Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima: disasters that changed the way many people view nuclear power. Once touted as "greener" than fossil fuels, nuclear's reputation has taken a battering in recent years. Governments and industry representatives have a hard time convincing people that nuclear plants have fail-safe measures built into them. So, if nuclear is to increase its share of the global energy picture, it has to revamp its somewhat tarnished image.
That's where the liquid fluoride
thorium reactor--LFTR--comes in. This reactor
is supposed to be safe and clean. The
case for LFTR technology is presented enthusiastically. Considering how
high the stakes are in the game of energy roulette, it's probably wise
to apply a little skepticism to the LFTR optimism.
One of the arguments advanced by the LFTR camp is that
nuclear waste, with this technology, would no longer be a problem.
That's because--we're told--- the LFTR is designed to recycle fuel. At
the end of many cycles, very little radioactive material is left.
Another benefit of the LFTR is supposed to be that it is Inherently...safer than conventional light water reactors, According to one website, the LFTR has "no high pressure or chemically reactive ‘driver’ to expel radiotoxic substances into the environment". In the event of a breach, molten fuel is designed to drain "down the side of the vessel into non-critically configured drain tanks". And, in the event of overheating, the fuel is supposed to flow "to the drain tanks" and solidify.
One more claim of LFTR proponents is that diversion of material for bomb-making is not likely. In the words of an LFTR cheerleader the reactor is "worthless for making nuclear weapons"
Many are the claims about the benefits of LFTR technology; I have touched on only three. To rebut these claims, I offer opinions from a variety of experts. Most of the opinions are given in the form of direct quotes--with links to lengthy explanations.
Read the statements below; follow the links to associated articles. Then form your own judgment about whether or not you believe thorium, LFTR or any kind of nuclear is a good idea.
1. "Keep in mind there are waste concerns since thorium needs a uranium-233 catalyst and then there is still the same security needs surrounding thorium as any other reactor on the market." From: Blue Phoenix
2. "The waste problem becomes easier with a LFTR as most of it is low level after 10 to 20 years and safe after about 500 years." From: The Register
3. "LFTRs are theoretically capable of a high fuel burn-up rate, but while this may indeed reduce the volume of waste, the waste is more radioactive due to the higher volume of radioactive fission products." From: Kelley Bergman
4. "The fact that a substantial portion of the nuclear waste generated from these plants will be mixed in with Fluoride salts also complicates the spend fuel issue, probably resulting in relatively higher spent fuel storage costs, relative to other reactor designs." From: daryanenergyblog
1. "Fluoride salts naturally produce hydrofluoric acid (when in contact with moisture) as well as decomposing into Flourine gas over time when cold. Both of these can lead to the release of toxic fumes..." From: daryanenergyblog
2, There is "... the danger of both routine and accidental releases of radiation, mainly from continuous ‘live’ fuel reprocessing..." From: Thorium, No Silver Bullet for Nuclear Industry
3. One challenge facing development of operational LFTR plant: "Developing the continuous on-site reprocessing technology...so that it can operate reliably without accident or releases...From: Oliver Tickell in WMD Junction
4. The LFTR runs ..."at temperatures of 800 degrees Celsius, it is quite likely that UF4, ThF4 and fission by-products would react with other materials to cause a criticality event, major fires and/or explosions..." From: American Scientist
1. "LFTRs could be used as highly efficient factories for very pure fissile material eminently suitable for bomb making..." From: Oliver Tickell in WMD Junction
2 “If you have uranium-233 separated out, then it could be
weaponisable," From: PE Magazine
3.(On separating-U-233 for bomb-making): ..."a few screw turns from a suitably qualified engineer would undo such a setup" From daryanenergyblog
4. "U-233 was successfully used in a 1955 bomb test in the Nevada Desert under the USA's Operation Teapot and so is clearly weaponisable notwithstanding any 232U present. "
From Kelley Bergman
As for viability of this design--the chance that the LFTR will actually work as designed:
1."At present, my excitement for thorium is more like a mirage in the desert—meaning I can see there are possibilities"
From Blue Phoenix
2. "More work still needs to be done of course". From the Register
3 "Many are keen to see uranium supplanted by thorium for use as nuclear fuel, but there are challenges to overcome before these projects get off the ground" From PE Magazin
4. "...there are huge technical and engineering challenges in scaling up this experimental design to make a 'production' reactor." From Kelley Bergman
Keep in mind as you review these statements that investment in LFTR may come at great cost to other kinds of energy development. There's a finite supply of private and public money. As we make decisions about how to allocate that money, we should be sure the expenditure benefits us today and in years to come.
