Thorium Reactor claims made by Andrew Yang:
  1. Thorium reactors would be more economical than traditional uranium reactors, particularly because thorium is more abundant than uranium, has more energy potential than uranium, and doesn’t have to be enriched.
  2. Thorium reactors will be safer than current reactors.
  3. Waste from thorium reactors would be easier to deal with than waste from today’s uranium reactors.
  4. Thorium would be more proliferation-resistant than current reactors—you can’t make nuclear weapons out of it.
  5. Building new nuclear reactors will likely be necessary if the United States wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2049.
 
Before Andrew Yang mentioned Thorium Reactors, the counter-argument made (to the media and to legislators) was that "Thorium Reactors have been tried already, and showed no advantage over Uranium." Indeed, Shippingport Atomic Power Station used Thorium in its 1977-1982 fuel load. However, the intent was not to prove Thorium's commercial viability as a fuel. It was simply to confirm that Thorium could be bred into Uraium-233... which it did... within difficult to reprocess solid fuel rods.
 
 
Solid-fuel Shippingport was nothing remotely similar to the liquid-fuel Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor envissioned by Oak Ridge National Lab, "ORNL-4528".
 
 
As Andrew Yang faces "fact checks" on his Thorium Reactor claims, a less outrageous but similar dismissal is taking place.

Just as Shippingport bears no resemblance to any Thorium Reactor we would pursue today, there's still room for interpretation when Yang specifies "Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor." Based upon Yang's claims of what a Thorium Reactor can do, it is clear he refers to the following: a Thermal-spectrum, dual-fluid, Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor with online chemistry.

Political candidates should not need to be so precise. In sounde bites on stage. In policy pages to be read by voters. Such details make Nuclear Power choices seem overwhelming to the general public, because there's 1,000 distinct combinations of reactor sub-categories.

For example, one choice: Fast-spectrum or thermal-spectrum? In 2015, an OECD NEA study looked at Thorium in fast-spectrum (instead of thermal-spectrum) reactors, and before the report was even released to the public testimony was given citing the report to a United States Energy Committee in which Thorium Reactors were dismissed as "not having any advantage." (As Thorium does not, in fast-spectrum reactors. The advantage is in thermal-spectrum.)
 
THE Thorium Reactor, the one people actually think about when tossing casual terms likes "Thorium Reactor" around, has remained the same since 2009. It was in 2009 when WIRED's story on Thorium (and a series of Google Tech Talks) introduced the public to "LFTR" (the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) based on the dual-fluid "ORNL-4528" design.
 
 
That's The Thorium Reactor, 2-fluid, clearly stated in 2009. (There is an error, however, concerning the drain-tank's frequency of use.)
 
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is an organization which claims to be open-minded about nuclear power, yet consistently opposes it. Their "fact-check" on Andrew Yang is the top Google result for YANG + THORIUM.

The Bulletin cites Nicholas R. Brown, who cites a DOE 2014 Nuclear Fuel Cycle Study. The study looks at a thermal-spectrum, single-fluid, Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor with online chemistry... "ORNL-4541". That's not the reactor promoted by advocates since 2009.

This distinction matters, and it matters to some of the Thorium Reactor claims Andrew Yang is making.

But whether DOE choose to evaluate single-fluid or dual-fluid Thorium Reactors, The Bulletin fails to clarify Nicholas R. Brown's following statement, which they close with:

"Thorium-uranium fuel cycles provide no inherent benefits
relative to uranium-plutonium fuel cycles,
so the new reactors need not be thorium-powered."


They were evaluating "ORNL-4541" the single-fluid design with inferior online chemistry. It leaves Protactinium in the waste stream, making their Thorium Reactor a producer of something more than just Fission Products. This putt their particular choice of Thorium Reactor high in the ballpark of... other Advanced Reactors which vastly outperform the existing fleet.
 
The dual-fluid Thorium Molten-Salt reactor (based on ORNL-4528 optimzed for actinide recycling) is not found in this evaluation. It would have appeared near the far right side of this chart.

