Thorium: The NASA Story

2016 ,    »  -   22 Comments
Ratings: 9.31/10 from 241 users.
Thorium: The NASA Story

The comforts and necessities of our daily existence could not be fulfilled without the use of energy. Yet, our world is in a constant state of crisis when it comes to energy reserves. Aerospace engineer Kirk Sorensen believes he's uncovered a solution that's cleaner, more efficient and somewhat more controversial than the tremulous energy sources we currently rely upon - an abundant, naturally occurring and energy dense radioactive element called Thorium. The new feature-length documentary titled Thorium: The NASA Story supports one aspect of Sorensen's proposed solution by outlining its worthiness in the pursuit of space colonization, and then tying it back to its practical applications here on Earth.

Carefully assembled from a series of viral video sources and newly produced footage by Gordon McDowell, the film makes intimidating scientific concepts easily understandable to the layperson. First, it establishes the role that energy plays in space travel and exploration by recalling a series of groundbreaking NASA missions including Voyager 1, New Horizons and the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.

The victories and shortfalls of each of these missions can be traced back to their utilization of power. The further we travel beyond the sun, the more incompetent our solar and battery-powered energy sources become. As a result, many of NASA's loftiest ambitions - including their desire to explore beneath the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa - remain stalled in the conceptual phase. According to Sorensen, who worked for NASA for over a decade, nuclear power could change all that.

The film uses the example of the hugely popular book and film The Martian as an illustration of its argument. If his mission were powered by nuclear energy, the protagonist would have little difficulty travelling across the surface of Mars and harnessing the planet's resources for food and sustenance.

The aspirations of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, and every human favoring space exploration are blocked by off-world energy constraints. As real-world, billion dollar solar powered space missions fail because of dust and shadow, the film convincingly argues that Thorium's most practical application is not even in space, but back here on Earth. Instead of using Uranium in today's water cooled nuclear reactors, with Thorium we can power our world more efficiently than ever before. The widespread view of nuclear power is as a force for destruction. Thorium: The NASA Story successfully counters this reputation.

Directed by: Gordon McDowell

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22 Comments / User Reviews

  1. fancypants

    kirk is awesome, nothing more need be said. +10

  2. Derek

    Sounds great in theory but the people on this earth care about 1 thing.. Money!! And throrium is just too dam powerful.. How will you make any money if a ball of thorium the size of a golf ball could power your home and car for your entire life.. Not to mention maybe even longer and not to mention there is ahuge adundance of thorium.. More the urAnium actually.. So therefor its value is worthless to anyone who wants to make money... The solutions are easy its the powers that be that dont give a crap about people who actually make the world go around

  3. bart

    very good basic information about nuclear power especially how important it is for space exploration.

  4. Rokas

    It's good thing that China and India are starting to develop Thorium-based nuclear power plants, more competitors will show up.

  5. KsDevil

    It sounds to me like the money in thorium rectors is not in it's electrical generation, but it's electrical distribution.
    And the best way to accomplish such a thing, an open market blank slate is needed. So it's no wonder the potential development is aimed in nations with open slate politics.
    But it is a disappointment that the costs are prohibitive in the micro-power market.

  6. Gordon McDowell

    Folks, am happy to see TDF indexed the NASA video I edited. If there's any technical questions regarding Molten Salt Reactors (the type of reactor which makes thorium energy practical), or on Thorium reactors in particular, I'll try to answer.

  7. Craig

    I tell everyone I know about LFTR reactors. No one I talked to has even heard of it. When I explain how inherently stable it is they ask why we don't use it today

  8. madhur gupta

    So, somewhere in the middle of the video he says that U-233 decays into some really nasty Gamma-ray emitting stuff like Pb and Tl.
    Who takes care of that?
    The main concern with a nuclear power plant is NOT the "safety" regarding the natural disasters like Tsunami, but the RADIOACTIVITY part of it.
    You cannot take the "radioactivity" out of a nuclear reaction. Someday, somewhere, there WILL be a disaster of some sort, be it a Molten Salt reactor (there are disasters even in thermal plants), and there's going to be radioactivity everywhere.
    Also, not to mention that most oil is mainly used to run vehicles. I'm not sure how Thorium reactors can power transport and hence replace petroleum/gasoline.

  9. Gage

    "Also, not to mention that most oil is mainly used to run vehicles. I'm not sure how Thorium reactors can power transport and hence replace petroleum/gasoline."

    Really??? You are aware there are already lots of hybrid and fully electric vehicles on the road, and a huge amount of competition in that market.

  10. Robert Weekes

    Derek, the cost of the thorium fuel is negligible, it's the cost of everything else that will make some companies lots of money. Fabricating the metal and concrete parts for the reactor (not that much actually) will cost a certain amount and especially the up front research will cost a lot. That should be funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy

  11. Gordon McDowell

    Madder Gupta,

    In the video Kirk refers to Uranium-232 (not 233) decaying into Bismuth-212 and Thallium-208. (Bismuth-212 has a half-life of 1 hour. Thallium-208 has a half-life of 3 minutes.)

