Texas Thorium Energy

Recently, business took me to San Antonio, Texas for a week.  I really enjoyed the city and got to see some of its sights.  Here is a picture of the Alamo.

San Antonio 010

Of course, if you go to San Antonio, don’t miss the Riverwalk.San Antonio 012 Ben camera 1 035 Ben camera 1 041 Ben camera 1 043 Ben camera 1 044

I also visited Mission San JoseBen camera 1 086 Ben camera 1 088 More pictures of the Riverwalk: Ben camera 1 145 Ben camera 1 147

I liked this hotel, The Emily Morgan, with a triangular corner right next to the Alamo.Ben camera 1 185These photos are a good excuse for a post, but I also wanted to make the point that human urban civilization requires concentrated, abundant, and reliable energy, which I believe can only be fulfilled in the future with nuclear power and the flavor I like is molten salt.



Zirconium is a metallic element that has been used extensively in light water reactors for fuel cladding.  It is the first line of defense against radioactive fission products entering the environment. (BWT the second line of defense is the reactor vessel, usually about 4 inches of steel, and the third is the containment building of thick reinforced concrete and lined with around an inch of steel.)

Zirconium is virtually transparent to neutrons, so it doesn’t absorb them in the fission process and it has good heat conduction properties to allow the fission heat to leave the fuel rods and be transferred to the primary coolant.  The zirconium is made into long tubes that contain the uranium oxide fuel pellets.  The fuel rods are then assembled into groups called bundles, with dozens of bundles forming the core of the reactor.

The zirconium rods and bundles are a work of art, IMO.

Nuclear fuel rods and bundles

I also imagine that all this beautiful, precision metal work costs about the same as Rolex watch parts – a lot!

One of the advantages of molten salt reactor technology it that all this expensive zirconium is not needed.  The molten fuel is not contained in rods or tubes or bundles.  The level of safety will still be defense in depth, but should be considerable cheaper without all the Rolex parts.

My apologies to a local company, Western Zirconium, that is a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric and produces zirconium from the minerals in the Great Salt Lake.  In the somewhat distant future we will not be needing so much zirconium when molten salt reactors come into their own.  In the meantime, they can make zirconium hydride control rods for WAMSR. (I owe my readers a post about WAMSR in the near future.)

I am not too worried about Western Zirconium in the near future, since Westinghouse sold all the zirconium metallurgical technology to the Chinese along with the AP-1000 reactors being built in China.  Providing fuel assemblies for those reactors should keep Western Zirconium plenty busy.

BTW, here are some cool pictures I took of the evaporation ponds that Western Zirconium uses in their process to extract zirconium from the mineral rich Great Salt Lake.

Western Zirc flying 068 Western Zirc flying 065 Western Zirc flying 061 Western Zirc flying 055Note: The Northern Arm of the Great Salt Lake is red from algae in the very salty water.


New Nuclear Blogger

Atomic Insights reported yesterday that the blogger, Dan Yurman, who ran Idaho Samizdat has returned after two years with a new blog called Neutron Bytes. I read the articles at his site and I recommend them.

Curiously enough, Dan has an article about the total quantity of once through nuclear fuel:

How much spent fuel is out there?

According to the Congressional Research Service (using NEI data), there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.

Of that total, 48,818 metric tons – or about 78 percent – were in pools.
13,856 metric tons – or about 22 percent – were stored in dry casks.

BTW, I prefer to call it once through nuclear fuel. It hasn’t been spent, since 90% plus is unused and since there is still so much of it that can produce electricity, like I talked about yesterday, why call it waste?

For those of you who think that 63,000 metric tons (2200 pounds per metric ton) is a lot, consider all the coal ash and byproducts generated in the US each year – 125 million tons!

The 63,000 metric tons of once through nuclear fuel was produced over decades while providing a substantial percentage of the electricity used in the US.



Framing the Debate

What do you call 70,000 tons of ceramic oxides and metallic elements that can produce enough primary energy to meet the needs of the US for nearly a century?  That energy happens to be worth trillions and trillions of dollars! (A trillion is 1 followed by 12 zeros)

The NRC, Greenpeace, most environmentalists, most Americans and coal, oil and utility execs call it “nuclear WASTE“.

How interesting!  Stuff that can be converted into energy and profitably sold is called waste.

My fellow Americans, (all you that believe in nuclear WASTE), please send me all of your gold and silver and platinum jewelry and diamonds too.  It is waste and should be strictly regulated, lest it get into dangerous hands and be used for nefarious purposes! Send your waste to me now!  I will store the stuff for you (in my bank vault and charge you exorbitant fees)!