Kudankulam: One Incident, Many Facets – Analysis


By Cherian Samuel and Munish Sharma*

A malware infection in the IT network of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) located in Tamil Nadu was first reported in social media on October 28.1 The coincidental shutdown of one of the plants in the preceding week led to speculations that the two were connected. An initial official response from the plant authorities refuted these reports.2Subsequently, officials from other agencies including office of the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) confirmed these reports, and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) – the parent body responsible for running the nuclear power plants in the country – came out with an official press release giving some details of the incident. In its October 30 press release, the NPCIL clarified that the infected personal computer was in use for administrative purposes only, and the control systems of the plant and critical functions were unaffected by the breach.3These details were later confirmed by the Union Minister of State for the Department of Atomic Energy in the Parliament on November 20.4

The breach of a critical information infrastructure, particularly in the nuclear domain, cannot be taken lightly. It also affords an opportunity to review existing security practices and address the lacunae, where found. Now that much of the dust has settled down, this issue brief seeks to examine the incident and address the larger questions it raises about the security of critical information infrastructure.

Security of the Control Systems: A Backgrounder

Nuclear power is considered to be pivotal to the energy security of developed and developing countries alike. At present, around 10 per cent of the global electricity need is met by 450 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries, with a total installed capacity of around 394 GWe.5 Given the vulnerability of nuclear installations to accidental, adversarial, and environmental events – Chernobyl in 1986, Stuxnet in 2010, and Fukushima disaster in 2011 – they have been subject to tight safety regulations. Nuclear programmes and research facilities themselves are of great strategic vlue, and they are closely guarded – physically as well as otherwise.

Not surprisingly, they are often found to be a prime target of espionage operations. Cyberspace has just added a whole new dimension to the debates on nuclear safety and security. Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), for business needs and safety and control systems respectively, has become a new front for clandestine operations and has opened vast opportunities for both espionage and sabotage. In the OT space, Industrial Control Systems (ICS)6 remain the prime target as they control the core functions and physical processes in industrial plants. Their unavailability, incapacitation, degradation or destruction could have physical consequences. In the case of nuclear installations, at the extreme, it could be the release of radioactive material in the environment.

In a nuclear power plant, ICS perform a host of monitoring, supervision and control functions, such as reactor protection systems, safety features actuation systems (emergency core cooling), safe shutdown systems, emergency power supply and diesel generator control systems, reactor control systems and access control systems. Digital ICS were inducted for enhanced reliability, improved performance and efficiency, regulatory compliance, and safety requisites. ICS could also be termed as the nervous system of a nuclear power plant as they are not just the interface with physical parameters of the plant operations (monitoring the vital parameters such as neutron flux, temperature, pressure and flow), but they also monitor abnormalities through plant health diagnostic systems and adjust the physical processes through control and safety systems.7 Sensors and actuators are placed in every nook and corner of a nuclear power plant to ensure that temperatures, pressures and flow rates, etc. remain well within the design limits. To prevent untoward incidents, of the likes of core meltdown, reactor protection systems monitor operational variables and initiate a shut down if pre-defined thresholds are passed.

ICS are, therefore, responsible for critical safety functions such as quick boron injection, containment spray, and high pressure safety injection. In a nuclear power plant, systems and networks associated with safety, security, emergency preparedness, and their support systems are termed as Critical Systems. They are designed to withstand seismic and environmental events and built with heightened defences against cyber-attacks so that they can safely shut down the reactor and prevent any radioactive release in the environment. 

These are the same control systems which the October 29 KKNPP press release stated to be “not connected to outside cyber network and Internet”8, or in other terms, air gapped. That notwithstanding, ICS are increasingly being connected to the corporate business systems, built with remote access capabilities, and are being designed using industry standard computers, operating systems and network protocols. To prevent any inadvertent exposure of the ICS, they are isolated from the corporate or the IT network of the facility. Though air gaps can provide some basic level of protection to the critical systems from untargeted cyber threats, they are inadequate in the face of threats arising from determined and well-resourced adversaries to the nuclear industry. ICS remain vulnerable to risks such as unauthorised changes to instructions, commands, or alarm thresholds, inaccurate information sent to system operators, initiation of inappropriate actions, modifications to software or configuration settings, and interference with the operation of equipment protection systems or of safety systems,9 especially since many of the software systems used for plant operations are sourced from different companies.

Therefore, stringent controls and security practices are put in place to reduce the risks to ICS and the control network of nuclear power plants from cyber-attacks. Beyond air gapping, these practices vary from the basics such as restricting use of media, personal computers, laptops, etc. to heightening defences using data flow restriction, deep package inspection, deployment of firewalls (packet filtering, stateful inspection, and application-proxy gateway) and intrusion detection systems (network-based and host-based), authentication and authorisation controls, implementing intermediate demilitarised zone (DMZ) network, and consistent monitoring, logging, and auditing.

Nuclear facilities have been a prime target of both espionage and sabotage operations in the past. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) enlists around 23 cyber incidents at nuclear facilities over the last three decades — owing to a multitude of threat actors and vectors such as software error, espionage, data theft, employee attempted sabotage, network intrusion, spear-phishing, and so forth.10 Stuxnet remains one of the most discussed and referenced cyber incidents, where PLCs were commandeered to sabotage the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant. The cyber incident at KKNPP is going to be a new addition to this list, and it is worthwhile to look at the various motivational factors behind this incident.

One Incident: Many Inferences

The October 29 press release made it quite clear that the control systems at KKNPP are air gapped and the cyber-attack is not possible. However, air gapping alone cannot fully warrant security from cyber-attacks. Heightened defences make it hard for the adversary to access gapped systems, but certainly not an impossible task. Stuxnet remains a prime example of how air gapped systems could be breached. A politically motivated adversary or a well-funded state proxy can have the requisite resources, technical know-how and wherewithal to target IT and control networks. Such attacks need meticulous planning and precise information about the instruments deployed at the facility, its design and process flow documentation. Since business sensitive and classified information traverses over IT networks, and are stored and processed over IT systems, they are an obvious and a soft target to gather sensitive information. It could further be used in perpetrating malicious and hostile acts which could disable, destroy or compromise the computer resource critical to the security or safety of the facility.11

The October 30 NPCIL press release conceded that a personal computer connected to the IT network at KKNPP was found infected with the malware.12 However, the press release explicitly clarified that the plant systems were not affected, and the infected computer was meant for administrative purpose only. Since the infected machine was a personal computer deployed for administrative functions, it could have either carried personal information of the employees, their addresses, email communications, browsing history or information related to procurement, tenders, finance and other aspect of day-to-day administration of the plant. This information might seem irrelevant at the face value, but it could very well be used for precise phishing attacks on the employees, contractors or vendors possibly for a much more serious intrusion. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is currently investigating the malware incursion along with specialists from the Department of Atomic Energy and other agencies.

There is no denying that the infected computer could possibly have been used to gather information (classified or otherwise) or to harvest login credentials of the users or the administrator to perpetrate an attack. CERT-In had notified the authorities in early September,13 but it is quite likely that the malware was residing on the network before it was detected. The possibility of a much more widespread infection cannot be ruled out either since cleaning operations are still underway. Malware for espionage operations are designed to spread through the network and can still remain undetected. The identified computer might have been the one interfacing the external command and control server, or in other words, could be just the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of the malware infection is hard to assess and it would never be disclosed. However, the incident has given rise to many speculations.

Security researchers analysing the available evidence were of the opinion that the Lazarus group of hackers were behind this malware, that it was custom made to gain access to the IT network of KKNPP, and that those controlling the malware probably had access to the entire IT network.14 Lazarus is a North Korea-based hacker group, held responsible for the 2013 cyber-attacks in South Korea and WannaCry ransomware attacks in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2017. The Seoul-based group of malware analysts, Issue Makers Lab, which has vast expertise in analysing malware of North Korean origin, also produced evidence supporting this argument.15

Prima facie, this seems to have been an espionage operation which means that the attackers were either looking for information specific to KKNPP or about the nuclear programme. Again, information related to the Indian nuclear programme has two aspects – the weapons programme and the three-stage nuclear energy programme. Since the reactors at KKNPP are placed under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards,16 the fuel (1.6-4.1 per cent enriched uranium) and spent fuel is accounted for at each and every step even though India can reprocess the spent fuel and retain the plutonium, but strictly for civil use.17 Moreover, Russia is supplying the fuel for KKNPP. These facts make KKNPP an inappropriate target to seek information either on India’s uranium enrichment programme, or details on the nuclear weapons programme.

