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To use it in a nuclear reactor, thorium must absorb neutrons, a process that eventually converts it to an artificial isotope of uranium, uranium-233. U-233 is fissile, and when it absorbs a neutron it generally fissions, releasing two or three neutrons plus a million times more heat (energy) than burning an e uivalent mass of fossil fuel. !t ta"es two neutrons to release energy from thorium and U-233 can supply them, which means it is theoretically possible to sustain energy release from thorium indefinitely. This is the basis of a thorium reactor.
s.The Thorium #nergy $ycle. but a basic uestion had to be answered6 78ill it wor"9: . and processing over solid fuel. control. came up with a promising way to use thorium for ma"ing large amounts of energy cleanly and safely.s to the mid-+./. !t was based on a revolutionary "ind of nuclear reactor that uses li uid rather than solid fuel.-. 5i uid fuel has significant theoretical advantages in operation. (op)tomic %tudios *rom the early +. by %u&anne 'obbs. an active 012 program at 3a" 0idge 4ational 5aboratory in Tenn.
Two used water-based li uids.To that end. 3a" 0idge engineers built four li uid-fueled reactors. . which made fuel reprocessing as complicated for the water-based rectors as it is for solid-fueled versions. and two were based on li uid fluoride salts. but not those containing thorium. They could also dissolve uranium compounds. The waterbased reactors had to operate at high pressures to generate the temperatures needed for economical power generation.
a design he had patented. the reactor vessel contains two types of li uid-fluoride salts. so after cancellation. was fired by the U. Technical overlap between the two programs was almost none<istent. however. the fuel salt. )lvin 8einberg. 8ith 8einberg>s departure.%. holds the fissile fuel (U-233) that .s. They could also dissolve both uranium and thorium in their fluoride-salt mi<tures. They could operate at high temperature without pressuri&ation. and the mi<tures were impervious to radiation damage due to their ionic bonds. research into li uidthorium reactors faded away. Therefore. pronounced 7lifter:). 0ecent efforts to resurrect the thorium-fluoride reactor technology has focused on a new variant of the concept called the 5i uid-*luoride Thorium 0eactor (5*T0.i<tures The fluoride reactors had neither of these drawbac"s.5i uid and %olid *luoride %alt . !n the late +. which were based on converting conventional uranium to plutonium. 3a" 0idge engineers opted to concentrate on the technically superior li uid-fluoride-salt approach in future 012. !n a 5*T0.=. the director of 3a" 0idge 4ational 5ab. the )#$ s uashed research in li uid-fluoride reactors in favor of li uid-sodiummetal-cooled fast breeder reactors. 3ne. )tomic #nergy $ommission for his advocacy for this type of reactor and his efforts to enhance the safety of conventional light-water reactors.
The other. The blan"et salt also shields the reactor vessel from neutron damage and gamma-ray irradiation. 8aste heat can be re?ected to either air or water. then to the wor"ing fluid of a closed-cycle gas-turbine engine to generate electricity. where it fissions. releasing neutrons and heat. for e<ample. desalinate seawater. it is physically transferred to the fuel salt. has enough thorium to absorb about half of the neutrons from fission and produce more U-233. . )s thorium in the blan"et converts to U-233. 8aste heat could also be used to. letting it profitably produce potable water. 'eat moves to a coolant salt outside the core. depending on the availability of cooling water. the blan"et salt.sustains the nuclear reaction.