Thorium Trolls Hypnotise EnvironmentalistsPosted on October 26th, 2011 50 comments
Kirk Sorensen is apparently a one-man propaganda machine. His personal energy must be immense. He keeps turning up everywhere.
Never since the days of Tesla versus Edison has there been such an energy-related public communications coup.
He is a social media god. He has to be – he’s running an enterprise start-up marketing an unproven energy process.
It appears that Bryony Worthington has been scooped up. But then she backed carbon offsetting and Carbon Capture and Storage. Can we ask if her judgment has improved lately ? And Friends of the Earth have been hypnotised. Or maybe not. George Monbiot was taken in a while back.
From now on, I can predict British environmentalists from every sector of society to call for the development of the Thorium Fuel Cycle – although I think it’s a waste of time and resources, and in my view cannot be scaled up quickly enough to be of any use in dealing with the global energy crisis.
All we have so far is a massive, well-researched sales pitch. And Kirk Sorensen’s done his homework on networking the institutions. In fact, I think that’s all he’s capable of – talk. I sense he is a Master of Spinology.
Miracle energy sources are a never-ending source of humour and despair. Remember cold fusion ? Where’s that now ? Still in a test tube ? Burning seawater ? Are you serious ? Remember Carbon Capture and Storage ? Where’s that now – after all the hype ? And what about algae biodiesel ? Will the flow rates of output fuel ever be high enough ?
The Thorium Fuel Cycle is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The simplest solutions are the best. Ones that already exist and already work. We need to stop hoping for the future and live in the now. We already have all the technology we need to solve climate change and the energy crisis – gas and power. Renewable electricity. And renewable gas.Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Stirring Stuff, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow
50 responses to “Thorium Trolls Hypnotise Environmentalists”
I am all for renewables. But until world powered by renewables alone is a reality, it would be extremely foolish to abandon advanced nuclear, which is the next best thing. We cannot, and we must not bet our future on just one card.
We need to live in the now, as you said. And right now, climate and energy crisis is not solved yet. Thus the drive to develop thorium power.
Stephen October 26th, 2011 at 17:28
thanks for writing this. I am a nuclear scientist and am about to imbark on a a long piece of research to help license Thorium MOX for PWR and BWR reactors. Could you let us know why this isn’t a good idea? The last seven years of research I have been involved in all points towards it being a great energy resource in the future. I agree that right now we should be building those nuclear power plants we are….. and also all the wind turbines we are…. but the energy demand will increase and the resources (Uranium) decrease, there are also a number of other reasons that Thorium is a good future fuel, and I would be happy to send you papers, or talk to you about it any time.
William icquatu October 26th, 2011 at 17:44
I feel compelled to ask if the author of this piece has so much as bothered to actually READ any of the molten salt reactor program documentation from Oak Ridge National Laboratories – freely available from the document repository at energyfromthorium.com by the way.
frankly, it sounds as if they have not, or lack the technical understanding to comprehend just how intrinsically superior this reactor type and the thorium fuel cycle are to every other energy source available to humankind (not including fusion, which still has a way to go), and just how quickly the technology could be implemented given that ORNL built and operated the MSRE without any significant issues for four years in the 1960s on what was quite literally a shoestring budget (less than 100 million US Dollars iirc) compared to the totally inferior solid core breeders that got billions of dollars over the same time period (and for decades after) and have NEVER managed to operate safely no matter where they have been built.
OK, I’ll bite (again).
The only specific concern you mention directly in your post, is that the technology is that it can’t be scaled up quickly enough.
In the real world, yes.
All forms of nuclear face regulatory obstacles and roadblocks. If a commercial LFTR was already available, there’d still be regulatory hurdles before construction could even start.
However, rolling out solar/wind solutions face similar challenges. They are low density energy sources. You need a lot of land to deploy them. You need power lines to connect the energy farms to people. Current attempts to deploy energy farms are seeing NIMBY challenges.
Neither of these approaches will be deployed “quickly enough”.
Quickly enough was yesterday.
Quickly enough was last year. Last decade. The CO2 is already in the atmosphere, and more is on its way. “Good times” ahead!
I’m advocating here a “kitchen sink” approach. In that no REASONABLE technological solution should be taken off the table.
I don’t believe energy farms can address climate change in the “real world”. Technologically, they can. If we devoted an OVERWHELMING amount of resources to them. Land, money, and using power of imminent domain to FORCE people to give up land for sake of power transmission lines. If that can be made to happen… energy farming can work.
In my opinion that is unrealistic. It might happen, but that is not a bet I’d put all my chips on.
With LFTR, yes there’s roll-out challenges. But those challenges are the biggest challenges LFTR can face. The engineering challenges aren’t over but A REACTOR CORE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY DEMONSTRATED (1965-1969). There ARE reactor designs circulating today (more being designed privately).
The 65-69 Molten Salt Reactor Experiment had a different core design than LFTR, to be sure, but NO ONE can question if the Thorium fuel cycle is valid. That’s like gravity. It isn’t up for debate. And you’re comparing LFTR to cold fusion!
Can I suggest you take the time to watch Bill Gates TED Talk “Innovate to Zero!”
He’s saying we need to radically innovate IN ALL AREAS that impact global warming. That means renewables, AND energy storage, AND improving the efficiency with which we consume energy, AND improving nuclear. He identifies 4 key areas.
