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Liquid Fluoride Thorium Power: Pros and Cons

RP Siegel | Monday April 23rd, 2012 | 64 Comments

There is no perfect energy source. Each and every one has its own advantages and compromises. This series will explore the pros and cons of various energy sources.  Learn about other forms of energy generation here.

Last August, I posted an article on Thorium reactors, a form of nuclear power that supposedly overcomes many of the concerns associated with traditional nukes. Despite my admittedly anti-nuclear bias, I had heard enough good things about this technology to want to learn more and share what I learned. The technology has attracted an enthusiastic following, many of who feel that this is the best of all currently available alternatives. Supporters claim that it sufficiently addresses the numerous issues that have made nuclear a less attractive, if not outright frightening option.

Among the concerns about traditional nuclear are the following:

  1.  Proven risks of dangerous meltdowns (e.g. Fukushima. Japan is now shutting down all reactors).
  2.  Very long time required for approval and construction.
  3.  Potential terrorist target.
  4.  Too big to be liable, taxpayers will likely pick up the cost of an accident.
  5.  Highly centralized and capital intensive.
  6.  Non-renewable and rare fuel source: Uranium (much of it controlled by indigenous tribes).
  7.  High level of embedded CO2 in concrete and steel.
  8.  Dangerous radioactive waste lasts 200 – 500 thousand years.
  9.  No operating long-term waste storage sites in the U.S.
  10.  Shipping nuclear waste poses an increased potential risk of spills or interception by terrorist groups.
  11.  Fissile material can be converted into nuclear weapons.
  12.  High construction costs generally requiring subsidies and loan guarantees.
  13.  Competes with renewables for investment dollars.

Unlike conventional light water reactor designs, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is a type of molten salt reactor (MSR), that was first demonstrated in the 1960s. It is generally considered inherently safer, cleaner and more economically viable than conventional reactors, but was not chosen by DOE as the technology of choice  because it did not produce weapons grade material as a byproduct, something DOE was looking for at the time. That would be considered an advantage today. (11)

This design is less radioactive and more proliferation resistant. Its reaction in a molten-salt reactor (MSR) does produce U233 but that is apparently not a weapons-grade material. Thorium is about four times more abundant in nature than uranium (6). The largest reserves are in Australia, India, and the U.S.

LFTR reactor cores are not pressurized. Any increase in temperature results in a reduction in power, thus eliminating the problematic runaway meltdown scenario. If the fluid should get too hot, a salt plug at the bottom of the tank simply melts dumping the entire mess in to a storage vessel directly below the reactor. (1,4)

The question of waste (8,9,10) is also far better. Thorium produces about a thousand times less waste throughout the supply chain than uranium. It is mostly consumed in the reaction. Of the remaining quantity, which is quite small (I’ve been told it’s  about the size of a coke can for every billion kilowatt hours), 83 percent is safe within ten years and the remaining 17 percent requires 300 years of storage before it becomes safe. While that is still a long time, it is far more manageable than the 10,000 years required for today’s spent fuel.

It is expected to cost far less than conventional reactors and because of its simplicity, it can be assembled in a factory (2) scaled down to the point where one can be carried on the back of a tractor-trailer and used in a distributed manner. (5,12)

The technology already has a large following at sites like Nuclear Green and Energy From Thorium.

Pros:

  • Carbon-free operation
  • Inherently far safer than conventional light water reactors
  • Abundant fuel (thorium)
  • Chemically stable
  • Currently being developed in China and by US  companies like Flibe
  • Very small amount of  low-level radioactive waste. Should be much easier to manage.
  • Concentrated energy source, requiring far less land than solar
  • Runs round the clock, good base-load and load-following source
  • Less suitable for weapons proliferation that conventional nuclear
  • Relatively low cost and scalable
  • Could potentially be used in a distributed manner
  • Technology is currently at the demonstration phase
  • Requires less cooling water than conventional reactors

Cons

  • Non-renewable fuel
  • Still produces hazardous waste (though far less)
  • Can still facilitate proliferation of nuclear weapons
  • Quite different than current technology
  • Primarily conceived as a centralized plant
  • Like all big plants, could be a terrorist target
  • Technology not ready for prime time yet
  • Competes with renewables for investment dollars

Because of the first two items on the cons list, I consider thorium to be ultimately unsustainable in the very long term, though I do believe it can play a significant role for several generations, if needed. For me, the perfect energy source requires no fuel and, like nature, produces no waste. But those that meet that criteria today (e.g. wind, solar) are intermittent and have a low energy density which means they require quite a bit of land, which is also a problem. I suggest you become familiar with thorium energy, as I expect you will be hearing more about it in the future.

***

What about other energy sources?

[Image credit: US National Archives: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      64 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • kevinmeyerson

    Thanks for actually creating a balanced thorium article that includes cons.

    A con to add: thorium will take decades to develop and roll out at best according to all independent experts.
    Also, 
    – the pro of “relatively low cost” is totally unknown. It may be way more expensive or cheaper, but no one knows
    – land use is also an unknown as there is no viable design at this time
    – there are zero thorium commercially viable reactors in the world despite decades of development, especially by India

    • Guest

      A few responses to your points:

      “thorium will take decades to develop and roll out at best according to all independent experts.”

      Almost all independent experts base their assumptions on using thorium as a replacement in current reactors or as solid fuel in new reactors. This required the development of infrastructure for the manufacturing and reprocessing of solid thorium fuel rods, which is complicated by U-232 production. Molten salt reactors completely bypass that problem.

      There’s still the problem of finishing the development of the reactor, but many things point to that this will not take long if adequate funding is actually provided. Flibe estimate that a commercial reactor could be developed in a decade if that is the case.

      The Chinese program officially has a time frame of a commercial design by around 2030, though someone from Oak Ridge that was there when the Chinese visited have said that he heard a time frame of 10 years.

      “the pro of “relatively low cost” is totally unknown. It may be way more expensive or cheaper, but no one knows”

      Five studies have been performed since the 60’s on the cost of MSR. The first gave a cost of $4.64 per watt, another $2.16, and the other three below $2 per watt.
      Page 48 here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://home.comcast.net/~robert.hargraves/public_html/AimHigh.pdf&pli=1

      land use is also an unknown as there is no viable design at this time

      Nuclear is inherently extremely energy dense compared to every other energy source, no matter reactor type.

      there are zero thorium commercially viable reactors in the world despite decades of development, especially by India

      The Indian thorium program is using solid fuel, with all the problems that come with.
      Development of Molten Salt Reactors ended abruptly in the early 70’s for political reasons. If that had not happened, there would be a ton of molten salt reactors operating around the world right now.

