Kirk Sorensen: Can Thorium End Our Energy Crisis?

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    Apr 24, 2011 3:55 PM GMT
    People hear the word nuclear and have anxiety attacks but the reality is that current nuclear power driven by uranium is a relic of the cold war. It was used so that we could have nuclear weapons. Energy prices could fall substantially if the costs of substitutes were allowed to fall driven up by regulatory hurdles (especially for natural gas and thorium).

    Here's a look at how thorium can quench our thirst for energy (and also why I'm not worried about "running out"):

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    Apr 24, 2011 4:31 PM GMT
    Why didnt they build Thorium reactors instead of Uranium reactors in the first place, since they knew about this since the '50s?



    From Wikipedia...

    "Benefits and challenges

    A 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency discusses potential benefits along with the challenges of thorium reactors.[23] According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, "thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy - and a way to burn up old radioactive waste."[24] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[24] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Daily Telegraph, suggests that "Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium," and could put "an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years."[15] He also points out that "China is leading the way" with its own "dash for thorium," which it announced in March 2011.[25]

    Turkish nuclear expert Ayhan Demirbaş has summarized some of the benefits of thorium when compared with uranium as fuel:[26]

    Weapons-grade fissionable material (U-233) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;
    Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste;
    Thorium comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7% fissionable U-235;
    Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming,[27] so fission stops by default.
    However, unlike uranium-based breeder reactors, thorium requires a start-up by neutrons from a uranium reactor. But experts note that "the second thorium reactor may activate a third thorium reactor. This could continue in a chain of reactors for a millennium if we so choose." They add that because of thorium's abundance, it will not be exhaused in 1,000 years.[28]

    The Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA), an educational advocacy organization, emphasizes that "there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 1,000 years." [29] Reducing coal as an energy source, according to science expert Lester R. Brown of The Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, would significantly reduce medical costs from breathing coal pollutants. Brown estimates that coal-related deaths and diseases are currently costing the U.S. up to $160 billion annually."[30]"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium#Benefits_and_challenges
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    Apr 24, 2011 5:04 PM GMT
    Caslon18000 saidWhy didnt they build Thorium reactors instead of Uranium reactors in the first place, since they knew about this since the '50s?


    You sort of answered your own question: "Weapons-grade fissionable material (U-233) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;"

    Or more succinctly: the USSR.
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    Apr 24, 2011 5:24 PM GMT
    very interesting, I will have to read into this........
  • swimmer8671

    Posts: 429

    Apr 24, 2011 5:40 PM GMT
    Caslon18000 saidWhy didnt they build Thorium reactors instead of Uranium reactors in the first place, since they knew about this since the '50s?



    From Wikipedia...

    "Benefits and challenges

    A 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency discusses potential benefits along with the challenges of thorium reactors.[23] According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, "thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy - and a way to burn up old radioactive waste."[24] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[24] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Daily Telegraph, suggests that "Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium," and could put "an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years."[15] He also points out that "China is leading the way" with its own "dash for thorium," which it announced in March 2011.[25]

    Turkish nuclear expert Ayhan Demirbaş has summarized some of the benefits of thorium when compared with uranium as fuel:[26]

    Weapons-grade fissionable material (U-233) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;
    Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste;
    Thorium comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7% fissionable U-235;
    Thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming,[27] so fission stops by default.
    However, unlike uranium-based breeder reactors, thorium requires a start-up by neutrons from a uranium reactor. But experts note that "the second thorium reactor may activate a third thorium reactor. This could continue in a chain of reactors for a millennium if we so choose." They add that because of thorium's abundance, it will not be exhaused in 1,000 years.[28]

    The Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA), an educational advocacy organization, emphasizes that "there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 1,000 years." [29] Reducing coal as an energy source, according to science expert Lester R. Brown of The Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, would significantly reduce medical costs from breathing coal pollutants. Brown estimates that coal-related deaths and diseases are currently costing the U.S. up to $160 billion annually."[30]"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium#Benefits_and_challenges


    Didn't you ever learn that wikipedia can never be counted as a credible source, since anyone can edit and add whatever they want...
  • NerdLifter

    Posts: 1509

    Apr 24, 2011 5:48 PM GMT
    There must be a downside/other agenda; I become suspicious of material that states grandiose positive statements about a potential energy source. I think I'll have to find some scientific journal articles and consult some of my campus's nuclear professors before I believe what I read.
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    Apr 24, 2011 6:02 PM GMT
    Studinprogress saidThere must be a downside/other agenda; I become suspicious of material that states grandiose positive statements about a potential energy source. I think I'll have to find some scientific journal articles and consult some of my campus's nuclear professors before I believe what I read.


    Without lifting a finger to do the research... there isn't enough money to be made by large companies with cheap energy.

    We will continue using fossil fuels as long as certain people are enriched by it.
  • danielek

    Posts: 124

    Apr 24, 2011 6:14 PM GMT
    Very, very interesting...
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    Apr 24, 2011 6:15 PM GMT
    sdgman said
    Studinprogress saidThere must be a downside/other agenda; I become suspicious of material that states grandiose positive statements about a potential energy source. I think I'll have to find some scientific journal articles and consult some of my campus's nuclear professors before I believe what I read.


    Without lifting a finger to do the research... there isn't enough money to be made by large companies with cheap energy.

    We will continue using fossil fuels as long as certain people are enriched by it.


    There's more than enough money coming in from other industries wanting cheap energy (in fact if you do the math - far far more money). It's also why companies like BP are also actively investing in alternatives. There's more than enough of a profit incentive for industry to take up the slack if governments provided a more balanced regulatory framework for development of plants and testing.

    To give you one example, check out Terrapower:
    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/terrapower-how-the-travelling-wave-nuclear-reactor-works/

    Which is being developed by Nathan Mhyrvold and is also being backed by Bill Gates who mentioned TerraPower in his TED speech:
    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/bill-gates-ted-we-need-an-energy-miracle/



    The important point that Bill Gates makes here is that to bring the world out of poverty will require that technology allows us to produce more without using less. This also means that the costs of energy needs to be driven down. It's also useful to note that the investment in TerraPower is not out of his charitable arm. His aim is to make money - and if their reactors succeed, he'll make a lot (more) of it.
  • alvarom

    Posts: 33

    Apr 24, 2011 7:50 PM GMT
    super !!!
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    Apr 25, 2011 12:38 AM GMT
    riddler78 saidThere's more than enough money coming in from other industries wanting cheap energy (in fact if you do the math - far far more money). It's also why companies like BP are also actively investing in alternatives. There's more than enough of a profit incentive for industry to take up the slack if governments provided a more balanced regulatory framework for development of plants and testing.

    To give you one example, check out Terrapower:
    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/terrapower-how-the-travelling-wave-nuclear-reactor-works/

    Which is being developed by Nathan Mhyrvold and is also being backed by Bill Gates who mentioned TerraPower in his TED speech:
    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/bill-gates-ted-we-need-an-energy-miracle/



    The important point that Bill Gates makes here is that to bring the world out of poverty will require that technology allows us to produce more without using less. This also means that the costs of energy needs to be driven down. It's also useful to note that the investment in TerraPower is not out of his charitable arm. His aim is to make money - and if their reactors succeed, he'll make a lot (more) of it.
    I remember Bill's TED speech...very informative!

    But watch out, because if he dips his hands in the TerraPower cookie jar, that might mean you get the "blue screen of death" every time you plug something in, and then you'll have to reboot your house to restore power...and it might even require a software upgrade to start working again.
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    Jul 04, 2011 5:15 AM GMT
    He has already had his imprint. TerraPower started life through a company that was founded by ex-Microsoft people.