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Inspiring Vision of Hope for Thorium Powered Future

Rod Adams's picture
President and CEO Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
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  • Oct 17, 2011 1:18 pm GMT

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Kirk Sorensen is an inspiring speaker and teacher who is motivated by an incredible vision. As he eloquently describes in the video below, he has excavated and dusted off ideas and documentation from the archives at Oak Ridge National Laboratory about using thorium in molten salt reactors. According to back of the envelope calculations by Alvin Weinberg, the leader of the effort, the thorium resources on earth could power a civilization of 7 billion people at a US level of energy use for approximately 30 billion years.

It is a compelling story that should fill you full of hope as you start your working week.



PS – My own belief is that there are so many opportunities for society to prosper using fission that we should be pursuing multiple developmental paths. I am sorry that my vision may disrupt a lot of current business models, but as they say in the movies – you have to improvise, adapt and overcome as the world changes. A fission based energy infrastructure will enable more prosperity for far more people than is possible with our current combustion focused economy.

Hat tip to Charles Barton at Nuclear Green for the link to Kirk’s talk.

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Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Oct 17, 2011

Rod, why hasn’t thorium been persued previously?

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Oct 17, 2011



Thorium has been used on an experimental basis in a number of plants. The Indian Point unit 1 reactor operated with thorium in its early cores. The Light Water Breeder Reactor experiment used thorium based fuels. The German Thorium High Temperature Reactor also used thorium during its 1000 days of operation on a temporary license. The Indian multi phase program includes the use of thorium in later stages.

One of the biggest challenges with moving to a thorium based fuel cycle is that there is no naturally occurring thorium isotope that is fissile and can sustain a chain reaction. The material is always dependent on starting with either U-235 or Pu-239. It was simply easier to use those fuels with U-238 due to physical and chemical compatibility. Since we quickly discovered plenty of uranium there was really no driving force – other than scientific curiosity – to more fully commercialize the use of thorium.

However, since I think that we should be doubling our use of fission about every 10-15 years, it is a useful addition to the already massive potential energy from uranium.

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Oct 17, 2011

History has shown that Weinberg was a worry-wart – though a fine scientist. The light water reactors, designed to exacting, but still affordable enginering standards is a much more resilient and durable design than he thought it was. Even with a full core melt – or three of them on a single site at one time – there is essentially no danger to public health. 

Charles Barton's picture
Charles Barton on Oct 18, 2011

Rod is repeating an argument that he earlier expressedto me several times.  My response isthat Alvin Weinberg was concerned about public worries, and that this concern was shared by Enrico Fermi, Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller.  Three Mile Island demonstrated that Weinberg nuclear safety concerns were not misplaced, and the Fukushima accidents have reinforced the lesson.  The public worries about nuclear safety, may be irrational, but the public worries are real and remain a significant problem for the nuclear power industry.  Nuclear safety with Light Water Reactors involves small but real safety risks.  The public wants assured nuclear safety with no risks.  Weinberg believed that we could and should give the public what it wanted in nuclear safety, nuclear waste management, weapons proliferation avoidence, and lower reactor costs throulge the development of Molten Salt Reactor technology.  

I want to add that I have great respect for Rod eben though we occasionally disagree.  Rod is the dean of social media pro-nuclear communicators, and we have all learned a lot from him.  I must add that we both feel strongly about these issues, and for that reason we voice our disagreements.

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on Oct 18, 2011



The public has been taught its irrational fears for reasons that will not disappear no matter how perfect the technology is. I can come up with dozens of reasons – many of them irrational but sellable – why people should fear molten salt reactors. 

My point is that a political problem based on carefully crafted marketing messages cannot be overcome with a technical solution. It needs a political solution led by people with the courage to look others in the eye and tell them that they are being sold a bill of goods when they are taught to fear low doses of radiation.

As we have discussed many times, I believe that the proliferation arguments are just another tact of the antinuclear activists who will NEVER be satisfied until we stop using nuclear energy altogether. Their arguments are not based on truth, so any efforts made for a technical solution are doomed to fail.

There is NO energy source without risks, just a whole bunch of them with risks that are acceptable and manageable. 

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