Yves here. This post contains some useful observations about the economics of the electricity market.
By Leonard S. Hyman, an economist and financial analyst specializing in the energy sector. He headed utility equity research at a major brokerage house and is author, co-author or editor of six books including America’s Electric Utilities: Past, Present and Future and Energy Risk Management: A Primer for the Utility Industry, and William I. Tilles is a senior industry advisor and speaker on energy and finance. Originally published at OilPrice
Donald Trump in the White House and Theresa May in 10 Downing Street. They will open the door to more nuclear spending, no doubt. Prime minister May has already given a green light to Britain’s most expensive energy project, a heavily subsidized nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Based on the most recent federal budgeting approvals, we expect that no U.S. nuclear weapons programs will want for funds. But, despite all the post-election industry euphoria, should we anticipate a full renaissance for U.S. commercial nuclear power? Is that just a bridge too far, so to speak? Let’s look at the what will go into some of these decisions.
1.Need for the product. With no growth in the market for electricity, the industry needs new power plants only to replace old ones and to decarbonize output in order to mitigate global warming. The Trump administration has declared an end to the so-called war on coal, which makes it less likely that the electric industry will have to close old coal fired generating stations soon and it has categorized global warming as a hoax, which removes an excuse to build non-carbon producing nuclear units. The nuclear industry will need another rationalization for expansion.
2.Economics. Nuclear power looks like an expensive means of producing base load electricity with significant known risks and ongoing waste storage/disposal issues. A new 1,000 MW nuclear plant ordered today for 2025 in service would cost about $10 billion. New renewables can produce power at no higher a cost per kwh, without the same long construction schedule and need to build so large a unit. A new base load gas fired unit of the same size capacity could be completed in a few years and cost one fifth as much per MW and produce at a lower cost per kwh. Producing a commodity like electricity at a relatively high price in a competitive market is not a winning business strategy. Nuclear has to offer something else.
3. Base load generation. Nuclear plants run as base load units, something renewables cannot do — at least not until economical energy storage comes into the picture– because of the intermittency of their output. Still, renewables, particularly wind in the U.S. midwest and Texas, will temporarily displace more large central station power generation, forcing more units to “cycle”. Nuclear plants are less well suited for this duty. Flexibility and load following may become more highly valued than base load. This also reflects a change in the electric industry itself. The former command and control or paternalistic relationship between utility and consumer is changing. At a minimum consumers are dictating how their energy is produced, agreeing for example to pay premiums for “greener” forms of electricity. In other words, nuclear has something to sell in the base load market, but that market may be in decline.
4. Power markets. Neither U.S. nor UK power markets will support unsubsidized or non-mandated new generation. To the extent that the U.S. wholesale power markets remain both deregulated and regulated in parts, this is also a negative for new nuclear capacity. Deregulated power markets, both here and in the UK, aren’t permitting wholesale prices high enough to finance new gas fired capacity much less new nukes. Regulators will want a cost benefit analysis before approving a new nuclear facility. Basically, this means that a new nuclear project in order to proceed will need a subsidy of one sort or another. A carbon tax would do the job even better. But what GOP politician would vote for that tax, especially if some of their constituents view the issue of global warning as a hoax?
5. Nuclear as infrastructure. As currently built, nuclear projects require a large contingent of well paid labor and massive amounts of steel and concrete. A handful of qualified engineering firms, the usual suspects, also build other infrastructure and one can only think that these politically connected firms can lobby for nuclear projects as hard as they lobby for new bridges or highways. Nuclear construction then could play a role as a component of the as part of the infrastructure program needed to boost the economy. The problem, however, is that nuclear infrastructure has some drawbacks.
6. Resilience needed. Infrastructure should be resilient and anti-fragile. In battle, would we rather attack our enemy in a swarm formation as part of a horde of thousands or ponderously approach the fields of honor as a monolithic “death star”. The former is anti-fragile. The latter, as we all know from the movies (no spoiler intended), is powerful but most definitely fragile. The “enemy” here approaches from two sides: technological obsolescence (which is slowly confronting all central station power generators) and simple obsolescence from a harsher operating environment. In plain terms, stuff just wears out faster. It’s a riskier business that’s for sure.
7. Investor-owned operators needed. The two major U.S. electric utilities with an outsized presence in nuclear power, Entergy and Exelon, could be characterized as the Dogs of the UTY, thanks to their less than stellar stock performances. EDF, the builder of the new British station, almost didn’t get to a positive decision on the new plant due to a revolt on the part of concerned directors. Do investors want more nuclear power? Probably not without subsidies or guarantees.