And if you take any one of those 4 off the table, you are leaving a much bigger challenge to be addressed by the other 3.
If LFTR was available today, not everyone would use it. Some countries would still pursue energy farming solutions, I’m sure. But not every country will turn to renewables. I just can’t fathom it. Poor countries? The USA? With Obama as president the USA is still struggling to roll out renewables. What happens if/when a republican candidate is elected? Here in Canada we made great Kyoto commitments but never followed through. Now, with a conservative government we’re rescinding our commitments. That’s how stupid the real world is.
We need a solution that appeals to THOSE GUYS too. Poor countries and the USA need a radically cheaper energy option to stop emitting CO2. They’re not going to do it because the planet needs it. They’re not going to do it because of international pressure.
The politics of it (both NIMBY and global warming deniers), the “real world” obstacles… demand a solution where coal is undercut in price. LFTR can deliver that faster than renewables (if renewables ever can). So we need to develop it too.
And to quickly address some of the point raised in the articles you linked to…
“It will create a whole new volume of radioactive waste, on top of the waste from uranium reactors”
It creates plenty of fission products, yes. These would be called “nuclear waste” in a conventional reactor as they’re left over as part of the waste stream. MOST of these fission products STAY INSIDE LFTR and DECAY IN THE CORE releasing heat-energy. The ULTIMATE waste stream… what exits the LFTR and needs to be stored as actual waste is a much smaller (in volume), and easier to manage (various products can be easily separated and stored or sold). It is a better waste stream.
And since PWR waste (and decommissioned nuclear weapons) can ALSO be used as LFTR fuel, we can actually REDUCE the net-radioactivity of our planet.
People arguing this point are using the term “nuclear waste” to include fission products. In the context of LFTR that is misleading.
“it is not renewable…”
In the same sense geothermal is not renewable. The earth’s crust (and core) has PLENTY of thorium, as this is where the heat from geothermal comes from. It is not renewable just as seawater is not renewable. We have LOTS.
We have LOTS.
“…and cannot effectively connect to smart grids.”
Why not? Of course LFTR could. And more importantly LFTR can connect to existing power lines. Power-line NIMBY is bypassed.
“The technology is not tried and tested…”
Molten Salt Reactor Experiment 1965-1969. A different core design, but fundamental principles still apply.
“And none of the main players is interested.”
Would YOU be interested in a source of power for which your organization has no competitive advantage with which to compete? (LFTR carries over virtually no technology from PWR.) Would YOU be interested in introducing a virtually free liquid fuel (thorium in fluoride salts) which can compete with your expensive & proprietary solid fuel rods?
The main players WILL take an interest. In what form that will happen remains to be seen. Note that GE was VERY careful to source its Volt batteries from a supplier which was NOT a subsidiary (or controlled by) an oil company. That reduced their choices significantly. LFTR is a disruptive technology, and just as China (sort of a “main player”) has taken a billion dollar interest, others will follow.
There are reasons why thorium supporters are ENTHUSED about this subject. It is an elegant solution to a complex problem (it is like if Apple built a nuclear reactor). It is elegant engineering (liquid fuel solves a LOT of problems) and politics. The online activity on this is because the problems LFTR addresses are incredibly urgent & important ones.
Seriously, go check out INNOVATE TO ZERO. Bill Gates isn’t even talking about LFTR, he’s just talking about the real-world reality of our challenge in a way I don’t think you’ve yet heard.
Do you think the guy who’s now dedicating his life to philanthropic work is still harboring an evil side from his Windows Millennium Edition days?
Mathieu Rouvinez October 26th, 2011 at 18:42
Do not expect people to believe what you publish without providing strong and reliable evidence to back up your sayings.
Linking that flawed news brief from theecologist.org ? Are you kidding ? Have you really read the article and its comments before posting it here ? Come on, I’m sure you can do better than that. You are discrediting yourself by publishing such contents.
“Familiarity with the subject is a requirement of serious criticism.” — C. Barton
Best wishes (of improvement).
Voice of reason October 26th, 2011 at 19:46
Do you have any legitimate points to raise on the issue, instead of just [scatalogical]-smearing?
Yes, Kirk Sorenson does have a seemingly limitless store of enthusiasm and energy and I applaud him for it. That’s because he’s done the maths and seen just how viable thorium is. He’s driven by a desire to make this happen, to power our planet with cheap nuclear energy, and I am too, I’m just too lazy to do anything about it.
The irrational fear of nuclear power is what is holding mankind back from profound societal and environmental changes. With the cheap, reliable energy of advanced nuclear power, we can fix the environment. The only thing holding us back from a bright green future is [duff]-spreaders like you, who continue to spew the same rhetoric and ignore the facts.
Ed Pell October 26th, 2011 at 22:44
I support thorium molten salt reactors because they are safe and produce little waste and the waste is short lived. I am looking forward to the day either Kirk or China show off the first new prototype thorium molten salt reactor in 50 year. It has been done before by Oak Ridge in the 60s.
Jason Kobos October 26th, 2011 at 23:19
The author wrote:
“We already have all the technology we need to solve climate change and the energy crisis – gas and power. Renewable electricity. And renewable gas.”
What do you mean by “renewable gas.” Are you sure that you have not already been hypnotized by the gas industry?
stephen October 27th, 2011 at 02:54
Why do you think anybody will pay attention to you or afford you credence when your piece is abjectly devoid of fact or cogent argument?
