A Thorium Review: Superfuel by Richard Martin
John Preedy reviews Richard Martin’s recently published “Superfuel” — a book on thorium as an alternative energy source — and finds the writing somewhat over-technical.
John Preedy who lives in France, where thorium enjoys a certain level of ongoing research support, blogs at Living in the Lot.
Richard Martin, like many in the Thorium renaissance, is a believer in global warming and sees nuclear power as a way of supplying the world’s base load requirements for energy without adding to global climate change. Furthermore he is clear that the existing first generation of nuclear plants is unsafe and needs to be replaced by inherently safe designs. He was one of the first journalists to promote thorium in his article in Wired magazine in late 2009.
When you write a book you should always be clear who you are writing it for. In my view “Superfuel” is not written for the general public. They would probably find it difficult to follow the vocabulary and the concepts of the nuclear industry, which he doesn’t hesitate to use with little explanation. Furthermore Martin is a journalist, who uses many words where pictures would be easier to understand, but in “Superfuel” he has included only four diagrams and trying to explain the “Travelling Wave Reactor” in Chapter 8 without a diagram is bound to fail.
So if he’s not writing to persuade the non-technical public to support the use of thorium and liquid fluoride reactor technologies, does he succeed in developing his argument for the nuclear cognoscenti or even an amateur like me with an engineering background?
Well, yes and no. His account is superficial and lacking in solid technical detail about his main proposition, thorium fuelled liquid fluoride reactors (LFTR’s). Aspects of the design that I questioned and needed to understand are not covered, like the treatment of the waste stream and the toxicity of fluorides. There isn’t even a photograph of the Oak Ridge Molten Salt Reactor Experiment to give substance to his frequent assertions about its pioneering advantages.
***See John Preedy’s analysis on Thorium potential here***
“Superfuel” also has numerous errors. For example on page 195 he states “After the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, there was a brief run on supplies of iodine-131. An isotope of iodine produced in specialised reactors, iodine-131 is used to prevent thyroid cancer from radiation exposure.” In fact it’s potassium iodide which is used to saturate the thyroid gland with iodine and lower the risk of uptake of radioactive iodine-131.
Other examples include stating that Toshiba “is Korean-owned” when it is in fact Japanese. That, “xenon poisoning” was discovered at the X-10 reactor at Oak Ridge when it was actually first discovered at the Hanford “B” reactor in 1944 and its strongly neutron absorbing properties were easily overcome by adding more fuel rods.
It’s what you would expect from an educated journalist and not a scientist or engineer, so a member of the existing nuclear industry (who Richard Martin labels “the nuclearati”), unfamiliar with liquid fuelled reactors, would never be persuaded.
Review by: John Preedy
Living in the Lot
- John Ward – Exclusive: Greece, Cyprus, Thorium, Israel,Syria… And A Final US Reckoning With Iran – 6 August 2012 (lucas2012infos.wordpress.com)
- Thorium power, how is it going in the US? (bitcointalk.org)
- Westinghouse enters U.S.-China nuclear collaboration (smartplanet.com)
- Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactor Research in Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (nextbigfuture.com)
- Kirk Sorensen: A Detailed Exploration Of Thorium’s Potential As An Energy Source (zerohedge.com)
- China and the USA partner molten salt thorium reactor and India plans a Thorium Reactor (nextbigfuture.com)
- A High Cost if France Abandons Nuclear
- Thorium, a Safer Nuclear Alternative?
- Science Friday has pro and con on Thorium as Nuclear fuel (dakotatoday.typepad.com)