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Jack Lifton
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Jack Lifton is an Independent consultant and commentator, focusing on the market fundamentals and future end use trends of the rare metals. He specializes in the sourcing of nonferrous strategic metals and on due diligence studies of businesses in that space. His work includes exploration,... More
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  • The Thorium Renaissance: Will China Leap Ahead of The USA And The West On The Green Road to Thorium Fuel Cycle Using Nuclear Reactors?  4 comments
    Jun 2, 2009 4:27 PM | about stocks: GE, WAB, HTHIY, TOSBF

    China is soon, September 2-6, 2009, holding the first public workshop on the utilization of a non-proliferative thorium fuel cycle in civilian nuclear reactors since the late 1960s. Now as in the 1960s Atomic Energy of Canada's exisitng CANDU reactors are being tested, both by AECL and, apparently, by Chinese users of the CANDUs, to see how they would perform if retrofitted to use a thorium fuel cycle. Norway, Russia, and The USA are also looking at thorium fuel cycles and designs for reactors based on them. Some of these studies are continuations of ones that were first performed in the 1960s. The USA, for example, had several experimental thorium fuel cycle utilizing reactors then. China has a substantial amount of thorium produced annually as a byproduct of her global-class rare earth production in the Inner Mongolian Bayanobo region. China currently imports uranium for her existing and planned new power reactors for civilian use. China would have no import reliance at all for thorium.

    The People's Republic of China (PRC) today produces nearly all of the world's supply of rare earth metals in the Bayanobo region of Inner Mongolia.

    Simultaneously, and as a natural consequence of this rare earth production, China produces an undisclosed but considerable amount of thorium, a naturally occuring radioactive metal, which is second, in natural materials, to uranium as a choice for fueling nucler reactors producing heat by controlled fission.

    Because thorium reactors would not produce (breed) weapons grade plutonium, and, in fact, could use up plutonium by "burning it" to initiate the driving reaction in a thorium reactor the militaries of all nations  have in the past prevailed on their governments not to further the development of "thorium reactors," so that by the mid 1970s the last experimental ones in use were shut down.

    Today with the need to end proliferation and to destroy the plutonium from decommissioned weapons plus the simple fact that there is a lot of thorium around, perhaps multiples of the amount of accessible uranium, there is a current revival of interest in the thorium fuel cycle as a basis for the prodcution of electricity without the production of greenhouse gases and as a basis for shipborne nuclear propulsion systems for both civilian and military use.

    China is well on the road to the Thorium Renaissance, and this September will host the first conference on that topic open to everyone.

    The USA and India have most of the world's accessible resources of thorium. The USA has in fact the only primary thorium deposit-one which the principal output of which would be thorium-in the world.

    I'm planning to be at the Chinese Thorium Conference; I'll report to you on what I see and hear.


    Stocks: GE, WAB, HTHIY, TOSBF
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Comments (4)
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  • loquacite
    , contributor
    Comments (8) | Send Message
    China is not pursuing a plutonium-thorium design in their CANDUs, though it would be, far and away, more efficient and less costly.


    They are pursuing a u-235/th-232 design, with enrichment of u-235 to 20%.


    Why would they do this?


    Because they don't want to use their plutonium stockpile on electricity, when they need it for bombs.


    Furthermore, this is to be a once-through-thorium cycle (OTT), which has no practical future, for obvious reasons. The Chinese have no desire to reprocess.


    This is not an economic development, nor is it meant to be. It will be subsidized by government.


    The thorium renaissance will hardly be thanks to China -- though they may actually be the first in the world to be using a thorium-based fuel.


    A true thorium renaissance will have a robust economic foundation, and will destroy plutonium waste. But China will have nothing to do with it.
    11 Nov 2009, 07:29 AM Reply Like
  • artcne
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    not quite loquacite, recent development have upended everything you stated in your 2009 post..(hmm think what ever you said rotate 180 degrees towards reality and away from petty biases and thats what is now happening......now they will lead an green economic renaissance from thorium production 8)
    1 Jun 2011, 11:12 PM Reply Like
  • loquacite
    , contributor
    Comments (8) | Send Message
    My point was that China was not doing anything to incinerate plutonium waste, which is still the most practical and quickest way to bring a thorium fuel cycle forward. If you have proof that this has changed, I'm happy to see it.


    Yes, China claims to be investing in molten fluoride reactor technology, and that's wonderful. Good for them. I eagerly await their implementation plan. If it comes within the next 10 years, I'll be stupefied and ecstatically happy.


    Fuel technology, if you don't know, if orders of magnitude easier, quicker and cheaper to implement than reactor technology. So, as far as I'm concerned, my comments are still 100% relevant today, and any kind of non-water-based reactor technology development, even by the formidable Chinese, is strictly academic.
    2 Jun 2011, 11:32 AM Reply Like
  • Henry Gibson
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    Plutonium from used fuel of power reactors is not the fissile plutonium 239 but is a mix of all possible plutonium isotopes and cannot be used to make fission bombs. With the advent of centrifuges, the route to atomic bombs is uranium 235.


    Plutonium from used fuel can be mixed with either depleted uranium or thorium to make a fuel for CANDU heavy water reactors with one to three percent of the recovered plutonium isotope mix from used fuel rods. In the case of thorium, the spent thorium fuel is reprocessed to eliminate all isotopes of fission products and to concentrate the produced U233 to be remixed with the remaining thorium and a very small amount of new thorium and all of the possible uranium and transuranic isotopes to destroy them to get energy. U233 is not suited for bombs when U235 can be had much easier with centrifuges and used fuel is contaminated with other uranium isotopes in the reactor including U234, U236, U237, U238 and U239.


    Only a few hundred kilograms of thorium needs to be delivered every year because just a very little more U233 is produced in this efficient cycle than is used in the steady state, but there is enough waste reactor grade plutonium in spent fuel rods from light water reactors to start and run hundreds of Thorium fueled CANDU reactors for decades.
    4 Jul 2012, 03:00 AM Reply Like
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