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The week ahead: Towards thorium, business expansion, and Terminator scenarios

In June 2013 The Engineer took a detailed look at the case for thorium reactors, where greater safety margins, better safeguards against proliferation of nuclear weapons, and shorter-lived waste products were identified as advantageous.

As the author quickly pointed out, ‘to get the best out of it [thorium] would require a type of nuclear reactor which has never been built, and whose development was halted four decades ago.’


One partial solution – a Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) – was developed under the supervision of Dr Alvin Weinberg, a physicist and director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Tennessee.

The MSR ran at ORNL between 1965 and 1969 and a meeting taking place today will discuss the case for MSRs as a viable new technology in the development of Britain’s nuclear industry. 

Hosted by Atkins, the lecture - taking place at The Centre at Birchwood Park, Warrington – will see Paul Littler, technical director within Atkins’ nuclear business, and Barry Snelson MBE, UK nuclear industry specialist, deliver keynote addresses.

In a related aside, the appropriately-named Alvin Weinberg Foundation launched last month as the UK’s first charity dedicated to next-generation nuclear power.

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, industry plans to install 16GW of new build capacity, rising up to 75GW by 2050. Already engaged with policy makers, the new, London-based charity is active in raising awareness of the potential of new nuclear technologies, as this report from 2013 demonstrates. 

A new event aimed at preparing Essex manufacturers for expansion is taking place this Wednesday (21st May) at Ford Motor Company’s Basildon factory.

The Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) tell us they are looking to tackle the so-called three pillars of growth during the free half-day workshop, where experts will address ‘tackling your constraints’, ‘managing your finances’ and the benefits of ‘effective e-marketing and social media’.

Companies will also be able to get an update on the support available from MAS, including funding towards developing strategy, improving processes, bringing new products to market and entering new supply chains.

According to MAS’ Barometer survey, over three-quarters of manufacturers in the East of England are predicting growth but poor planning could leave them overstretched or having cash-flow difficulties, issues that the event has been designed to address.

MAS add that each of the three pillars for discussion will feature a question and answer session and case studies of local businesses that have successfully managed growth over the last two years. Anyone interested in attending the free event should register here

This Thursday (May 22) sees Made in the Midlands host its 2014 Manufacturing Summit at Wolverhampton Racecourse between 0900-1500.

Supported by Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin, the event marks the fifth annual gathering of managing directors and CEO’s of Midlands manufacturing and engineering firms.

With over 1,000 manufacturers registered to attend, and 110 Made in the Midlands firms exhibiting, the organisers claim the event is ‘an ideal opportunity to come see the cream of Midlands industry, meet like minded MD’s and CEO’s in the sector and see what is available across the breadth of the supply chain, from automotive to aerospace, from defence to medical - from raw material through to OEM - including a buyers forum with Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin.’

Finally, are you filled with a sense of dystopian dread whenever someone raises the possibility of robots fighting each other in battle? This is one of the scenarios up for discussion on Wednesday and Thursday this week at Military Robotics 2014, an event in London that will explore the increasing demand for robotic systems in militaries around the world.

The organisers say the conference will draw upon case studies of current systems utilised in military operations, new technology being used, the operational challenges that are faced and how to overcome them.

It will also ‘go above and beyond in mapping the developments of unmanned and autonomous ground and marine vehicles, as well as identify key capability requirements to be presented by military experts and leading service providers/ vendors.’







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Readers' comments (2)

  • There is an advantage in just producing less nuclear waste, and Thorium MSRs do more completely burn their nuclear fuel and produce less waste. What is not always mentioned however is that the waste produced by Thorium MSRs is actually much more radioactive per kilogram of waste produced than the waste produced by conventional LWRs for the first 20 years and requires both better shielding and cooling to handle.
    U-233, the fissile component of Thorium reactors is an excellent nuclear explosive if the U-232 contamination is kept at 50 ppm or less. It is cheaper and easier for nuclear emerging states to use Thorium MSRs to produce a small arsenal of weapons than it is to use either Pu-239 or U-235. Any Thorium MSR can be made to produce weapons usable U-233 by adding Protactinium separation capability back into the Thorium MSR through a low cost field modification costing only tens of thousands of pounds.

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  • You say: "It is cheaper and easier for nuclear emerging states to use Thorium MSRs to produce a small arsenal of weapons than it is to use either Pu-239 or U-235."

    There are perhaps 20 countries that have been, or are, nuclear emerging states.

    None of them have chosen the Thorium cycle. Because it's more expensive and harder.

    A country with mastery over the Thorium cycle could buold a U-233 bomb. But the same situation exists now: Japan and S Korea could build a nuclear bomb in a short time frame, if they want to do so.

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