Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Thorium Triggers Invasion of Norway (On Netflix)

Here at NEI, we try to keep an eye out for any television program or film that involves nuclear energy. As we've written in the past, the results can be something of a mixed bag. That's part of the reason that Pandora's Promise was such a pleasant surprise. After seeing nuclear energy viewed through a lens darkly most of the time, it was something of a shock to the system to see it described with optimism and hope.

In Occupied, Norway is all in on thorium reactors.
Enter Occupied (or Okkupert for my Norwegian relatives), a political thriller that debuted on European television last Fall and is now available here in the U.S. on Netflix. So what's the plot?

Warning, minor spoilers ahead.

Sometime in the near future, Norway is struck by a climate-related natural disaster, paving the way for the election of a Green Party government. Once in power, the new prime minister (Henrik Mestad) decides his nation needs to lead by example and stop using fossil fuels, and that means immediately shutting down all of Norway's oil and gas fields.

So what does our intrepid prime minister intend to use to replace all that oil and natural gas? Does he call for a radical expansion of renewables, insisting they could do the job alone? If you said yes, you'd be wrong. Instead, he plans to power all of those retrofitted cars and heat all of those homes with zero-carbon nuclear energy, but generated with thorium instead of uranium.

For the sake of artistic license, we'll put aside whether or not such a course is reasonable, never mind economically viable (hint, it isn't). Given that Norway is one of the leading sources of oil and natural gas production in the European Union (minor spoilers at the link), not everyone is happy with his decision.

After announcing his plan at a press conference at the nation's only thorium reactor, the prime minister is kidnapped and roughed up by a team of special forces operators. He's given an ultimatum on behalf of Norway's European neighbors: either re-start fossil fuel production and accept Russian help to make it happen or be invaded. Faced with overwhelming odds, he and his government capitulate.

In other words, Norway becomes finlandized (rim shot). I won't say much else besides the fact the Russians are understandably upset with the story line and that the drama kept me entertained all weekend. If you've got Netflix, check it out. And don't worry if your Norwegian is a bit rusty, they have subtitles and shift into English pretty frequently.

POSTSCRIPT: Now that we've provided the spoon full of sugar, here's the medicine.  As our Matt Wald reported last week, Lightbridge has designed a new type of reactor fuel that promises to increase the power output of traditional light water reactors by anywhere between 17-30%. Where will they be testing that fuel? If you said Norway, you're right. The plan is for the fuel to be tested at the Halden Reactor, a 20MW BWR located in Halden, Norway.

Norway is an important international partner in advanced reactor research. Keeping that relationship vital is just one of the reasons we'll need to renew our 123 agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Norway before it expires.

Thorium is an interesting technology that isn't going to be commercially available for some time, but as we noted above, there are a number of other interesting designs that we think ought to come online in the 2030s. Want to know more about thorium? We've always pointed folks to the website, Energy From Thorium. And for those of us who have been knocking around online talking about nuclear energy for the last decade, you can't do better than Kirk Sorensen when it comes to evangelizing the technology.

Needless to say, unlike the strife depicted in Occupied, Kirk believes that thorium, like other nuclear technologies, promises to help power a better and brighter world. And that's a refreshing change of pace, isn't it?


publius said...

It's always worth remembering that one of Admiral Rickover's last pet projects was the successful operation of the Shippingport station as a Light Water Breeder Reactor, using thorium/uranium-233 fuel, in the late 1970s & early 1980s. The core design was intended as a drop-in retrofit for pretty much any PWR, although most stations would require some modifications.

Greg White said...

Please stop using Thorium as a magical thing that creates energy, it's a fuel. The magical thing that creates energy is a Molten Salt Reactor, and the first MSR's that are likely to come to market will burn Uranium, not thorium. Therefore I believe it's a better idea to promote MSR's in lieu of a fuel option for a Gen. IV reactor.

LFTRnow said...

Why wouldn't it be economically viable to use thorium nuclear to replace gas and oil? I'm assuming the idea is to use an MSR, and that would mean that an average bit of dirt anywhere would contain the equivalent energy of 30x that volume of oil - better if you dig where you get rare earths. Since the fuel is basically free, I don't see why thorium can't replace oil and gas on an economic level. I'll also refer you to "Aim High" - video and book by Hargraves.

"For the sake of artistic license, we'll put aside whether or not such a course is reasonable, never mind economically viable (hint, it isn't). "