The fact that KKNPP houses two units of Russian made VVER-1000 (AES-92) pressurised water reactors (PWRs) also weakens the argument that the attackers were looking for information related to India’s indigenous three-stage nuclear power programme which is based on a thorium fuel cycle. The three-stage programme utilises pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) in Stage I, fast breeder reactors in Stage II, and thorium based breeder reactors in Stage III.18 NPCIL operates two boiling water reactors, 18 PHWRs and two PWRs which are installed at KKNPP. The PWR technology is neither developed indigenously by India nor does it have any pertinent role in India’s three-stage nuclear power programme. India’s competency lies in PHWR technology. Therefore, KKNPP in itself holds little value as a target of espionage seeking information regarding India’s nuclear programme, either civil or weapons. That could also mean that the whole operation ran much deeper or wider; KKNPP being just one of the points where it was detected.

Beyond the circumstantial evidence, as produced by the Issue Makers Lab, the sole motive for North Korea to perpetrate this incident rests on the fact that it has been working on its light water reactor19 for a long time now and is desperately looking for the associated technology. North Korea was assured of the Soviet assistance with light water reactor technology when it joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1985.20 It desired to withdraw from the Treaty to pursue military nuclear ambitions, but an Agreed Framework in 1994, which even promised America-led assistance for the replacement of its graphite-moderated reactors with light water reactor power plants of approximately 2000 MW throughput, was designed to put pressure on it to desist from pulling out of the Treaty.21 However, this never fructified and North Korea finally withdrew from the NPT in 2003.

North Korea has since followed an aggressive nuclear weapons programme. In 2010, it even announced its intention to build an indigenous light water reactor. An experimental light water reactor at the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Centre is part of this endeavour. The attack could possibly be a North Korean attempt to gather as much as information available on LWR technology. India is one of the few countries with whom North Korea enjoys good diplomatic relations. India is also the second largest trade partner of North Korea after China. Hacking a nuclear power plant network – either IT or OT – would have serious ramifications, even risking diplomatic and trade ties. These considerations reduce the likelihood of this incident being a state-authorised attack.

Another facet of this attack points to the possibility that KKNPP was merely a means to an end. Russia has supplied the same VVER-1000 reactors to another five countries including China and Iran. The model V-466 is installed at Bushehr facility in Iran.22 The Iranian nuclear programme remains a prime target of espionage and sabotage operations. The possibility that KKNPP was used to gather information on the VVER-1000 reactor which could be used for a sabotage operation at an Iranian facility cannot be ruled out outright. It also leads to another possibility of the Lazarus group acting at the behest of another state to either pass on harvested information or simply to ring an alarm among the populace about insecure nuclear power plants, most sensitive amongst the critical infrastructure. Else, the attackers were just imitating the modus operandi of the Lazarus group to direct the needle of suspicion at them, something that has happened earlier.

Post-Incident Response

The fear of accidents and radiation creates a lot of apprehension among the wider populace in the case of nuclear power plants. Thus, the official response must be prompt and factual. In the current incident, there was quite a bit of unnecessary confusion and obfuscation in the initial response which led to much social media frenzy. Media reports were often contradictory, with attribution to various unnamed government officials in the absence of a single point of contact for information. As a case in point, at last count, newspaper reports have credited no less than three different government agencies with discovery of the intrusion, along with sundry other private companies, and even friendly foreign governments.23 By way of comparison, the entire public communication in the case of WannaCry Ransomware incident in the UK was handled by a single entity – the National Cyber Security Centre. Therefore, in the face of cyber-attacks with nationwide significance, designating a lead investigating agency is not just reassuring but also helps in reducing the scope for misinterpretation and disinformation.

Questions have also been raised as to why such attacks on critical infrastructure cannot be deterred or prevented by government agencies. Prevention was successful to the extent that attackers were only able to access the administrative network, as per the official notifications. According to Kaspersky, the most effective measures against the DTrack malware that was used to infiltrate the Kudankulam network includes strong network security and password policies, and constant monitoring of the network for any abnormal activities.24 However, that may not be enough to deter a determined adversary. A more proactive approach would require measures such as monitoring the dark web as well as taking cognisance of the new threat vectors, such as vulnerabilities in third-party vendors since most functions are increasingly being outsourced. Most of the recent high-profile attacks have been through third-party vendors, which range from cloud providers to security intelligence companies. Efforts to reduce the threat surface by mandating measures such as certifying third-party vendors for critical infrastructure notwithstanding, the attack surface is only set to increase as dependency on such third party vendors increases.

Technical and forensic attribution has to be coupled with a broader approach that takes into account the means, motives and methods of the perpetrators in order to have a better visibility and awareness of where the next attack might come from. This will help authorities to be better prepared to recognise such attacks and have measures in place to respond and shut them down. There have been calls to take punitive actions against the perpetrators, to serve as a warning and to deter others from undertaking such actions. The fear of a strong response to an attack and the scale or severity of the retaliation strengthens deterrence by punishment. Failure to punish the guilty weakens the deterrence posture. However, this requires precise attribution, which is difficult in a space where false flag operations, designed to place the blame on a third party are a norm rather than the exception.

None of the major cyber incidents in India have ever been officially attributed, whether to a foreign entity, government or any other threat actor. It must be understood that attribution with high probability is to the core the practice of deterrence by punishment.25 The existing approach to cyber security is heavily tilted towards practising deterrence by denial, essentially by building defences. Be that as it may, countries like the United States that have the capacity and wherewithal to define the “redlines” of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in cyberspace, essential to practice deterrence by punishment, have not had much success in deterring attacks on their cyber-infrastructure. Evidently, the concept of deterrence needs further tweaking to make it workable in cyberspace.

International co-operation in cyber-security has been more of a rhetoric, limited to delivering aspirational statements at various fora with very little progress in practical terms. The 2015 UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) had declared that “A State should not conduct or knowingly support ICT activity contrary to its obligations under international law that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public.”26 This was one of the 11 norms to be followed by states in cyberspace. The UN GGE report was accepted by the UN General Assembly in 2016 but several follow-up reports and proposals expanding on this norm remain only on paper. In the meantime, attacks on critical infrastructure continue to emerge as the new normal in cyberspace.

*About the authors:

  • Cherian Samuel is Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
  • Munish Sharma is Consultant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

Source: This article was published by IDSA

Please Donate Today

Did you enjoy this article? Then please consider donating today to ensure that Eurasia Review can continue to be able to provide similar content.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Nuclear Reactors Discussed by Andrew Yang

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Andrew Yang pointed out Thorium Nuclear Reactors as one of the advanced nuclear fission reactor principles. Yang has likewise talked about making a prototype thorium reactor by 2027. There is a US start-up working on a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. If Flibe Energy was completely moneyed then they could build their planned 20 -50 MW modular nuclear reactor by 2027. China likewise has an substantial molten salt and thorium reactor program. It is also possible to have more traditional reactors or pebble bed reactors adapted to usage some thorium.

Yang has proposed nuclear subsidy—$50 billion over five years. If there was that level of aid, then the other innovative nuclear jobs would total for it. There would be a lot of push for the molten salt reactors that usage Uranium. The Thorcon molten salt reactor seems like a style that might scale to 100 GW per year of building. In the rest of this post, I will review the status of the United States, China and Indian Thorium reactor tasks.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors are technically more developed than nuclear combination. A small molten salt reactor was constructed and operated by the US in the 1960 s. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors can be ultra-safe, no nuclear waste, hyper-efficient and really low expense. Standard nuclear fission reactors are the best energy in terms of deaths per terawatt hour. Conventional nuclear can be built at really low expense. 80% of the brand-new reactors being constructed are being developed in or by China, South Korea and Russia. Those reactors are being built in 4 to 6 years and at three times lower expense than recent US and European reactors. The nuclear power in France which powers 70% of french electrical energy was developed in the 1980 s and supplies energy that is about 3 times cheaper than the build up of solar and wind that has been going on in Germany considering that 2000.

India has the style of an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor that would usage thorium. The style of the 300 MWe AHWR (920 MWt, 284 MWe net) was finished early in 2014 at BARC. It is primarily a thorium-fuelled reactor but is versatile relating to fuel. Building of the very first one is due to start 2017 for operation about 2022 2020 for operation about 2025. Nextbigfuture bets India slips to about 2024 start and a 2030 conclusion.

Nextbigfuture has covered Thorium, liquid flouride thorium reactors and molten salt nuclear reactors and other innovative nuclear reactors since 2005.

I, Brian Wang, emailed and spoke with Kirk Sorensen over lots of years. Kirk founded Flibe Energy to develop liquid flouride thorium nuclear reactors.

In 2018, Flibe Energy was awarded $2.6 M by the DOE to Establish NF3 Fluorination. In 2019, Flibe Energy gotten 2 GAIN vouchers ($50K-500K with 20% expense sharing). One with the Pacific National laboratory and one with Oak Ridge. NE-19-18706, Metal Organic Frameworks for Noble Gas Management in the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

 

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is a type of Molten Salt Reactor. Molten Salt Reactors are Generation IV nuclear fission reactors that use molten salt as either the main reactor coolant or as the fuel itself; they trace their origin to a series of experiments directed by Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The US D epartment of Energy (especially Oak Ridge NL) is working together with the Chinese Academy of Science on a Molten Salt-Thorium reactor program, which had a start-up spending plan of $350 million. Australia’s Nuclear Science & Innovation Organisation (ANSTO) is likewise involved, along with the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on safety standards for the solid fuel TMSR, and with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on product processing standards.

