Hammer of Thor: A Safer Nuclear Energy Technology
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Written by John Shimkus
The hammer-wielding comic book superhero and Norse God “Thor” may have had a hit movie at the box office this summer, but a real-life superhero bearing the same name also holds the promise of saving the world. The nuclear reactor meltdowns resulting from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March overshadowed a revolutionary technological advancement announced in China just a few weeks prior. China plans to pursue thorium—named after the Norse God—as an alternative element to uranium to fuel future nuclear reactors.
CHINA PURSUES THORIUM NUCLEAR REACTOR TECHNOLOGY
Thorium is a silvery metal that is abundant here on Earth. In fact, while the Earth’s crust holds only about another 80 years worth of uranium, thorium is as common as lead. America actually holds great wealth in thorium, as it has been discovered and often reburied as a byproduct of rare earth metals mining. It is estimated that there is enough accessible thorium in the Earth’s crust to power humanity for thousands of years. Not to mention, thorium reactors cost about half of what a standard uranium reactor does.
China’s Academy of Sciences is actively pursuing a thorium-based molten salt reactor system that will create thousands of times less hazardous waste than a uranium reactor. The waste has a far shorter lifespan of only about 300 years compared to uranium waste lasting thousands. The system is also far less prone to disasters as witnessed in Japan’s Fukushima reactor meltdown.
“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” says thorium expert and former NASA engineer Kirk Sorensen. “If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself. They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”
Thorium is activated by being bombarded with neutrons, which enables the nuclear fission process. But as Sorensen explains, unlike uranium, “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it to continue of its own accord.”
China’s pursuit of thorium nuclear technology may well help the country meet its exponentially increasing energy demand. With large reserves of thorium deposits located in the United States, the tables could turn, and it may be the Chinese looking to the U.S. for aid in the future.
W3 Energy signs technical operations contract with Luxcara
The wind farm, located outside of Piteå in northern Sweden, plans to have 137 wind turbines on full installation, with an expected capacity of more than 750 MW.
W3 Energy will be responsible for onsite technical operations management and local accounting services as well as operation and maintenance of the electrical infrastructure and transformer stations.
"This contract strengthens our position as a key player in onsite technical operations management. The Önusberget wind farm is the largest single-site wind power project in Europe and we are proud that Luxcara gives us the trust to support with the operational management of their investment", says W3 Energy's COO André Sjöström.
"The contract with Luxcara is extremely important to us and means that we take a firm grip on our home region. This contract allows us to continue to grow and we plan to continue to recruit in Piteå, Umeå, and Skellefteå."
The new contract with Luxcara means that W3 Energy manages approximately 15% of the renewable energy produced in Sweden and lays the foundation for continuing to build growth in other regions.
"Luxcara is an internationally respected asset manager in renewable energy, with high-quality investment criteria and a strong focus on diversity and sustainability. We share their view on sustainability, with a strong focus on environmental as well as social and ethical aspects", stated W3 Energy's CEO Pär Dunder.
Its past engagement with W3 combined with their track record from other large projects and their local experience were decisive factors for choosing W3 Energy, according to Philip Sander, Managing Director of Luxcara.
Global Wind Day will be held tomorrow (June 15), to promote wind's potential to reshape our energy systems, decarbonise economies and boost jobs and economic growth.
Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new power generation in most of Europe, and offshore wind is not far behind with costs having fallen over 60% in three years, according to WindEurope.
Adrian Timbus, ETIPWind Chairman, said: “Wind energy can help electrify 75% of Europe’s energy demand and thereby deliver climate neutrality by 2050. But we must prioritise the development of the necessary technologies: next generation onshore and offshore turbines, electrification solutions for transport and for industry, and electrolysers for renewable hydrogen.”
Poland leads Europe's wind growth
Poland saw Europe's biggest increase in wind turbine energy production between 2000 and 2018, according to a Save on Energy study, and produced the fourteenth highest percentage of electricity by wind power overall in 2018.
Czechia has seen second highest percentage increase in electricity production generated by wind power. Despite having the second lowest proportion of electricity generated by wind power in 2018, the country previously produced the lowest percentage overall in 2000, so it has still seen a significant increase in wind turbine energy production over the years.
France has the third largest increase in wind turbine energy production throughout the period studied, with electricity production generated by wind power increasing from 0.009% in 2000, to 4.9% in 2018, while neighbouring Belgium experienced the fourth highest increase in wind energy production, with almost 10% of electricity produced being generated by wind power in 2018, compared to 0.02% in 2000.
Although Ukraine boasted the lowest percentage of electricity produced by wind turbines in 2018 (0.7%), the country had the fifth largest percentage increase since 2000, since only 0.003% of electricity production was generated by wind turbines.
By comparison, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain each ranked as having the lowest percentage increases when it came to the percentage of electricity production generated by wind turbines between 2000 and 2018, and they lag considerably behind other European nations.
The EU wants wind to account for 50% of the continent's electricity by 2050. The Romanian Wind Energy Association recently launched a Code of Good Practice for renewable energy.
Top 10 countries in Europe for wind growth