      You can watch a more thorough explanation of why it was stopped here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI

      • Uzza2

         This is my comment. I accidentally deleted it from my dashboard when editing it.

      • kevinmeyerson

        Those interested in a factual overview of thorium nuclear from respected experts such as MIT, the UK National Nuclear Laboratory, and many others may want to check sources other than youtube videos and home grown documents. I’ve put together a list of links for those interested here:

        Thorium Nuclear Information Resources
        http://kevinmeyerson.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/thorium-nuclear-information-resources/

        It is unfortunate that there is so much misinformation being spread on the internet about thorium. It may or may not be one source of energy in the future, but it certainly will be no where near commercial viability during the next several decades.

    • http://twitter.com/ShotmanMaslo DreamChaser

      “there are zero thorium commercially viable reactors in the world despite decades of development, especially by India”

      Indian thorium project is a solid fueled reactor, quite different from Liquid fluoride thorium reactors (thorium molten salt reactors), and inferior to them.

      • Dark Cyberian Knight

         India just approved building a dedicated thorium reactor. They’ve found their hybrid program breed sufficient material to move on it seems.

      • kevinmeyerson

        India has spent the past 50+ years trying to develop the thorium nuclear fuel cycle and yet they still have no viable plants. Like the Japanese “Monju” fast breeder program, it is widely considered to be a white elephant fraught with missed deadlines, unkept promises, massive waste, and, unfortunately, massive corruption.

        In 1970, India’s already late thorium dream was promised for delivery by 1985. Now, decades later, they are still decades away. This seems to be a common theme with the nuclear industry.

        I suggest that readers learn more about these failed dreams before accepting the widespread misinformation in youtube videos and various posts on discussion forums. 

        Fortunately or unfortunately for the world, it’s much harder to build a real thorium fuel cycle than it is to create youtube videos and astroturfing PR in modern online social media.

        • manofsan

           We Indians have been under nuclear embargo for a number of decades too, don’t forget – that’s slowed down our progress. But we’re now in Stage-2 of the thorium program, which involves breeding of fissile fuel, to ramp up the neutron economics. The final Stage-3 will come about when the fuel cycle has enough fissile fuel material to sustain it, matching supply to energy demand.

        • kevinmeyerson

          @Manofsan

          Interestingly, the embargo you speak of has not prevented India from creating a nuclear weapons industry. Also, it does not explain why the thorium fuel cycle is decades late despite industry and government promises otherwise since the 1950s. After all, India does have its own abundant supply of thorium.

          Like India’s thorium cycle snafu, Japan’s atomic industry and govt has been promising fast breeder reactors for a nuclear fuel cycle for decades. Both countries have wasted decades and billions on some of the largest white elephant energy programs the world has seen.

  • Cba

    My understanding is that Flibe is currently focused not on LFTR technology but on hybrid Uranium-Thorium water-cooled reactors that offer some advantages to the current dominant approach but are far from the [apparently] superior MSR technologies.  I assume that is a tacit acknowledgement of the inertia of the entrenched infrastructure.

    • Uzza2

      I can guarantee you that it is incorrect.

      Flibe is working on a small modular LFTR design that fits the needs of remote military installations, which they call Small Rugged Reactor.
      http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/10/flibe-energy-liquid-flouride-thorium.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/george.lerner George Lerner

      Kirk Sorensen, founder of Flibe Energy, is the primary promoter of LFTR. 1st sentence on the Flibe website, flibe-energy.com is “Flibe Energy is a new company that will develop small modular reactors based on liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology.”

      • harold

        I am working on trying to help africa and I would like to find someone that would be interested in a packaged unit that will generate about 15KW of electricity Is there anyone out there wanting to move forward

  • Mark A

    We should eliminate and reduce nuclear wastes.  Turning waste into electricity is logical.  Even if we end with some waste (while reducing volume and toxicity by 95+%) this is positive.  Reactor types already exist in the world to burn our nuclear wastes, it is not sci-fi.  The tech exists.  The existing Russian BN-300/BN-600 can.  There are also safe and improved design versions of the already built MSR, as well as new designs (MSR and LFTR-variations) that can do this job with an even better safety paradigm.  
     

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Austin/620969991 David Austin

      It exists but it’s too dangerous in it’s current form (which is why only Russia is doing it, go figure) … unless you use low-pressure technologies which leaves you with only 1 option: lftr.

      • Dark Cyberian Knight

         I thought Russia’s design was a lead cooled plutonium fast breeder.

        • http://www.facebook.com/george.lerner George Lerner

          Fast spectrum solid fuel reactors have control problems; any change in reaction rate can escalate fast, since the neutrons are high-energy. (At least if it’s lead cooled it wouldn’t have water-cooled problems! Or liquid sodium’s problems.)

          Molten salt fast spectrum reactors wouldn’t have those control problems, since the fluid fuel expands/contracts instantly with temperature changes. See Fast Spectrum Molten Salt Reactor Options, Oak Ridge National Labs 2011, for reactor configuration; economics and safety; salt selection and salt processing technologies; fuel cycle options; uses of reactor high-temperature output; performance comparisons with existing reactor types; used fuel disposition, separations, and waste management; proliferation resistance.

  • stevek9

    Your statement that thorium is ultimately unsustainable needs a bit more discussion.  The reserves of recoverable thorium in the earth’s crust (and uranium if we use breeder technology) are so large they really should be considered sustainable as they will last for thousands of years.  By this criterion, wind and solar might not be ‘sustainable’ either as they require elements whose supple is not infinite.  I think forever is a criterion that is a bit too stringent.  The fact that a thorium reactor (or even current reactors) require far fewer resources (materials, land) than wind or solar is where we should focus our attention.

    • Uzza2

      There actually exists enough thorium in the crust to power humanity, at USA levels of consumption, for over 30 billion years.
      Looking though the solar system you’d find at least ten times that amount available, with the moon and Mars being the closest sources.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Austin/620969991 David Austin

        Actually you just provided what is perhaps one of the most important reasons for developing this technology … space travel and habitation.  Terraforming, for example, will take outrageous amounts of energy – you need the energy density of nuclear, but of all the nuclear technologies only a thorium reactor will be able to be shrunk down to a size that can be shot into space (not to mention it’s the only nuke-tech that could be considered safe).