Liquid Flouride China’s Thorium Reactor 2 MW T hermal Test Reactor Might Be Done in 2020

In 2011 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced prepares to commercialize a thorium-based MSR in 20 years (it is likewise establishing non-thorium MSRs and strong fuel thorium reactors). The Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics has since employed 700 nuclear engineers for this job.

China in theory has enough thorium to supply all its energy for the next 20,000 years.

The 2 MW test reactor (2-MWth liquid fuel test reactor – TMSR-LF1) has slipped to 2020 rather of 2018. The prospect site is situated in Wuwei, Gansu Province, about 2000 Km from Shanghai.

* Completed the initial style and pass the specialist evaluation arranged by the Bureau of Significant Tasks, CAS in Jun. 2018.
* Start up the processing and manufacturing of key materials and equipment, and identify the manufacturer.
* Design of equipment building and construction illustrations was completed jointly with manufacturers in Feb. 2019.

Liquid Flouride

China’s high temperature pebble reactors that are advertising next year will also usage some thorium.

The HTR-PM will pave the method for larger units based on the same module. The 600 MWe Ruijin units will successfully be three HTR-PMs. INET is in charge of R&D, and is intending to increase the size of the 250 MWt module and use thorium in the fuel.

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Read More

.

Bernie Sanders Refuses To Take Bait On Environment Sacrifice Concerns

The sixth Democratic main debate on Thursday was the first to raise climate change within the very first half-hour, however the concerns were framed mostly around the sacrifices necessary to curb emissions and adapt to already-unavoidable warming. 

Should we pay to relocate households from drowning coastal communities? And need to we trade America’s oil and gas boom for climate policy, even if it displaces fossil fuel employees? 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called for rejoining the Paris arrangement and bring back Obama-era regulations. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg deflected and touted his carbon pricing proposal. Former Vice President Joe Biden stated sacrifice was worth the opportunity of green jobs. 

But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pushed back against the very property of the question.

“It’s not an issue of moving people and towns,” Sanders stated. “The problem now is whether we conserve the world for our kids and grandchildren.” 

Sen.  Bernie  Sanders (I-Vt.)  speaks  throughout  the  sixth  2020  U.S.  Democratic  presidential  project  dispute  at  Loyola  Marymount  Uni



Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks throughout the 6th 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential campaign argument at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The crowd roared. At 78, Sanders is the earliest candidate in the race. Yet even previously the main contest began, the Vermont senator emerged as one of the most vocal supporters on an concern of top issue to young citizens.

Last December, Sanders held a televised town hall event on environment modification. In August, he unveiled a $16.3 trillion Green New Deal proposition that consisted of whatever from establishing a federally run public option for electrical energy to costs close to $15 billion on worker-owned grocery stores. In November, the candidate made climate the primary focus of his Iowa campaign in the lead-up to the carefully seen first caucus, and likewise sponsored a sweeping green public real estate expense with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

“We’re talking about the Paris agreement, that’s great,” Sanders said at Thursday’s debate. “But it ain’t enough.”

In the past few debates, Sanders beat mediators to the punch in pointing out environment modification. He did so again on Thursday night, utilizing an opening question on whether he’d vote for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to slam the truth that the trade offer, called NAFTA 2.0, made no mention of climate change. Sanders called that “an outrage.” 

We’re talking about the Paris agreement, that’s fine. However it ain’t enough.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Later in the very first round of the debate, Sanders once again redirected a question about racial disparity to climate modification. 

“This is the existential issue,” Sanders said. “People of color are, in truth, going to be individuals suffering most if we do not offer with climate change.”

When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s turn came up in the line of environment questions, Tim Alberta, the chief political reporter for Politico Publication, asked about the role nuclear energy should play. Nuclear reactors supply the majority of the United States’ zero-emissions electricity. However the high expense of new plants, the poisonous waste they produce, and the threat of crises like the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in Japan make nuclear power deeply undesirable. 

Warren doubled down on her opposition to structure new plants. But to stop “putting more carbon in the air … we need to keep some of our nuclear in location,” she stated.

That position separates her from Sanders, who promised in his environment proposition to shut down existing reactors and refuse to renew licenses for existing plants. 

Businessman Andrew Yang took a considerably different tone. He repeated his calls to invest in brand-new reactors that usage thorium, which produces less radioactive waste than uranium, according to the World Nuclear Association, and isn’t utilized in weapons. The advanced nuclear start-up Oklo received a allow from the Energy Department to build a cutting-edge small reactor at the Idaho National Lab. In an analysis of whether a Yang administration could bring thorium reactors to fulfillment by 2027, Wired publication summed up the potential customers with this heading: “Good luck, buddy.” 

.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Nuclear Reactors Mentioned by Andrew Yang

Liquid Flouride

Andrew Yang pointed out Thorium Nuclear Reactors as one of the advanced nuclear fission reactor ideas. Yang has also talked about making a model thorium reactor by 2027. There is a US startup working on a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. If Flibe Energy was fully funded then they might construct their prepared 20 -50 MW modular nuclear reactor by 2027. China also has an comprehensive molten salt and thorium reactor program. It is likewise possible to have more standard reactors or pebble bed reactors adjusted to use some thorium.

Yang has actually proposed nuclear subsidy—$50 billion over 5 years. If there was that level of subsidy, then the other advanced nuclear jobs would complete for it. There would be a lot of push for the molten salt reactors that usage Uranium. The Thorcon molten salt reactor seems like a design that might scale to 100 GW per year of building and construction. In the rest of this post, I will evaluation the status of the United States, China and Indian Thorium reactor tasks.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors are technically more established than nuclear blend. A small molten salt reactor was built and ran by the United States in the 1960 s. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors can be ultra-safe, no nuclear waste, hyper-efficient and really low cost. Standard nuclear fission reactors are the safest energy in terms of deaths per terawatt hour. Conventional nuclear can be built at extremely low expense. 80% of the brand-new reactors being constructed are being developed in or by China, South Korea and Russia. Those reactors are being built in 4 to 6 years and at 3 times lower cost than current United States and European reactors. The nuclear power in France which powers 70% of french electricity was built in the 1980 s and supplies energy that is about 3 times less expensive than the build up of solar and wind that has actually been going on in Germany given that 2000.

India has the design of an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor that would use thorium. The design of the 300 MWe AHWR (920 MWt, 284 MWe net) was finished early in 2014 at BARC. It is primarily a thorium-fuelled reactor but is flexible regarding fuel. Building of the first one is due to start 2017 for operation about 2022 2020 for operation about 2025. Nextbigfuture bets India slips to about 2024 start and a 2030 completion.

Nextbigfuture has covered Thorium, liquid flouride thorium reactors and molten salt nuclear reactors and other advanced nuclear reactors considering that 2005.

I, Brian Wang, emailed and spoke with Kirk Sorensen over many years. Kirk established Flibe Energy to establish liquid flouride thorium nuclear reactors.

In 2018, Flibe Energy was granted $2.6 M by the DOE to Establish NF3 Fluorination. In 2019, Flibe Energy gotten two GAIN coupons ($50K-500K with 20% expense sharing). One with the Pacific National lab and one with Oak Ridge. NE-19-18706, Metal Organic Frameworks for Noble Gas Management in the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is a type of Molten Salt Reactor. Molten Salt Reactors are Generation IV nuclear fission reactors that usage molten salt as either the primary reactor coolant or as the fuel itself; they trace their origin to a series of experiments directed by Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The US D epartment of Energy (especially Oak Ridge NL) is working together with the Chinese Academy of Science on a Molten Salt-Thorium reactor program, which had a start-up budget of $350 million. Australia’s Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is also included, along with the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on security requirements for the solid fuel TMSR, and with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on product processing standards.

Liquid Flouride China’s Thorium Reactor 2 MW T hermal Test Reactor Might Be Done in 2020

In 2011 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced prepares to commercialize a thorium-based MSR in 20 years (it is also developing non-thorium MSRs and solid fuel thorium reactors). The Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics has because utilized 700 nuclear engineers for this project.

China in theory has enough thorium to supply all its energy for the next 20,000 years.

The 2 MW test reactor (2-MWth liquid fuel test reactor – TMSR-LF1) has slipped to 2020 instead of 2018. The candidate website is located in Wuwei, Gansu Province, about 2000 Km from Shanghai.

* Completed the preliminary design and pass the expert review organized by the Bureau of Major Tasks, CAS in Jun. 2018.
* Start up the processing and manufacturing of secret products and devices, and figure out the manufacturer.
* Style of equipment building illustrations was completed jointly with makers in Feb. 2019.

