For a MIT nuclear engineer, you propose a lot of theory as fact.


    For example, wouldn't it be better to prove these great uranium reserves you speak of before counting them as an absolute?


    Putting that aside, let's say all these great uranium reserves did exist at $260/kg cost. Why on earth would anyone mine them, when you could mine thorium at 1/30 the cost -- from high-grade, high-concentration surface mineral sands?


    And what exactly is a "stupid idea" about using a thorium fuel cycle, when (as a nuclear engineer) you should know that:


    - it burns with far greater fuel economy (higher neutron absorption cross section) than uranium, meaning more effective use of fissile material, and more energy;


    - it would generate no new Pu or minor actinides;


    - it generates u-233 waste, which has a radiotoxicity period of only 69 years, and which is extraordinarily difficult to reprocess for bombs, but may ultimately be reprocessed for recycling into a closed fuel cycle;


    - it can be used in all existing reactors and produced by existing fuel manufacturing infrastructure, with no differential costs whatsoever?


    I never went to to MIT, but these advantages don't seem too "stupid" when you're talking about a global energy solution.


    What is more likely is that your glib remarks are motivated by the decades of academic and industrial orthodoxy, not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars, invested in a uranium-based infrastructure, which is so obviously flawed that there hasn't been a new reactor built in the USA in 30 years.
    11 Nov 2009, 07:56 AM Reply Like
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