Feb 18, 2007

Saudi Arabia and Russia Ready to Cooperate on Nuclear Energy

Posted by in category: nuclear energy

From Yahoo News:

RIYADH (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, said on Wednesday that the kingdom does not see any obstacle to cooperating with Russia on developing a nuclear energy program.

“There is no obstacle to cooperate with Russia on… nuclear energy,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.

Analysts said the plan by Sunni bastion Saudi Arabia is a warning shot to Shi’ite Iran that it could enter the regional arms race and start developing nuclear capability.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday during a visit to Saudi Arabia that his country would consider helping the kingdom with a possible atomic energy program.

“On nuclear energy, there was a (Russian) contact with the kingdom and the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he said when asked if Saudi Arabia and Russia had made any agreements.

Saudi Arabia and fellow GCC members Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, said in December they would study embarking on a joint civil atomic program.

The announcement by the GCC, a loose economic and political alliance, raised concern of a regional arms race with analysts saying the Arab bloc wanted to match Iran’s nuclear program.

The question of whether GCC members can develop civil nuclear power without spinning off a nuclear weapons program is a controversial one. Most analysts see nuclear programs as a threat to world peace, because the temptation of developing weapons is so great. As we saw in the recent deal with North Korea, nuclear programs can be used to bribe other countries for free energy. This may actually increase the incentive to start nuclear programs. Russia blames the United States for kicking off a global arms race, but seems to be participating in that arms race by offering nuclear support to GCC nations. A solution that would make everyone happy would be the development of thorium nuclear reactors, which can produce electricity without making the sort of enriched uranium that can be used in a bomb. Thorium reactors are a 50 year old technology, well within the reach of these countries, given Russian assistance.


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  1. Tom McCabe says:

    “The question of whether GCC members can develop civil nuclear power without spinning off a nuclear weapons program is a controversial one.”


    Countries that have commercial nuclear power plants currently in operation without having nuclear weapons of any kind:

    - Argentina
    - Armenia
    - Belgium
    - Brazil
    - Bulgaria
    - Canada
    - Taiwan
    - Czech Republic
    - Egypt
    - Finland
    - Germany
    - Hungary
    - Indonesia
    - Japan
    - Kazakhstan
    - South Korea
    - Mexico
    - Netherlands
    - Romania
    - Slovakia
    - Slovenia
    - South Africa (used to have nuclear weapons, but later disarmed)
    - Spain
    - Sweden
    - Switzerland
    - Turkey
    - Ukraine
    - Vietnam

    Hmmm, quite a few. Three times more than the countries that actually do have nuclear weapons. And this doesn’t include all the countries with research reactors or not-yet-operational programs.

  2. Roger Hebert says:

    A clean nuclear approach: abundant energy without greenhouse gasses or proliferation concerns.

    Nuclear’s greatest secret – we can have clean inexpensive electricity without the significant downsides that have slowed the growth of nuclear power in the past. All that is required is to return to the road not taken fifty years ago.

    Worldwide the demand for energy is growing at an increasing rate. China, India and other developing countries will bring hundreds of millions of their citizens into the industrialized world over the next two decades. As they do this, they will compete with the established economies of the West and Japan for resources. Absent a breakthrough, this means the construction of hundreds of new power plants that run on fossil fuels – plants that will spew tons and tons of greenhouse gasses and worsen our already overburdened atmosphere.

    Although a considerable amount of progress has been made on renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind, these long term options won’t be enough for some time to come. In years past, the nuclear option was held in poor regard by many environmentalists, but the reality – nuclear power keeps 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the US alone – over 2 billion tons worldwide — has lead many in the movement to accept that nuclear power must have a place in the energy mix. This despite lingering concern over the threat of proliferation and the issue of what to do with radioactive waste.

    These downsides of nuclear power, however, all flow from a fundamental decision made long ago – to use uranium fuel in almost all of the nuclear reactors in the world.1 And uranium fuels by their very nature produce massive amounts of weapons usable material, including plutonium, and generate even larger amounts of highly toxic nuclear waste.

