Generating electricity using Thorium in Molten Salt Reactors | Sunday Observer

Generating electricity using Thorium in Molten Salt Reactors

In Sri Lanka, there are one or two stark facts that we have to face, as a nation. One is that we humans are seriously polluting this planet and this has to be accounted for and rectified sooner rather than later. We have to act at some point in the not too distant future and follow the path to clean, sustainable energy – which I wish to explain here – is also relatively cheap, perhaps cheaper than electricity generated from coal.

Worldwide, energy power generation plants (and other industrial installations) are polluting the planet and Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming part of the pollution problem, not its solution.

But there is a solution that few people have heard about. Nobody talks about energy from Thorium. It is not spoken about and even ignored among administrators and decision makers in the power generation industry. I would like to suggest that we should take to generating power from Thorium, producing little waste, which has a mere 300 years decay period, an irresistibly attractive issue to a rational mind, once the process involved is understood.

A Thorium power plant was run successfully at the US Oakridge National Laboratories, Tennessee, in the 1970s. This pilot plant ran without any serious problems for five years. So, this type of reactor producing energy from Thorium, has been tried, tested and proven a success. The mineral, Thorium is plentiful around the world. Sri Lankan deposits of ilmenite mixed with monazite sand is worth tens of billions of US dollars.

All Sri Lankans would be fabulously rich if we would only take the trouble to mine, purify and use Thorium in a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Salt Reactor (LFTR). India has such a reactor up and running as a test rig, and China, with all its environmental problems has around 300 researchers investigating the best processes for using Thorium in a reactor.

Another fact is that, apart from the highly toxic radioactive waste that is produced, power generated from uranium and plutonium is not sustainable in the long-term due to its highly inefficient use of the materials and processes involved – power generation from Uranium is a hugely costly, inefficient process.

Economic growth is ever increasing, bringing jobs, but so is the demand for electricity. However, the supply cost of Uranium 235 is ever increasing, too. This is only a small fraction of the U238 that is available. But it is 0.7% of Uranium 238, and so, rare and valuable. It can be likened to burning platinum in these reactors. And its supply is limited unless we can extract it from sea water.

Firstly, the separation of Thorium and other minerals from the sands should be investigated, and also learn about the chemical and nuclear processes involved. It may soon become a dire urgency to instal these types of reactors, in contrast to existing machines which continually add to our pollution and climate problems. Our solar system is not particularly a stable place, and it is well established that Planet Earth experiences purging cataclysms from time to time.

Calculations are such that the cost of power by Thorium will be less than that of coal. So what are we waiting for? - P. Hettige 

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