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Old 01-02-15, 08:33 PM   #1
jeff5may
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Default Thorium energy and the LFTR

This topic popped up on another thread, and due to the global implications I believe it deserves its own discussion thread. The video below introduces a form of nuclear power generation that is much safer than the power plants in commission today are using.




I encourage everyone to watch this video in its entirety, if only to gain background knowledge into the way the related industries operate. In North America especially, the nuclear power supply-side industry is not so much geared to the building of power plants, but to supply nuclear fuel rods to existing plants through exclusive contracts. The burden of waste disposal is left to the actual operator of the plant, an entirely different organization.

The whole LFTR reactor subject was mothballed by the government in the '70s and sewn up tight due to the decision to pursue the types of power plants that are operating today. As a result, public policy and opinion has evolved to only consider this type of nuclear power generation and its unique set of truths and consequences. In reality, there are dozens of nuclear processes that can be employed to produce power that do not produce weapons-grade waste products.

Keep in mind that the sole reason the type of reactors in use today were invented in the first place was to produce weapons-grade materials to fill planned stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Fast forward 50 years, and now we have a relative abundance of this material that we can no longer justify a need for. It would only seem natural to pursue another process that fits our current needs. But no, the powers that be don't see things that way.

Now combine this set of circumstances with the direction the USA has gone in the mining of rare-earth elements. Due to the fact that these elements coexist in the Earth with deposits of radioactive thorium, domestic production has been regulated offshore. China picked up the slack, and is now the number 1 supplier of rare-earth elements in the world by a substantial margin. Not surprisingly, they borrowed our research and technology and are aggressively pursuing the LFTR reactor method of nuclear power generation. They also borrowed our technology for refining the various rare-earth elements and our methods of producing marketable products of very high value.

As it stands today, nearly every hard drive or speaker that uses rare-earth magnets was either produced in China or made with magnetic material sourced by China. Flat panel displays and compact fluorescent bulbs all use rare earth elements in the blend of phosphors that enable them to render the color palette that has propelled them to the level of quality they enjoy today. Passenger cars of all types use these materials as well. Gasoline vehicles use them in cat converters and oxygen sensors, while hybrid and electric vehicles use them in the batteries and traction (motor) drives. This supply situation has been exploited to fanatic proportions by the Chinese government, so there is literally nowhere else in the world we can obtain this material to fuel our technology.

We put ourselves in this situation, and we can get ourselves out of it. All that has to happen is radical change not experienced on this continent in decades. The worst thing we can do is nothing, which is what is happening now. I urge you all to do what you can to try to sway the status quo in whatever direction you support.

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Old 01-02-15, 08:37 PM   #2
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This video exposes the more current state of affairs surrounding the sequence of events that led up to current times, and the fundamental conflicts that are preventing us from leading the world again.

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Old 01-02-15, 10:51 PM   #3
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Chinese going for broke on thorium nuclear power
Article
The nuclear race is on. China is upping the ante dramatically on thorium nuclear energy. Scientists in Shanghai have been told to accelerate plans (sorry for the pun) to build the first fully-functioning thorium reactor within ten years, instead of 25 years as originally planned.

“This is definitely a race. China faces fierce competition from overseas and to get there first will not be an easy task”,” says Professor Li Zhong, a leader of the programme. He said researchers are working under “warlike” pressure to deliver.

Good for them. They may do the world a big favour. They may even help to close the era of fossil fuel hegemony, and with it close the rentier petro-gas regimes that have such trouble adapting to rational modern behaviour. The West risks being left behind, still relying on the old uranium reactor technology that was originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s.


Chinese going for broke on thorium nuclear power, and good luck to them – Telegraph Blogs
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Old 01-03-15, 12:44 PM   #4
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^ The problem with this attitude is that in reality, China is not doing the world a big favor, in fact they are positioning themselves to dominate the world in technology-rich industries. Recently, they have been effectively stripping the world of its high profit, high growth and high tech emerging technologies. They are not playing by international rules that have been established, and they don't care what the rest of the world thinks about it.

The rare earth materials industry is a prime example of this strategy. In the early 90's, I was working for a corporation that manufactured high quality, high tech magnets and magnetic material. They were fighting a legal and political battle with China over intellectual property and patent rights of neodymium rare earth magnets. The Chinese were violating patent laws in producing raw material and finished goods, using vacuum sintering methods we had developed. This was costing the company millions of dollars per month in lost revenues as well as residual IP licensing royalties. The ITC had been mediating the process, and had effectively gotten nowhere.

Eventually, the American parties involved in the ITC case and the Chinese industry counterparts had an arbitration conference. What came out of that conference seemed extremely odd at the time, but hindsight reveals that the Chinese employed the strategy with many industries with similar outcomes. A joint venture was formed, a strategic alliance between the interested grieving parties and the Chinese "ministry of magnets". The grieving parties were allowed to "buy into" the ministry, receiving executive seats that steered the ministry. An expatriated block of land was allocated for the industry to operate, conveniently located exactly where they were producing the offending products.

Contracts were negotiated, where the Chinese would provide the infrastructure, raw materials, and labor force required to operate the block. The grieving parties would provide the skill and expertise to bring the operation into modern-day technology and art. In exchange for releasing their intellectual property rights, the grieving parties would divide the profits from the operating block. The executives came home believing they had saved the industry.

Fast forward five years into the future, when the WTO imposed sanctions on China for security breaches involved in operations within the block. The member companies (mine included) had been enjoying profit margins in the order of 10000% by conducting concentrating, refining, and production operations inside the block in China. We were buying rare earth ores from China for like $3 per pound and turning them into material that sold for up to $4000 per pound, and finished goods that sold for even more. When China started refining their own ore in bulk quantities using technology gleaned from within the block, and selling these expensive materials on the open market, they effectively nuked the industry.