    There is a better way. The first commercial nuclear power plant in the world, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, ran on a thorium-based fuel. Thorium, a naturally occurring element two down from uranium on the periodic chart, can be used in reactors but doesn’t have the serious downsides uranium fuels do. The Shippingport plant, designed by the then chief scientist of the US Naval Reactor Program, Dr Alvin Radkowsky,(Co-founder of the publicly traded company Thorium Power) operated successfully for a number of years before it was shut down. The industry moved to uranium-based fuels, however, partly to mask military demands for weapons usable plutonium, thus creating a global shift towards uranium fuel & research.

    In 1992 Thorium Power was incorporated to develop nuclear fuel designs based on thorium to stop the production of weapons suitable plutonium and eliminate existing plutonium stockpiles. This resolve in research has lead to new technological advantages in the nuclear industry:

    Thorium has a much higher melting point than uranium and operating temperatures of Thorium Power’s fuels are significantly lower than those of conventional uranium fuel, thus significantly reducing the risk of a melt down;
    Thorium Power’s fuels significantly reduce the amount and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel (approx. 50% reduction in volume of spent fuel);
    Thorium Power’s fuels provide enhanced proliferation resistance. They are not suitable for production of weapons-usable material;
    Thorium Power’s fuels offer improved economies; and
    Thorium Power’s fuels can incinerate reactor-grade plutonium recovered from spent uranium fuel while producing electricity
    Thorium Power’s research has been conducted at premier Russian nuclear institutes, including Kurchatov Institute, OKBM, Bochvar Institute, MSZ Electrostal, Siberian Chemical Combine, VNIPIET, and others, where they have access to over 500 Russian nuclear engineers and scientists. The funding for this project has come from private investors and US government DOE grants. Most recently, in May of 2006, the company successfully completed a $15,000,000 private placement in anticipation of a October 6, 2006 reverse merger as a publicly traded company.

    In 1985 global investment in the nuclear industry came to a virtual halt. In the United States alone the Federal spending on R&D for nuclear projects dropped 89% during this time. So it should come as no surprise that with an aging global nuclear work force, Thorium Power’s extensive research, expertise, and vast intellectual properly portfolio, has lead to interest from governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations like environmental groups.

    Thorium Power’s “Seed & Blanket approach”

    Alvin Radkowsky’s Thorium based design incorporates both mechanical and nuclear physical features that past engineers failed to grasp. He worked around the drawbacks of thorium and uranium and came up with a solution specifically for today’s reactor. This is why the Company sometimes refers to their fuel as “the fuel for reality”.
    Thorium Power fuel designs are for existing and future “light-water (and pressure-water) reactors.” These reactors make up 70% of today’s market. In the future if nuclear technology migrates to the “fast-breader reactors,” Thorium Power’s technology will prove suitable and compatible. With a focus on today’s problem we will analyze how Thorium Power’s technology works and what makes it not only essential, but feasible.

    The first step is to understand how uranium works in a reactor. There are two isotopes of uranium in the core… fissile and fertile. This is the typical set up for nuclear fuel. Fissile Uranium-235 comprises 4% of the nuclear fuel and produces the power in the reactor. Fertile Uranium-238 comprises 96% of the nuclear fuel (as a moderator) and does not provide the power.

    Since Uranium-235 is fissile, meaning it is radioactive, neutrons are continually flying off it. Some of those neutrons hit other Uranium-235 atoms, splitting them (fission), and in the process release heat. This heats up the water in the reactor, making steam that spins a turbine and produces electricity. However, the neutrons do not know that they are supposed to hit the Uranium-235 atoms, so some of them hit Uranium-238 atoms. Uranium-238 absorbs the neutron, becoming Uranium-239, which decays into Plutonium-239. This is the nuclear weapons-usable isotope of plutonium.

    The fissile Uranium-235 is burned down as the process moves along.
    In essence, fissile Uranium-U-235 producing energy does not contribute to proliferation or significantly to waste. It’s the 96% fertile Uranium-238 in the fuel that creates the problem…and it doesn’t contribute to anything, except as a helper in the process.

