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The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance

Facebook Twitter YouTube Email. Thorium fuel cycle — Potential benefits and challenges May 1, Download the PDF. Article Tags. Fertile materials are not capable of undergoing a fission reaction after absorbing thermal slow or low energy neutrons and these materials are not capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. There are two basic fertile materials: U and Th Fissile material is material that is capable of undergoing fission reaction after absorbing thermal slow or low energy neutron.

These materials are used to fuel thermal nuclear reactors, because they are capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. The nucleus of a fertile atom will not split, but a small alteration to the nucleus makes it unstable, and then it will split. So Th is fertile because it can easily be converted into U which is fissile.

how to process thorium

Th is the predominant isotope of natural thorium. In this cycle the nuclei of Th absorb a neutron from the fissile U or other fissile material and become nuclei of Th The half-life of Th is approximately 21,8 min.

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  6. Th decays negative beta decay to Pa , whose half-life is 26,97 days. Pa protactinium decays negative beta decay to U , which is a very good fissile material. There are two basic types of thorium reactor: those that use thorium in solid form either as the main fuel, or as a moderator or intermediate fuel, and those that use molten salt as a fuel.

    In a conventional thorium -based reactor, thorium and thorium-based fuel as metal, oxide or carbide, is utilised in combination with fissile U or Pu for conversion to fissile U , thereby enlarging the fissile material resources. Conversion to fissile material continues as long as there is thorium available. These reactors follow the cycle shown in Fig.

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    The reactor requires a seed amount of uranium to produce slow neutrons that get the process going, and then produces its own U which continues the process as long as thorium is available. Fuel takes the form of various shaped pellets or spherical pebbles. These are planned to use thorium as an intermediate stage to moderate the cycle used in a uranium or plutonium reactor. These reactors are still at the design stage but are likely to be very well suited for using thorium as a fuel.

    The level of moderation is given by the amount of graphite built into the core. Certain MSR devices will be designed specifically for thorium fuels to produce useful amounts of U [3]. In a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, the fuel cycle would be quite different.

    Why use thorium as a nuclear fuel?

    The reactor would ideally be started by a modest inventory of U Fission of U in the reactor generates thermal power as well as excess neutrons that would be captured in a blanket fluid containing thorium tetrafluoride in solution. Thorium, having absorbed a neutron, first decays to protactinium and ultimately to U New fuel would be chemically removed from the blanket fluid either at the uranium stage or the protactinium stage.

    The new uranium fuel would be introduced into the fuel salt of the LFTR at the same rate at which it is consumed. There are a number of thorium-based reactors under development world-wide, ranging from small concept 50 MW to large commercial MW units. It would appear that thorium-based reactors are a viable feature of the future nuclear energy spectrum.

    Overview of European Experience with Thorium Fuels

    The steam can be used in a wide range of cogeneration applications. The reactor is designed to provide direct high temperature energy for process heat. The design of the reactor is based on proven technology and therefore no new basic technology development is needed.