In response to the WTO sanctions, the Chinese government halted supply of rare earth ore to the block, as well as the rest of the world. In a matter of months, the financial strain of not operating the block had most of these corporations either on their knees or in bankruptcy. The company I worked for (Crucible Magnetics / Crumax Magnetics) was devastated by the event. As the entire industry shook down from the event, my employer was bought and sold half a dozen times, stripped of its production capacity and intellectual property, and finally landed belly up as a division of a division of a parent company.

By the time the WTO and China had worked things out, all that remained of the factory in Kentucky was the rare earth blending room (2000 square feet), half of the powder press line (1000 square feet), and the sintering furnaces (maybe another 5000 square feet). The other quarter million square feet of the plant was gutted and made into a warehouse. The plant that formerly employed 1000 people and operated around the clock now employed less than 50 people, all on one shift. Other member corporations suffered similar losses globally.

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Old 01-03-15, 01:01 PM   #5
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The current situation with breeder reactors (not just thorium) is very similar to the events I just recalled in my previous post. Since thorium has been classified as nuclear fuel, it has a unique set of tight regulations associated with its handling and sequestering. Even though it is no more radioactive than coal in processed form, its handling regulations force domestic industries to treat it like the plague. Nobody wants to have anything to do with it at all. So guess who is doing all the thorium processing? Yep, you guessed it, China.

This time around, the DoE is jumping into bed with China in developing working, utility scale breeder reactors with the "ministry of nuclear power" or whatever they call it over there. Since the politicians know there is no way they can jump start an experimental nuclear power plant project with any measure of success, they have entered into an agreement much like my employer did in the 90's. The Chinese are supplying the raw materials and infrastructure as before. This time, they are also supplying the vast majority of the engineers and scientists that will participate in the design phase of the project as well.

Compared to the previous example, the stakes are much, much higher. The power industry is being sold down the river this time in the name of progress. If the current situation plays out like the previous one did, we will be buying our power plant reactors and refined fuel from China, just as we are now doing with rare earth elements. Even if we finally decide to start building our own reactors and refine our own fuel, we will be paying China for the right to do so. This is a serious conflict of national security.

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Old 01-03-15, 02:27 PM   #6
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I am thinking your own country shot itself in the foot and the Chinese are doing nothing we don't expect them to or see from them constantly.
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Old 01-03-15, 02:29 PM   #7
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they Pass the bargain back us its the way the Governments set it up , they are our Slaves in a sense ...
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Old 01-03-15, 06:58 PM   #8
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The rest of the world is looking to the USA to pick up the ball and run with it to maintain our position as a superpower. Japanese companies such as Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Toyota have tried to put their money where their mouths are in this arena. They have all stated that if we would commit to rebuilding our rare earth materials manufacturing base to the levels of the 80's, they would provide all the capital investment needed to bring back both the research reactors and rare earth metals industries. They really, really don't feel comfortable in conducting so much business with the Chinese.

The sad thing is, I don't have enough faith in my government to trust them to do the right thing here. For his whole tenure, the President has been begging Congress to help him bring our manufacturing base back from overseas. He also has a firm grasp on the precious metals industry as well as the need for new generations of nuclear reactors that are much safer than existing designs. We have the resources, we have the manpower, and we have the need. What we don't have is the bank or government backing that is imperative to justify the risk. With foreign investors lined up to provide financial backing, the national banks have become a moot point in the process. But without governmental approval and reform to foster growth in this direction, nobody is willing to take on the kind of liability risk that the nuclear power industry has carved out historically.
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Old 01-03-15, 08:24 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jeff5may View Post
...They were fighting a legal and political battle with China over intellectual property and patent rights of neodymium rare earth magnets. The Chinese were violating patent laws in producing raw material and finished goods, using vacuum sintering methods we had developed. This was costing the company millions of dollars per month in lost revenues as well as residual IP licensing royalties...
Don't get too indignant, China's game is exactly the game that the fledgling USA played in the beginning with England.

They had all the tech, and demanded that they be payed for use of the technology.

The USA ignored the patents, because we had a country to build... it worked.

I think that what's really at stake is 'national will'.

We don't have it anymore, and there's no sign that we will ever get it back.

I had dinner with a very interesting guy who had lived and traveled in China for about three years, he had the opportunity to meet with citizens of China at nearly every level.

He was struck by the fact that at every social level, everyone he spoke to was fully convinced that now is the time for China's place in the sun.

They are all deeply convinced, and they are willing to sacrifice to make it come true.

How do you match something like that?

Also, China's strategic planning runs in decades and centuries.

Ours runs in quarters of a year...

I think that wealthy families in the USA have been positioning themselves for other options, for about the last 50 years. That is why manufacturing is moving out.

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Old 01-04-15, 08:20 PM   #10
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China is not a fledgling nation. They just decided to play friends with us in the last couple of decades. They are doing a better job of it than the OPEC nations.

Another super cool aspect of a thorium or uranium liquid based breeder reactor is that they can use our spent nuclear fuel as part of their supply. They are much better at burning up what fuel they are fed than the reactors in use today. Where the solid fuel reactors use 0.5 to 3 percent of the fuel before it is spent, the liquid reactors use 99 percent of the fuel, leaving much left waste to dispose of. Moreover, the long-lived isotopes that have become such a huge problem today can be recycled back into the reactor and transformed into less problematic materials.

Considering the massive amounts of spent fuel rods sitting around with no place to go, the mere possibility of reducing these stockpiles seems a worthy enough cause to me. Having a smaller, safer reactor on-site would seem to be a no-brainer, sort of a nuclear waste composter. The liquid reactors operate at furnace-range temperatures, providing higher grade heat than traditional reactors do.

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