8. Coastal locations needed. One problem with commercial nuclear power is not that it produces expensive electricity via fission, but that its voracious need for cooling water requires mostly coastal or riparian sites. Ignore the technology for a moment. Rising seas, hurricanes, storm surges and the like could render an ever broader swath of coastline unsuitable for infrastructure of any sort. Even if the Trump administration sees no issues, property and casualty insurors as well as and bond investors might.
9. Using nuclear subsidies as corporate welfare. New York and Illinois both launched
programs best described as Welfare for the Nuclear Elderly. It’s heart-warming to see such generosity just prior to the holiday season aimed at aging, uneconomic nuclear plants. This sounds to us like a job creation/preservation program for rural areas (where high paying jobs are scarce) masquerading as an environmentally beneficial, carbon mitigating proposal. There is nothing inherently evil about subsidizing private sector jobs in the electric utility industry. We just wish they’d drop the low carbon fig leaf as a rationale or change the market so it pays for the supposed virtues of nuclearinstead of making this a political handout. But note that handouts to old nukes do not encourage the building of new ones.
10. Nuclear for defense. Defense spending may crowd out civilian needs.Themilitary already plans to modernize its nuclear warfare capability over comingdecades. In fact, if we think about where nuclear power as an energy source has worked best, it is in military-maritime applications, things like submarines and arctic icebreakers. If a nuclear accident on a naval vessel at sea occurs resulting in all hands lost–that is clearly a tragedy. If Indian Point goes full metal Fukushima, rendering significant parts of Westchester County, NY uninhabitable, we don’t even have the adjectives much less the liability coverage. We also doubt that military applications will take a back seat in the new administration. Beyond that, there are two big nuclear related projects in the U.S.: completion of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada and construction of a vitrification facility at the Hanford, WA site now holding significant amounts of highly radioactive materials in less than perfect circumstances. More than likely, the military, Yucca and Hanford will absorb the lion’s share of new nuclear-related infrastructure monies.
Without a rationale rooted in decarbonization or in shortage of alternative fuels or energy sources, the new administration in the U.S. can only make a weak case for commercial nuclear power. If it will not embrace direct subsidies (which the incoming Congress may be reluctant to do as a matter of principle), the administration may have a hard time finding private partners for nuclear projects. But it can, and probably will, make a strong case for completing the huge nuclear tasks already on the government’s plate. That spending could boost the economy just as much as putting up new nuclear power stations.
The “H” Bomb, fusion device, requires not hydrogen, but tritium. More neutrons ….. more bang for your buck.
Tritium can be harnessed from hydropower, but most comes from fission reactors. These are kept under control by water absorbing excess neutrons: a tritium factory. Energy is a by product.
Bad news for Dr. Strangelove: tritium decays swiftly into hydrogen.
The Masonic Republic, devoted to Athene, Goddess of War, save for 17 years since foundation, requires masses of tritium.
Large Hadron Colliders provide anti-matter, but in tiny amounts and still need hydrogen, sorry, Tritium, for that extra puissance!
Still, conventional explosives on top of clathrates, enables the Tsunami Weapon. A true city killer. Even North Korea could set one off!
“… When bombarded by neutrons, both 6Lithium and 7Lithium produce tritium — this reaction, which was not fully understood when hydrogen bombs were first tested, was responsible for the runaway yield of the Castle Bravo nuclear test. Tritium fuses with deuterium in a fusion reaction that is relatively easy to achieve. Although details remain secret, lithium-6 deuteride apparently still plays a role in modern nuclear weapons as a fusion material… Wiki
Lithium is the practical source for tritium.
The most obvious reason why Trump won’t lead a nuclear renaissance is that he’s surrounded himself with a coterie of Big Oil type people who are likely to find nuclear power to be an existential threat (whether it actually is or is not).
Its not Big Oil people who are the enemy of nuclear – its Big Coal. Coal and Nuclear are in direct competition for base load. And Trump has firmly nailed his colours to the mast of Big Coal.
Natural gas is killing all prospects for new coal power plants.
Killing them dead.
The only thing that Trump will trigger: extended life for existing plants.
Coal simply can’t compete with natural gas.
And LEDs are killing demand — across the planet.
But in his case the mast is a bamboo pole the thickness if his (small) pinky. He never lets what he said yesterday interfere with his grift today.