EG26 (Evaluation Group 26) is of ORNL-4541, a Less Effecient Single-Fluid Thermal-Spectrum Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor.
 
 
Activity_HN refers to the radioactivity of "Other Heavy Metal Elements". Protactinium is not split-out in the graph, and so the presence of Pa-231 would fall under this category. ORNL-4541, the single-fluid design, was not optimized for actinide recycling.
 
 
The fuel-cycle evaluation looked at the wrong Thorium Reactor. It performs OK-ish, but... wrong reactor.

Similarly, the Bulletin-cited 2012 "Proliferation and Theft" paper did not look at online reprocessing in Molten-Salt Reactors at all...

"For the purpose of this study,
the reactor design is assumed to be that of
the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor
proposed by India."


...they looked at THOREX reprocessing of solid fuel rods, with U-233 exiting reactors and being transported to reprocessing facilities.

The Bulletin's "fact-check" is one of less efficient, and less secure technologies.
 
Again, Thorium Reactor claims made by Andrew Yang:
  1. Thorium reactors would be more economical than traditional uranium reactors, particularly because thorium is more abundant than uranium, has more energy potential than uranium, and doesn’t have to be enriched.
  2. Thorium reactors will be safer than current reactors.
  3. Waste from thorium reactors would be easier to deal with than waste from today’s uranium reactors.
  4. Thorium would be more proliferation-resistant than current reactors—you can’t make nuclear weapons out of it.
  5. Building new nuclear reactors will likely be necessary if the United States wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2049.
 
1. Cost. Andrew Yang has claimed an economic advantage for Thorium Reactors.

Yang's citing of Thorium's abundance, and energy potential without needing enrichment are not the biggest opportunities to reduce the cost of nuclear power, but they are all helpful in lowering the cost nuclear power.

Solid-fuel-rod assembly bundles are valued at over $100 Million dollars apiece. A reactor may simultaniously hold dozens of assemblies (each one containing about 200 fuel rods). However, conventional reactors will extract power from a given fuel-rod assembly bundle over 6 years period, so these seemingly large fuel expenses are amortized, and end up having a tiny impact on the per-kWh cost of nuclear.

Because Uranium fuel costs are low, The Bulletin categorizes this claim as "false." But that doesn't mean Thorium Reactors won't have cost advantages over today's reactors.

By harnessing Thorium's full "energy potential", that is, fissioning all our fuel into Fission Products (instead of today's U+Pu+FP "spent fuel"), we immediately call into question 10% of Nuclear's overall cost per-kWh.

That is not where anyone is looking to the bigest cost savings... every "Advanced Reactor" concept being pursued is looking to smaller sized components as a means of reducing cost. On-site construction is expensive and prone to complications. Factory construction (thanks to reduced size) lends itself to economies of volume production and learning curves.

While it is merely the SMR (Small Modular Reactor) aspect of Thorium Reactors which promises the biggest cost reduction, there are a number of overall economic advantages (and some disadvantages) brought to the table by an extremely effecient Thorium Reactor. That is because an advanced online chemical processing tools are required, and "Seed Fissile" is also required.

The "Seed Fissile" could be Enriched Uranium (a cost), Uranium-233 (only enough has been created for the pilot plant), or it could be Plutonium converted into U-233. Plutonium from decomissioned weapons or spent fuel rods could be a source of revenue. As a Thorium Reactor produces power, U-233 remains in the power plant, acting as a "Nuclear Catalyst" converting Thorium into energy. Once a Thorium Reactor is seeded with U-233, only Thorium fuel is required to sustain operation.

Economic advantages of an advanced-chemistry Thorium powered system:
 
 
The Bulltin ranked this economic-advantage claim as "false". But The Bulletin has also noted elsewhere Small Modular Reactors are a way of "reducing capital costs" thanks to factory construction. Because Yang instead cited the cost of Uranium (Uranium fuel bundles sell for a mere $100 Million apiece) the to-be factory constructed Thorium Reactors can't be cost effective?

