Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Good Laugh over Thorium

Subtitle: Anonymous Says Thorium Is Too Good

Sometimes, I just have to laugh.  I don't post many comments on SLB, although I do receive a great many comments.    My blog only contains comments that pass my moderation standards.  Many comments get discarded, such as hateful statements, irrelevant statements, blatant sales pitches, and illegal statements.    Today, I post an anonymous comment that was sent in just the other day on one of SLB's thorium nuclear power articles.   This one is given its own article with my commentary - it is just too funny. 

I don't mind anonymous comments just because they are anonymous.  I understand there are some excellent reasons for some people to remain anonymous.  It's the content of the comment, not the commenter's internet name that gets the moderation. 

Note, this commenter gave zero support for any of his statements (or her, but I'll refer to him and his.)   That is pretty typical for an anonymous and negative tone such as this one. 

First, the comment in quoted italics, then my thoughts on what Anonymous wrote. 


Your "blog" is truly a masterful deception. The reason that alternatives to Thorium power plants have occurred had absolutely NOTHING to do with the failure of thorium power plant technology. Way back in the early 70's Westinghouse Corp. had 2 fully operational thorium test plants.

While there were minor problems, they did in fact completely obsolete virtually all nuclear and fossil fuel technologies of the time. Now I happen to know a little about this because my father was a senior management Consultant for a major consulting firm who was under contract with them at the time. The issue of Thorium was not that it was a failure; rather it was far to (sic) big a success. It literally would have rendered the entire fossil fuel industry of oil, gas and coal, not to mention conventional nuclear power obsolete . Its other big failing, and ultimately the excuse for burying the technology, was the fact that unlike conventional nuclear power, there was (sic) no by products (sic) suitable for material for nuclear weapons production. 

Ironically it was Jimmy Carter who officially signed the death warrant for Thorium, claiming national security issues. But in truth Thorium was a victim of its own success. It was to damn good, and to damned cheap." 

My comments:

He writes, "your "blog" is truly a masterful deception."  I suppose putting the word "blog" in quotations is his way of saying SLB is not a real blog.   Perhaps not, but more than 42,000 visitors from 145 countries have shown up to read SLB.    

He then says "in the early 70's Westinghouse Corp. had 2 fully operational thorium test plants."  No references or citations were given, but perhaps Anonymous refers to the short test at Shippingport, Pennsylvania where thorium fuel was tested in a nuclear power plant.   For those who want to read about this, Idaho National Lab published a document on it at this link.   The Shippingport reactor was a Light Water Breeder Reactor (LWBR) test plant of only 72 MWe maximum.  Key passage is shown below:

"During most of core life, the LWBR was operated as a base load station (Richardson et al. 1987, WAPD-TM-1606, p. 35). During the first two years of operation, the core was subjected to 204 planned swingload cycles to demonstrate the core transient capability and generating system load follow to simulate operation of a large commercial nuclear reactor (Richardson et al. 1987, WAPD-TM-1606, p. 35). A swing load cycle is defined as power reduction from about 90% to 35–60% for 4 to 8 hr, then back to 90% or higher power. Despite shutdowns and swing, the reactor achieved a high capacity factor
of 65% and high availability factor of 86% (Richardson et al. 1987, WAPD-TM-1606, p. 35).

For its initial 18,000 EFPH, the maximum allowable reactor power was established as 72 MW gross (electric) . . ." 

Anonymous then writes the truly funny statement: "It literally would have rendered the entire fossil fuel industry of oil, gas and coal, not to mention conventional nuclear power obsolete."   That is a bold conclusion, with zero facts provided to support the conclusion.  Here are the important points that Anonymous must prove to support such a conclusion: how would nuclear-produced electricity make obsolete the oil and gas industry, given that oil provides transportation fuels for cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, and trains, plus lubricants, asphalts, and petrochemical feedstocks, and natural gas provides critical feedstock for agricultural and petrochemical production?   That thorium nuclear-produced electricity must indeed be novel, even Nobel-Prize worthy stuff.   Also, coal has many non-electricity uses, but perhaps Anonymous is not aware of such things, or he has a plan for substituting his thorium nuclear-produced electricity for those services.   Here is a partial summary of non-electricity uses of coal: 

"Other important users of coal include steel producers, alumina refineries, paper manufacturers, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Several chemical products can be produced from the by-products of coal. Refined coal tar is used in the manufacture of chemicals, such as creosote oil, naphthalene, phenol, and benzene. Ammonia gas recovered from coke ovens is used to manufacture ammonia salts, nitric acid and agricultural fertilisers. Thousands of different products have coal or coal by-products as components: soap, aspirins, solvents, dyes, plastics and fibres, such as rayon and nylon."  (source:   

So, we can see that Anonymous is truly a funny man.    But what about the statement that thorium would make "conventional nuclear power obsolete?"   As written on SLB (and a few other places), nuclear power that now produces only approximately 11 percent of the world's electricity after 50 years of intense effort, is outrageously expensive and so unsafe that only with effectively full government indemnity from radiation releases are any plants built anywhere.   Therefore, Anonymous' thorium nuclear plants must somehow overcome those two big hurdles: must be much less costly to build and operate and decommission, and must be so safe that they do not need government assistance.    

Put bluntly, that is not going to happen with thorium plants.  As written before on SLB, see link, when a nuclear plant is operated at anything but baseload, the price for its electricity must skyrocket.  As shown in the above quote from the Idaho National Lab (INL) paper, Shippingport was operated as a load-following power plant, even though it was tiny at only 72 MWe.  The output shown in the INL report shows max output of 50 to 65 MWe.  

So, thanks for the laugh, Anonymous.  Your conclusion of "It was to (sic) damn good, and to (sic) damned cheap." is truly funny.   "Good" means what, exactly?  Was the plant able to compete with a coal-fired power plant on cost?  We note that the test was for only 5 years, and not full-time at that.  Would such a plant last for 40 years?  "Cheap" means what, exactly?  Note that conventional nuclear fuel from uranium is touted by the nuclear proponents as costing "only" one or perhaps two cents per kWh generated.  Even if thorium fuel was free, how much would that reduce a customer's monthly bill? 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

1 comment:

Christina Macpherson said...

Read your "Good laugh about thorium"
Had a good laugh myself.
The pro thorium campaigners are relatively few, but, especially in Australia, they make up for this in their fanatical promotion of their loved technology, and in their fanatical attacks on those who dare to criticise that technology.

At least in attacking you, they have more or less stuck to the subject matter.

I note that when a female person dares to criticise thorium, some of these shills resort to trollism in a big way.

I guess it's a kind of a badge of honour, if they really want to shut you up.
It seems even worse if one is female. On Twitter the virulence of their onslaught against Dr Helen Caldicott is quite amazing.

I myself , under my real name, Noel Christina Wauchope, am described by some Twitter trolls as a "murderer". "gaoled for defamation" "sacked as a teacher, for child abuse".

Hard to believe that the thorium nuclear industry would actually pay them for this stuff, but apparently, they do.