One thing that would encourage nuclear is a carbon tax. I asked a nuclear industry representative about it once. He rejected it out of hand. Nuclear utilities all own fossil generation assets so they aren’t interested.
Traditionally Nuclear wasn’t really competing against either directly, but rather indirectly. However, if it was competing, it tended to be more against oil. Florida and California shut down oil fired plants when nuclear plants came on line.
Three Mile Island build had nothing to do with fuel economics, and a lot to do with government subsidy and union busting. PA was a dying coal area, and TMI was calculated as part of that death. Politics, money and oligarchy, always nasty and dirty.
Coal has very high transport costs, particularly when located away from water transport. China built and is building most of it’s nuclear power in areas where coal had to be imported. Natural gas is the primary competitors to coal only in areas where both are readily available, again not so much, where as cheap oil is critical to coal, as without it, coal gets too costly to extract and ship. Both gas and coal were seen as more flexible than nuclear in loading, but other than a few non-critical boiler based plants like CLP’s Castle Peak, coal can’t provide the flexibility to deal with all the issues solar electric power(and to a lesser extent wind) create for a large, distributed grid.
Even if Trump let coal fired faculties off the hook for all environmental impacts, the nature of the grid in the USA has changed such that I doubt coal fired power will gain much traction, at best he can slow down the rate of closures. The price of gas and the nature of the pricing of electricity is such that even much more efficient combined cycle gas turbines that are already built, are being shut down in favor of simple cycle gas turbines. They may spew far more carbon into the air, but its dirt cheap carbon and is easily dispatched (or withheld/blackmailed) for the best price.
Another reason for a carbon tax.
(ed: and a ban on Fracking, which Obama and Sally Jewell promoted like mad, and Hillary help where she could in promoting as well)
Fracking, oil, gas, coal, nukes all have issues that include foreign policy considerations to some degree or other. To use fracking as an example, the US policy apparently looked at middle east politics and the ongoing instability of KSA, the OPEC pricing structure, and their role in international terrorism, and decided to nudge that along.
A longer view also considers the relative economic dependencies of Japan, Korea and other OECD countries to oil price and supply discontinuities. There is some price that the US pays in its domestic economy, communities, air quality and related topics to maintain some stability amongst its trading partners. While that policy, or those policies, may be viewed as sub-optimal in many regards, very little exists in isolation these days.
Baseload is a concept on its way to the dustbin, see the article:
“Nuclear plants run as base load units, something renewables cannot do — at least not until economical energy storage comes into the picture– because of the intermittency of their output. Still, renewables, particularly wind in the U.S. midwest and Texas, will temporarily displace more large central station power generation, forcing more units to “cycle”. Nuclear plants are less well suited for this duty. Flexibility and load following may become more highly valued than base load.”
More explicitly, with high levels of solar and wind capacity, there are periods during the day when all power demand is met by solar and wind generation. While natural gas turbines can be run as load following / peak generation, coal and nuclear cannot. Hence, coal and nuclear are really not compatible with wind and solar (without very large-scale storage infrastructure, at least).
The most basic personal reason is that he is a businessman and Nuclear power is bad business, relying on government subsidies that would compete with this other plans to spend money. Most nuclear power plants are “stranded investments” and a businessman like Trump can read the spreadsheets.
Trump is a serial bankrupt. He has demonstrated no ability at all as a businessman, having recorded a tax loss of $900,000,000 USD some 20 years ago. He fantasizes that he is a businessman. He also fantasizes that he still has hair on the top of his head.
Time will tell. I regard the first year of his presidency as one in which he plans the heist along with his selected ‘gang.’ Once he has the robbery in place and inevitable, he will resign the office and leave us with Pence. Pence can read spreadsheets; especially those of Planned Parenthood.
Atomic electricity is just not economic in the First World.
It’s going great guns in China, though.
The entire approach… as currently conceived… is all wrong.
LEDs are destroying electric demand on an epic scale.
Wind power is a dud, too deadly for birds, too costly for man.
Solar-thermal is another dud… for the exact same reasons… it’s an expensive bird killer.
PV would be much more practical, low cost, if it were erected in scale in New Mexico.
I must say that I’m rather astounded that anyone is contemplating new atomic plants in the First World. I should think that the shareholders would revolt.
LEDs may not be so good for human health, this article is a bit wacky but it’s not the only place LEDs are being called suspect for human well-being:
“Solar-thermal is another dud… for the exact same reasons… it’s an expensive bird killer.”