I’m a fluorine chemist who has synthesized and analyzed RE-doped fluoride salts for all of my PhD work. The MSR reactor at ORNL successfully ran at 96% efficiency and could not even be deliberately coaxed into meltdown – twice!
You clearly have no clue how to calculate energy density, or you would understand that renewables are orders of magnitude away from providing today’s or our future energy needs here in the U.S.
I absolutely PROMISE you that I will do everything in my power to take all of the nonsense transuranic waste from decades of 235-U fuel cycles and make safe, cheap power with a MSR, and get rid of all of it for you, because you’re so ignorant, you can’t even understand the nature of the problem…
You ask “What do you mean by “renewable gas.” Are you sure that you have not already been hypnotized by the gas industry?” If you search for the tag “Renewable Gas” on this web log you will find a few short articles outlining my ongoing investigations into developments in renewable gas.
In a nutshell : you can take biodegradable once living material (biomass) and process it along several thermochemical pathways to output a carbon rich gas feedstock. It can have a high methane content if it has been anaerobically digested. This is what is normally called biogas. This can be “washed” to be biomethane – a sort of renewable equivalent to Natural Gas. This can be fed into gas grids, and is done so in Europe, increasingly. It is very widely used in India and China as a common household and transport fuel.
But biogas is not the only carbon-rich source of gas. There are other pathways that take biomass to synthesis gas – by pyrolysis/gasification. This biosyngas added to biogas can vastly increase the amount of carbon-rich gas available for the next step.
The neat trick that multiplies the quantity of available biomethane is to add in renewable hydrogen. This hydrogen is made by electrolysis of water, and then the carbon-rich and hydrogen-rich gas feedstocks are subjected to the process of methanation.
What you end up with is a methane-rich gas very similar to Natural Gas.
Using renewable hydrogen and methanation to upgrade the mixed biogases starts to offer a source of renewable gas that can adequately compensate for Natural Gas depletion, a fact of life that will begin to kick in around 2030, or earlier for Eurasia (shale gas or no shale gas).
And no, I have not been mesmerised by the gas industry. What I have done however, is start some research into the options for a combined renewable gas and renewable power future.
James Birkin October 27th, 2011 at 12:11
Seems pretty poor research imho. Eifion’s article has rightly been trashed for its massive inaccuracies and Jo seeks still to rely on it. The flaws in the NNL report have been pointed out and still our Jo uses it. The argument for rapidly advancing research into this possibility is irrefutable – whether LFTRS are useful or not I do not know. For now it would be criminally irresponsible not to push on fast in looking at Molten Salt tech in general and LFTRS in particular as offering some help in solving the problems we face. I would be more impressed (and interested) if Jo actually addressed the tech (she appears to have a science degree) rather than citing flawed reports.
I have an acquaintance with the basic physics and engineering of the various thorium fuel cycle proposals. However, I shall not be wasting my time researching them in detail.
Others have already done so, and have usefully pointed out flaws with the designs, and it is not my role to expound on them – or at least, not at the moment.
I want you to take a step back and take in the big picture.
How different is Kirk Sorensen’s approach to that of a charlatan ? He is selling vapourware – something that does not yet exist. Why should we be confident that he can deliver anything useful ?
I note that it is reported that the Flibe Energy corporation is set to be working with the United States of America’s military, presumably to bypass oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Alarm bells should be ringing in your mind (unless you are a true believer).
I also note that Kirk Sorensen was formerly an employee of Teledyne Brown Engineering. His tenure was short, and it has to be asked – why ?
I wonder what exactly Kirk Sorensen did for NASA, and for how long. I expect to be amazed.
[ UPDATE : Wikipedia tells me that Kirk Sorensen “has a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering (colloquially: “rocket science”) from the Georgia Institute of Technology and is pursuing a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee. He worked at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center from 2000 to 2010, followed by a year at Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Alabama as “Chief Nuclear Technologist” until he left to found Flibe Energy in 2011″. So that means he is not yet a “thorium expert”, then, whatever fans of Flibe may claim. I note the connection to the Georgia Institute of Technology. This is where Judith Curry, a famed climate change science sceptic, has tenure, whose research is concerned with unmanned aerial vechicles – which screams “military” all over. I wonder if Kirk Sorensen has perhaps been influenced by decades of military propaganda. For one exposition of part of the ongoing struggle for truth in science and technology, read Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik Conway’s excellent book “Merchants of Doubt”. ]
Bert Wadd October 27th, 2011 at 15:06
Strange that you are not willing to waste your time to state the specific problems you have with the scientific or engineering proposals of MSR / LFTR development despite your acquaintance with the subject.
Instead you start an argumentum ad hominem.
Because of this I think you are just jealous.
In fact, that you want to be Kirk. That you are the one who successfully promotes a viable solution for the energy and climate problems. But you won’t. Renewable gas. What a joke.
Jason Kobos October 27th, 2011 at 15:36
Jo, how many tons of biomass feedstock would be required to produce the energy needed to power 25% of the grid in the U.S. per year?
How many acres of farmland would be required?
If said acreage of farmland were used for say, food. How many people would that feed?
If non-food growing land were used, how many endangered bison(and the rest of their Eco-system) would be displaced?
