Some enthusiasts prefer fueling reactors with thorium—an element 3× as abundant as uranium but even more uneconomic to use.In fact Lovins offers no evidence that thorium technology is uneconomical, but he does say
India has for decades failed to commercialize breeder reactors to exploit its thorium deposits.Of course India up until now has operated a decades long research and development program. However this has recently changed as India Defense reports
With the Rs.35-billion PFBR project progressing at good pace at Kalpakkam, 80 km from here, the Indian government has sanctioned building of four more 500 MW fast reactors.35 billion Rupees equals $700 million. Thus far from being uneconomical, India thorium fast breeder prototype will cost, not just less than the of conventional American reactors, but less than coal fired power plants and less than the cost of windmills with the same rated capacity. Furthermore, India Defense adds,
Scientists and engineers at the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research (IGCAR) are hoping to save around Rs.5 billion (Rs.500 crore or $104 million) by modifying the design of four fast breeder reactors on the anvil for nuclear power plants.The indian goal according to nuclear engineer S.C. Chetal
is to sell power at Rs.2 per unit as compared to Rs.3.20 per unit from PFBR; hence the effort to reduce the capital cost.Thus electricity from the Indian prototype will sell for a little more than six cents a kWh, while electricity from the follow up unites will cost about four cents per kWh. Electricity retailing at from four to six cents per kWh would be considered highly competitive in the United States. Thus thorium breeding reactors are neither uneconomical, nor has the Indian program to develop a commercial thorium breeder been a failure.
Lovins describes U-233 as "plutonium-like" in fact U-233 has more similarities to U-235 than Pu-239. Lovins makes highly contradictory claims about the thorium fuel cycle, stating for example that "Thorium’s proliferation . . . problems differ only in detail from uranium’s" but then going on to acknowledge "but highly radioactive U-232 makes fabricating or reprocessing U-233 fuel hard and costly," without realizing that this problem also made proliferation hard and costly. Lovins also claims that thorium fuel cycle problems including "waste, safety, and cost problems differ only in detail from uranium." As I have noted the a 1 GW LFTR produces somewhere between 1% and 0.1% of the waste produced by a Light Water Reactor. There have of course been multiple discussions of LFTR safety on Nuclear Green and on Energy from Thorium, Quite obviously Mr. Lovins has not checked into them, preferring to make sweeping statements on thorium reactor safety, without the slightest support of facts. Finally I have gone into some detail documenting reasons to believe that LFTR costs will be substantially lower than those of LWRs, and further suggesting cost saving approaches that can be used to lower LFTR cost further. Once again Amory Lovins, a three time college physics drop out, does not have the slightest idea what he is talking about when he discusses nuclear technology.
In addition to his misinformed statements on thorium, Lovins offers more snake oil about why small reactors will not work, According to Lovins
Nuclear reactors derive their claimed advantages from highly concentrated sources of heat, and hence also of radiation. But the shielding and thermal protection needed to contain that concentrated energy and exploit it (via turbine cycles) are inherently unable to scale down as well as technologies whose different principles avoid these issues.This statement is utterly preposterous. The reactors aboard nuclear submarines are much smaller than conventional power reactors. Indeed they are smaller than some of the "small reactors Lovins mentions. Yet surprisingly crews onboard nuclear submarines, living and working within a few feet of small reactors are neither exposed to excessive radiation, nor do they live with intolerable levels of heat. I am sure that if Amory Lovins wished too, Rod Adams would be able to arrange for him to visit a nuclear powered submarine, where Lovins can verify for himself that reactor shielding and heat containment can in fact be scaled down.
I have suggested on Nuclear Green that a high resources high funding LFTR development program could have the LFTR ready for serial production in as little as five years, although 8 years is probably a more realistic target. Lovins claims
By the time the new reactors could be proven, accepted by regulators and the public, financed, built, and convincingly tested, they couldn’t undercut the then prices of negawatts and micropower that are beating them by 2–20x today— and would have gained decades of further head start on their own economies of mass production.First it should be noted that the term negawatts, refers to energy efficiency. Lovins has made rather astonishing claims about potential for diminishing energy demand through greater
energy efficiency. In fact improvements in energy efficiency have been constant since the 1970's. Despite significant energy efficiency gains during the last generation , per capita energy use continues to rise. This fact does not surprise economists, who pointed out long ago that Amory Lovins has ignored an often confirmed principle of economics called Jevons' paradox, which states that as energy use grows more efficient, demand for energy rises.
Lovins treats energy efficiency as if it were a positive energy source, yet even if energy efficiency were to rise dramatically, energy from some source or sources would still be needed. Lovins holds out micro power, but his definition of micropower shifts, involves large scale burning of fossil fuels, and is far more expensive than he claims. Most people would understand small scale generation technology attached to households, factories and businesses, as micropower. In fact. Lovins would include 1000 MW wind farms built hundreds of miles from the nearest city and requiring high power grid connections costing billions of dollars in the micropower definition. Such projects are of course huge, so what micro power appears to mean is not nuclear. Such shifts in the meaning of language, are unfortunately part of Lovins' method of doing business. It is also called bait and switch.
Lovins huge micropower windfarms unfortunately prove far less than satisfactory at producing reliable electricity. if you want electricity as reliable as "collapsing" nuclear you are just going to have to pay nuclear prices. In fact, some factory produced small nuclear power plants have the potential of producing power at a lower cost than the cost of power from conventional reactors, from renewable "micropower" sources, and from old fashion coal and natural gas. But Mr. Lovins is not going to tell you that. Amory Lovins business is selling snake oil, and the business method of snake oil salesmen is always the same. Speak with a forked tongue.