The Uyghurs of Xinjiang
By A. G. Moore 3/24/2014
The Main Uyghur Mosque in Yining, 1882
By Henry Lansdell in Russian Central Asia: Including Kuldja, Bokhara, Khova and Merv
Public domain, Wikimedia Commons
“Chinese out of Xinjiang”; “Independence for Xinjiang”; “Cut off the railroad from China proper to Xinjiang”. Posters with these slogans were discovered in 1985 at Xinjiang University in Urumqi, Xinjiang. The posters were indications of a growing sentiment among indigenous Uyghurs: the immigration of Chinese Han is a threat to the ethnic and culture identity of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
That the posters zeroed in on the railroad is not surprising; it is the railroad that carries trainloads of Han Chinese to Xinjiang--so many Han, in fact, that Uyghurs are fast becoming a minority in their own land. Ethnic Han, as a percentage of the population, have grown from under 7% in 1950 to about 40% today. The indigenous Uyghurs realize that, at this rate--a virtual demographic colonization--Han Chinese will soon be a majority in Xinjiang and Uyghur culture will be eclipsed.
Uyghurs are a Turkic people whose roots in Xinjiang reach back some 4000 years. At least, that's what Uyghur scholars and most Western historians believe. However, the Chinese have a different view. They offer an alternate narrative for Uyghur origins, one that does not support this strong indigenous link to the area.
to Dr. Sean Roberts, of George Washington University,
modern Uyghur opposition to Chinese rule may be traced to around
1750, when the Qing Emperor conquered Uyghur lands, an area that lay
along the Silk Road. Since the time of this
conquest, Uyghurs have periodically fought for their independence and
at times have achieved it. However, after the defeat of the Kuomintang in
1949, Mao Zedong sent his army to assert control over Xinjiang's
Uyghur population. Since then, the notion of Uyghur sovereignty has
been vigorously repressed
Xinjiang is important to China not only because of its size--about four times as large as California--but also because the territory is rich in resources.
Mao began transporting Han Chinese into Xinjiang, to exploit natural resources and also to cement a hold on the area. The organization that facilitated the settlement of the Han was (and still is) the XPCC, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp.
According to Remi Castets, of the Center for International Studies (CERI, Paris), Uyghur resistance to Chinese control, though evident in the 50s, 60s and 70s, intensified in recent decades. This has been in response to a conspicuous and widening gap between the opportunities enjoyed by indigenous Uyghurs and those enjoyed by immigrant Hans. As these disparities provoked Uyghur resentment, the central Chinese government doubled down on efforts to suppress expressions of Uyghur religious and ethnic identity.
Gardner Bovingden reports in his book, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, that in the 1990s the Chinese government began to demolish mosques and close private religious schools. This suppression of religious institutions strengthened Uyghur resolve. It also drove many in the independence movement to seek support from Islamic groups outside of China. These groups have generally been the only significant external sources of support open to the Uyghurs because China has pressured other countries to reject Uyghur refugees and to offer no assistance.
is the international isolation of Uyghurs that first caught my
Some years ago I read about a group of prisoners at Gitmo who had been transferred from a prison in Afghanistan. These men, 22 in all, were Uyghurs. It turned out that though they had been identified as enemy combatants, they were not. They were apparently innocent of the charge; the U. S. government was eager to release these exonerated individuals. However, there was no place for the men to go.
They could not be repatriated to Xinjiang, where certain persecution awaited at the hands of the Chinese government. Other countries were not inclined to take them because of China's strong protests. And transfer to the U.S. was impossible because the U. S. Congress blocked this move.
for years, the Uyghur detainees stayed at Gitmo. Eventually each of
the 22 was sent to a place that welcomed him, a place that the detainee
found acceptable. Transfer of the last Uyghur detainee was completed
in December of 20013.
As the drama of the Gitmo Uyghurs progressed, periodic reports of Uyghur resistance to Chinese control surfaced. China, especially after 9/11, characterized these actions as terrorism instigated by outside agents. Jonathan Kaiman, writing in the Guardian, explained recently, "The default position of the government has always been to blame foreigners and never admit that ethnic relations in China might have serious problems".
Because China blames outside agitators for Uyghur resistance, it refuses to address the issues that have exacerbated Uyghur discontent: increasing marginalization in their own land. Han Chinese not only occupy most positions of power and enjoy markedly superior economic status, but their children are being groomed to enter the upper echelons of economic and political life in Xinjiang. Uyghur children lack access to good education and are hampered by linguistic barriers. Remi Castets states, "the poor educational access, even more than linguistic handicaps and sometimes discriminatory job recruitment" insure that future generations of Xinjiang Uyghurs will be consigned to "the lowest rungs of society".
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have cited China for its abuse of the Uyghur minority community. Increasingly, Uyghur grievances are receiving international notice--this despite the fact that China has placed an embargo on diplomatic discussions of Uyghur concerns. But the chorus grows for just treatment of the Uyghur people. With this blog I add my voice to that chorus.