        • Uzza2

          In addition, nuclear is the only technology that can deliver power far from the sun as the solar intensity decreases rapidly.
          It’s not terribly bad at Mars, with ‘only’ 2-3 times less energy per m². But when you get out to the asteroid belt it has dropped to ~13%, and at Jupiter it’s only 4% of the intensity at Earth, making solar panels worthless.
          This is why deep space probes use radioisotope thermoelectric generators for electricity.

        • Aaron Gish

          The RTG’s run on Pu-238, which is one of those “waste products” generated in a LFTR that needs to be stored for 300 years… Or shot into space to explore our solar system and beyond, that works too.

    • RP Siegel

      I reserve the right to hold a high standard for what is truly sustainable. Somebody has to. For me, the model is nature, which runs entirely on sunlight and creates no waste which is not food for another part of the system. Another way to look at it is to use a financial analogy. Living within one’s means entails spending (or consuming) no more than what comes in. Any non-renewable fuel is a savings account, which, however large will ultimately deplete if not replenished. On the waste side, LFTR is clearly cleaner than conventional nukes, but waste that needs 300 years to become safe, might be manageable, but can hardly be considered clean.
      Wind and solar require resources for construction but they do not require fuel, once built. Their primary issues are intermittency and relatively low intensity.

      • SAMarshall

        @RP Siegel, I think you missed the subtle point made by stevek9. What is the “fuel” for solar power? One part is the sun. The second part? The rare earth elements that make the PV cells, (unless you are talking about concentrated solar of course). While the less used concentrated solar comes much closer to your stated definition of renewable, PV would not as there is probably less material on the earth to continue to make PV cells, which only last 20-30 years, than there is nuclear material on the earth. Second, the waste from building solar panels is extremely toxic but, unlike nuclear waste, NEVER goes away.

      • Uzza2

        Technically the sun is also a savings account of fuel, although one we can’t control.
        It is a giant fusion reactor that fuses hydrogen to give us energy whether we want it or not, and in 5 billion years it will run out of fuel and no longer be able to sustain itself.
        Uranium and thorium on the other hand is a fuel that we control, giving us power whenever we want, with enough of it just in the crust of earth to last more than 6 times the lifespan of the sun.
        In the time it takes to develop solar and storage technology enough to be economical, we will have consumed an insignificant amount of the fission fuel available to us, while saving gargantuan sums in reduced pollution, resulting in better global health and better environment.

        Waste is also relative. As you mentioned, 83% is safe after 10 years. But as a matter of fact, that number is actually 94%, as 11% of those remaining 17% have very long half life, in the region of millions of years. The small timescale it takes for Sr-90 and Cs-137 to decay have insignificant effect on them. For this reason it’s safe to just pull them out immediately and dilute them.

        If you really don’t want to wait for the Sr-90 or Cs-137 to decay, you can use extra neutrons from a fast reactor to transmute them.
        Cs-137 becomes Cs-138, which decays completely to stable barium in in half a day.
        Sr-90 becomes Sr-91, which decays completely over the course of a week to Y-91, which then further decays completely to stable zirconium in less than three years.

        Also, the argument that wind and solar does not require fuel is not really valid when you take into consideration what the intermittency and low intensity mean.
        To produce the same amount of power on average, you need many times the installed capacity, x4 for wind and x5 to x10 for solar, depending on location.
        This take up vast areas of and, and require many times the materials.

        http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/18/tcase4/

        And since there is no economic energy storage available today, you also have to have backup to handle the fact that it’s intermittent, which could either be hydro, nuclear, or more realistically today fossil fuels.
        These all require fuel.

      • BukakeNinja

        As long as we’re nitpicking; not all energy nature uses comes from (our) sun, there’s some geothermal action going on. Geothermal energy, as I understand it, mainly comes from radioactive decay of, amongst others, Thorium.

      • http://www.facebook.com/baz.wedlock Baz Wedlock

        Wind and solar is the way we have to go, in the near future it will became the enterprise most widely spread all over the world.

  • Leon

    This is a nice article. I’ve been approached before by scientists at UC-Irvine and with other organizations but never followed through (cause emails and phone calls weren’t returned), but anyway . . . this has been in the back of my mind and I think the author did a solid job presenting the pros and cons. It’s something to think about . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Cannara/100000432287226 Alex Cannara

    First, please watch & take time to understand…
    http://www.thoriumremix.com/2011  and Cold-War history:  http://tinyurl.com/73p7ler

    Note that Alvin Weinberg co-invented the reactor design we now use, in 1946.  He and a couple of Nobel winners invented the MSR in the 1960s, because it was safer all around.  He was effectively fired by the Nixon administration for being so concerned about safety.

    Then, read the first dozen pages of what President Kennedy asked for:  http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa

    Then, please rewrite your piece above — here’s some help…

    1) “Non-renewable fuel” — is geothermal “renewable”?  If so, then Thorium power is.  Thorium in Earth’s dore & mantle is responsible for ~60% of the heating that keeps our plane safe from space radiation via making a molten core and magnetic field.  The 1962 report to JFK explains how all Thorium and all Uranium can be used, eif desired, for thousands of years.  Only solar power is more “renewable”.

    2) “Still produces hazardous waste” — to deserve the title:  “triple Pundit”, then some attention to fact seems appropriate.  Thorium is chosen because it’s 7 neutron captures away from Plutionium, not 1, as for the 95% of present solid fuel. Add to this that all fission products have valuable heat, so stay in an MSR forever, unless we want some our for efficiency or sale, and you see why the MSR using Th (LFTR) produces 1/100 the ‘waste’ — pounds rather than tons.  And most all of it needs storage for a few hundred years, not thousands.  Having to find a small hole for a garbage can of waste material every 30 years is a far different problem than storing hundreds of tons of solif fuel structures.  Here’s more info:  http://tinyurl.com/25mgqkd

    3) “Can still facilitate proliferation of nuclear weapons” — a reactor powering a city of 1 million consumes 1/2kg of Uranium per hour.  If that Uranium is made from Thorium inside the reactor, only as needed, then anyone wanting to steal enough Uranium to make a bomb would have to spend about 20 hours sitting by a highly radioactive, 700 deg C core of molten salt, siphoning off most of the Uranium salt the reactor needs to run.  Would the 1 million folks seeing their lights dim after the first minutes not notice?  would the plant operator not notice even sooner?  The terrorist would , of course, be long dead before his few kg of Uranium salt would have dripped into his pot.  Proliferation of weapons is so easy now with laser enrichment that even doing the far easier thing of stealing old fuel rods (which have Plutonium in them), or enriched Uranium from other cool sources.  This canard is certainly not “punditry”.