Liquid Flouride

China’s high temperature level pebble reactors that are commercializing next year will likewise use some thorium.

The HTR-PM will pave the method for larger units based on the same module. The 600 MWe Ruijin units will effectively be 3 HTR-PMs. INET is in charge of R&D, and is intending to boost the size of the 250 MWt module and usage thorium in the fuel.

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

Liquid Flouride

.

Analysis on the Thorium Market in India, 2018 -2023 – Thorium 3 Phase Reactor is Still Under Development, Making it Difficult for India to Usage Its Thorium Reserve Soon

DUBLIN, Nov. 27, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — The “Thorium (Nuclear Fuel) Market in India (2018-2023) Share based on Power Resources (Thermal, Renewable, Hydro, Nuclear) Trade Analysis (Export-Import Data) Drivers, Obstacles and Competitive Landscape” report has bee…
.

Analysis on the Thorium Market in India, 2018-2023 – Thorium Three Stage Reactor is Still Under Development, Making it Impossible for India to Use Its Thorium Reserve Shortly

DUBLIN, Nov. 27, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — The “Thorium (Nuclear Fuel) Market in India (2018-2023) Share based on Power Resources (Thermal, Renewable, Hydro, Nuclear) Trade Analysis (Export-Import Data) Drivers, Challenges and Competitive Landscape” report has been added to ResearchAndMarkets.com’s offering.

The nuclear fuel market comprises of companies, industry associations, and governmental bodies which are involved in mining, refining, and storage of nuclear fuels and construction of nuclear reactors. The major application of nuclear fuels is in the nuclear reactor for sustaining a nuclear chain reaction required for generating electric energy. The nuclear fuels like uranium-235 and thorium-232 are radioactive metals which are fissile in nature.

Market Insights

India has one of the largest thorium deposits in the world with a capacity of ~360,000 tonnes. Thorium occurs in the form of a single isotope, Th-232, which degenerates at a very slow rate. The types of nuclear reactors, currently operating in the nuclear energy industry of India are pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWR), and light-water reactors (LWR).

There are 7 under-construction nuclear power reactors in the country which will generate a capacity of 5,400 Mwe. As of FY 2017, nuclear power contributed only ~2% of the total power generated in India. The main monazite reserves in India are present in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.

Export-Import

Both export and import of thorium compounds have increased in India, in terms of value and volume during FY 2015-FY 2018. The largest export destination of Indian thorium compounds is the United States (U.S.). The highest amount of thorium, based on value and volume, is imported in India from Kazakhstan.

Investments

Apart from the domestic firms, there are a number of foreign companies which have shown interest to participate in India’s nuclear power projects in the form of technology partners, suppliers, contractors, and service providers. Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) and GE Hitachi in the U.S., and Electricite de France (EDF) in France and Russia are the two major contributors.

Key Growth Drivers

  • With an increase in GDP, the country is showing growth in terms of construction, manufacturing, and public services. With such attractive opportunities, India is set to become a global manufacturing hub. This, in turn, is supposed to increase the demand for nuclear power in the future.
  • India has promised to reduce the intensity of greenhouse emissions by 33-35% by the year 2030 from 2005. This initiative is expected to achieve ~40% electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel and nuclear-based energy resources by 2030.

Key Deterrents

  • With the expanding civilian nuclear energy programs, weak export controls of nuclear fuels, and zones of domestic instability, the Indian nuclear power industry requires to implement stronger nuclear security policies. But the country is lagging in this area due to weak regulation of the nuclear sector.
  • India has the world’s largest thorium reserve, but the thorium three stage reactor is still under development, which makes it impossible for India to use its thorium reserve shortly.

Key Topics Covered

1. Executive summary

2. Socio-economic indicators

3. Introduction
3.1. Nuclear fuels market definition and structure

4. India thorium (nuclear fuel) market
4.1. Thorium (nuclear fuel) market overview
4.2. Share of power resources in India (FY 2017)

  • Thermal energy
  • Renewable energy
  • Hydro energy
  • Nuclear energy

4.3. Operational nuclear power reactors in India
4.4. Nuclear power reactors under construction in India
4.5. Uranium reserves in India – overview
4.6. Monazite reserves in India – overview

  • Note: Monazite is mineral containing thorium and rare earth elements

5. Trade analysis
5.1. Export of thorium

  • Value-wise
  • Volume-wise
  • Country-wise

5.2. Import of uranium ores

  • Value-wise
  • Volume-wise
  • Country-wise

6. Key growth drivers of the market

7. Key deterrents to the growth of the market

8. Competitive landscape
8.1. Larsen & Toubr – Limited

  • Corporate information
  • Business description
  • Products and services
  • Key people
  • Financial snapshot (total income, net profit/loss)
  • Key ratios
  • Business segments, geographical segments

8.2. Walchandnagar Industries Limited
8.3. Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam
8.4. Electronics Corporation of India Limited
8.5. India Rare Earth Limited
8.6. Nuclear Fuel Complex
8.7. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited
8.8. Uranium Corporation of India Limited

9. Recent developments

For more information about this report visit https://www.researchandmarkets.com/r/fewp6a

Research and Markets also offers Custom Research services providing focused, comprehensive and tailored research.

Media Contact:

Research and Markets
Laura Wood, Senior Manager
[email protected]   

For E.S.T Office Hours Call +1-917-300-0470
For U.S./CAN Toll Free Call +1-800-526-8630
For GMT Office Hours Call +353-1-416-8900

U.S. Fax: 646-607-1907
Fax (outside U.S.): +353-1-481-1716

SOURCE Research and Markets

Related Links

http://www.researchandmarkets.com

Kudankulam: One Incident, Many Facets – Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

A malware infection in the IT network of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) located in Tamil Nadu was first reported in social media on October 28.1 The coincidental shutdown of one of the plants in the preceding week led to speculations that the two were connected. An initial official response from the plant authorities refuted these reports.2 Subsequently, officials from other agencies including office of the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) confirmed these reports, and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) – the parent body responsible for running the nuclear power plants in the country – came out with an official press release giving some details of the incident. In its October 30 press release, the NPCIL clarified that the infected personal computer was in use for administrative purposes only, and the control systems of the plant and critical functions were unaffected by the breach.3 These details were later confirmed by the Union Minister of State for the Department of Atomic Energy in the Parliament on November 20.4

The breach of a critical information infrastructure, particularly in the nuclear domain, cannot be taken lightly. It also affords an opportunity to review existing security practices and address the lacunae, where found. Now that much of the dust has settled down, this issue brief seeks to examine the incident and address the larger questions it raises about the security of critical information infrastructure.

Security of the Control Systems: A Backgrounder

Nuclear power is considered to be pivotal to the energy security of developed and developing countries alike. At present, around 10 per cent of the global electricity need is met by 450 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries, with a total installed capacity of around 394 GWe.5 Given the vulnerability of nuclear installations to accidental, adversarial, and environmental events – Chernobyl in 1986, Stuxnet in 2010, and Fukushima disaster in 2011 – they have been subject to tight safety regulations. Nuclear programmes and research facilities themselves are of great strategic vlue, and they are closely guarded – physically as well as otherwise.

Not surprisingly, they are often found to be a prime target of espionage operations. Cyberspace has just added a whole new dimension to the debates on nuclear safety and security. Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), for business needs and safety and control systems respectively, has become a new front for clandestine operations and has opened vast opportunities for both espionage and sabotage. In the OT space, Industrial Control Systems (ICS)6 remain the prime target as they control the core functions and physical processes in industrial plants. Their unavailability, incapacitation, degradation or destruction could have physical consequences. In the case of nuclear installations, at the extreme, it could be the release of radioactive material in the environment.

In a nuclear power plant, ICS perform a host of monitoring, supervision and control functions, such as reactor protection systems, safety features actuation systems (emergency core cooling), safe shutdown systems, emergency power supply and diesel generator control systems, reactor control systems and access control systems. Digital ICS were inducted for enhanced reliability, improved performance and efficiency, regulatory compliance, and safety requisites. ICS could also be termed as the nervous system of a nuclear power plant as they are not just the interface with physical parameters of the plant operations (monitoring the vital parameters such as neutron flux, temperature, pressure and flow), but they also monitor abnormalities through plant health diagnostic systems and adjust the physical processes through control and safety systems.7 Sensors and actuators are placed in every nook and corner of a nuclear power plant to ensure that temperatures, pressures and flow rates, etc. remain well within the design limits. To prevent untoward incidents, of the likes of core meltdown, reactor protection systems monitor operational variables and initiate a shut down if pre-defined thresholds are passed.