The “power tower” designs (“heliostat”) do kill birds. But parabolic trough designs do NOT. Parabolic troughs are a little less “efficient” if you don’t count the dead birds. But they are far less intrusive in many locations. Abengoa has been the leader, and the Mojave Solar Project is one recent USA plant.
Genesis Solar Energy Project is another. SEGS dates back to 1983, and it has never failed, never produced less than its designed output.
These plants produced HEAT which is used to produce electricity, and this heat CAN BE STORED for use at night.
Of course it is expensive to store heat, but the alternatives such as coal/gas are only cheaper if you ignore their true costs to the environment.
There is a gas powered plant in Florida where solar thermal troughs are being built to provide daytime load, hence it is called a hybrid plant. A simple add on as the turbines at this plant already use steam (generated from gas).
In sum: don’t forget solar thermal trough technology, it is the winner of the environmental sweepstakes.
Point 10. One reason PWR & BWR reactors were driven to commercial development ahead of safer salt based Thorium reactor technology is they are better providers of the raw materials for weapons proliferation. Obama has been in the thrall of Chicago based Excelon, who’d stand to benefit from removal of all their spent fuel for his new weapons program, instead of having to pay to have it stored. This is the same program Trump has promised to expand.
I suspect we’ll be stuck with these hazards, and funding for research into fusion, particularly the less expensive process, will continue to be cut.
Point 3. One reason Germany was able to put so much solar and wind onto it’s grid was the interconnection with France (90+% nuclear, plus a very large pumped hydro-electric storage capacity) close enough to provide the power factor stability. If France’s power had been coal (and natural gas) based instead, then the carbon emission reductions would be much lower than would seem apparent just assuming 1:1 substitution.
California electric grid has seen it’s carbon emissions rates flatten out because they put on a lot more solar and wind power without the infrastructure to control the power factor and electrical quality, and the instability in the grid has become so serious that even combined cycle gas turbines can’t meet the grid needs. Simple cycle gas turbines put out far more carbon emissions, but as gas is so cheep, and easily installed, that seems to be the way the grid has decided to go, Kind of sad, we’re cooking ourselves to death, while giving the appearance of doing the right thing.
Thorium is fertile but not fissile.
So ALL so-called Thorium reactors are in fact: Uranium 233 reactors.
U-233 is the WORST atomic explosive: it is both easy to chemically separate — providing the purity seen with plutonium — while requiring LESS mass to achive detonation.
If you’ve ever heard of back-pack nukes — this is the explosive that they MUST use.
When Thorium salt reactors were abandoned as WHOLLY impractical — circa 1981 — the experts finally admitted that they’d hit a wall y e a r s earlier. They couldn’t make the thorium-salt scheme EVER work. The USSR dropped their thorium program practically the next day. They’d kept it going — merely because the Americans had a program. They’d long come to the exact same conclusion: thorium-salt based reactors are a technical dead end.
None of this could be admitted as long as the sugar ( from Uncle Sugar ) kept flowing. It was only admitted in the professional literature after the $$$$ got shut off. &^%$ that Reagan.
There was a classic paper on this issue (I can’t find the link right now, can post it later), which points to the determination of the US to focus on LWR reactors as being due to their overall use as military power plants – they are in fact not particularly useful for proliferation as most military plutonium comes from breeders, not LWR reactors. LWR reactors have often been marketed precisely because their by-products are not as useful for weapons manufacturers than other reactor designs.
I’ve always, incidentally, been a sceptic about Thorium and salt based reactors on the Occams Razor principle that despite all the hype, nobody has actually followed through on initial work. Molten metal reactors have even more military utility than water reactors (the Soviets built an incredibly compact lead based reactor for their Alfa submarines in the 1960’s, but no major power has followed through after initial prototypes. The Indians are backing away from Thorium. I suspect they are like pebble bed reactors – great in theory, but the fact that everyone who has tried to build them commercially (the Germans, the South Africans, the Chinese) have passed, makes me think there are fundamental problems that nobody can yet resolve.
This works both ways. A few summers back the French system nearly collapsed due to a very dry summer – all inland reactors had to be shut down due to water shortages. They were primarily rescued by surplus wind and solar power exported from the Spanish grid.
The one man that made the decision for the Westinghouse design:
He worked hand in hand with Rickover.
Yes, yes, Nichols wrote an autobiography — very amusing, too — that spelled all of this out.