    4) “Quite different than current technology”, no, wuite different from 1946-1957 technology.  Many MSR efferots have been ongoing around the world.  Speak French? — http://vimeo.com/39052604

    5) “Primarily conceived as a centralized plant” — the original funding & operating prototype was for a plane.  It was the size of a tall man.

    6) “Like all big plants, could be a terrorist target” — why?  It would be underground.  Wouldn’t a busy subway, skyscraper or airport be a far more terrorizing target than a small underground facility holding molten salt that solidifies benignly if blown apart?   This and 4) show why we’re in so much trouble today — poor media knowledge & poor efforts to convey knowledge.

    7) “Technology not ready for prime time yet” — like this “pundit”?  Really, shall we not continue to develop vaccines & medical procedures from current work because they’re “not ready for prime time”?  Really?  What this says is heck with our balance of payments & debt, let’s waste more time and buy our inventions back from the Chinese aor Czechs, or French, or Norwegians…
    http://tinyurl.com/4t5ojde
    http://tinyurl.com/7hatm2b
    http://asia.iop.org/cws/article/news/47111
    http://tinyurl.com/6vmaljn
    http://vimeo.com/39052604
    Will this pundit cover that tab in 2020?

    8) “Competes with renewables for investment dollars” — things that aren’t actually “renewable”, such as the $ wasted in subsidizing wasteful wind ‘farms’ rather than local solar PV/hot water.  When you can build a machine that produces the equivalent of 12,000,000 barrels (x$100) of oil energy per year, tens of $ millions of medical/scientific/industrial/security isotopes per year, you’d actually consider erecting a vast wind ‘farm’ on natural lands or waterways that consumes 700 tons of fossil-fuel processed material (iron, coal, steel, limestone…) per MW, needs continual maintenance, wastes transmission power, etc., all rather than 1 small reactor that generates more than 200 times the power per acre, using a fuel that costs almost nothing?  You’d really think our descendents would look back at that choice and not be disgusted with us?  Really?  An SNL “Really?”

    So, TriplePundit folks, your “cons” were never considered by the scientists, engineers & Nobellists that worked on these designs for a couple of decades?  Really?

    We have many problems and one of the largest is the flip attitude too many in the media have to journalistic responsibility. If the authior of this piece wants to step up to that obligation, just call.  But at least have someone show up in Chicago on 31 May…
    http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com

    Dr. A. Cannara
    650-400-3071

     

    • RP Siegel

      Thank you for your comments Dr. Cannara,
      Here is my response.
      1) Look up the word renewable in the dictionary. I think you will see that it implies that more is produced in a short time frame. That is different than having a large quantity.
      2) A small amount of hazardous waste requiring 300 years of storage is still a lot different than what comes out of my kitchen once a week.
      3) My sources say weapons can be made, not easily, but a lot more easily than from a solar panel.
      4) I’m not talking about lab technology, I’m talking about commercialized, at scale.
      5) Yes, it was first conceived for airplanes which was soon abandoned, and switched over to large ships, which was also abandoned. I agree that they can be made smaller and I said as much “one can be carried on the back of a tractor-trailer.”
      6) This depends on the final configuration. If it is ultimately distributed, then I agree with you.
      7) It has not yet seen a full-scale commercial application.At least not to my knowledge.
      8) What I said is fact. There are limited funds available for energy.What you’re saying is your opinion. Clearly you thought I meant that it renewables should be given preference, but that is not what I said.

      It’s clear that you are enthusiastic about this technology, and would like to see an article stating that there are no cons, only pros. Feel free to go ahead and write such a piece, (I’m guessing you already have). For me personally, as both an engineer and a journalist, I strive for objectivity over evangelism.
      Anyone reading your comment would think that I had trashed this technology, when in fact I said quite a few positive things about it.
      As for your attempts to insult me personally, I’m not sure that enhances your aura of professionalism or strengthens your argument.

      • mantis42

        I just think Dr. Cannara is saying that your cons are rather weak, and they are. But that’s okay – no energy source is perfect. If that is the best list of cons, then LFTRs look to be about as good as we can get until fusion is fully developed.

        “Clearly you thought I meant that it renewables should be given preference, but that is not what I said.”

        But you listed it under the con category! ‘competes with renewables for investment dollars’ – so you clearly think the vast majority of investment dollars should goto ‘renewables.’

        The sheer amount if land and resource use we would need to go 100% ‘renewable’ makes the prospect uneconomic and hardly renewable. It’s a pipe dream to think we will be powered with wind, solar, and geothermal completely by 2050. Not sure if you think this, but that is what a lot of environmental groups are pushing for. What do we get? More methane and coal, that is the reality. Intermittent energy sources have a niche role to play. They cannot carry the load of industrial society’s energy needs. LFTR looks by far to be the best bet for that – it just looks like China wil get there before us, which will be a sad sad day.

        • RP Siegel

           No, I don’t think we can make it on wind, solar and geothermal alone by 2050, but if you add in heavy emphasis on efficiency and natural gas (which seems inevitable) it could be done with little or no coal. Look, I am not against investing in this technology. How many people besides those who have responded to this article have even heard of it? But if it can generate half as much heat as these ardent supporters (perhaps a little more safely) then it’s probably worth looking into. Of all the energy technologies I’ve covered in this series so far, this is one of the more promising, and surely the most surprising.

        • mantis42

          Thanks for the response Mr Siegel. You bring up a couple of important points. One being the inevitability of using vast amounts of methane in the near term. I have my doubts that this and efficiency can fill the gap of coal. And this doesn’t even touch on need to supplant oil, which would require more electricity generation. I work in efficiency, I’m a big fan. It’s low hanging fruit. But I doubt how effective it really is on a large scale because you encounter Jevon’s paradox – the more efficient we become with a resource, the faster we consume that resource. But still, efficiency has a big role to play.

          The other point is that supporters of MSRs need to be patient with skeptics. While some of us are sold, a lot of folks will take some serious convincing, simply because of the ‘n’ word, which gives a knee jerk reaction in most people. I’m hoping Gordon McDowells Thorium Remix 2012 (or whatever it will be called) will be something that can really go viral and expose a lot of people to the potential that this technology has.

        • BukakeNinja

          Totally agree with your comment, just not
          that last sentence. Please don’t get hung up on misplaced patriotism when the
          entire world is at stake. If the American government misses the boat we should
          all applaud the fact that there are other countries willing to pick up where
          they left. If China (or anyone else for that matter) manages to make this work it
          will be a happy happy day for all of us.