ICS are, therefore, responsible for critical safety functions such as quick boron injection, containment spray, and high pressure safety injection. In a nuclear power plant, systems and networks associated with safety, security, emergency preparedness, and their support systems are termed as Critical Systems. They are designed to withstand seismic and environmental events and built with heightened defences against cyber-attacks so that they can safely shut down the reactor and prevent any radioactive release in the environment. 

These are the same control systems which the October 29 KKNPP press release stated to be “not connected to outside cyber network and Internet”8 , or in other terms, air gapped. That notwithstanding, ICS are increasingly being connected to the corporate business systems, built with remote access capabilities, and are being designed using industry standard computers, operating systems and network protocols. To prevent any inadvertent exposure of the ICS, they are isolated from the corporate or the IT network of the facility. Though air gaps can provide some basic level of protection to the critical systems from untargeted cyber threats, they are inadequate in the face of threats arising from determined and well-resourced adversaries to the nuclear industry. ICS remain vulnerable to risks such as unauthorised changes to instructions, commands, or alarm thresholds, inaccurate information sent to system operators, initiation of inappropriate actions, modifications to software or configuration settings, and interference with the operation of equipment protection systems or of safety systems,9 especially since many of the software systems used for plant operations are sourced from different companies.

Therefore, stringent controls and security practices are put in place to reduce the risks to ICS and the control network of nuclear power plants from cyber-attacks. Beyond air gapping, these practices vary from the basics such as restricting use of media, personal computers, laptops, etc. to heightening defences using data flow restriction, deep package inspection, deployment of firewalls (packet filtering, stateful inspection, and application-proxy gateway) and intrusion detection systems (network-based and host-based), authentication and authorisation controls, implementing intermediate demilitarised zone (DMZ) network, and consistent monitoring, logging, and auditing.

Nuclear facilities have been a prime target of both espionage and sabotage operations in the past. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) enlists around 23 cyber incidents at nuclear facilities over the last three decades — owing to a multitude of threat actors and vectors such as software error, espionage, data theft, employee attempted sabotage, network intrusion, spear-phishing, and so forth.10 Stuxnet remains one of the most discussed and referenced cyber incidents, where PLCs were commandeered to sabotage the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant. The cyber incident at KKNPP is going to be a new addition to this list, and it is worthwhile to look at the various motivational factors behind this incident.

One Incident: Many Inferences

The October 29 press release made it quite clear that the control systems at KKNPP are air gapped and the cyber-attack is not possible. However, air gapping alone cannot fully warrant security from cyber-attacks. Heightened defences make it hard for the adversary to access gapped systems, but certainly not an impossible task. Stuxnet remains a prime example of how air gapped systems could be breached. A politically motivated adversary or a well-funded state proxy can have the requisite resources, technical know-how and wherewithal to target IT and control networks. Such attacks need meticulous planning and precise information about the instruments deployed at the facility, its design and process flow documentation. Since business sensitive and classified information traverses over IT networks, and are stored and processed over IT systems, they are an obvious and a soft target to gather sensitive information. It could further be used in perpetrating malicious and hostile acts which could disable, destroy or compromise the computer resource critical to the security or safety of the facility.11

The October 30 NPCIL press release conceded that a personal computer connected to the IT network at KKNPP was found infected with the malware.12 However, the press release explicitly clarified that the plant systems were not affected, and the infected computer was meant for administrative purpose only. Since the infected machine was a personal computer deployed for administrative functions, it could have either carried personal information of the employees, their addresses, email communications, browsing history or information related to procurement, tenders, finance and other aspect of day-to-day administration of the plant. This information might seem irrelevant at the face value, but it could very well be used for precise phishing attacks on the employees, contractors or vendors possibly for a much more serious intrusion. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is currently investigating the malware incursion along with specialists from the Department of Atomic Energy and other agencies.

There is no denying that the infected computer could possibly have been used to gather information (classified or otherwise) or to harvest login credentials of the users or the administrator to perpetrate an attack. CERT-In had notified the authorities in early September,13 but it is quite likely that the malware was residing on the network before it was detected. The possibility of a much more widespread infection cannot be ruled out either since cleaning operations are still underway. Malware for espionage operations are designed to spread through the network and can still remain undetected. The identified computer might have been the one interfacing the external command and control server, or in other words, could be just the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of the malware infection is hard to assess and it would never be disclosed. However, the incident has given rise to many speculations.

Security researchers analysing the available evidence were of the opinion that the Lazarus group of hackers were behind this malware, that it was custom made to gain access to the IT network of KKNPP, and that those controlling the malware probably had access to the entire IT network.14 Lazarus is a North Korea-based hacker group, held responsible for the 2013 cyber-attacks in South Korea and WannaCry ransomware attacks in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2017. The Seoul-based group of malware analysts, Issue Makers Lab, which has vast expertise in analysing malware of North Korean origin, also produced evidence supporting this argument.15

Prima facie, this seems to have been an espionage operation which means that the attackers were either looking for information specific to KKNPP or about the nuclear programme. Again, information related to the Indian nuclear programme has two aspects – the weapons programme and the three-stage nuclear energy programme. Since the reactors at KKNPP are placed under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards,16 the fuel (1.6-4.1 per cent enriched uranium) and spent fuel is accounted for at each and every step even though India can reprocess the spent fuel and retain the plutonium, but strictly for civil use.17 Moreover, Russia is supplying the fuel for KKNPP. These facts make KKNPP an inappropriate target to seek information either on India’s uranium enrichment programme, or details on the nuclear weapons programme.

The fact that KKNPP houses two units of Russian made VVER-1000 (AES-92) pressurised water reactors (PWRs) also weakens the argument that the attackers were looking for information related to India’s indigenous three-stage nuclear power programme which is based on a thorium fuel cycle. The three-stage programme utilises pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) in Stage I, fast breeder reactors in Stage II, and thorium based breeder reactors in Stage III.18 NPCIL operates two boiling water reactors, 18 PHWRs and two PWRs which are installed at KKNPP. The PWR technology is neither developed indigenously by India nor does it have any pertinent role in India’s three-stage nuclear power programme. India’s competency lies in PHWR technology. Therefore, KKNPP in itself holds little value as a target of espionage seeking information regarding India’s nuclear programme, either civil or weapons. That could also mean that the whole operation ran much deeper or wider; KKNPP being just one of the points where it was detected.

Beyond the circumstantial evidence, as produced by the Issue Makers Lab, the sole motive for North Korea to perpetrate this incident rests on the fact that it has been working on its light water reactor19 for a long time now and is desperately looking for the associated technology. North Korea was assured of the Soviet assistance with light water reactor technology when it joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1985.20 It desired to withdraw from the Treaty to pursue military nuclear ambitions, but an Agreed Framework in 1994, which even promised America-led assistance for the replacement of its graphite-moderated reactors with light water reactor power plants of approximately 2000 MW throughput, was designed to put pressure on it to desist from pulling out of the Treaty.21 However, this never fructified and North Korea finally withdrew from the NPT in 2003.

North Korea has since followed an aggressive nuclear weapons programme. In 2010, it even announced its intention to build an indigenous light water reactor. An experimental light water reactor at the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Centre is part of this endeavour. The attack could possibly be a North Korean attempt to gather as much as information available on LWR technology. India is one of the few countries with whom North Korea enjoys good diplomatic relations. India is also the second largest trade partner of North Korea after China. Hacking a nuclear power plant network – either IT or OT – would have serious ramifications, even risking diplomatic and trade ties. These considerations reduce the likelihood of this incident being a state-authorised attack.

Another facet of this attack points to the possibility that KKNPP was merely a means to an end. Russia has supplied the same VVER-1000 reactors to another five countries including China and Iran. The model V-466 is installed at Bushehr facility in Iran.22 The Iranian nuclear programme remains a prime target of espionage and sabotage operations. The possibility that KKNPP was used to gather information on the VVER-1000 reactor which could be used for a sabotage operation at an Iranian facility cannot be ruled out outright. It also leads to another possibility of the Lazarus group acting at the behest of another state to either pass on harvested information or simply to ring an alarm among the populace about insecure nuclear power plants, most sensitive amongst the critical infrastructure. Else, the attackers were just imitating the modus operandi of the Lazarus group to direct the needle of suspicion at them, something that has happened earlier.

Post-Incident Response

The fear of accidents and radiation creates a lot of apprehension among the wider populace in the case of nuclear power plants. Thus, the official response must be prompt and factual. In the current incident, there was quite a bit of unnecessary confusion and obfuscation in the initial response which led to much social media frenzy. Media reports were often contradictory, with attribution to various unnamed government officials in the absence of a single point of contact for information. As a case in point, at last count, newspaper reports have credited no less than three different government agencies with discovery of the intrusion, along with sundry other private companies, and even friendly foreign governments.23 By way of comparison, the entire public communication in the case of WannaCry Ransomware incident in the UK was handled by a single entity – the National Cyber Security Centre. Therefore, in the face of cyber-attacks with nationwide significance, designating a lead investigating agency is not just reassuring but also helps in reducing the scope for misinterpretation and disinformation.