He left Oak Ridge — to become the V-P of Westinghouse — atomic division.
The fuel/material for the military plutonium cycle and metal (sodium) reactors mostly comes out of the spent fuel from light water reactors. That’s the reason North Korea was to take on a CANDU reactor in return for shutting down their light water reactor program.
Salt reactors and metal reactors are two very different animals. The later is an important part of weapons programs, and now are also seen as important to dealing with uranium shortages.
Besides some older technology units, Russia is running one new generation sodium metal reactor commercially, has more under construction. China has one commercial/research reactor based on a mix of Russian and Domestic technology, but for now they are committing to license the Russian process, and are building 4 units. Without this commitment, China’s existing fleet and current committed light water reactors would run out of fuel before they reached the end of their commercial lives. (but then again, heat death of civilization may occur before all of that anyway).
Any reactor system isn’t just a reactor, it’s any entire eco-system. soluble salt Thorium reactor does not appeal to anyone interested in doing more than generating electric power, and without a sufficient promise for the entire eco-system to be developed, it won’t happen. China and India both tried to build thoreum reactors using fuel rods rather than the soluble fuel process, because ink jet printer economics. They planned to more or less give away the reactors to developing countries, if they could lock down the fuel supply. I advised China it won’t work, and so far I’ve been proven right. But who knows…
EDF imports from Spain, Actually that was driven by government policy, CDR, which produces hydro electric power (committed for export to Germany because no nukes) had to shut down nearly all of it’s production, and EDF’s electricity was sold on in it’s place being cheaper, while 12 inland reactor trains had to operate on power reduced (about 8%) regimes due to high water temps. EDF kicked the football back to the government by shutting down several reactors. With a bit of financial engineering, much whipping of funds here and there, who knows what was the real status, the tax payer saved the day as usual.
I do want to emphasis this one part.
Obama has been in the thrall of Chicago based Excelon, who’d stand to benefit from removal of all their spent fuel for his new weapons program, instead of having to pay to have it stored. This is the same program Trump has promised to expand.
I’d be interested to hear more about your experiences with Thorium in China and India – I’ve wondered why their programs have stalled. What exactly do you mean by ‘ink-printer economics?’
Re: LWR’s and proliferation – while LWR’s do produce useful by-product for bombs, they have certainly been marketed hard by the US and France in India and the Middle East as a non-proliferation technology. I suppose it all depends on what you compare them to.
Your point about any nuclear power technology being part of an eco-system is well taken, and this is a prime reason of course why such a crude technology as LWR’s have had such a long life. But my point about the military utility of any sodium or metal based reactor goes beyond bomb proliferation. The theoretical potential of modular sodium or metal based reactors for military use is vastly greater than current reactors. If the promises held through, they are more scalable, safer, more militarily robust and stealthier (no noisy pumps or hot water IR signals) than existing reactor designs. They would be perfect for all naval vessels and military bases. The failure to develop useable ones (even at non-commercial costs) by the US/Russia/China/France etc. military research establishments, is what leads me to the Occam’s Razor conclusion that they are simply unworkable. If they can’t be made work for nuclear submarines or cruisers, they certainly can’t be made work for domestic users.
Re: your point about energy use in Europe. You are right of course that the issue of demand management is complex and is as much about public policy as engineering/economics. But what is often forgotten about renewables is that while intermittent, their production cycles are reasonably predictable and in many cases coincide very well with high demand periods. In hot, dry climates solar output coincides neatly with daily peak for air-con (12-3pm usually in California), while in Europe peak wind output tends to coincide with highest winter time electrical use (during periods of stormy winter weather). Here in Ireland wind energy has bitten deeply in to the very profitable winter demand for peaking gas power plants (although not this year, thanks to the unusual high pressure zones parked over western Europe which has lowered both wind output and power demand).
Wind (and to a lesser extent Solar) are useful, but there is a penetration rate beyond which carbon emissions reductions starts to drop off rapidly because of the current market, infrastructure, and technology levels. People don’t want to pay the price to get us past these issues. That in the end is the sum of the problem, people don’t want to…
I never liked the nuclear industry, particularly in the USA and Japan, mostly because I don’t like the people who run at the top, high unreliability in a high reliability industry. No one seems willing to replace them.
However, I’ve got even less time for sods like the Greenpeace spokesman/director for Hong Kong, We live in the same neighborhood, and I consult of the same clients he lobbies. I take public transport and he drives a Prius, which because it’s a hybrid, he thinks this makes it okay. I’ve also very clear calculation of who”s done more for the environment. No one is going to push hard enough to threaten their donor base.