      • fiddie

         @0ef4b8fb96b237a285e9b7fdc32ff11e:disqus  -Thanks for your article, I appreciate the responses it has generated. Not many balanced write-ups would include one of Kirk’s videos – though it’s not as good as others it is recent. About your responses…

        #8 Limited economic resources shouldn’t be wasted and Thorium with it’s high energy density deserves to have funding, at least till it can be properly proved or disproved for the general public.

        #4 and #7: this was proved by ORNL in the 1960’s. Full scale need not be city-sized (remember #5?) and running for over a year showed that it was viable for commercial development 40 years ago.

        #3 The weapons grade material from an MSR would have strong gamma ray presence. This is akin to taking out a full page ad in the NY Times plus having neon signs advertising the presence of the material. Who’s gonna want it?

        #2 If a lifetime supply of electricity is contained in a marble-sized (or meatball-sized) bit of Thorium, a lifetimes worth of unusable radioactive waste would be thimble-sized at most. How much trash, by volume, comes from your kitchen every week. How many semi-loads of trash are you generating in your life? Please include trash from your household, workplace, and coal-plants generating your current electricity.

        #1 Even dictionaries are biased. From Dictionary.com:
        [renewable energy   noun;   any naturally occurring theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.]
        This should have stopped at “inexhaustible source of energy” as qualifying the meaning is akin to writing “Jim Crow civil rights laws”. Biomass is a short-term type of fossil fuel – and a single years loss of crops would remove it from the list of theoretically inexhaustible sources. They left out Geo-Thermal, which is ~65% derived from naturally occurring Thorium deep in the Earth. Should Thorium supplies be  plentiful enough (or nearly so) to outlast the sun, I would qualify that as being a naturally occurring theoretically inexhaustible energy source.

        Mr. Siegel, please revisit this subject again after you, or someone whose judgment you trust, has looked a little deeper into the Thorium subject. Differentiating between MSR and solid fuel Thorium technologies would also be appreciated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Austin/620969991 David Austin

    I wish we had someone besides Flibe working on this because Kirk is burying the technology by misrepresenting the interests of those who would normally be his strongest supporters: environmentalists. It would be one thing if his war on solar and wind was waged fairly but he has obviously gone to great lengths to misrepresent the technologies.  With advances the latest installs of wind are parity with even coal in many locations even without subsidies over the very long term, and solar is down to $2/Watt now in many situations (and dropping), $4/W without subsidies, which is still just above parity in the long term.  When he takes one plant out of context and says it costs $33/W – that just tells anyone who really knows that this guy is not to be trusted.  LTFR may be all that, but Kirk in his dishonest black-balling efforts comes off as a certifiable snake oil salesman.  If you care about LFTR you tell him so. Clean up your act Kirk: know your customer (they’re not idiots), know your competition (it’s fossil fuel, not renewables), and represent the other technologies fairly because again – your customers aren’t stupid … they’ve done the math and so they egg is on your face in your misrepresenations.

    • Dark Cyberian Knight

      The Chinese are working on this right? The Aussies too I think.

      • Paul K.

        Right! And also I would point sunglasses here that there are still more pros than cons.

    • bk78

       Where did he say that? At $4/W and a capacity factor of 12%, you get $33/W for AVERAGE power. Pretty reasonable. In my country (Germany) the renewables industry is attacking the utilities’ nuclear power plants more than everything else. Now that Germany has decided on it’s nuclear phase out, we are building 14 to 17 GW of new coal plants until 2020 plus about the same amount of gas fired plants. So I find it hard to believe that for renewables, fossile fuels are the competition and not nuclear. Meanwhile, the subsidies for existing photovoltaic plants reached 100 billion euros, paid over 20 years – for a meager 3-4% share (roughly 2 GW average) in the electricity mix. Thats about $66/W, although this includes interest rates.
      I started with the same perspective you have, but what happens in my country forced me to come to the opposite conclusion. It’s the renewables industry that has to convince me that it is not only going for the money.

    • http://www.facebook.com/george.lerner George Lerner

       I think we’re going to need, for the next century, as much energy as we can get, as rapidly as we can develop it, to eliminate CO2-releasing, pollution-generating fuels (such as coal and oil).

      We will need LFTR and wind and solar, and wave, and geothermal, etc.

      LFTR provides base-load energy that solar and wind can’t (until large scale energy storage becomes cost effective and uses environmentally acceptable materials). Solar and wind provide power for remote locations, and other niches, even after LFTRs are so common every village has one.

      Environmentalists are key supporters (if they understand LFTR is completely different than LWR) in moving us away from coal/oil/LWR.

      Several of the fission byproducts from LFTRs are very pure rare earth metals used in generators for wind power, advanced batteries,

      See my LFTR blog

  • Nicholas Palmer

    I’ve been a long term opponent of the established nuclear power industry. Up until Fukushima, my position was that new build stations might now be reasonably safe but, as I could remember the industry regularly claiming “things were different now” right from the start in the 1950s, I thought it not sensible to trust their new claims that things were different now.

    After Fukushima, and seeing the way the industry and Japanese government handled things, I really don’t think it wise to completely believe the hype – this time (after all this time…) they might be right, but if they’re not…

    Generation 4 technology appears to look OK, but before we welcome its dawn and decide to invest we absolutely have to see working stations and not just experimental proof-of-concept units. The nuclear industry has to finally shake off the distrust it has earned over decades of over-confident assertions. They have to do this now or forever hold their peace because now is the time we need to spend the money on future power supply methods. 15 years is too long to wait to de-carbonise the economy.

    • Dark Cyberian Knight

       You have to invest some to get the proof you’re after. If 15 years is to long what plan do you think will meet your goal? I firmly believe coal and natural gas put out more nuclear material in their ash and exhaust than nuclear power has leaked. I think wind power is efficient but unreliable. I think terrestrial solar is high risk and costs too much.

  • Dark Cyberian Knight

    Our planet including the nuclear material is made from exploded stars. The Sun will run out of control and consume the earth. Now that’s a nuclear disaster. My understanding is the containment needs to last 300 years. We can build things that last that long. I’ve also heard and seen it repeated here we have enough thorium to out last solar. I’m not sure about the burn rate but at some point we have to worry about our maximum ability to radiate waste heat. I have to wonder if that’s a problem if we max out thorium power?

  • Uzza2

    Edit: was supposed to be a reply. Please remove.