Maybe ask organisations like the National Grid who have done some detailed figures :-
If the only feedstocks for renewable gas were the energy crops grown now for ethanol, I’d expect the US could get more energy out per acre – because of the addition of renewable hydrogen at the methanation stage :-
However, since gas feedstocks for renewable gas can come from a wide variety of sources, America would not need to sacrifice so much of its farmland to run its cars, trucks and planes.
Anyway, renewable gas is not the main player in the renewable energy future – renewable electricity is vital for the United States of America. Here’s a picture of how much space it takes up to do wind and solar power, compared to other energy vectors :-
I fully expect America to do what Europe will do – split effort on new autmotive transportation between electrical solutions and renewable gas solutions. The products that can be derived from simple gas feedstocks are very versatile.
William Icquatu October 27th, 2011 at 21:53
you claim “acquaintance with the basic physics and engineering of the various thorium fuel cycle proposals” yet also state that you have no intention of doing your due diligence on the details of the technology. you also state that others have already done so, and have pointed out the flaws in MSR/LFTR approaches (I presume by your wording that these purported flaws are fatal as far as you are concerned). I hate to inform you of this, but unless you name your sources and cite their work, all you have is unfounded opinion.
others have rightly pointed out that the NNL report has been quite thoroughly debunked. if your other sources are so easily thrashed under critical analysis, it certainly is no surprise to me that you have refused to cite your sources.
Yes Jo, Chinese academy of science is working on “vapor-ware”, as are French in the Grenoble Institute, as is UC Berkeley, ORNL, UWM, and MIT. Makes perfect sense.
It would really be great if you actually studied the technology, instead of relying on misinformation spread by people with agenda but without the background to understand the science (such as E Reese). There is plenty of the original research freely available online in the PDF section of energyfromthorium.
Hmm apparently mode than 2 hyperlinks is not allowed, so here is the Grenoble research:
And the recent ORNL paper:
The UC Berkeley (+MIT+UCW just got a DoE grant) project I am sure you can google for yourself. Vaporware, right.
Concerning biofuels, so far they are not renewable. The corn ethanol actually takes more energy in fossil inputs than the energy in replaces in gas tank. Biofuels are not only destructive to ecosystems, they compete for the same resources as food crops, which means they push world wide prices of food up, causing massive starvation.
Thorium is million times more energy dense than any chemical fuel, and we already mine it more than we’ll ever need along with the rare earth elements, as they mineralize in the same deposits due to similar chemistry. Contrary to the fossil fuel agriculture needed to produce biofuels, no additional environmental impacts come from thorium economy.
James Birkin October 28th, 2011 at 11:57
your interesting comments do not take away from the fact that you relied on two sources which you knew were flawed and did niot draw attention to the flaws – why was htis?
“Miracle energy source”. So was the MSRE a miracle?
You’ve got less than 5 years to U turn into the LFTRs fold, otherwise you’ll become the blogging [offensive term removed] of the decade.
Limulus October 28th, 2011 at 22:04
RE “How different is Kirk Sorensen’s approach to that of a charlatan ? He is selling vapourware – something that does not yet exist. Why should we be confident that he can deliver anything useful ?”
The concept of a LFTR is based on already established principles; there’s no new physics required, just new engineering. In that respect it’s really not much different from any other startup company.
Contrast this to https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Energy_Catalyzer or any of the ‘free energy’ frauds/delusions on https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Voodoo_Science
I just looked over the briefest of brief explanations of the UC Berkeley algal/cyanobacteria gene transger project, and it looks very thin to me. Anything that relies on genetic modification is entirely non-guaranteed. I don’t think it will be one of Vinod Khosla’s “black swan” technologies. If it ever works in any way at all, it will only be a niche market. I know a number of companies are working on “advanced biofuels”, but I don’t know who would be uninformed enough to agree to have GMO-derived fuels in their tanks without some regulatory process. Nobody knows what this stuff would do “in the wild”.
At least with most start-up companies they actually have working prototypes to hand. What does Kirk Sorensen have to show us ? Only his presentation slides, I fear.
I’m not going to waste my time doing your work for you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explain clearly why Kirk Sorensen’s engineering designs can compensate for the concerns that several reputable people have now raised.
Challenging me to explain these flaws to you (with citations) will only take me away from my proper duties. It is time I cannot afford to fully document what appears to me to be an empty promise, especially when others have done it already so ably.
I’m not going to waste my time doing your work for you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explain clearly why Kirk Sorensen’s engineering designs can compensate for the concerns that several reputable people have now raised.
Challenging me to explain these flaws to you (with citations) will only take me away from my proper duties. It is time I cannot afford to fully document what appears to me to be an empty promise, especially when others have done it already so ably.
What do you mean by “no additional environmental impacts come from thorium economy” ?
Nothing additional to what, exactly ?
Are you attempting to claim that there are no hazardous outputs from the various processes of thorium breeding proposed ?
I rather disbelieve that.
James Birkin October 29th, 2011 at 01:46
Jo – usingauthorities you know are discredited for support is wrong and misleading – simple as that.
Kirk Sorenson doesn’t have a prototype in hand, but he has several PREVIOUS working prototypes:
1. the aircraft reactor experiment (1954) at INL
2. the molten salt reactor experiment (1965-1969) at ORNL
3. the liquid salt reactor experiments (1970-1976) again, at ORNL
These are hardly vaporware projects – they were funded, to completion, at the behest of our national laboratories under the direction of Alvin Weinberg (a very eminent nuclear pioneer). And has been said in other places, other groups across the globe are working on the technology.
