Nav: Home

Thorium reactors may dispose of enormous amounts of weapons-grade plutonium

January 19, 2018

Scientists from the School of Nuclear Science & Engineering of Tomsk Polytechnic University are developing a technology enabling the creation of high-temperature gas-cool low-power reactors with thorium fuel. TPU scientists propose to burn weapons-grade plutonium in these units, converting it into power and thermal energy. Thermal energy generated at thorium reactors may be used in hydrogen industrial production. The technology also makes it possible to desalinate water.

The results of the study were published in Annals of Nuclear Energy.

Thorium reactors provide for their application in areas where there are no large water bodies and rivers, the presence of which is an obligatory condition to build a classical reactor. For example, they can be used in arid areas, as well as in remote areas of Siberia and the Arctic.

Associate Professor Sergey Bedenko from the School of Nuclear Science & Engineering tells: 'As a rule, a nuclear power plant is constructed on the riverside. Water is taken from the river and used in the active zone of the reactor for cooling. In thorium reactors, helium is applied, as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) or hydrogen, instead of water. Thus, water is not required.'

The mixture of thorium and weapons-grade plutonium is the fuel for the new kind of reactors.

Sergey Bedenko continues: 'Large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium were accumulated in the Soviet era. The cost for storing this fuel is enormous, and it needs to be disposed of. In the US, it is chemically processed and burned, and in Russia, it is burned in the reactors. However, some amount of plutonium still remains, and it needs to be disposed of in radioactive waste landfills. Our technology improves this drawback since it allows burning 97% of weapons-grade plutonium. When all weapons-grade plutonium is disposed of, it will be possible to use uranium-235 or uranium-233 in thorium reactors.'

Notably, the plant is capable of operating at low capacity (from 60 MW), the core thorium reactors require a little fuel and the percentage of its burnup is higher than that at currently used reactors. The remaining 3% of processed weapons-grade plutonium will no longer present nuclear hazard. At the output, a mixture of graphite, plutonium and decay products is formed, which is difficult to apply for other purposes. These wastes can only be buried.

Sergey Bedenko summarizes: 'The main advantage of such plants will be their multi-functionality. Firstly, we efficiently dispose of one of the most dangerous radioactive fuels in thorium reactors, secondly, we generate power and heat, thirdly, with its help, it will be possible to develop industrial hydrogen production.'

The authors of the study inform that the advantage of such reactors is their higher level of security in comparison with traditional designs, enhanced efficiency (up to 40-50%), absence of phase transitions of the coolant, increased corrosion resistance of working surfaces, possibility of using different fuels and their overload in operation, and simplified management of spent nuclear fuel.

Thorium fuel can be used both in thorium reactors and widely spread VVER-1000 reactors. The scientists expect these reactors to function at least 10-20 years, and when this fuel is spent, the core reactor may either be reloaded or disposed of.

In addition, water can be desalinated at thorium reactors.
-end-


Tomsk Polytechnic University

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Paving the way for hydrogen fuel cells
The hype around hydrogen fuel cells has died down, but scientists have continued to pursue new technologies that could enable such devices to gain a firmer foothold.
Keeping the hydrogen coming
A coating of molybdenum improves the efficiency of catalysts for producing hydrogen.
Hydrogen bonds directly detected for the first time
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope.
Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen
Hydrogen is both the simplest and the most-abundant element in the universe, so studying it can teach scientists about the essence of matter.
Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality
Nearly a century after it was theorized, Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating metallic hydrogen.
More Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.