  • Bill Young

       “….a molten-salt reactor (MSR) does produce U233 but that is apparently not a weapons-grade material” 

    This might be misinterpreted.  Isotopically pure U-233 would make a dandy weapon, actually better than U-235.  In most incarnations of LFTR, you do not have isotopically pure U-233.  In most designs U-233 is mixed with U-232 which renders the U-233 unsuitable for weapons use.

    It is possible to make isotopically pure U-233 with some LFTR designs.  (It depends on how you extract the uranium from the thorium salt).  For political/non-proliferation reasons, IMHO having a stream of isotopically pure U-233 should  be avoided.  With that caveat, I think LFTR should be pursued vigorously.     

    • Aaron Gish

      From what I have seen, the fix for this proliferation problem being discussed would be to have some U-232 on hand ready to dump into the fissile material stream via a “panic button” if the station were ever attacked. It would otherwise be kept separated and contained to avoid the hard gamma radiation damage to the reactor materials and to keep from fouling your medical isotope production.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russ-Hamilton/100001280755704 Russ Hamilton

    It is good to see molten salt reactors getting some press time, which is long overdue…..Plus the guy that wrote this made me laugh more than I have in years….”Because of the first two items on the cons list, I consider thorium to
    be ultimately unsustainable in the very long term, though I do believe
    it can play a significant role for several generations, if needed. For
    me, the perfect energy source requires no fuel and, like nature,
    produces no waste.”   I can only say I do believe in fairies….I do, I do!

  • mcskeptic

    RP Siegel said:

    For me, the model is nature, which runs entirely on sunlight and creates
    no waste which is not food for another part of the system.

    The same is true of every single element on Earth; ultimately nothing goes to waste, all will recycled as the Sun expands and consumes the inner planets. All elements will be the building blocks, i.e., food, for what comes next.

    The whole sustainable energy argument, i.e., wind and solar power, is nonsensical; all energy is solar energy, created by the same source, exploding stars. The difference between thorium and the other two is, no matter where we are, thorium is almost certainly available.

  • Joga990

    This is the most absured list of cons I’ve ever seen. Certainly so if you seek to deter the development of LFTR technology.
    1. Terrorism should never even make the top 500 reasons not to pursue new technology
     -energy independance would only limit the amount of funds funneled to those whos aim it is to harm our interests
    2. If your concerned about proliferation in molten salt reactors then you haven’t done your homework. In one year the proliferation in a heavy water reactor is 200,000 to 300,000 cubic feet, as opposed to the 2000 to 3000 cubic feet emitted by the molten salt technology.

    >MOLTEN SALT REACTORS CANNOT FACILITATE PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS<

    3. Its centralized but not to the degree that our current reactors are. These nuclear sites do not need to be nearly as large as current facilities so there can more locationS supporting much smaller grids. This also has the potential to be a portable energy source.
    4. This techniology was abondoned during the cold war primarily because a weaponizable material was not a byproduct (yet another eason government should not be the administrator for developmet of any technology)
    5. In fact waste produced by uranium fueld nuclear reactors can be consumed and destoryed in small amounts in molten salt reactors. Not only that, the byproducts of thorium 232 fueled reactors include: bizmuth 213, which is being praised as cancers achilles heel, thorium 229, fopr alpha therapy cancer treatments, radiostrontium, stable xenon which NASA is in dire need of for deep space exploration, and stable neodymium. This is possible because the temperatures that molten salt reactors can reach are far greater because you are not using waterto cool your reactor.
    6. With the current technology a molten salt reactor also produces enough heat to easily facilitate desalinisation, again because of the heat produced.

    I agree that renewables is the future, but to think that you can naturaly produce electricity on the scale that would accomodate the demand of our world faster than it would take to develope and construct these reactor sites is foolish. We are talking about trillions of kwhrs. When you can show me a solar panel that facilitates desalinisation of water, I will cease becoming red in the face when I read these blogs knocking nuclear energy authored by people who have not done their homework on the subject  Please stop campaigning against this technology. The next time a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you can tell then to rub some weeds on it and blow on it. I like how you say that you "do believe it can play a significant role for several generations, if needed." What you should have said was nothing at all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/george.lerner George Lerner

      LFTR wasn’t abandoned because of “plutonium for weapons”, but rather for
      plutonium as the most efficient uranium-breeding material, at a time
      when uranium was thought to be scarce. In a plutonium fast-spectrum
      breeder reactor, the probability of fission (instead of neutron
      absorption) is very high, and the number of neutrons released per
      fission is high. Of course, we then abandoned the liquid metal fast breeder reactor, for control/safety reasons, and never
      returned to molten salt reactors. See Kirk Sorensen – The Thorium
      Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn’t This Happen (and why is now the right
      time?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.lerner George Lerner

    I disagree with all the cons you list:

    LFTR eliminates nuclear waste from LWR or weapons, clearly not facilitating proliferation. Or LFTR generates U233 from Thorium, which inevitably generates U232 which decays with hard gamma rays — destroying equipment that controls a bomb, and impossible to hide from gamma detectors on earth or in satellites.

    Instead of LWR centralized plants (1GW or larger), most LFTR designs would be 100-200MW, to fit in a tractor trailer and be installed close to electrical need.

    LFTR would make a boring terrorist target, little radiation leakage (gasses continuously removed and safely stored, no high pressure explosions), no loss of coolant, no fire. Plus most LFTRs would be installed underground, harder for terrorists to strike. If the LFTR were also making vehicle fuels, the fuel storage tank would be a dramatic target (big fire), but no radioactivity.

    LFTRs don’t compete with renewables, they would provide base-load power to allow renewables to be developed, instead of using oil/coal/gas for base-load power. And LFTRs can make carbon-neutral vehicle fuels from heat, water, and CO2. LFTR fission byproducts include several materials needed for solar and wind power.

    LFTRs compete with oil/coal/gas, and with LWR; these industries (and unions) are actively blocking LFTR, for example the Nuclear Regulatory Commission classing thorium (one of the Least radioactive materials) as nuclear waste, to block rare earth mining in the USA (since thorium is virtually always found with rare earths) — so China supplies all our rare earth metals for headphones and TVs and wind generators, and will sell us LFTRs soon too.

    Cons you don’t mention:

    – All regulations for LFTR would have to be written from scratch, since nothing from existing nuclear reactor technology applies. The NRC has no interest in writing these. (We will have to write regulations ourselves, so clearly and thoroughly that the NRC has to approve them, for it to happen in less than 30 years.)