Furthermore, all this success happened in the *1950s*, *60*s and *70*s, and was heavily, technically, documented – all of which documents exist on the Energy from Thorium website. The first thing that the Chinese delegation did when they got to ORNL – with the idea in mind to make their own LFTR – was to zero in on and copy the technical specs.
This is hardly vaporware, Jo, and it would be a courageous intellectual step to admit as such. If we don’t get off our collective butts to *re*-create this technology, the chinese or the russians almost certainly will, and we will be staring down yet another 5 trillion dollar market being ceded to another country, based on yet another technology that WE invented.
As for the choice to go with the military, it is unfortunate but necessary. The NRC is so snarled up in bureaucracy, that it hasn’t certified a NEW LWR DESIGN FOR DECADES. And hence, we have 1960’s boiler water reactors (like the one at Fukushima) in our country as opposed to the AP1000 – which has the benefits of 40 years of advances in engineering.
This is a scandal. If they cannot pursue a LWR – which is the same technology – what is their chances of pursuing a totally DIFFERENT form of energy production?
Not that great I’d imagine. At least, this way, our tax dollars are at work creating an energy production cycle that we desperately need, both for our economy and for our ecology.
So Jo – what is it going to be? Are you a faux green – more interested in the social benefits of being perceived as green than actually helping anything – or are you ACTUALLY interested in helping the environment?
If so, you owe yourself to do due diligence. Else, you carry very little weight here, and you ought to know it.
George October 29th, 2011 at 03:48
What do you propose someone like Kirk Sorenson do to get a start up company like this going? This technology is generally unknown, even in nuclear engineering circles. I support what he is doing which is attempting to get the tech out there. He is actually trying to put something together himself, not wait for someone else to do the work.
I guess we should just keep funding solar companies with no oversite though, right?
ahahaha you have no proper duties you [ sexual orientation hate speech redacted ]
What startups have depends entierly on what type of business they’re in. An IT startup might for example just have an idea for a site, and are trying to get investors that also think the idea is viable.
Flibe Energy does have something. It has a design based on research made more than 40 years ago by the same person that invented and patented the Pressurized Water Reactor and the Boiling Water Reactor, Alvin Weinberg.
And no, it is YOUR job to present the evidence to support YOUR position. That is the foundation of a debate, that both sides present sources for their arguments.
Our arguments are based on research made over 40 years ago and are publicly available on energyfromthorium.com and have been studied by many people the last five years, with a lot of scientists backing it, with the MSR being one of the possible reactors chosen by the GEN IV Forum.
Your only source so far is the one from The Ecologist, which we have debunked thoroughly.
If you don’t post your sources to why the MSR/LFTR is so bad, you will fail miserably in this debate.
As for the environmental impact, far more thorium is already mined today than what is needed to power the entire planet using thorium as the sole energy source. So no more additional extraction is needed to get the required thorium. Los Alamos National Laboratory also earlier this year developed their Th-ING process, which makes thorium extraction from the rare earths extremely green, and at a cost of only $30 per Kg.
Furthermore, the waste produced by a thorium MSR like LFTR is substantially less.
You put in one ton of thorium per GW a year, burn 99% of it, and out you get 99% fission products and 1% Pu-238 which is not bomb material. Pu-238 is used in Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators(RTG) as an energy source for deep space probes, but NASA has unfortunately used up their entire stock for it, and there’s no more to be found.
The fission products themselves contain many valuable materials, and 83% of all fission products have decayed to stability after 10 years. This includes a lot of useful elements like xenon, neodymium, samarium, rhodium and others.
What makes the remaining waste dangerous is Strontium 90, 3.5% of mass and Cesium 137, 3.5% of mass, which both have a half life of around 30 years. These have decayed after 300 years, by which time the waste is less radioactive than natural uranium, and approaching that of natural thorium. For the next million years, technetium 99 is the main source of radiation, but it has medical and some industrial usage.
Sr-90 undergoes beta decay, and is also usable as an energy source in RTGs, though it doesn’t last as long as an energy source as Pu-238.
The only thing left so far that contributes to the radiation of fission products is Cs-137.
Cs-137 decays to Ba-137m, which has a half life of a few minutes and releases 662 keV gamma rays to reach it’s stable energy state as Ba-137.
After 20 years, Cs-137 decay is the primary source of gamma rays from fission products (>95%.)
Cs-137 thus actually finds usage for radiotherapy, food irradiation and some industrial sensory equipment.
So the “waste” from a LFTR is not really waste.
If you want to store Sr-90 and Cs-137 though, it’s not that difficult.
If the entire worlds energy came from LFTRs, less than 7000 tonnes of thorium is needed yearly. This would result in 35 tonnes, or a cube with a side of 1.23 meter yearly worth of cesium.
The barium can easily be separated from cesium using fluoride volatility, meaning that if you process the cesium at even intervals to remove the barium from the decaying cesium, you would reach an equilibrium of cesium, due to it’s half life of 30 years, in the form of a cube measuring 10.4 meters.
If you also want to store Sr-90, the same applies, and Zirconium is the product you separate instead. Strontium is more dense though so the stable volume is less, a cube measuring 9.23 meters.
For satisfying the entire world production of energy, that’s not a whole lot you need to store.
Tomáš Klapka October 29th, 2011 at 23:46
Jo, imagine this fictive and absolutely not true situation of someone writing you:
Jo, some stupid people were telling me that you are not a clever person. So I wrote a blog post about your lack of education. I don’t have time to research if you are actually educated.