Questions have also been raised as to why such attacks on critical infrastructure cannot be deterred or prevented by government agencies. Prevention was successful to the extent that attackers were only able to access the administrative network, as per the official notifications. According to Kaspersky, the most effective measures against the DTrack malware that was used to infiltrate the Kudankulam network includes strong network security and password policies, and constant monitoring of the network for any abnormal activities.24 However, that may not be enough to deter a determined adversary. A more proactive approach would require measures such as monitoring the dark web as well as taking cognisance of the new threat vectors, such as vulnerabilities in third-party vendors since most functions are increasingly being outsourced. Most of the recent high-profile attacks have been through third-party vendors, which range from cloud providers to security intelligence companies. Efforts to reduce the threat surface by mandating measures such as certifying third-party vendors for critical infrastructure notwithstanding, the attack surface is only set to increase as dependency on such third party vendors increases.

Technical and forensic attribution has to be coupled with a broader approach that takes into account the means, motives and methods of the perpetrators in order to have a better visibility and awareness of where the next attack might come from. This will help authorities to be better prepared to recognise such attacks and have measures in place to respond and shut them down. There have been calls to take punitive actions against the perpetrators, to serve as a warning and to deter others from undertaking such actions. The fear of a strong response to an attack and the scale or severity of the retaliation strengthens deterrence by punishment. Failure to punish the guilty weakens the deterrence posture. However, this requires precise attribution, which is difficult in a space where false flag operations, designed to place the blame on a third party are a norm rather than the exception.

None of the major cyber incidents in India have ever been officially attributed, whether to a foreign entity, government or any other threat actor. It must be understood that attribution with high probability is to the core the practice of deterrence by punishment.25 The existing approach to cyber security is heavily tilted towards practising deterrence by denial, essentially by building defences. Be that as it may, countries like the United States that have the capacity and wherewithal to define the “redlines” of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in cyberspace, essential to practice deterrence by punishment, have not had much success in deterring attacks on their cyber-infrastructure. Evidently, the concept of deterrence needs further tweaking to make it workable in cyberspace.

International co-operation in cyber-security has been more of a rhetoric, limited to delivering aspirational statements at various fora with very little progress in practical terms. The 2015 UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) had declared that “A State should not conduct or knowingly support ICT activity contrary to its obligations under international law that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public.”26 This was one of the 11 norms to be followed by states in cyberspace. The UN GGE report was accepted by the UN General Assembly in 2016 but several follow-up reports and proposals expanding on this norm remain only on paper. In the meantime, attacks on critical infrastructure continue to emerge as the new normal in cyberspace.

Thorium

THE AGE OF ELECTRICITY

The late 1800s.  A time in America of unlimited freedom.  A time of the rugged individualist.  Tom Edison, deep in his Menlo Park laboratory, creating the Electric Age.  Nicola Tesla, the immigrant competitor, with his electric motor and alternating current.  It was the Golden Age of America.  A time of invention, entrepreneurialism, and genius set free.

At least, that’s the popular myth.

But did you ever wonder what happened to those early American electric companies?  Where is Edison’s company today?  Where is Westinghouse’s company?  In fact, where is any private enterprise electric company?

In 1878, Thomas Edison (and English electrician, Joseph Swan) invented the electrical-resistance-heated, carbon filament, incandescent light bulb.  Self-contained, clean and long-burning, the light bulb was the first popular application for electricity.

Edison’s goal was to replace gas lighting on city streets.  With the help of his young Scottish assistant, Samuel Insull, Edison demonstrated the convenience of his electric light bulbs to the New York City bureaucrats, who granted him exclusive rights to operate a lighting system on Wall Street.

The End: The Fall of t…
Chas Holloway
Check Amazon for Pricing.

Edison then built the world’s first electricity generating and distributing system.  His Pearle Street plant went into operation in 1881.  The station used one direct current generator and provided 100 Kilowatts, just enough to power 1,200 bulbs.  The Electric Age had dawned, but because Edison’s plant was powered by burning coal, it was monumentally inefficient.

By 1883, only two years later, electric street lighting was becoming commonplace in American cities.  There were more than three hundred such electrical generators in operation around the country — all simple DC dynamos, like Edison’s, mostly locally owned, operated by steam engines or water wheels, providing electricity to a few city blocks or to a single factory.  Voltage regulation was poor and bulbs often dimmed or burned out.  But the electric age had obviously dawned.

These generators became so commonplace that street lighting was soon considered a “public service.”  Most companies, started as private ventures, were rapidly taken over by the cities — and there were logical reasons for it.  There were legal obstacles to stringing wires along public spaces and across property lines.  With city bureaucrats easing the way, the wires were installed.  Practical DC electric motors were invented and found widespread use in factories, mills, mines and industrial plants of all sorts.  Electric motors, supplied by city-run electricity systems, replaced locally owned and operated water wheels, boilers and steam engines for mechanical or shaft power purposes.  The electric power industry was changing the face of the nation.

Edison’s new goal was to build his first large scale power plant in New York City.  He needed money, so he went to J. P. Morgan, and together they founded Edison General Electric Company.  They set out to build large, centralized power plants and sell the electricity, not just to businesses, but to the public.  There were huge start-up costs — building the largest generators in the world, stringing expensive wire.  When Morgan realized his financial return would be too slow to satisfy his investors, he convinced Edison to focus on selling equipment, and leave it to the governments to put up capital.

By 1900, Edison-GE controlled 1,245 power stations around the country.  But profits were disappointing.  Edison’s dream of selling electricity to the public large-scale for a profit just wasn’t happening.  Demand schedules kept electricity expensive for most people — street lighting drew power only at night — the same hours people wanted lighting for their homes, but GE had to operate all day long.  It needed to sell electricity 24 hours a day.

It was streetcars that came to the rescue.  They had been invented by Siemens in 1890.  By the turn of the century, with GE producing electricity to run them, there were streetcars in 850 American cities.  Entrepreneurial progress, right?  Unfortunately,  this only made the cry that electricity was a “necessary public service,” even louder.  Consequently, most of the plants that powered street lights street cars became city-owned and buyers of electricity became tax-subsidized customers of Edison General Electric.

Meanwhile, the invention of the induction motor led to the invention of power washing machines (1907), vacuum cleaners (1908) and household refrigerators (1912).  A full-scale tech revolution was in play.  GE’s demand schedules became balanced.  But America left the electricity free market behind.

Edison-GE’s near-total domination of the electricity market would not last long, however.  In 1884, Edison hired a brilliant young Croatian electrical engineer named Nicola Tesla  — who had conceived of a better way to generate and distribute electricity: alternating-current.   It could generate high and low voltages with ease.  It allowed the current to be distributed on small wires, enabling generators to expand their service area.

Tesla not only knew how to power Edison’s light bulbs at a distance using thinner, cheaper wire, he had also perfected a simple, rugged, low-cost, efficient A-C (induction) motor that could drive all manner of machinery with little maintenance.

But … Edison didn’t want to hear about it.

Edison had thousands of government contracts in the bag.  He thought inefficient government subsidized electricity was all he — or the nation — needed.  Why change?  He already dominated the market.  Like bureaucrats do, he thought he could prevent the future from happening.  Tesla had to take his business elsewhere.

While Edison was building and collecting DC power stations, Tesla went to George Westinghouse, instead.  And at first, progress was slow.  In 1886, the first commercial alternating current power system was built.  By 1891, Tesla had built the AC induction motor, the Tesla Coil, and the transformer — the fundamental things necessary for the long-distance transmission of electricity.

Westinghouse’s Niagara Power Plant was built in 1896, a milestone in the history of U.S. electricity.  The Power Plant had 37 megawatt power output, making it several hundreds times more powerful than Edison’s Pearle Station.  It sent electricity over 25 miles of transmission line at high-voltage (11,000 volts) to Buffalo city — and it was also the world’s first large-scale hydro-electric power plant.

But Westinghouse, too, had to partner with city bureaucrats to get the system built.

Today, we tend to believe the early electric companies were created by daring speculators, mavericks, rugged individualists.  But that was only partly true.  The truth is, electric companies never were 100 percent private, profit-seeking ventures — they were controlled by politicians from the start.

One thing is true, however.  The “Roaring Twenties” did indeed roar.  It’s easy to imagine why people believed in a future of endless prosperity.  It was the Age of Electricity.  The Age of Aviation.  The Age of Radio.  The Age of Progress.  But the party ended with the banking collapse of 1929.

The great depression led to the election of FDR, who promised the government would solve the nations’ economic problems.  In the 1932 Presidential election, Roosevelt, a democrat, defeated republican incumbent Herbert Hoover in a landslide.  During his time as President, with a sympathetic 73rd United States Congress, FDR issued unprecedented executive orders and created “The New Deal” — a potpourri of government control programs.  One of these was the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA).  It took government control of energy production even further than cities had.  Electric power production and transmission was taken completely out of the hand of the “profit-seeking capitalists” and put under bureaucratic control.

