Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Congressman Joe Sestak Amendment calls for thorium-liquid fueled naval reactors

Thorium Study for Energy Efficiency
(Senate candidate and) Congressman (Joe) Sestak submitted language directing a study on the use of thorium-liquid fueled nuclear reactors for naval power, an important assessment of an energy source that has shown great potential to be more efficient for our military. As a result, the House Armed Services Committee included funding in the bill for research and development of a nuclear-powered destroyer reactor utilizing thorium energy.

While our nuclear Navy has thrived with a continuing record of zero reactor accidents, thorium may be more efficient than uranium as a fuel source. Massive fuel rods would not have to be utilized, and it produces only 1/2000th the waste of uranium. In domestic applications, waste can even be stored on-site, eliminating the necessity of facilities such as Yucca Mountain. Large deposits of thorium can be mined domestically in States such as Idaho, and we already have 160,000 tons in reserve.

Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, any new major combatant vessels for the U.S. strike force is required to be constructed with an integrated nuclear power system unless the Secretary of Defense submits a notification to Congress that the inclusion of an integrated nuclear power system in a given class of ship is not in the national interest. While the Congressman is not yet convinced that nuclear power for Naval ships is always cost-beneficial in the long term, if there are nuclear-powered vessels that continue to be built under Congressional mandate, then all options for the fuel source are worthy of consideration.
Hat tip to Kirk Sorensen.


SteveK9 said...

This might actually be the best route to see some work done. Oh, and I hope the culture warriors will note that Sestak is a Democrat, and considered a 'liberal' one at that.

arcs_n_sparks said...


I know you are quoting Sestak, but I do not believe "massive fuel rods" are used in Naval reactors. In fact, given the HEU nature of the fuel, the cores are quite compact.

DocForesight said...

It has made sense to me - actually the idea was advanced by Greg Pollowitz at www.nationalreview.com some time last year - to have the military take a lead in utilizing SMR's for independent grid application on military bases.

Mr. Sestak, being a Navy admiral, would give him insight and lend impetus to alternatives to LWR technology. Common sense can cross party lines - NB: Sen. Alexander.

Bill Young said...


I am almost as big a fan of salt reactors as you are but I see a challenge with using one on a navy vessel.

If a salt reactor is permitted to freeze up, it will take a fair amount of time and external energy supply to reliquify it. This is not a significant problem with a land based reactor but I see it as a big problem on a single reactor submarine.

I believe that many of the operational difficulties that the US navy had with the Seawolf (early sodium cooled nuclear sub-not the current one) and the Soviets had with their liquid metal cooled reactors were with restarts and those reactors had much lower melting point coolants than a salt reactor.


beowulf said...

Docforesight, good point. For decades, the Army Corps of Engineers has operated dozens of hydro power plants at Corps-managed reservoirs to provide grid power. For the Navy to similarly provide grid power from Navy-operated reactors makes entirely too much sense.

The US Government currently provide loan guarantees and umbrella liability coverage for private utilities to build nuclear plants; classic lemon socialism... lemonade goes to investors, lemons go to taxpayers. It would be much more cost-effective for the Navy to finance, construct and operate nuclear plants on existing military bases (and as with the Corps of Engineers, Navy officers could supervise a mostly civilian workforce).

Charles Barton said...

beowulf, There is nothing particularly socialistic about loan guarantees, which actually makes money for the government, Nor can Price-Anderson be classified as socialistic. It is simply an insurance pool, involving reactor owners. The principle beneficiaries of this arrangement, are rape payers, who are protected from huge electrical rate increases, forced by debt tied to nuclear accidents, and the government which would be forced to chip in on reactor accident recovery costs if the reactor owner went bankrupt paying off damage claims.

These government excursions into insurance are necessitated by market limitations, and they are not the only government intervention into the insurance market. I have yet to hear anyone make an issue of The National Flood Insurance Program, a program that is far more socialistic than the government insurance programs for the nuclear industry.


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