I’m not going to waste my time doing your work for you.
ScandiGreen October 30th, 2011 at 00:31
Ok Jo, I’ll bite…
“I’m not going to waste my time doing your work for you.”
You have brought out a long ad hominem attack with exactly *one* relevant source which is riddled with basic miscomprehensions and errors and has now been refuted by numerous people and facts in these comments. If anyone has any “work” to do here it’s you in either justifying your position or, if you have dignity enough, admitting you are wrong.
“The Thorium Fuel Cycle is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
The ‘Thorium Fuel Cycle’ is the use of Thorium as a fissile fuel regardless of reactor design. Thorium can be used in many reactor types but for most reactor designs it is suboptimal — it happens to be a very good fit for a LFTR. That isn’t speculation, but rather easily deduced and proven through the physics and the atoms involved. Conflating those concepts is more reflective of a yokel copying and pasting hastily skimmed google search results than someone who has any serious comprehension of the subject.
The article you referenced in theecologist.org, btw, confuses thorium used in an MSR and the applicability of thorium as a fuel source in all reactor designs, is flat out wrong on the type and volume of waste produced by an MSR, is ignorant of the ‘catalytic’ role of the uranium present in a LFTR, and hangs its sole complaint on the idea that the technology might take some time to prove in commercial operation.
As if that were grounds to delay technology development. Development work and inspection is something one has to do with every new alternative energy solution. I can’t rightly fathom how engineering and QHSE work on a proven power generation technology is grounds to not pursue such a technology. “Oh no, it might involve some work” is a poor excuse in my eyes. Does anyone seriously think we’ll have 30% of global power generation on, say, solar within 5 years, anyways?
“How different is Kirk Sorensen’s approach to that of a charlatan ? He is selling vapourware – something that does not yet exist. Why should we be confident that he can deliver anything useful ?”
This obnoxious drivel is the reason I’m posting today…
Firstly, Kirk Sorensen is not selling anything, except the odd speech starring Kirk Sorensen. You keep writing like he’s out pushing KirkCo reactors – blatantly false. He is raising awareness about a proven technology and is not asking anyone for any kind of funding.
Secondly, charlatans do not approach with well documented, proven, experiments showing hard numbers and project success. If they did they would cease to be charlatans because they would have the goods. It’s a fine line, I know…
Thirdly: This is not something which ‘does not yet exist’ any more than the Saturn V rocket ‘does not yet exist’. It’s an old technology and lots of know-how has been lost… But in the mean time we’ve also had 50+ years of materials science, we have scads of awesome documentation, robots that can machine parts better than ever, and have honest to god computers that can help test, design, and monitor reactors better than we ever could before. That is to say: we did it before, we can do it again and better this time.
Finally, and if there is one part of this I hope people carry with them it’s this: LFTRs are in no way, shape, or form an invention of Kirk Sorensen.
The man who directed the design of the original MSRs was Alvin Weinberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_M._Weinberg), one of the primary scientists whose research set the stage for all current reactor designs. The grandaddy of modern nuclear reactors, if you will. There are very few people in the all of history with his gravitas regarding nuclear reactor design and not only did he invent the LFTR, but he campaigned for it’s use instead of current designs for decades…
That is to say, when you ask “why should we be confident that *HE* can deliver anything useful?” the answer is: because ‘HE’ is the exact same dude who has built several working reactors, conducted vital research that set the foundation for every reactor in existence today, is one of the big founding fathers within nuclear power, AND he already built one of these AND it worked for half a decade.
There is (practically) no better possible resume to have behind something like this. So on one hand we have a highly respected physicist with several successful reactor designs under his belt, an Enrico Fermi award, and who worked directly with a lot of his peers from the Manhattan Project itself, and on the other hand we have… you, Jo…
The very fact you would ask that question shows a distastefully deep ignorance on this subject.
To summarize: your post was poorly sourced, primarily ad hominem, and shows that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. You have also, indirectly, disparaged a widely respected and well known physicist. While failing to provide a credible source for your statements despite multiple refutations of your original you have also clearly been dodging many of the questions posed by more qualified commenters that poke serious holes in your position…
I can only hope that interested readers take the time to read the longer comments here to get a more accurate picture of the current state of the technology.
Schmoe November 1st, 2011 at 22:16
“– he’s running an enterprise start-up marketing an unproven energy process.”
Unproven? The thorium energy cycle is unproven? It’s explication is over fifty years old. Only slightly younger, is the basic technology he proposes to make widespread. Granted, it still requires further development, thus his efforts.
But, even if we were to accept your above statement, what exactly is he doing wrong? He is proposing further R&D. This R&D, it is hoped, would lead to the development and widespread adoption of a new nuclear energy technology. Mr. Sorenson lists numerous reasons why this outcome is desirable. Your post does not seem to list any reasons it is not desirable. You merely make apples and oranges comparisons to other, unrelated technologies, and express skepticism that technology has any role to play in ameliorating climate change or our energy needs. It all leaves me questioning you, not Mr. Sorenson.
Have a nice day.
I tackled this LFTR idea with a technical analysis of it and various other radical reactor designs. My conclusion, while there’s some merit to the concept, its a unproven blue sky idea. There are a host of unanswered technical questions and until we have answers to those questions (which would cost many millions or billions to answer) any talk of building commerical LFTR units is but wild speculation (the answer to those questions could be “it doesn’t work”). I reckon it would take a good few decades before we were even in a position to say what the potential of LFTR technology is, nevermind built commerical grade units.