Thorium Reactors will reduce the cost of nuclear power, by being factory assembled, by avoiding Uranium solid-fuel assemblies, and by not producing anything remotely resembling conventional nuclear waste.
 
2. Safety. Andrew Yang has cited safety as an advantage of Thorium Reactors.

Andrew Yang has been the first to point out how very safe conventional reactors are. However, some of that safety is based on training and a strong regulatory environment. The use of water in large Pressurized Water Reactors presents challenges that add complexity when addressed. Dr. Alvin Weinberg was fired from his directorship position of Oak Ridge National Laboratory for raising this concern when advocating for the safety benifits of Molten-Salt Reactors over Pressurized Water Reactors for the civilian fleet.
 
 
The Bulletin's dismissal of Andrew Yang's safety claims as "misleading" rest on the fact most of a Thorium Reactor's safety comes from Molten-Salt and not from the Thorium Fuel Cycle. However, there are some other Advanced Reactor concepts which have less safe characteristics when compared to The Thorium Reactor.

Andrew Yang has noted that Thorium is Fertile, Not Fissile. The Thorium Reactor only contains enough Fissile to perpetuate operation, with online chemistry being responsible for continually adding more into the reactor's core salt as needed.

The starkest contrast to this is Chernobyl, with a fuel load of 192 tonnes, 2% Low-Enriched Uranium. Solid fuel reactors can't add fuel a bit at a time, so they are overloaded and use control-rods to compenstate for this "too much fuel" state.

Fast-spectrum reactors, an Advanced Reactor concept serving as the only fuel-effecient alternative to Thorium Reactors, are all extremely overloaded with fuel, in the sense that they are unmoderated. An introduction of moderator, as unlikely as that may be, is a safety concern which adds complexity to address. Just as use of pressurized water adds complexity to conventional reactors.
 
 
Every feature of a Thorium Reactor (except for its online chemistry being particularly adept at harvesting valuable materials) can also be found picking-and-choosing from other Advanced Reactors. But only the Thorium Fuel Cycle allows both effecient use of fuel, and also the avoidance of a civilian fleet where fission is unmoderated.

Consider an extreme example of why-thermal-spectrum: All U.S. Navy nuclear submarines use Thermal-Spectrum Reactors. If they used Fast-Spectrum Reactors then much more fissile would be required. That additional fissile becomes surplus fissile if moderator is introduced. Water (and seawater) are moderators. The U.S. Navy (wisely) choose to stick with thermal-spectrum reactors.

In the future, we might see Molten-Salt Reactors (even Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors) powering the world's fleet of cargo ships, completely eliminating 2.4% of global GHG emissions. Those reactors, floating on top of an Ocean of moderator, are unlikely to be fast-spectrum.
 
Can both effecient use of fuel, and also Molten-Salt be used without the Thorium Fuel Cycle? Yes. But The Bulletin dismisses those reactors. Ed Lyman, the acting director at The Bulletin, has testified:

Liquid metal-cooled fast reactors, high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, and molten salt reactors all introduce new safety and or/security issues relative to light-water reactors that may ultimately outweigh any improvements they may provide for uranium utilization or waste management.

Of course, The Bulletin sees ineffecient conventional reactors as a threat too... there is no existing reactor, or Advanced Reactor concept, or pursuit of Fusion Power... which satisfies The Bulletin.
 
The Bulletin called Yang's safety claim "True but misleading", because the biggest safety advances are found in the choice of Molten-Salt rather than the choice of Thorium fuel cycle. However, Yang is citing a very valid safety advantage.

The Bulletin (in their dismissal) cite Uranium-Plutonium Molten-Salt Reactors as being just as safe. So either The Bulletin is willing to generate conventional-reactor levels of nuclear waste (reactor using a moderator), or The Bulletin is claiming a fast-spectrum (unmoderated) Molten-Salt Reactor's inherent safety is acceptable? Which is it?

