Thorium Nuclear Energy For South Asia

In addition to green energy from water, wind and sun, is there a source of clean, renewable and plentiful energy that can satisfy the growing needs of the humankind without destroying the planet earth? The answer is a qualified yes. Many scientists believe that the answer lies in developing and exploiting the abundant but mildly-radioactive element thorium in a redesigned nuclear fuel cycle. Large deposits of thorium oxide are found in many countries of the world, including United States, China, India and Pakistan. There are significant concentrations of thorium oxide in Kerala, India and Mardan, Pakistan. Research conducted by Dr. Muhammad Haleem Khan at Punjab University's Institute of Chemistry found thorium oxide concentrations of 6.5% in Badar near Mardan in Pakistan, and 5.9% in Kerala, India. (Reference: Dr. M.H. Khan, 1992, Chapter 4, Page 114).


Rising concerns about climate change caused by carbon emissions are forcing a second look at nuclear energy. But the uranium-based nuclear power has had a bad name for various reasons, including potential for more disasters like Three-Mile-Island and Chernobyl, as well as genuine worries about nuclear weapons proliferation from uranium/plutonium byproducts, and highly radioactive waste disposal.

Just yesterday, a fire at an Indian nuclear research facility killed two people, according to the BBC News. And last month, more than 90 Indian workers suffered radiation injuries due to contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka, India.

In addition to the high-profile case of nuclear proliferation by Pakistani scientist AQ Khan, there have been other cases posing the nuclear proliferation threat from India, particularly as it dramatically expands its nuclear energy production after the US-India nuclear deal. In July 1998, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized eight Kg. of nuclear material from three engineers in Chennai. It was reported that the uranium was stolen from an atomic research center. The case still remains pending. On November 7, 2000, IAEA disclosed that Indian police had seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two men for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. IAEA had said that Indian civil nuclear facilities were vulnerable to thefts.

Thorium-based reactor technology addresses many of the above concerns to a great extent. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad of Australia's Sydney University says thorium has all of the benefits of uranium as a nuclear fuel but none of the drawbacks. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad believes thorium waste would only remain radioactive for 500 years, not the tens of thousands that uranium by-products remain active. The thorium reactor byproducts are not suitable as fissile material for nuclear weapons, reducing concerns about dual-use of peaceful nuclear technology.

"In fact, the green movement must come behind this project because we are moving in a direction to destroy all these existing nuclear wastes, to prevent nuclear weapons production, to [prevent] Chernobyl accident happening again," the Australian ABCOnline quotes Dr Hashemi-Nezhad as saying.

Although thorium itself cannot support a nuclear chain reaction, subjecting thorium to a stream of accelerated neutrons from plutonium inside a nuclear reactor turns this element into uranium-233, which can support fission. For this reason, the designers of nuclear plants have long considered the possibility of combining thorium with a fissionable isotope, which would prime the reaction. Increasing concerns about the diversion of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel to the construction of nuclear weapons has prompted a revival. Thorium-based nuclear fuels would leave far less waste plutonium than conventional fuels. What is more, the plutonium created is of a type that is not weapons-grade. The nuclear power industry is unlikely to adopt thorium for economic reasons alone, but should policymakers mandate its use in an effort to limit the proliferation of weapons and alleviate waste-disposal safety concerns, the technical modifications required of nuclear power plants would be readily achievable.

The idea of thorium reactors for nuclear energy is not new, according to a story published by Wired Magazine. It was first detailed in 1958 in a book titled "Fluid Fuel Reactors" under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission as part of its Atoms for Peace program. But it was not pursued at the time because the US was in the midst of a major nuclear arms buildup requiring large amounts of enriched uranium and plutonium for its WMDs. The use of thorium would not help in the weapons production, because the waste from thorium is not suitable for weapons.

The Wired Magazine article features Kirk Sorensen who is championing the revival of research and development into thorium reactors in the United States. Sorenson runs a blog "Energy from Thorium" that is bringing together a community of engineers, researchers, amateurs and enthusiasts talking about thorium.

When Sorensen and his online community of scientists began delving into the history of thorium work done by Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Lab, they discovered not only an alternative fuel but also the design for the alternative reactor, according to the Wired story. Using that template, the Energy From Thorium team helped produce a design for a new liquid fluoride thorium reactor, or LFTR (pronounced “lifter”), which, according to estimates by Sorensen and others, would be some 50 percent more efficient than today’s light-water uranium reactors. If the US reactor fleet could be converted to LFTRs overnight, existing thorium reserves would power the US for a thousand years.

Currently, there are active research programs in the United States, China and India, the biggest coal users and polluters in the world, to develop thorium fuel cycles. The research teams are exploring various approaches, including Ur+Th oxide rods and Ur and Th fluoride solutions, the latter preferred in the United States for its higher efficiency and safety. While there is promise in the technology, it is far from ready for commercial exploitation. In the mean time, the best way to tackle the climate change menace is to reduce the use of coal and other fossil fuels, and focus on hydro, solar and wind energy development in the foreseeable future.

Related Links:

Renewable Energy to Tackle Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Pakistan Leads South Asia in Clean Energy

Uranium Is So Last Century--Enter Thorium

Scientist Urges Switch to Thorium

Energy from Thorium Blog

US-India Nuclear Deal

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here's a BBC report of Indian protest against the "world's biggest nuclear plant" proposed to be built in Maharashtra state:

One person has died after police in western India clashed with locals protesting against the planned construction of a nuclear power plant.

Police said they were forced to open fire after protesters attacked a police station close to the proposed site in Jaitapur, in the state of Maharashtra.