Indeed even the NNL is not positive about the prospects of the LFTR
Inevitably the reaction to Kirk’s minions was to unleash an army of trolls onto my site who ran up vast blog strings devoted to protecting the faithful from my heresy. The issue of Kirk’s qualifications inevitably came up and yes it appears he doesn’t even have a PhD and his company operates out of a small office unit down a cul-de-sac. Seems to be like the majority of the LFTR research being undertaken involves the use of powerpoint and photoshop!
The are some “real” scientists I would note working on the LFTR, but they won’t dream of making the wildly speculative statments the LFTR bloggers do. Indeed the biggest obstacle to the LFTR, I would argue, is now its own nutty online cheerleaders who are probably scaring away the serious scientists, sponsors and politicans. I go so far as to call them a “cargo cult”.
No offense, but Ms Abbess got exactly what she deserved. What did she expect when she made a vicious ad-hominem attack on a technology that you grudgingly accept as ‘having some merit’ (talk about damning with faint praise), and the main populizer of that technology?
As far as your other criticisms go, I’d go as far to say that thorium proponents would agree with much of it. Difficult to do? Yes. Possibility that it doesn’t succeed? Check. Large technical hurdles? Of course.
But as far as your *other* concerns go? Well hell – YES Flibe energy doesn’t have large scale capital support – that is exactly why Mr. Sorenson is doing what he is doing, namely soliciting for investment.
But it’s not like that he doesn’t have a brain trust – over 3000 people contribute expertise to the energyfromthorium forums, and he has a pretty impressive list of advisers (http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/09/29/flibe-boa/) that give some credence to his company.
But more importantly, he has thousands of man-years of previous experience to inherit from, from the likes of Glenn Seaborg, Alvin Weinberg, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, and all the PhD’s supporting the original LFTR efforts. He also has the benefit that the engineering of the LFTR design is a lot easier than the equivalent liquid sodium fast breeder or even LWRs.
And – in any case there are two separate issues here – the viability of FLIBE as a company, and the viability of the LFTR concept itself.
Irrespective of how Flibe fares as a company, you seem to neglect to mention that there are 2 major LFTR programs out there right now, as well as major government R&D initiatives:
1. the chinese, who a couple of years ago raided ORNL for the original LFTR documentation.
2. a south african consortium, who has about 3 billion dollars in investment to create a LFTR
3. substantial R&D in france and the republic.
Also, you are FLAT WRONG that “The are some ‘real’ scientists I would note working on the LFTR, but they won’t dream of making the wildly speculative statments the LFTR bloggers do.”.
Glenn Seaborg called finding that U-233 emitted more than 2 neutrons per fission a “quadrillion dollar discovery”. Alvin Weinberg – inventor of the LWR – was pessimistic about our civilization’s until the discovery of the MSR and doggedly pursued it for his entire career.
These are not “cargo cultists”. If thorium proponents take their positive statements and echo them, they are paying homage to their vision. And it so happens that this vision may be accurate.
So.. in short don’t confuse enthusiasm with blind faith. Just because an idea is an old one, and has lost engineering traction doesn’t mean that it is bad, or can’t change the world.
And Kirk has done a miraculous thing – namely made people excited about nuclear power again! For that alone he deserves a medal.
Jo, here is a thorough rebuttal of the Ecologist misleading article. You probably should read it and stop being ignorant about the potential of thorium MSR:
Hell, if you even read a basic Wikipedia article about the technology you are going to write about, you could not come up with this misleading anti-LFTR propaganda.
ed, It is interesting how Thorium trolls such as yourself always complain about ad-hominem comments when such personal attacks are the preferred tactic of LFTR fans in responding to critics, is the pot calling the kettle black? And why is it you always run up huge blog strings attacking opponents? The (lftr)lady doth protest too much me thinks!
The vast majority of people contributing to LFTR research on these forums are merely cool-aid drinking bloggers, few have any relevant qualifications, nor experience. Even you’re deity Kirk lacks a PhD or indeed any relevant qualification in Nuclear physics. You cannot design a reactor over the internet, nobody will ever give them serious funding, licensing authorities will never sign off on anything and indeed you’re very tactics of trolling any attempt at a critique is precisely the sort of stuff to send sponsors running for the exit.
There are indeed some “real” scientist working on LFTR’s and Thorium research in general (oh! and btw Seaborg’s and Weinberg have been dead for over a decade! Material science has moved on significantly since then, check out chapter 3 of my post below). As an academic, I have access to the scientific literature, and the odd MSR related paper pops up from time to time (indicating that somebody somewhere is doing serious research on the topic…Kirk’s name’s never come up mind!), but the message from all of them is nowhere near as rosy as what you see on these blogs. I am reliably informed by people in the know (those being nuclear scientists with decades of experience in the field) that it would take many decades to get LFTR’s working and given the current level of research at present (concept stage), they cannot be sure that some hard and fast showstopper won’t emerge to kill the idea off in future. While I don’t identify any definite showstoppers in my post, I do note several potential directions from which one could appear.
Like I said, its a blue sky idea that simply may not work, more research (in labs mind!) is needed to answer the many technical questions. Powerpoint and photoshopped images aren’t much use. Hence why I favour focusing on renewable technology which already exists and is cheaper than nuclear energy also.