    – Although LFTRs use materials, chemicals, and processes that are well known from other industries, component and system testing will need to be done. This is estimated to take 5 years, with adequate funding.

    – Though LWR fuel fabrication, pipe repair, operation, fuel disposal will continue until all LWRs are gone, those unions will likely protect their jobs and block LFTR development.

    – Most nuclear power laws are written as if LWR were the only type of reactor possible; these will need to be changed (or we’ll have to build LFTRs in huge steam containment buildings, with spent fuel rod pools, even though LFTRs have no steam and no fuel rods). Congress is too ineffective to get this done any time soon. [Flibe Energy is building LFTRs for the military, because the military writes their own regulations, that make sense and have worked (never a military nuclear accident). Congress and NRC would not be involved.]

  • Embar

    RE: 1. Nonrenewable fuel
     
    True, however it is my understanding that there is so much thorium-232 that the supply will outlast the duration of the Earth’s existence at our current petrochemical energy usage rate.  So far, I see no reason to believe that natural renewable energy will ever support more than a small fraction of today’s global population.
     

  • notanotherskippy

    Your cons even to traditional nuclear power are for the most part lacking.

    –Proven risks of dangerous meltdowns (e.g. Fukushima. Japan is now shutting down all reactors).Marginally true for western reactor designs. Chernobyl was a deeply flawed design on many levels and so is an outlier. TMI resulted in no loss of life or measurable health effects. Fukushima actually survived a tsunami and earthquake significantly beyond its 70’s design parameters and only failed because the infrastructure was so severely devastated that backup power could not be provided. It’s also worth noting that had the backup diesel generators been fully enclosed there would have been no failure. Lesson learned. Finally, I suspect that years from now the detectable health effects will be so low that we will be endlessly debating just how bad it was, but that remains conjecture at this point. –Very long time required for approval and construction.

    Primarily as a result of illogical opposition from so called greens and the lack of standardized reactor designs as well as the large ~GWt/e designs. Alternatives have been proposed that are smaller and modular and would benefit significantly from economies of scale. Even excepting GenIV designs as unproven, GenIII+ designs like the AP1000 are showing promise in this regard.

    –Potential terrorist target.

    Marginally true but given the high density of power this would be a target that is relatively easy to secure and protect. Chemical plants and refineries pose a larger health risk and there are far more of them.

    –Too big to be liable, taxpayers will likely pick up the cost of an accident.

    True, but again some of that scale is imposed by other constraints noted above. There are plenty of toxic materials involved in the processing of so called renewable energy sources. Lots of nasty mutagens and toxic gases are involved in the processing of PV in particular. To date nuclear energy has involved fewer deaths per MWh than the supposed benign wind power and that does not include the environmental costs of mining and refining the rare earths required to support a wind/PV/EV economy. Who picks up the cost of that cleanup? I think that would qualify for SuperFund…

    –Highly centralized and capital intensive.

    See above.

    –Non-renewable and rare fuel source: Uranium (much of it controlled by indigenous tribes).

    Not to be rude, but as an engineer you should know better. Nothing is renewable. The Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that. We can debate the time scale over which an energy resource can be harvested, but they all run out. Estimates vary, but extraction of uranium from seawater –let alone thorium with its higher abundance in the Earth’s crust– has been estimated to offer a power source on the scale of billions of years. Our sun has about 5billion years of life left in it. Those are equivalent as far as I can tell.

    –High level of embedded CO2 in concrete and steel.

    Even if that is a concern it’s a small fraction of the carbon savings you get from an energy dense fuel that can provide reliable baseload power. And yes, it can load follow with some modest efficiency losses as the French have demonstrated.

    –Dangerous radioactive waste lasts 200 – 500 thousand years.

    Mostly a red herring if you abandon the silly practice of once through that we use in the US. Reprocessing of spent fuel not only concentrates the waste but also eliminates many of the longer lived isotopes. The remainder can be vitrified. Again the French have demonstrated just how effective this can be. Proliferation is possibly a concern but aside from the shock value of a nuclear device there are much easier and cheaper means of mass destruction available to terrorist organizations and given the relatively small volumes of waste and the fact that they are oxide fuels actually makes them unattractive for weapons. Other IFR designs don’t require reprocessing and achieve a much higher burnup with their initial fueling.

    –No operating long-term waste storage sites in the U.S.

    See above. Waste reprocessing mostly solves this on its own.

    –Shipping nuclear waste poses an increased potential risk of spills or interception by terrorist groups.

    There is no such thing as a zero risk endeavor. Walking up stairs involves risk. Driving a car is certainly risky. The fact that the French have demonstrated the ability to ship and reprocess waste for decades provides some evidence that it can be done.

    –Fissile material can be converted into nuclear weapons.

    Depends. Weapons require significant enrichment and metallic cores. Reactors operate at much lower levels of enrichment and with oxide fuels. MOx fuels, including reprocessed fuels, pose a greater risk because of their chemically distinct plutonium. Again, with reprocessing this material occupies a much smaller volume is more easily secured. Thorium is proliferation resistant because while U233 makes an excellent bomb material U232 decays with hard gammas. Even if you expect to be greeted by 13 virgins for your martyrdom exposure to that material will kill a bomb maker very very quickly in addition to being highly detectable.

    –High construction costs generally requiring subsidies and loan guarantees.

    Unlike the billions spent subsidizing renewables? And lest you compare total subsidies amongst nuclear, hydrocarbon resources, and renewables you should compare costs per MWh as that is the true cost of each energy source. Also, with their long lease times and the decades of lease extension most plants in the US are seeing the costs are amortized over a very long time scale and are quite competitive whereas there is no end in sight for renewable subsidies even after decades of such subsidies. Even Europe is starting to wake up that solar and wind supported by feed-in tariffs are hideously expensive.

    –Competes with renewables for investment dollars.

    Largely irrelevant unless you have a personal bias for a particular energy source. Ultimately what matters is that which can produce the quantities of energy we need reliably and on the scale we need. Even if one were to accept the low utilization rate of the renewables’ nameplate capacity and overbuild the plant to compensate, the transmission costs along with the complete lack of a viable regional let alone national energy storage infrastructure means that renewables have no line of sight to baseload replacement. You can attempt to trot out that study published in Scientific American by the UC(Davis?) CivE’s, but they made some very optimistic assumptions about material availability, especially rare earths, as well as some very generous assumptions about renewable utilization rates which are well above actual reported values.

    p.s. My dark horse in the energy race is polywell pB11 with direct energy extraction from the emitted alphas. It’s most likely a pipedream, but I wanted to demonstrate that we all can get starry eyed from time to time.