Unmoderated Molten-Salt Reactors will one day enter the public conversation, because they allow the effecient use of Uranium in the same way a moderated reactor can do with Thorium. The only problem is... such a Uranium reactor is unmoderated. The point... the safety point, of using Thorium instead of Uranium is to avoid a civilian fleet consisting of unmoderated reactors.
 
3. Waste. Andrew Yang cites Thorium Reactor waste as an advantage over other reactors.

Because all the Thorium is converted into fissile and then fissioned, Thorium Reactors produce only Fission Products. Segregated Fission Products.
 
 
Conventional reactors trap Fission Products, Plutonium, and (mostly) unfissioned Uranium together in solid spent fuel rods.

The Bulletin ignores immense value is trapped in conventional spent fuel, which can move materials from "waste" to "revenue" if only the form-factor would allow it.

The Bulletin only focuses on radioactivity of spent fuel (not the utility of the form-factor). And when looking at only-radioactivity, the evaluation of ORNL-4541 instead of ORNL-4528 shows Protactinium as waste. That is not The Thorium Reactor with 2-fluid design, and advanced online chemical processing.

Also, note that The Bulletin opposes more effecient reactors, and recycling nuclear waste.
 
4. Proliferation. Andrew Yang claims Thorium Reactors would be more proliferation resistant than current reactors.

In theory, a warhead could be made from Uranium-233. To-date one has not. Thorium, when struck with a neutron, becomes Uranium-233. U-233 can be found inside an operating Thorium Reactor, sustaining its operation. That is secured fissile.

In practice, Plutonium-239 has been used to create nuclear weapons. Uranium-238, when struck with a neutron, can absorb the neutron (instead of fissioning) to become Plutonium-239. Pu-239 can be found in spent fuel rods, and in nuclear warheads.

In practice, Uranium-235 has been used to create nuclear weapons. Uranium, when isotopically seperated into U-235 and U-238 (with centerfuges or gaseous diffusion or any other means) then... that's it. U-235 is weapons-grade material. Uranium can be found in the Earth's crust, and in seawater.

Of the 3 options listed above, enriching Uranium to weapons grade does not require a reactor of any sort. For a proliferation concerns, this sets the bar rather low.

But, ignoring Uranium, and... Iran's (attacked by Stuxnet) enrichment operation as a how-to example...
 
 
Does a Thorium Reactor present a lower or higher proliferation risk than Plutonium created by conventional reactors?

Despite Plutonium being in every spent fuel rod from a conventional reactor, Plutonium proliferation concerns are really quite overblown by anti-nuclear organizations.
 
 
This is because spent fuel rods contain not just Pu-239 (weapons material), Pu-238 (desired by NASA) but Pu-240 as well. Pu-240 is a contaminant, making the Pu useless for weapons, and useless for NASA. The only use for spent-fuel Plutonium is to be fissioned into energy in a fast-spectrum reactor. (This fissioning could also create U-233 for the seeing of Thorium Reactors if the fast-spectrum reactor was designed appropriately.)

So does U-233 (needed to seed a Thorium Reactor) present a proliferation concern?

Once inside a Thorium Reactor, no. It is required for the reactor's operation, and coexists with extremely radioactive materials. Thermal-spectrum Thorium Reactors do not produce surplus U-233 the same way conventional reactors produce surplus Plutonium. As U-233 is created, it is also being destroyed in equal amounts by being fissioned into energy.

Also, because fuel is kept in a liquid state inside the Thorium Reactor, it is possible to use online, real-time monitoring tools to maintain an inventory of the salt's contents. This is unique to Molten-Salt Reactors when compared to any solid-fuel Advanced Reactor, or conventional reactors.
 
 
Because theft of U-233 from a Thorium Reactor would cause power production to halt, and because reactor's salt chemistry can be continually monitored, any proliferation evaluation focused on fuel recycling must take into account a lack of surplus U-233. An operating Thorium Reactor does not realistically post a proliferation threat.
 
