Thursday, 24 May 2007

Green nuclear power coming to Norway

As reported by Cosmos Magazine:

Image courtesy of Cosmos Magazine & Justin Randall

Norway remains quite active in the areas (among others) of nuclear non-proliferation, energy security, and global environmental stewardship. Norwegians - specifically - are looking to Thorium based nuclear power technology to solve the overlapping problems of all three after Norway's state-owned energy company, Statkraft, this week announced plans to investigate building a thorium-fuelled nuclear reactor.

Some relevant highlights of the technology:
  • The reaction is 'driven' by a nuclear accelerator (called an Accelerator Driven Sub-critical (ADS) system, and therefore can not maintain a self-sustained nuclear reaction [improved safety].
  • ADS technology can be used to 'burn' waste products from existing nuclear reactors. Relevant studies were completed for example as part of the US Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative [waste management and proliferation avoidance].
  • The technology produces significantly less high level waste.(see 'New age nuclear', Cosmos, issue 8) [waste minimisation and management].
  • Byproducts of the Thorium reaction do not include materials that pose increased weapons proliferation risks (Plutonium and Uranium) [non-proliferation].
  • Thorium is significantly more abundant than Uranium and does not require high-tech enrichment technologies [sustainability, energy security and non-proliferation]. [Enrichment being the central issue responsible for the dramas in Iran at the moment, for example.]

The article also discusses an amazing flop in Norwegian public opinion in less than a year, with 80% now favouring Thorium nuclear technology development. [All emphasis is mine]

"It would be a sin of omission not to consider it," said Bård Mikkelsen, CEO of Statkraft, in an interview with the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

"Norway has taken the lead on this. We are an energy nation; we have large supplies of thorium – not as much as Australia of course – but we have a very advanced energy industry, and we have a responsibility to the world," said Lillestøl [a nuclear physicist at the University of Bergen, Norway]. "Without nuclear energy we will destroy the world, we will spend all the coal, oil and gas, and we will be left with an energy desert."

As with other things nuclear, there are industrial opportunities and interest within Australia. But one quoted Sydney nuclear scientist expressed his doubts about Australian political will and research resource commitment, claiming Australia is 'lagging behind' while European Union, India, the US, Japan and Russia all work to develop thorium energy technologies.

For further information, including identified reserves per country, see Also:

Thorium Power Limited

World Nuclear Association - Thorium

UIC - Thorium

US Geological Survey (USGS) - Thorium


  1. Great that you like the article in Cosmos Magazine, but you are violalting their copyright by republishing it in total! Correct netiquette is to take a few paragraphs and link back to the article on the Cosmos site - not strip it holus bolus and paste it on your site. If they don't get any page impressions from people reading about this, they'll think no-one's interested in the topic. So ultimately, you are encouraging media site NOT to cover stories like this.

    So take down the full article and play fair.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    It's one of my shortcomings that I didn't really bother to learn 'netiquette' up front, but rely more on being 'calibrated' like this. I was wondering about acceptable protocol. I don't believe I'm breaking a law - if so, please let me know which one.

    Since none of the related media outlets ever complained about my postings - despite me making comments like in COSMOS, encouraging their reviews - I didn't really change my M.O.

    I would also hope that the magazine would weigh the fact that I have linked their article into the Blog when considering the popularity of the relevant topic (not to mention the current media frenzy with respect to nuclear technology within Australia).

    As I scrape together some time, I'll go back and replace the quotes with some paraphrases; unless of course COSMOS complains directly...

    In the future, I'll work to avoid the holus-boliu approach.

  3. Ok - job done (at least I hope).

    Better now???

  4. It seems to me that articles like this have a habit of romanticising Thorium as something magical, when most of the positive things they're ascribing to Thorium aren't due to Thorium, but due to Generation IV reactors in general.

    Make no mistake, i completely support nuclear energy, the roll-out of workable Gen. IV prototypes, and the use of Thorium as part of a sustainable long-term nuclear energy future.

    But the ADR technology can run just as well on Uranium or Plutonium. Thorium in a reactor breeds fissile U-233 - it wouldn't work if it didn't.

    What I can't understand is how many people, who are in the middle of the spectrum with regards to their nuclear opinion, are optimistic about Thorium, and support it, but they'd be completely opposed to a Gen. IV running on Uranium-238, because of the dreaded Plutonium.

    Of course, the U-233 produced in a Thorium reactor is, in and of itself, perfectly suitable for a nuclear weapon, just like Plutonium.

    And of course modern nuclear technologies largely mitigate these proliferation risks, irrespective of Thorium, Uranium, Plutonium or whatever being used as the fissile or fertile fuels.

  5. I agree.

    I don't think Thorium is a magic bullet in and of itself and the end result will certainly be virtually indistinguishable from 'some' of the GenIV reactor designs - not all are fast spectrum.

    I do see the Thorium path winning with respect to sustainability and energy independence though (more of it, and in more places) - albeit not by much. Also, I admit that most of this is currently being debated on paper anyway.

    With respect to non-proliferation, I think the key [to put if very simply] is to avoid chemical separation processes if possible. Is it reasonable to expect this from Thorium? Considering the reality of fuel burn-up limitations from a purely material perspective, I'm not sure. The fuel would have to be designed to remain in the core until a significantly large portion of the U233 was consumed.

    Obviously I need to read up on the links I've included in the post. Let's hope the Norwegians know a lot more about this technology than I do.