nuclear fusion has promised,
Nuclear fission is a natural nuclear energy source, and is highly efficient
In comparison with all the natural physical blocking factors that are encountered in developing fusion-power into a useful energy-producing infrastructure, the utilization of thorium 232 for a nuclear fission reactor is a relatively easy process, including the conversion of thorium 232 to uranium 233. Also, the thorium fission fuel provides the same practical energy yield as the D-T fusion fuel, while zero energy input is required. Nor does it require reactors that are comparable in size with the pyramids in Egypt. And best of all, there are two million tons of thorium fuel readily available in known deposits sitting unused on the ground. And to top off the list of advantages, the thorium fission reactors are 'inexpensive' to build, are simple in design, and are scalable to any size desired. Furthermore, the thorium fuel, that is equal in practical energy yield with the D-T fusion yield, is universally available in the crust of the earth in every country. And in addition to all that, the thorium reactor design is sitting on the shelf, ready to be implemented if anyone cares to do so.
Here is a comparison of the theoretical energy output of the different possible fusion fuels:
The above presented table of energy output per type of fusion fuel shows that in the very best case (that of pure heluim-3 fusion) the projected energy output is barely four and half times larger than the output of a conventional thorium powered nuclear fission reactor that clocks in at 13 GWh/kg of fuel (based on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor - LFTR), and in this comparison, the fission reactor requires zero energy input. This means that fusion really doesn't offer the sky, if it can be made to work at all. The relatively small advantage in fusion fuel efficiency becomes negligible in considering the huge size of the facilities that are needed for fusion, and considering further that the power input (which presently far exceeds the power produced) also counts against the fuel efficiency. With all this considered, the physical reality functionally closes the door to fusion power for a long time to come, if not forever, while the advanced nuclear fission thorium reactors that have already been demonstrated for a few years running, produce the high-flux power results that fusion had once promised. In other words, the 'utopia' that fusion had promised, is already at hand, except in a different form. One should not be surprised at this, since fission power systems utilize naturally occurring processes, while fusion power systems do not.
For nuclear-fission power the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is king.
The LFTR is presently the cleanest, safest, and most efficient nuclear power reactor ever developed. It operates on the principle that thorium dissolves in molten salt compounds at high temperatures with the result that a nuclear reactor operating on this principle does not require a pressure vessel for steam generation, but can operate at ambient air pressures. This critical feature greatly simplifies the reactor design and construction. The LFTR yields a design that can be scaled to any size required. It was originally designed for aircraft propulsion. It can be started and stopped at will, and adjusts itself to changing load conditions. And best of all, there exist a near infinite amount of fuel available for it. India has a large supply of it. It expects to supply 1/3rd of its entire electricity needs with thorium reactors in the near future.
Here is how the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) works.
There are some fission by-products occurring that are relatively benign and short-lived in comparison with those from a traditional fission reactor. Moreover, the LFTR can 'eat up' many of the radioactive waste products of ordinary uranium reactors. Nor is the LFTR able to breed any of those nasty weapons' grade materials. For this inability its development was shelved during the Cold War era. In addition the LFTR design incorporates a simple passive safety feature. It features a solid salt plug in the bottom of the rector vessel that melts when the temperature exceed a threshold limit, by which the fuel simply drains out of the rector and shuts it down. No active intervention is required for this shutdown. By a similar process the reactor can be shut down at will, which cannot be done easily with normal reactors. The shutdown and restarting is so simple with this reactor type that the research team working with a test reactor simply shut the reactor down every night and went home, and restarted it in the morning over the 5-year test cycle until the projects was shelved. The LFTR uses the liquid salt fuel also as a coolant and heat transfer agent that enables high-temperature heat output in the 500 degree range with also a high energy density.
In comparison with the LFTR, the current coal-fired energy technology typically throws away over 10 times the energy it produces as electricity. This is not the result of poor thermodynamic efficiency. It is the result of a failure to recognize and use the energy value of the thorium that is thrown away as a waste product in this process. The amount of thorium that is present in surface mining coal waste is enormous. It, all by itself, would provide all the power society needs for thousands of years, without resorting to any special mining for thorium, or resort to the use of any other form of energy recovery. An average coal-burning 1 GW power plant produces about 13 tons of thorium per year. The thorium is recoverable from the power plant’s ash pile. And since one ton of thorium will produce 1 GW of electricity for a year in an efficient thorium cycle reactor, a coal plant wastes 13 times more than it produces. Stopping this waste, all by itself, would usher in a new renaissance.