People today assume government is an intrinsic part of electricity production and distribution.  After all, who else could do something so big?  The government is needed for stability, people believe.

But here’s something people don’t see.  As a result of government control, innovation in energy production has slowed to a crawl.

As the American population grows, energy demand grows.  But infrastructure has fallen behind.  Because of climate change fears, the emphasis for new building is on “green” energy — but solar panels, wind turbines, and so on, can’t possibly keep up with demand.  But there is one green technology that can.  And it’s fully able to be implemented, right now.

Thorium Nuclear Reactors.

WHAT IS A THORIUM REACTOR?

Not long after World War II, nuclear fission reactors were designed and built to produce heat that could be used for electricity generation.  Uranium-based reactors were built, not just to produce electricity, but also weapons-grade plutonium.  This work was initiated by The Atomic Energy commission (AEC), which had been formed in1946 to replace the wartime Manhattan Project.  Its stated mission was to develop peaceful uses of the atom.  But in many ways, they did just the opposite.

It had been suggested that other, more plentiful elements than uranium might be found to produce nuclear energy.  Thorium was the only other naturally-occurring fissionable element known.  Thus, since 1950, thorium fuel cycle reactors were built and successfully used to produce thermal energy.  Between 1965 and 1968, such reactors operated for over 15,000 hours.  This prompted AEC Chairman, Glenn Seaborg, to announce  that the thorium-fueled reactor was successful.  However, facing the Cold War arms race, the government decided to concentrate on the uranium system for its nuclear bomb-making capabilities, and in 1973 it officially discontinued all work on thorium.

But thorium technology did not die.  Physicist Alvin Weinberg, who was the Director of Research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, (where the thorium cycle and reactor was invented) continued work on thorium.  He did so without government support, and he continued his research until his death (on the job) in 2006.  Weinberg was particularly keen on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).

Weinberg’s accomplishments with thorium reactors was extensive, but they were concealed from the public.  So much so, that in 2012, the trade publication, Chemical Engineering and News reported, ”most people —including scientists — have hardly heard of the heavy-metal element, thorium, and know little about it…”.  A comment by a conference attendee noted that, “it’s possible to have a Ph.D. in nuclear reactor technology and not know about thorium energy.”

When famous nuclear physicist Victor J. Stenger first learned of it in 2012, he claimed, that thorium was a better alternative than uranium.  Others agreed, including former NASA scientist, thorium expert and LFTR entrepreneur, Kirk Sorensen.  He said in a documentary interview (viewable on You Tube) that if the U.S. had not discontinued its thorium research in 1974, it could have achieved energy independence with a low carbon footprint by the year 2000.

Only because of government control of energy research and production, did it not happen.

ABOUT THORIUM

Thorium is a naturally-occurring chemical element discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.  He gave it the symbol “Th” with the atomic number 90.  Thorium is found in small amounts in most rocks, soils and sands and it is three times more abundant than uranium.  Workable ores are found in most of the countries around the Earth.

Natural thorium is a weakly-radioactive, silvery metal that tarnishes black when it is exposed to air, forming thorium dioxide.  The metal is moderately hard, malleable and has a high melting point.  Thorium metal has long been available from commercial industrial suppliers, having uses in welding and gas lighting.  In contrast, virgin uranium metal has never been available commercially (in the U.S., all of it is owned by the federal government).

Thorium is similar to Uranium.  They are the only two elements found in nature that can absorb neutrons and transmute into fissile elements. Thus, they are both fertile elements that can be used to fuel nuclear reactors.  But unlike uranium, thorium-reactors cannot be started without the addition an autonomous neutron source mixed with the fuel.  This fissile material must be either natural U235, extracted from or enriched from natural uranium, or Pu239, bred in uranium-fueled reactors and extracted from their wastes.

Breakout: Technology V…
Chas Holloway
Buy New $16.95
(as of 11:05 EST – Details)

Once started, thorium reactors themselves breed the uranium fissile isotope U233 which sustains the thorium nuclear energy cycle without further use of fissile materials from uranium.  Furthermore, Th232 and U233, which comprise the fuel in the mature thorium reactor, are not known to have any use in the making of bombs.  Therefore, the thorium fuel cycle is not helpful to a nuclear weapons program.

Natural thorium does not contain any fissile material.  Its neutron reactions do not produce synthetic fissile material like Pu239, the preferred material for making bombs.  Thus, the thorium fuel cycle is just not conducive to nuclear weapons proliferation.  Most people would consider that to be an advantage.  But not governments.

There’s another advantage of thorium over uranium for commercial energy production.  It is much more efficient then uranium as a reactor fuel.  Its high degree of burn-up is a huge factor in reducing the cost of fuel.  Thus, thorium reactors generate far less volume of radioactive waste, and the smaller amount of waste has far less high-level radioactivity, with a far shorter half-life.  This means much cheaper hazardous waste disposal.

A proven and highly promising thorium reactor technology is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR; pronounced lifter) in which the fuel and coolant are one and the same, circulated either by gravity, or by pump.  This high-thermal-conductivity / high thermal-expansivity liquid is a fluoride salt that melts at moderately high temperatures and circulates at low pressures without the need for expensive pressure vessels.  The molten salt fuel is not corrosive to any of the materials of construction, which are common ferrous types.  That means cheaper plant construction.

ABOUT LFTRs

LFTRs differ from other nuclear power reactors in almost every aspect. First, they use more common natural thorium instead of exotic enriched uranium.  Some of the thorium is turned into uranium (U233) by thermal breeding, which replaces the starting charge of U235 or Pu239 as those materials burn up.  Refueling and waste management is accomplished continuously without shutdown by pumping from/to external vessels as required.  The liquid salt fuel/coolant attains higher operating temperatures with low system pressures, which reduces the cost of construction and increases safety while attaining much higher thermal efficiencies for power generation.

The LFTR uses inherently small, more compact equipment for significant thermal output.  LFTR technology, therefore, has unusual flexibility in design — the scaling of plant sizes up and down can be managed with ease.  This characteristic also facilitates the manufacturing of plant components in a factory for field assembly, and achieves even further cost reductions.  It also provides flexibility in location and scheduling of operations.  It creates the possibility of miniature, modular plants for on-site generation of heat and power combined, and ease of scaling up plant sizes.  All this is now attracting new entrepreneurial and venture capital interest in nuclear power.

LFTR technology is attracting private company interest in Japan, China, India, the UK, Czech, Canada, and Australia, and also in the U.S.  Even though navigating U.S. government bureaucracy is a nightmare, various pilot projects are in progress.

Since thorium has so many advantages over uranium for commercial nuclear reactors, many have questioned why the thorium fuel cycle is not being used?  Thorium is a fertile material that is relatively common and cheap to prepare as a reactor fuel, and is safe and simple to use.  Reactors can be built with a negligible risk of thermal runaway and meltdown. Furthermore, thorium cycle wastes are minimal, radioactively benign, and devoid of any material that can be used for making bombs.

The advantages of adding electricity to our national electric grid using thorium reactors start from the moment thorium is mined and purified.  All but a trace of naturally occurring thorium is Th232, the isotope useful in nuclear reactors.  And all of it is used up in the reactor.  By comparison, only 3% to 5% of the uranium needed (in enriched form) is used in a uranium reactor before refueling is required.

Not only is thorium 20 to 30-times more efficient in fuel utilization for power production than uranium, it is three times more abundant in nature.  And its conversion from ore to fuel is much easier than uranium. That adds up to significant economies-of-scale, when commercialized.  All but a trace of the world’s thorium exists in already-useful form, which means it does not require enrichment.  Uranium enrichment, on the other hand, is perhaps the most expensive chemical/mechanical refinement operation ever known to humankind.

Thorium-based reactors are much safer than uranium reactors for still more reasons.  Thorium fuel is liquid and can be easily drained/pumped from the reaction zone, rapidly stopping the fission reaction, when necessary.  The liquid form of thorium is also easy to handle and transport from place to place.  By contrast, uranium fuel is solid and fixed in the reactor, which requires sophisticated, expensive and time-consuming handling arrangements.  Its fission reaction can be stopped only by removing the neutrons, which requires extremely complicated control rod absorption, shielding, selection, location, sensing and movement.  Also, the thorium fission and heat transfer operation takes place in a low pressure environment eliminating highly stressed pressure vessels and piping which is prone to fatigue failure and leaks.  Compared to uranium reactors, thorium reactors produce far less waste, and the waste is much less radioactive with a much shorter half-life.