– $3 billion in funding in SA, got a reference for that? Last I heard the South Africans cancelled all such research and decided to focus on conventional LWR’s.
– The Chinese? They are raiding every bit of science worldwide that’s not bolted to the floor, so hardly a surprise. They are also trying out every possible idea they can. Why? because they are playing catch up with the west. If the idea works, in 30 years time they may have an alternative to western LWR’s (tho if you read my post you’ll see it will likely be a completely different beast to what LFTR bloggers are proposing). If not? well they get a couple of well trained post-graduates out of it and experience working with MS technology (useful for concentrated solar power tech!). Also, the bulk of Chinese thorium research is focused on existing gas cooled reactors, not LFTR’s, that’s more of a side show. Indeed as I recall from Zhang etal (2006) the Chinese HTR-PM (Gas cooled, not a MSR) will initially run on Uranium, tho backward compatibility with Thorium will be engineered into the design.
– My question tho, why is nobody in the Dept of energy worried about all this? Occum’s razor would say its likely because they know something the Chinese don’t (that they’re wasting their time!).
– If the MSR is such a great idea why did it only get 3 provisional’s, 1 observer and no signatories in the 2009 Gen IV report?
Cargo cult….let’s see…unwillingness to accept criticism (tick), form into a clearly defined group (tick), hostility to outsiders (tick), paranoia (tick), assumption that authorities can’t be trusted or are somehow wrong/misinformed (tick), lengthy and committal indoctrination procedures (such as watching preposterously long you-tube videos…tick!), heavy focus on recruitment (tick), promise of some massive pay off at some ill-defined (and easily deferred) future date (tick)….do I need to go on?
Amost forgot! its actually Dr Ryan btw 😉
Also as regard Weinberg, another classic symptom of any cult is the adulation of a particular hero figure. Look at the scientologists and Ron Hubbard. If Kirk is the High Priest of the LFTR cult, clearly Weinberg is its Saint (or its martyr if you believe some LFTR propaganda!).
Of course the fact the LFTR bloggers are putting words in Weinberg’s mouth and misrepresenting his views completely, as well as ignoring certain basic scientific facts (the primary purpose of the MSR experiment of the 1960’s was to create a breeder cycle to feed nuclear fuel into other reactors, they were never intended as a major source of power, or so my nuclear engineer buddies tell me!) has little to do with anything. But let’s not let pesky little “facts” get in the way of a good fantasy!
Furthermore, science is about rigorous critical analysis. The instant one scientist’s words (or supposed words) are elevated to the point where they cannot be challenged or criticized is the point where you cross the Rubicon between science and pseudo-science.
Perhaps LFTR fans should get some E-meter’s and build Weinberg a temple?
D. A. Ryans blog assesment of MSR/LFTR posted above is full of errors, and has been debunked here:
I responded to this & other critiques of my critique in the links below:
If you look at this comments page (its long and difficult to follow I know!) you’ll see several other exchanges, but I’ve linked to a few key ones above.
I respond to the above link by Nuclear Green in the links below.
You will also see several other exchanges on this comments page where I respond to criticism of my critique from LFTR bloggers.
“full of errors” not as much as many LFTR sites are, and I’m not the one advocating the building of these reactors, I was doing a critique, which are supposed to be “critical”. Good science is made stronger by criticism, bad science falls apart like a cheap deck chair.
[…] report on Thorium (see some of the sort of comments they typically make in this discussion string here), because they argued, it did not address the use of LFTR’s (actually a pro-nuclear colleague […]
[…] in the red corner is the “alt-nuke” lobby. These tend to involve mostly armchair supporters of nuclear power from the blogosphere. They […]
3 years later, and I’ve just found this website – thanks to a Twitter link from Observation Island
@observationisle , with the delightful tag #ThoriumisaCult
Quite a relief. I have been tweeting about #thorium for some time, and getting heaps of personal abuse from thorium trolls. They’ve eased up a bit now, since being reported to Twitter management 4 times.
Pro #thorium tweeters just churn out an endless supply of regurgitated propaganda from Kirk Sorenson, Gordon McDowell, and the Breakthrough Institute, – with perpetual ads for the glossy advertising film “Pandora’s Promise”.
I can hardly believe that anyone would pay them for their silly personal abuse, but I think they must surely be paid for the endless pro thorium advertising.
[…] Trolls Hypnotise Environmentalists http://www.joabbess.com/2011/10/26/thorium-trolls-hypnotise-environmentalists/#comment-107302 October 26th, 2011 Kirk Sorensen is apparently a one-man propaganda machine. His personal […]
[…] Cargo cult….let’s see…unwillingness to accept criticism (tick), form into a clearly defined group (tick), hostility to outsiders (tick), paranoia (tick), assumption that authorities can’t be trusted or are somehow wrong/misinformed (tick), lengthy and committal indoctrination procedures (such as watching preposterously long you-tube videos…tick!), heavy focus on recruitment (tick), promise of some massive pay off at some ill-defined (and easily deferred) future date (tick)….do I need to go on? http://www.joabbess.com/2011/10/26/thorium-trolls-hypnotise-environmentalists/#comment-107302 […]
[…] A. Ryan November 19th, 2011Also as regard Weinberg, another classic symptom of any cult is the adulation of a particular hero […]
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