Alf Bjorseth, famed venture investor and Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) founder is behind the nuclear startup Thor Energy.  Thor Energy will conduct a series of tests with Swedish utility Vattenfall to study the feasibility of thorium reactors. The nations of Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden get on pretty well even though Norway managed to split a little over 100 years ago.

Norway doesn’t have commercial nuclear reactors, but it has a research reactor where the Vattenfall tests will take place.  Norway also is thought to have the third largest reserves of thorium in the world.  Maybe, but for certain they do have very good thorium oxide reserves well suited for power generation.  How large the reserve is hardly matters.

The Fen Thorium Complex Deposit. Click image for the largest view.

Bjorseth is someone to take seriously; he founded REC, the large solar manufacturer that does everything from silicon and wafers to power plants. REC pulled in approximately $1.5 billion of revenue last year. In 2005, Bjorseth retired from REC to concentrate on Scatec a clean technology incubator based in Norway that’s supporting Thor Energy.

Some early reactors burned thorium, but the industry stayed with uranium because of the large amounts of heat generated by that fission reaction that in turn makes the desirable capital-per-gigawatt calculation. There was also lots of cold war pressure to make raw weapons materials.

Thorium proponents note a lack of controversial side effects that combined with more information about thorium, could change the pubic perception.  Bjorseth says, “We believe it is not a technical challenge. The challenge is to generate the data.”

Some of the information that might persuade the Norwegians and Swedes is available in an English pdf file.

In a quick overview the summary notes Bjorseth’s aim is to build and operate 2 thorium-based power plants of +2000MWe each in Norway, starting in 2017. Some things are already underway: developing possible mining and processing of thorium from the Fen deposit near Ulefoss, Norway, working out technical feasibility, development and approval of a thorium fuel-cycle and identification of suitable reactors, the possible cooperation with utilities and large, power consuming industries for future power sales, informing the Norwegian public and political sector of the potential for substantial, inexpensive, climate neutral power plants, then preparations for application for a commercial license for building and operating a thorium power plant in Norway.

With that completed Bjorseth hopes to make reactor sales and supply fuel to other countries.  How about that for getting the goals set up?

The pdf goes on to illustrate a list of advantages to Norway for a Thorium fueled reactor effort.  He makes a good, practical and economically compelling case.  Against that the pdf succinctly addresses the uranium competition issues that give opponents the most concern:  the risks of accidents, the weapons grade material in the spent fuel, and the enormous periods needed to wait out the spent fuel’s toxicity matter – over 100,000 years.

Thorium Information. Click image for the largest view.

Bjorseth also points out that burning coal puts out much more radiotoxicity than fission reactors.  That’s an often repeated and generally ignored fact.  Lots of heavy radioactive waste is getting concentrated around the world and most of the less developed countries make no effort to catch the burned ash and keep the material out of the atmosphere.

It seems that the Indian nuclear industry has thrown in behind Bjorseth’s effort.  Putting together the nation of Norway, Sweden’s Vattenfall utility and the Indian nuclear industry for a concentrated effort looks like a major political coup.  Bjorseth just might trigger a new industry’s growth.

The pdf goes over several pages of basic information about ‘conventional’ reactor designs.  Some designs are already in the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings based on uranium fuel.  But Bjorseth leaves out the molten salt reactor design, the design known from the 1960s and 1970s to be the optimal means to use thorium fuel in the safest reactor.  It’s a design that has already gone where Bjorseth wants to go.

The pdf notes that the consumer costs would be lower than uranium fueled reactors and the risks of using fossil fuels whose price is subject to those wild swings can be avoided.

The pdf closes with observations that should motivate the Norwegians.  The nation is already deep into a fossil fuel industry declining from the North Sea fields, Norway is already highly electrified, hydropower is about as developed as practical, the thorium supply is gigantic; thorium reactors are feasible, practical and cheap.