Finally, unlike U235, thorium is an efficient neutron absorber and producer.  But it is not a fissile isotope.  That means no matter how many thorium nuclei are packed together, they can not go critical.  They can’t thermally run away on their own, starting a melt-down, chain-reaction, and explosion.  Thorium nuclei split apart and emit several neutrons easily.  To stop the fission process, simply turn off or divert the source of the neutrons and the cycle shuts down.  The liquid form of the combined fuel and coolant in the LFTR simplifies the cycle process greatly from beginning to end.

THE ONLY LIMITATION OF THORIUM

The growth of civilization will require more and more energy.  That’s an irrefutable fact.  Will entrepreneurs convince U.S. politicians — who seized power over energy production during the FDR years — to allow this technology?  Or will our politicians watch other nation-states develop it, first?

How long will our politicians watch, afraid to act?  How long will they hope the future won’t happen?

Thorium-cycle reactors may seem like an panacea.  But, unfortunately, there’s one thing they cannot do: stop government bureaucracy.

End Notes:

1. Article: The History of Electricity in the United States by Ruslan Iskhakov,  Stanford University: http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2013/ph240/iskhakov2/

2.  Alvin Lowi, “Patient Capital: The Real Source of Human Welfare,” May 9, 1996. Essay available from the

author at [email protected].

3.  Jill JonnesEmpires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World,

Random House, 2003.

4.  Marin Katusa, chief investment strategist for Casey Research’s energy division, is an accomplished investment analyst, the senior editor of Casey’s Energy Opportunities, Casey’s Energy Confidential, and Casey’s Energy Report. In addition, he is a member of the Vancouver Angel Forum where he and his colleagues evaluate early seed investment opportunities. https://www.caseyresearch.com/articles/why-not-thorium/

New Tech Is Helping Nuclear Power Make a Resurgence


By Edd Gent

Nuclear power has a lot going for it. It’s carbon-free, can produce big quantities of power from fairly small quantities of fuel, and once plants are constructed, they’re cheap to run. However consisting of the effective nuclear processes at its heart is exceptionally complex, which indicates structure plants is expensive and devastating failure is constantly a possibility. That’s not to mention the highly radioactive waste produced by existing technology.

These aspects, integrated with solidifying public opposition to the innovation following the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe and the emergence of wind and solar as carbon-free options, have actually seen the market’s fortunes fade in current years. This was exemplified by the 2017 personal bankruptcy of Westinghouse, one of the world’s leading nuclear power business.

That depression has triggered issue amongst some professionals, including many who previously opposed nuclear power. UN scientists state increased use of nuclear power is crucial if we are to limit worldwide warming to 1.5 C, a target that’s currently looking ambitious.

Despite this worrying outlook, though, a host of startups are trying to breathe new life into a nuclear industry that was long the province of engineering giants and state-backed industry. In a current report, CB Insights highlighted companies pursuing technologies that could revamp nuclear fission, the process at the heart of today’s plants. At the same time, a number of start-ups think the long-awaited age of nuclear fusion is almost upon us.

Perhaps the most talked-about nuclear power innovation of current years is the small modular reactor. It’s efficiently a miniaturized version of today’s standard nuclear power plants and is based on advances made in structure nuclear-powered naval vessels. By diminishing the size of these plants, the hope is to drastically reduce the big capital costs of nuclear power and decrease the potential effects of a large-scale nuclear meltdown.

NuScale is leading the charge with this innovation and has a task with the Utah Associated Community Power Systems to develop 12 of its 60- megawatt (MW) reactors by 2026, for a overall of 720 MW. The task reached an essential turning point in July after signing contracts to supply more than 150 MW to regional utilities.

But the offer is still far from sealed. MIT Tech Review points out that another little modular reactor manufacturer was in a similar position less than a decade ago, however the strategy fizzled out after they failed to discover enough customers.

And while small modular reactors might capture a greater share of the headlines, according to CB I nsights another innovation seems to be faring better with financiers. They found six companies building molten salt reactors that have received $64 million from endeavor capitalists in between them.

While conventional nuclear plants use pressurized water as a coolant, molten salt reactors instead usage a molten salt, which allows them to run at much lower pressures and for that reason reduces the threat of an accident. More innovative styles envisage blending liquid fuel in with the coolant, which could allow the usage of cleaner fuels like thorium and enable continuous reprocessing of the fuel so plants put on’t have to be shut down as soon as fuel is spent.

Terrestrial Energy has actually raised the bulk of the cash in this area at $39 million and hopes to bring a plant online in the 2020 s. But CB I nsights notes that there’s no previous examples of a start-up building a nuclear plant from scratch, and another popular molten salt reactor business, Transatomic Power, suspended operations in September 2018 when it decided it couldn’t do precisely that.

A number of other unique updates on the fission reactor are likewise in the pipeline, from China’s helium-cooled reactor, due to come online this year, to TerraPower’s “travelling wave reactor,” which will be able to run on invested fuel and depleted uranium.

But the other primary location of enjoyment is nuclear fusion, which guarantees endless clean power with almost no radioactive waste. The innovation is well-known for always being 20 years away from commercialization, but start-ups working on making it a truth are starting to attract serious financing as well as trustworthiness. The UK government’s recent announcement that it would spend $270 million on structure its own blend reactor has provided the field an even larger increase.

One of the leaders is Commonwealth Blend Systems, and they told Bloomberg that advances in superconductors are finally making it possible to build powerful enough magnets to effectively include the raving plasmas needed to produce combination.

More broadly, advances in the underlying physics and allowing technologies are making the possibility of building these reactors significantly less intimidating than before. Christofer Mowry, CEO of start-up General Combination, states many designs are talking about comparable timescales as some of the advanced fission tasks.

Whether these ambitious tasks will make it over the hurdles they face—and whether that will happen quickly enough to avert climate catastrophe—remains uncertain. But for the first time in a long while, there’s optimism about nuclear power once again.

This post was previously published on singularityhub.com and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

 

◊♦◊

If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Excellent Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.

All Premium Members get to view The Excellent Men Project with NO ADS.

Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.

 

 

Photo credit: Istockphoto. com

.

North Korea Hackers Breached Indian Nuke Reactor In Browse For Advanced Thorium Technology

North Korea is attempting to get its hands on innovative nuclear technology at any expense. One of India’s largest nuclear plants, the Kudankulam, situated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu was recently attacked by North Korean hackers.

The hackers are alleged to have belonged to Lazarus, the cyber arm of the North Korean federal government and are anticipated to have actually been after Thorium based nuclear energy, which has been established indigenously by India.

It seems that a “Dtrack” malware was planted in the nuclear power plant’s systems using phishing emails and the attackers may have got top-level gain access to to essential targets, according to an internal report. The emails were camouflaged as coming from from the nation’s Atomic Energy Guideline Board and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center of India.

It was tracked by India’s National Cyber Coordination Center, which is the nation’s cybersecurity and e-surveillance company, based on intelligence got from an American cybersecurity business and Indian cyber-security expert, Pukhraj Singh. The report stated that a “threat star” had breached “domain controllers” at the plant as well as the nation’s area agency ISRO.

While the U.S. Nuclear Power Council has stated that the breach just affected administrative systems and not the plant’s managing system, Singh believes otherwise. According to him, the breach stopped prior to getting access to control of the plant, not because of any security procedures, however because of the hacker’s intent.

“Cybersecurity ought to end up being the pivot of our nationwide security method. The invasions at Kudankulam weren’t harmful because the star decided against it. We were at its mercy,” Singh informed Straits Times.

Thorium is a cheaper, much safer and more efficient alternative to Uranium and is expected to fuel 30 percent of India’s electrical energy requires by 2050. There aren’t lots of operational Thorium-based nuclear reactors in the world, which makes the scientific research study behind it important.

India is a nuclear-armed state that likewise utilizes civilian nuclear power. The intent behind the attack seems to be acquiring gain access to to India’s Thorium based innovation and the know-how of such reactor’s mechanisms. If North Korea is able to develop such reactors, it may make it less threating on the global phase, as its present model uses Uranium. It will likewise have commercial advantages of developing and selling such innovation to other nations.

The cyberattack has presented as a significant security danger and highlighted security bugs in India’s nuclear system. It also provides into the speculation that India’s Chandrayaan-2 objective in September was derailed due to a comparable cyberattack.

Such breaches can threaten India’s nuclear ambitions too.

“Even though it is premature to predict that India’s civilian nuclear energy program and civilian area program are looking at a alarming future, the building and construction of new nuclear power stations that can assistance fulfill India’s growing energy requires will certainly be compromised due to the security breach,” Raja Ram, a nuclear researcher, and a Delhi-based think tank member told Asia Guard.

North Korean hackers have a history of attacking nuclear facilities consisting of South Korea’s Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power’s office and Belgium’s nuclear research center, SCK.CEN. They have likewise attacked lots of scholars in the field of Thorium research in the past.

North  Korean  Embassy

A flag of North Korea waves in the wind on a post at the North Korean Embassy in Madrid, Spain, March 27, 2019. Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

.