The above is a recent article on a British research project that uses an electron accelerator to indirectly induce thorium fission. (As of this writing, the comments have been disabled. Something fishy!! User comments almost always have more useful information than the original article, in my humble opinion.)
First, some acronyms.
ALICE : Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments (aka ERLP)
EMMA : Electron Machine with Many Applications
ERLP : Energy Recovery Linac Prototype
LINAC: Linear Particle Accelerator
NS-FFAG : Non-scaling Fixed-Field Alternating Gradient Accelerator (a type of circular particle accelerator)
PAMELA : Proton Accelerator for Medical Applications (Search for Pamela in the FFAG wiki article.)
So, did you get all that? EMMA is a proof-of-concept device that uses ALICE aka ERLP, which is the name of the project that utilizes a LINAC or circularly arranged NS-FFAG. This whole thing is being funded by some British government entity called BASROC consortium which falls under the CONFORM umbrella. In other words, accelerator electrons (or other particles) to shoot at thorium atoms. The advantage that they claim is that their accelerators are small, room sized, not CERN sized. They claim to accelerate electrons close to the velocity of light. But that may still not have enough momentum to initiate fission. So, perhaps the electrons will be fired at some other atoms which will release neutrons, which will in turn collide with the thorium atoms to produce fission. (Neutrons cannot be accelerated using electro-magnetic fields because they are neutral in charge.)
The article claims that a dude named Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, rejected a thorium energy proposal because “there has never been research on how to reprocess thorium fuel”.
Hello, Mr. Sir John!! Thorium does not require reprocessing, you numbskull politician!, which you would have seen if you would care to check out the well established and safe LFTR (pronounced “lifter” Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) aka MSR (Molten Salt Reactor) reactor technology.
I think the whole EMMA-ALICE-PAMELA is already quite unnecessary for thorium energy, but they may be useful for other applications such as in medicine (which Pamela is primarily aimed at) because the technique can accelerate particles such as electrons, protons and carbon nuclei. (Thorium energy can be obtained cheaply and safely using MSR technology.) So, the project principals have a provisionally valid case for requesting public funds.
Please read the article, there is some good material on thorium energy.
Imagine a safe, clean nuclear reactor that used a fuel that was hugely abundant, produced only minute quantities of radioactive waste and was almost impossible to adapt to make weapons. It sounds too good to be true, but this isn’t science fiction. This is what lies in store if we harness the power of a silvery metal found in river sands, soil and granite rock the world over: thorium.
One ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, and the thorium deposits that have already been identified would meet the entire world’s energy needs for at least 10,000 years. Unlike uranium, it’s easy and cheap to refine, and it’s far less toxic. Happily, it produces energy without producing any carbon dioxide: so an economy that ran on thorium power would have virtually no carbon footprint.
Better still, a thorium reactor would be incapable of having a meltdown, and would generate only 0.6 per cent of the radioactive waste of a conventional nuclear plant. It could even be adapted to ‘burn’ existing, stockpiled uranium waste in its core, thus enormously reducing its radioactive half-life and toxicity.
Glad to hear about the ThorEA (Thorium Energy Amplifier Association), which is a coalition of researchers from several British universities. More power to thorium researchers!!
Last year, ThorEA published a report, Towards An Alternative Nuclear Future, which concluded it should be possible to build the first 600MW power plant fuelled by thorium with three attached ‘pocket-sized’ NS-FFAG accelerators within 15 years, at a cost of about £2 billion – making it highly competitive in relation to fossil-fuel or conventional nuclear alternatives.
MSRs may be much cheaper. Check out this paper entitled “Cost of Electricity from Molten Salt Reactors” by R.W. Moir of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. (Nuclear Technology 138 93-95 (2002)10/2/2001). The cost estimates were between 3.8 to 4.2 US cents per kWhr (estimate from year 2000), which is claimed to be below that of similar sized coal plants. The cost for a 1 GWe reactor plant would be in the region of US$1.6 billion (year 2000).