If Norway can bring itself up to speed on thorium powered reactors, cheap power could be available in as few as ten years.  The matter is the time Norwegians spend arguing out the program, as without a political support – the idea is dead.

That could be said of lots of countries.  It’s to Norway’s credit that someone like Bjorseth is getting organized and speaking out.  Not being a big country can have advantages in advancement of technology adoption.  Lets hope Norway can lead with common sense.

As an American it seems odd to hope and root for the nationals of other countries to get something world class done.  It might be cultural.  Bjorseth is looking out for his country while in the U.S. people like Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold are hustling their own uranium design in hopes of making even more money over the obvious better fuel and technology.  Go Bjorseth, go.  Maybe your example will affect others in a world class way.

A hat tip to Al Fin for first noticing the news.


Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. NorwayToday on May 8, 2010 3:47 PM

    [...] is the original post: One Step Closer to a Thorium Fueled Power Plant | New Energy and Fuel Share [...]

  2. Ken on May 12, 2010 7:20 PM

    I don’t know how they expect to reach their specific goal, their pdf was pretty unfocused in terms of any technical proposal. It was really just a catalog of other people’s technologies. The fastest way to using Thorium would be to build AP1000’s or VER-1000’s in pairs and fuel them with Lightbridge’s Thorium/Plutonium fuel or build advanced Candu reactors and use a mix of uranium and thorium pins. The latter can be weaned off the Uranium and run a thorium fuel cycle after a start up period. The lightbridge design was initially conceived of as a Plutonium incinerator to reduce plutonium significantly faster than MOX. The company changed its name from Thorium Power to Lightbridge a year ago, suggesting that this pdf is some what dated.

    http://www.ltbridge.com/

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  6. The Atomic Age » “One Step Closer to a Thorium Fueled Power Plant” via New Energy and Fuel on March 26, 2011 4:41 PM

    [...] Continue reading at “One Step Closer to a Thorium Fueled Power Plant”. [...]

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  9. Robert Orr Jr on May 24, 2011 12:43 PM

    Hello,

    The manifold benefits and advantages of Thorium over uranium/plutonium as the future of energy we all should be seeking are becoming more known and appreciated as information expands. But this article mentions only solid Thorium fuel and says nothing about Molten Salt Reactor technology specifically the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

    Add the benefits of Thorium to hugely superior Molten Salt technology and together we will have walk-away safe, clean, abundant and cheap nuclear power that is derived from a technology that is multiple orders of magnitude superior to any other form of energy generation now in existence or likely to come into existence in the foreseeable future.

    The technology was invented and proven safe and effective at Oak Ridge in the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s before it fell victim, in part, to cold war needs for weapons grade plutonium, which Molten Salt does not produce. As we know all too well, conventional solid fuel light water and pressurized water reactors produce more plutonium and other toxic waste than we have been able to dispose of safely.

    Please take the time to learn more. What you find out will amaze you and make you wonder why we do not already have this wonderful technology at our disposal. Three web sites are-

    ThoriumEnergyAlliance.com
    EnergyFromThorium.com
    IThEO.org, the International Thorium Energy Organization.

    Thank you,
    Robert Orr Jr
    Franklin TN

  10. Laura Lough on May 26, 2011 5:23 PM

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  11. Robert Orr Jr on May 26, 2011 7:05 PM

    Hello, Laura,

    Did you visit the websites? There is a world of information about Thorium and Molten Salt technology on the web and it is my job to point everybody I can to that information. This technology is truly history changing but it will not happen by itself.

    Email me any time.

    Robert Orr Jr
    Franklin TN

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  17. Chris Olden on December 11, 2012 12:34 PM

    “The nation is already deep into a fossil fuel industry declining from the North Sea fields”?

    Just in 2012 Norway has discovered three major fields that are huge by global standards! Norway hasn’t even begun to exploit the natural resource… There is no decline for Norway yet.

    Did you know that Norway is 100% hydropowered and has been for a century?

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