    Thorium can be used as a fertile material to replace Uranium-238 thus eliminating the resultant weapons-usable plutonium and other highly toxic nuclear wastes. This process leaves Uranium-235 in the reactor. You can also replace U-235 with plutonium from existing stockpiles, where the plutonium acts as the fissile material powering the reactor while burning down the plutonium to dispose of it. This leads to a fuel that eliminates plutonium, stops the reactor from making more weapons-usable plutonium, and makes much less waste and significantly less toxic waste.

    That’s where Thorium-232 comes in. Thorium is fertile. The key to the reaction is that when a neutron hits thorium, it does not create weapons grade plutonium. Instead, the Thorium-232 absorbs a neutron and becomes Protactinium-233, which decays into Uranium-233. Since Uranium-233 is fissile, when it gets hit by a neutron it splits, creating more energy in the reactor. In fact, Uranium-233 is more fissile than the original Uranium-235 (which is exactly what commercial grade fuel is) in the fuel. It is because of this characteristic that thorium actually makes more fuel for the reactor. Therefore, the fuel lasts longer in the reactor, resulting in less spent fuel and waste for the same electricity produced, with little to no plutonium. Very simply, this is a much more efficient process than conventional nuclear fuels.

    The problem past nuclear engineers (and physicists) came across was that thorium and uranium burn at different rates, making it inefficient in a commercial reactor if they are configured similar to conventional fuel assemblies. In the core of the reactor some components of the fuel rods largely burn out (Uranium-235), while other parts would just keep going (Thorium-232). Fuel rods containing fissile Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 can be optimized to burn in 3 years, while thorium- 232 with some added uranium can be optimized to burn up to 9 years in the core.

    Alvin Radkowsky provided the solution. He simply placed the fissile Uranium and the thorium into separate fuel rods. Hence, the ” Seed and Blanket” configuration. The seed (or center) contain the fissile Uranium-235 (or Plutonium-239) and the blanket (the outer setup) contains the thorium. He then devised a system that would allow the seed to be exchanged about once every three years while the blanket would stay in the reactor for up to nine years. The seed will do its thing and burn itself out while the blanket, with the thorium, will get bombarded by neutrons flying off the seed and the small amount of uranium in the blanket fuel rods. In the process it produces Uranium-233 and more energy with very little waste left. Certainly no weapons-suitable Plutonium
    Thorium Power is positioned as a ” PURE PLAY ” in a nuclear renaissance. Over the next few decades we will likely see hundreds of new nuclear power plants come on-line. Thorium Power will strongly benefit from this development. The company is uniquely positioned as a key source, in global consulting on many existing and future nuclear industry solutions. Thorium Power is developing three primary nuclear fuel designs for existing and future light water reactors: (1) Thorium/uranium fuel that is being designed to be a substitute for conventional uranium fuel, (2) Thorium/reactor-grade plutonium disposing fuel that offers an economically viable alternative to MOX fuel, and (3) Thorium/weapons-grade plutonium disposing fuel that provides the more effective and less expensive way to incinerate excess weapons-grade plutonium in light water reactors than other existing reactor-based alternatives.

    Mr. Seth Grae, CEO has assembled a world class team, to leverage the insight of this group of investment professionals to generate returns across a wide range of nuclear issues in a complex industry. The International Advisory Board comprised of key national and international leaders in the fields of Nuclear Energy, Finance, Government Affairs, Non-Proliferation and Diplomacy including Sir Ronald Grierson, (Co-Chairman of the Blackstone Group’s Int. Advisory Board ) Dr. Charles W. Pryor, Jr. (USEC CEO ) Susan Eisenhower (President of the Eisenhower Group) and Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Thorium Power)

    Thorium Power Ltd. also has put together a Technical Advisory Board made up of top nuclear scientists and engineers from the world’s major nuclear companies. Thorium Power Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary is a leading developer of proliferation resistant nuclear fuel technologies. The company designs nuclear fuels, obtains patent protection on these fuels and coordinates fuel development with governments and commercial entities and consortium’s.