So yes, more solar please, more wind, but let it be done right, and know it still emits, and even if we had zero emissions, it’s probably too late and more will be required, IE: net positive carbon (C02, methane, CFx) extraction and sequestration. Who’s ready to pay for it?
China and India both tried to build thoreum reactors using fuel rods rather than the soluble fuel process, because ink jet printer economics.
ie: They planned to more or less give away the reactors to developing countries, if they could lock down the fuel supply.
Reactor = ink jet printer & software
fuel rods = ink jet cartridge
Re: sodium, see my earlier comments for links.
Ah, ok, I understand the analogy now. Thanks.
You forgot the clueless Perry.He will not get ANYTHING done.
There two incipient trends in nuke energy:
Modi’s Indian government will build and develop Thorium nuke facilities; Geert Wilder’s political party wants to do the same in the Netherlands.
Bearing in mind the advantages of Thorium nukes,
1: Raw material ten to hundreds of times more plentiful than uranium;
2: No theroretical problems since it was all figured out in 1946 – 1947; nothing can blow up, only melt into solidified mineral salts;
3: Thorium Nuke waste is moderately dangerous for a few centuries, not millenia, allowing much greater safety.
I would not expect Trump to take this route, but if anything, follow the teakettle-huke plutocrats, but it’s always possible.
The American experts totally gave up on the Thorium to Uranium 233 scheme. (1981, IIRC)
The Soviets gave up the moment the Americans did. They couldn’t make any head way, either.
The so-called Thorium-salt reactor has remained only five-years into the future — for the last half-century.
Absolutely EVERY substance known to modern man was exposed to the neutron flux and decay products in proto-type reactors.
Nothing came close to viability.
The test-bed reactors always ended up being shut down — too soon.
Super energetic fluorine ions destroy everything.
Nuclear power is a doomsday machine and an abomination unto all life on earth. It does not “decarbonize” — it requires enormous amounts of concrete and other materials and energy to build and maintain. The unlimited-duration storage of waste is a debacle that will never be solved or minimized, and along with the “accidental” discharges and catastrophic accidents, increased radio isotopes in the environment will continue to corrupt the gene pool of all life. Cancers in humans will continue their dramatic rise, not because of lack of exercise or too much sugar as the WHO postulates. The mess at Fukushima is an ongoing threat that will never be fixed. Why do we not learn the lessons from the terrible mistakes of our past?
I think it worth noting that some of the discussion regarding nuclear power and thorium in particular is worthy of rebuttal. Some of the points discussed here in the comments section are rebutted here by Flibe:
I’m sure we could find more if we looked. I think the topic is still quite contentious and is worthy of investigation. I admire and respect this site and often link to articles on this site with my blog and am a bit surprised that people here are so quick to dismiss nuclear, particularly molten salt reactors.
I don’t think that India has given up just yet as some suggest:
I offer this not for debate, but simply to note that there have been positive developments in nuclear power and that some myths about nuclear have been dispelled.
Filbe dances away from what REALLY proved to be the deal-breaker: ‘hot fluorine’ ions.
So long as you’re including fluorine salts in your brew… atomic fission will produce staggering quantities of ‘hot fluorine’ ions.
This is a reference to the extremely high specific energy that such an ion has — promoted up by way of atomic fission — not its — but the fission of its chemical partner: U233.
These ions pulverize EVERY substance, known and unknown. To deny this reality — you flunk chemistry.
Wrapping a blanket of thorium around any reactor — including a U-233 reactor — which is what a so-called thorium reactor is — generates pure U-233 — ready for use as atomic explosive.
THIS is the reason that the Americans and Russians were happy to see the end of this scheme.
U-233 is the explosive that needs the LEAST sophistication, needs the LEAST mass, to detonate.
Little Boy would’ve needed a team of giants to lift manually. It was a U-235 bomb.
A U-233 bomb can be carried in a hefty back-pack. Yup. Don’t be wearing it when you pull the trigger.
The entire thorium scheme is also a BREEDER. Humanity is not politically ready — on a global basis — for breeder reactors of any type.
Neutron scarcity is the bottle that is holding the atomic genie in check. Breeders break that bottle.
Likewise, ALL fusion reactor designs are culturally premature. As neutron generators, they are an atomic nightmare, the LAST thing in this world we need in our age.