The single shipment of Seed Fissile to the not-yet-operating Thorium Reactor, if it was only U-233, could be considered a proliferation concern. However, just as the Plutonium in spent fuel rods from conventional reactors are contaminated with Pu-240, any U-233 could be similarly contaminated with trace amounts of U-232. The needs of a reactor are far less demanding than the needs of a warheard.
 
 
In 2016, The United States began funding reseach programs specific to The Thorium Reactor. In 2019, one such funded project is an Oak Ridge National Lab review of proliferation countermeasures to be used by The Thorium Reactor. This is a review likely to take into account liquid-fuel specific technologies (such as online real-time monitoring).
 
The Bulletin declares Andrew Yang's proliferation-resistant view of Thorium as "false".

However, the fact remains that Thorium can not be enriched into weapons grade material, while Uranium can, and has been repeatedly. That is not a hypothetical concern like never-created-a-weapon-from U-233.
 
5. Required. Andrew Yang claims Nuclear Power is required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2049.

The Bulletin finds this statement to be "True". Because it is true.

Dr. James Hansen, "The Godfather of Global Warming" has noted the challenge of intermittent energy sources, and how they've been impeding Germany's attempt to decarbonize.
 
 
Dr. James Hansen, like Andrew Yang, calls for the development of Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors in this Rolling Stone interview. Andrew Yang has never said where he first heard about Thorium Reactors. Maybe it was from "The Godfather of Global Warming" himself.
 
Andrew Yang's statements regarding Thorium Reactors are true.

To make them untrue requires looking at the wrong Thorium Reactor, requires comparisons against other Advanced Reactors (while not clearly stating so, leaving the reader to assume today's conventional reactors are being compared), or requires ignoring new proliferation countermeasures only made possible by liquid-fuel and real-time online monitoring.
 
The Bulletin, by discrediting Yang's Thorium Reactor proposal and the forward-looking Molten-Salt research which would accompany it, serves to delay the following technologies:
  • Thorium (liquid fuel) Molten-Salt Reactors
  • Recycling of spent nuclear fuel / nuclear waste
  • Solid-fuel Uranium Molten-Salt Reactors
  • Liquid-fuel Uranium Molten-Salt Reactors
  • Fusion Power
  • Solar Power Towers
  • Molten-Salt (thermal) energy storage systems
  • Dispersed cancer treatment via alpha targetted therapies
When considering who to support for the Democratic Primary in 2020, please keep in mind that solving Global Warming does not depend on convincing fellow Americans that Global Warming is real. It depends on the development of energy technology which can outperform coal and natrual gas while remaining reliable. Some candidates keep claiming that renewables alone can meet our nation's energy needs.

If renewables can do so, and batteries are so cheap, and the only thing holding us back is political will... then why does Germany remain high-carbon (brown) in this 2019 timelapse of electricity related GHG emissions?
 
 
By following Germany's path, and declaring nuclear-power off the table for our future energy needs, the private sector investment into, and continued development of Advanced Reactors in The United States will cease. That is what some of Yang's competitors for the Democratic nomination are promising.

That costs the support of all pro-nuclear Americans.

One can certainly win a presidential election without them. Good to see them go? Most voters do not know Nuclear Power is already low-carbon (lower than solar). Most voters do not know nuclear's incredible track-record of safety over 60 years of civilian power production.

But the candidates looking to halt development of Advanced Nuclear, also happen to be the same candidates looking to ban less clean alternatives such as fracking.
 
A Democratic candidate following Germany's path, and seeking to ban multiple energy technologies will find Americans who are dependent on any of those energy sources for employment are going to vote for their own economic survival.
 
 
This is not just nuclear power... this is the banning of fracking, and campaigning against coal. These bans impact states with overwhelming influence on the Electoral College.

A Democratic candidate for president who's promised to ban multiple energy sources (rather than working to make them safer and less polluting) will result in the re-election of President Donald Trump in 2020.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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