  • Denny Bernsmeier

    Let us face facts, most of the world wants it easy. Buzz
    words, simple solutions and familiarity are the keys. Most people live in today
    and think in tomorrow only in passing thoughts. The truth is we have already
    passed the point of never noticing the effects of mankind. The dream of the
    perfect energy will be the end of us. It has been true thought-out history that
    everything is gradual and comes in stages. To take full advantage of natural
    power with less the 1% impact will not happen in our lifetime. Liquid thorium
    reactors show minimal impact compared to current and up and coming technologies
    that is currently the best idea to get us by for a least a couple hundred
    years. There is no energy source in any state (in use, in testing, in theory)
    that give us perfectly clean energy. Let us not look for perfection but for practicality.

  • http://twitter.com/j_g_hunter Jeremy G Hunter

    I’ll start off by stating that I in no way support fossil fuels over “renewables”, but I certainly find the propaganda supported by the “green” international community to be hypocritical and shameful. There are some outright lies and junk science espoused by some of their figure heads (Caldicott come to mind?)

    Anyway, to address some of the cons:

    “Non-renewable fuel”

    There is no such thing as “renewable fuel”. What is considered renewable fuel is the output of very long-drawn out nuclear reactions (which provides over half of Earth’s heat: http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/aug11/geoneutrinos80211.html). In some

    It’s worth considering that at the moment, economically viable uranium fuel, even if being spent at current rates, will last for 200 years. That may be long enough to find this Holy Grail of energy that results in us creating sufficient baseload energy without creating any output. If not, there is still the opportunity that we can one day extract uranium from seawater, viably, which will provide thousands of years of uranium fuel. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last) You may be wondering “What’s that got to do with Thorium power?” – because Spent Nuclear Fuel from LWR can be used in LFTR. Furthermore, the supply of Thorium is believed to be manifold of Uranium. However many thousands of years Uranium will last, Thorium will last about three times that (http://www.eoearth.org/article/Thorium).

    “Can still facilitate proliferation of nuclear weapons”

    This is only half the story, it is in no way worthwhile making nuclear weapons from the by-product U232, which becomes Tl208 which puts out a heckload of gamma radiation, destroying any weaponry it would be used in, unless you used thick lead shielding.

    “Quite different than current technology”

    How is that a reason to not apply it? Not really a con.

    “Like all big plants, could be a terrorist target”

    But so is anything, however targets are generally civilian, where groups of people are.

    “Technology not ready for prime time yet”

    In which case, it needs help developing. That’s not really a con as much as a current setback.

    “Competes with renewables for investment dollars”

    People can throw money at renewables but it’s just flushing it down the toilet.

  • Ian

    Kirk Sorensen has stated that it would take around 3,000 tons of Thorium to run the Planet’s current energy needs, and that that is the average “waste” volume of Thorium coming out of a mine in Missouri. America by itself has about 1,000 years of this stuff in reserve alone. That works out to about 50 Generations of fuel available. MORE than enough time to lazily develop flying cars and Fusion Reactors.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4

  • Martin Kral

    RP, I am reading this 8 months late but enjoyed your pro-con approach very much. After reading every comment it is easy to see the frustration of the thorium advocates (me included) that thorium and MSR were passed over back in the beginning of the nuclear age. The nuclear industry and governments have made their share of wrong decisions but I see no reason to focus on that. If we accept that there is a CO2 problem that is causing climate change, then we all need to focus on solutions. I believe that nuclear and renewable are the direction to be heading, not one over the other, but both as reasonable replacements for hydrocarbon as base load power and heat.

  • John

    I find it rather amusing in this article that nature’s energy sources do not produce waste. Harnessing energy, of any kind from anywhere will always produce waste. Now waste comes in many forms, increased heat, chemical compounds, radioactive materials. ETC. Even the production of solar energy has “waste” (the efficiency is extremely low, it “wastes” a huge amount of space to produce. and it is created ultimately by the sun. a fusion reactor.) Just because the waste is not on planet earth does not mean it doesn’t exist.

  • Mike Rogers

    “non renewable fuel source”? There are enough thorium mines on earth too power all of humanity for 10000 years. And if we haven’t gotten our shit together by then (especially with super cheep, abundant, clean energy to work with), we never will. And thats just the stuff we know about, and can currently reach. in 10000 years i would expect we would have more advanced mining techniques. Yet you frame it as a solution for “a few generations”? Lets also not forget about the fact that LFTR can burn up our current stockpile of waste, produce medical isotopes, produce plutonium 238 for the space shuttle, as well as some other very valuable fission products. maybe you should have put that in your “pros” section. also, competes with renewables in terms of investment dollars??? Are you fucking retarded? A LFTR the size of a small hockey arena would push more power than a hundred football fields covered in solar panels. The raw material and manufacture costs of solar is multitudes greater than LFTR. honestly man, you should know something about what you are talking about before posting articles to the public. because you obviously know little more than you would if you read a couple of articles about LFTR about the caliber of yours, by that i mean not very high caliber.

  • Todd Bee

    Your list of Cons is missing one. Thorium reactors do NOT keep energy scarce. No, or little, scarcity = less profit, less control, less political and economic power.

  • Anna Lyse

    One of the biggest problems of the watercooled reactor is the water that builds up pressure when the temperature increases. In case of runaway the pressure in the vessel increases such high that the reactor content is blown into atmosphere. With the molten salt reactor such a situation will never occur as the molten salt will stay liquid at temperatures till above 1000 degrC. This is a huge advantage. Further the Thorium is pumped round in a liquid circuit which is drained when the electricity is interrupted. It is unbelievable that this process developed and tested in 1960 was shifted aside …

  • Joe

    you got your facts wrong thorium reactors (LFTR) can`t melt down like Japans (it does not get that hot) and U-233 is weapons-grade material but taking it out of the reactor is impossible and it is contaminated with U-232 (a nasty element)

  • Rodney Krieger

    The cooling water used at a reactor site is only for the generator steam turbine condensers and has nothing to do with the heat source therefore the last “pro” of “using less cooling water” than conventional nuclear systems is FALSE! (I spent 21 years working at a nuclear plant)

  • nomanzone

    The “con” list is really not cons relative to conventional nuclear power. What is baffling is why the US government, academia, and private industries are not interested in realizing this technology into commercial applications if the advantage of Thorium to Uranium power is more than 9:1? Are there something they know that we don’t?