Construction of the $10bn (£6bn) plant - expected to be the biggest in the world - is due to begin this year.

The proposal has sparked massive protests across the country.

Residents in the area gathered near the proposed site, expressing anger at the plan, which they fear threatens their traditional fishing grounds.
'Vandalised'

Madhukar Gaikwad, an official from the Ratnagiri district, said about 700 to 800 fisherman and villagers surrounded a local police station in the village of Nate and started to vandalise it.

"The mob burnt down the records room, destroyed computers and a TV set and put a police van on fire.

"We tried to disperse them by using tear-gas and cane-charge. We used plastic bullets as well, but nothing worked. Finally, we used live ammunition in which one person was injured who died on his way to the hospital," he said.

More than 50 people were injured, including police officers.

Protests have been mounting over the proposed 9,900 megawatt, six-reactor facility, which is being built with technical help from the French energy giant Areva.

Environmental experts say that Konkan, the region in which Jaitapur lies, is one of the most biodiverse regions on earth - and claim it will be destroyed by the plant.

Last December, the Indian magazine Outlook titled an article about the Jaitapur plant "The rape of Eden".

Others have expressed concern that the facility is being built in a seismically-active area.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's PakistanToday on nuclear power expansion in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) envisages production of 8,800 MW by the year 2030 through nuclear power reactors. Two nuclear power plants, 340MW each, are under construction at Chashma and expected to be commissioned by 2016 with Chinese assistance. Construction of these power plants became possible after a long-standing agreement, while three other nuclear power plants already commissioned in the country are performing well. According to official sources, the allocation for PAEC is almost 11% of the total federal development budget estimated at Rs 360 billion for the financial year 2012-13.
Officials said a major chunk of the PAEC budget has been allocated to two nuclear power plants.
“An amount of Rs 34.6 billion has been set aside for Chashma Nuclear Power Plants, C3 and C4. The total cost of these two projects is Rs 190 billion which will be partially funded by a Rs 136 billion Chinese loan.
The government has so far spent Rs 62.4 billion on the mega project having a 660 MW generation capacity. With Rs 34.6 billion additional spending, the government will be able to complete almost half of the work by June 2013, an official said. According to an official in Ministry of Science and Technology, government is harmonising the efforts made in the energy sector by different ministries, departments and research centres by creating an ‘Energy Council’ with heads of relevant organisations. The council will be entrusted to advise on priority areas for Research and Development (R&D) and management of resources and to fill the gaps.
Acquisition of technology for building nuclear power reactors through R&D, as well as transfer of technology agreements is also in consideration, he said.


http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/01/24/news/profit/paec-to-produce-8800-mw-by-2030/
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a News report on Pakistan's civilian nuclear efforts:

ISLAMABAD: Despite facing various kinds of embargoes to obtain nuclear equipment, Pakistan will continue to develop its civil nuclear capability in a bid to diversify its energy mix and overcome power crisis, an official said.

Pakistan’s nuclear installations are safe from terrorist attacks as the outer container installed at the nuclear power plants can save them in case of missile attack or even hitting an aero plane similar to that of 9/11 attack on the twin towers in the US.

“Pakistan’s situation is quite different from that of India, as the Nuclear Supply Group has not imposed restrictions on them and even Australia is providing them uranium. We are hopeful that embargoes imposed on us for getting uranium will be lifted down the line over the next five to 10 years,” Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Chairman Dr Ansar Parvez said, while briefing reporters on the occasion of media workshop organised by the PAEC on Saturday.
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In the concluding daylong workshop, the PAEC chairman said that Pakistan is facing various kinds of embargoes but the government has given its indication that whatever would be possible it would be done to install 42,000MW through nuclear power plants till 2050.

The PAEC chairman said that he was quite optimistic that time will come down the line in the next five to 10 years after lifting of embargoes on Pakistan.
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To another question about the possibility of seeking civil nuclear cooperation from the US as it did in the case of India, Dr Parvez said that there is no commercial agreement signed between the US and India.

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About the cost of nuclear power plants, he said that the nuclear energy plant costs around $4 million per megawatt that was not cheaper but in the long run, the energy generated through these plants costs cheaper as compared to other sources such as fuel and wind.

Despite all difficulties, Pakistan is continuing its nuclear energy programme with the help of China, he said, adding that three nuclear plants are already working in the country and two other are near completion.

Nuclear energy, he said, is important for Pakistan due to its sustainability and low generation cost. In the near future, PAEC is going to start building two more plants in Karachi with 2,200MW generation capacity, which are likely to be completed in 2021.

Dr Inam Ur Rehman, who is among the pioneers of the country’s nuclear programme, said that Pakistan developed the required human resource and now capable to run its programme without the help of anyone.

The scientists of the PAEC briefed about the safety measures and said that there is no safety issues with the nuclear plants in Pakistan and they are built keeping in view the extreme circumstances.

Pakistan, they said, is now using third generation nuclear equipment and that is 500 times safer as compared to the equipment installed in Fukushima and Chernobyl where nuclear accidents took place.

But, they said, that even in the case of Chernobyl and Fukushima no mass killing was observed.

Nuclear energy generation plants are not that dangerous at all, as they are perceived and all the international research reports deny that a mass killing took place after an accident in any nuclear energy generation plant.

There was no chance of leakage of radiation from these plants in any circumstances, they said.

The speakers also said that there are around 71 nuclear plants under-construction worldwide having almost 70,000 megawatts generation capacity.

All the modern and advanced countries were using nuclear power to meet their energy demands......


http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-3-229956-Pakistan-continues-to-develop-civil-nuclear-capability:-PAEC

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