The LFTR test reactor has been successfully operated for five years in an evaluation run, between 1964 and 1969, until the design was scrapped for political reasons as a 'useless' investment for weapons production. The thorium reactor does not generate or use any products that are essential for producing nuclear weapons, unlike the nuclear fusion technology that uses the same fuel as the hydrogen bomb. Another evident reason why the LFTR was shut down and still is, is the imperial rule by which inexpensive nuclear power is not allowed to be developed. While this rule still applies, it does not alter the fact that the well-tested LFTR principle is still available.
Because of its great passive safety feature, its low-radioactive waste, its near total consumption of the reactor fuel, its non-pressurized working environment, its 60-second self-regulating response to load changes, and its ability to actually burn up high-level nuclear waste products that have accumulated from uranium reactors, makes the LFTR principle an open door to a power-rich future for mankind until we get into the final phase of energy development that promises to supercede everything. This final phase involves creating the means to simply tap into the galactic plasma/electric currents that power the galaxy and also our Sun. Electric power production cannot get anymore efficient than that. (see: Absolute Power )
One thing seems certain, that since nuclear-fusion power production isn't happening anywhere in the Universe, it will likely remain a dream for mankind, and isn't actually needed. Sure, nuclear fusion happens on the surface of the Sun, but this appears to be a constructive type of fusion by which plasma component are combined to form new atoms. The outcome is thereby a power-consuming fusion - which is a constructive process in which new atoms are formed. The Universe evidently isn't concerned with producing power. It is flush with power. It IS power. And it is using this power towards its creative self-expansion. And so can we.
With natural processes the sky is no limit
Nuclear fission power, involves the utilization of a natural process that is constantly happening in the crust of the earth. It didn't have to be invented. Roughly 80% of the earth's internal heat is produced by radioactive decay, and only 20% is residual heat from the planet-forming process. The major heat-producing isotopes in the Earth are potassium-40, uranium-238, uranium-235, and thorium-232, which together make up most of the heat-loss of the planet that is estimated to be in the order of 42 million Mega-Watts (the equivalent output of 42,000 large nuclear power plants). With the few hundred nuclear power plants that have been built so far, we beginning to utilize a tiny bit of the potential that the Universe is using on the gigantic scale. In contrast with that, our nuclear-fusion power development isn't getting us anywhere except to a dead end, because we aim to utilize a principle that evidently doesn't exist in the Universe. We see no evidence that it is happening anywhere in the Universe, while fission powers happens everywhere, even in the crust of the Earth.
As an added bonus for utilizing thorium fission power, we don't need to go to the moon to obtain the needed fuel (as with helium-3 fusion) since we have two million tons of fuel with near equal energy content on earth in known deposits, and this without major efforts having been made to find more. And thorium-power is efficient. A single ton can provide a gigawatt of electricity for a year. One would require only 400 tons per year to meet the entire electricity needs of the USA. The known deposits in the USA alone, an estimated 917,000 tons, would be sufficient to meet America's needs for 2000 years. And of course, there is also plenty more thorium the moon and on mars, and so on, in case anybody is worried.
It looks like that the age of nuclear fission power isn't over by a long shot, but has barely begun, which, with thorium now coming online, delivers what fusion had only promised, but has so far put farther and father out of sight. The promised 'utopia' however is possible with thorium fission, because nuclear fission is a naturally occurring process. A fission reactor does not need to be powered, like a fusion reactor, but powers itself and produces power. Thorium power is presently the leading edge nuclear power process for the immediate future, and on this line, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is the leading edge technology - for the moment it is.
It appears more and more that the sky itself is no limit for us as we begin to utilize the principles that the Universe is itself utilizing. On this boundless basis the Universe promises us far more than we will ever have a need for. It promises us infinite energy supplies if we care to tap into the plasma-electric power that pervades the galaxy and the Universe, which the Universe itself utilizes to power every sun, including our Sun.
Published by Cygni Communications Ltd. North Vancouver, BC, Canada - 2010 Rolf A. F. Witzsche