    To say "You can not take radioactivity out of a nuclear reaction" is true, but you can't take radioactivity out of nature itself either. We're bathed in radiation all the time. We pull radioactive isotopes out of the ground when we harness geothermal in California. We pull them out of the ground when we mine materials for doping solar panels or building better car batteries.

    The only totally unique aspect about radioactive material found in a nuclear power plant, is that they are CONTAINED.

    If you're not fussed with how & why the Tsunami led to RELEASE of radioactive isotopes at Fukushima, then you are ignoring the difference between WASTE and POLLUTION.



    Molten Salt Reactor proponents are interested in nuclear technology where the chemical bonds of the salt itself keeps radioactive isotopes from dispersing, no matter what disaster might befall the reactor.

  12. Gordon McDowell

    ORNL just discovered a documentary about the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment which was created in 1969. It contains never-before film footage of the MSRE itself. It can be seen on the official YouTube channel of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.... in fact it was only released to public 4 days ago (2016-10-14). So that means it was lost for about 45 years.

  13. chuck

    Perhaps one should look at the evidence now being presented that man has not made the journey to the moon. How they could not survive going through the belt of radiation that protects the earth from the Sun. If one thinks of the technology we had in 1960.......

  14. MarthaMarkham

    Why is all this info being so efficiently contained and not developing into action when it is needed.:/ Rationed, so to speak

  15. Mike

    Gordon - any suggestions on how to support/invest in thorium projects? With some cursory research, I don't see anything publicly traded out there... but I'd imagine the privately funded companies wouldn't be interested in mom & pop investment.

  16. Just Sayin

    Robert Weekes, why should the U.S. taxpayer fund "the up front research" for thorium based energy, when any such research results would be given gratis to private industry, to privatize and capitalize without restraints or significant regulation, and at far greater cost to the consumer than would be reasonable for technology created from public funding?

  17. zen

    Mr Mcdowell life span of 5 years for the floride salt ,as for the lead variant heat sheild burn out,yes a shorter halflife from the waste but much more radioactive waste and stability issue of said rectors.
    also the amount of power is small so alot more rectors are needed ,i think Tesla showed Edison up with this simple logistical issue ;)
    to much hype these days ! sigh

  18. Gordon McDowell

    zen, you say "the amount of power is so small"...

    Every MSR startup is specifying the output of their reactor in thermal energy and electric. 250 MWe is a size everyone is planning to offer. (Some startups offering smaller and larger but always including 250 MWe.)

    250 MWe is only "small" compared to monolithic nuclear reactors. It is a heck of a lot of power compared to everything else. A physically tiny 250 MWe MSR would be outputting more power each year than the world's largest solar farm. (Not as high peak production, but MSR is giving you power when you need it not just when the sun is shining.)

    The reason it is better to supply 1 GWe with 4 smaller reactors is the economy of volume manufacturing... things get cheaper the more you build and are able to learn as you go. That's been one of the problems with today's nuclear... not enough quantity to learn from past assemblies.

    Smaller reactors can be built in factories, easily shipped, and assembled on-site. Instead of a 1 GWe reactor being taken down for service, 3 of 4 reactors could be operating and just rotate the servicing schedule between them. (Or 4 of 5 reactors and never need to dip below 1 GWe.)

  19. Rob

    Great doco I read about thorium a while back. The return on energy invested chart was good, simple hard hitting. It would be good to have other educational\marketing one pagers like this which cover:
    -radioactive waste output comparison between fusion, current fission and thorium
    -capital cost to build to energy output comparison between all types
    -operational cost to build to energy output comparison between all types
    -material source cost comparison between all types

    I'm sure people can think of many other one pagers.

  20. Daniel

    Amazing documentary, enjoyed every part of it. I truly hope the LFTRs will become reality soon, and more countries will opt for this safer and more efficient type of nuclear energy. But as it was stated numerous times throughout the film, the PR issue is very big and has to be approached with adequate measure. Here's hoping!

  21. ST

    Until we become a resource based economy rather than a monetary based economy, this technology will never be developed because there is no money in it. Uranium is rare, Thorium is not. This is why Uranium will always be used while we have our current economy. Efficiency is not important, money is important.

  22. Gordon McDowell

    ST, the advantages of LFTR over PWR are not limited to supply and cost of Uranium. Uranium itself isn't terribly rare, but because we use it inefficiently we are then left with unnecessarily voluminous amounts of "spent fuel".

    Until from 1982 to 2013, the Department of Energy collected a "waste storage fee" when electricity was produced by a nuclear power plant. It collected this fee based on how much electricity was produced, NOT how much waste was produced. (A terrible incentive structure.)

    This was halted in 2013 when a Federal Court ruled DoE couldn't keep collecting payments for "waste disposal" since they were obviously not actually disposing of the waste... the waste has remained in cooling pools and dry-cask storage instead of being reprocessed or moved to a long-term repository.

    While I'm personally not super-fussed over fuel rods held in dry-cask storage, as of 2013 there is now an actual monetary incentive to produce more electricity for less waste.

    There are of course more arguments to make on this, but I just want to make a single point regarding monetary incentive which you raise. As of 2013, things have changed.

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