The Thorium Dream

The Thorium Dream

2011, Technology  -   69 Comments
Ratings: 8.93/10 from 307 users.

There's much to take for granted in the evolution of technology, or at least in the way that technology appears to us today – refined, perfected, ever cutting-edge.

Globally, our energy and resource supplies are becoming increasingly costly to extract and use. Demand has never been higher; ditto levels of CO2 and other terrible greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Nuclear energy is powerful, but it can look worse, given persistent waste storage issues and the threat of proliferation.

So when the topic of thorium nuclear energy comes up at a party, or in a webpage comment string, it elicits angry dismissals, or heaps of praise.

The idea of building small, thorium-based nuclear reactors – thought to be dramatically safer, cheaper, cleaner and terror-proof than our current catalog of reactors – can be shooed away as fringe by some.

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1 year ago

I imagine that anything that is good for the planet and humanity, and is abundant, won't make money. That's why it never seems to happen.

Bryan C.
1 year ago

Dr. Warren Hern made it abundantly clear back in 1993. The only species that manifests all 4 of the major characteristics of a malignant process. Contemporary "civilized" Homo (even so-called "environmentally-conscious") are incapable of not running off the cliff. So the cliff waits for what will inevitably come.

peruda hudson
2 years ago

the first thing the yanks do with any new stuff is oooh can we weaponise it.. we have free energy as tesla proved but the greedy, want us dependant

False Progress
3 years ago

Think of all the open spaces that wouldn't now be spoiled with giant wind turbines, including rural night skies full of blinking lights. It's blight for naught.

5 years ago

China has started building a Thorium reactor. That will be the impetus for us to follow suit. It's unfortunate that we refuse to lead with this proven Thorium technology. It's also sad that the people at the forefront of this cause present themselves as funny people who don't have the conviction that is needed to initiate interest. If the leaders are not convincingly effective at delivering the message then why bother? I could do a better job and that is more than unfortunate. People need to be serious and driven to improve safe nuclear power.

6 years ago

Yet another scheme to keep us at the mercy of never ending power company price hikes.

How about forcing those who confiscate and shelve technologies in the name of national security (actually protection of vested interests in commodities such as oil) to open their doors and pick a few that most anyone with an aptitude for making things can build.

Until you have the gumption to do that, why not go with a carbon neutral renewable fuel anyone with a back yard can make from stale doughnuts and sugar beets to grass. See AlcoholCanBeAGas . com for a primer on Ethanol. Then no one can hold you hostage for energy. You can go buy it the next town over or make it yourself.

That is true energy independence and energy security.

6 years ago

CO2 is plant food! It is not the cause of Climate Change. If CO2 drops to around 150ppm then plants die and so do we through starvation.

Jay Batson
7 years ago

The comments in this thread are an immediate proof that a rational, fact-and-science-based dialog on this topic is unlikely to happen any time soon. #sad

7 years ago

The only problem is liquid sodium explodes if it touches air or water.

7 years ago

This documentary is just talk. If you were looking for something technical this is not it. Pretty meaningless.

8 years ago

I am very surprised to see documentary is at a 9 rating as I write this view, considering how little is presented and the way in which it was presented. At one point they played a clip of a stereotypical hippie (who was quite the i*iot even for a stereotypical hippie) talking about how "every technology mankind has made in recent years had made the world exponentially worse" followed by another clip of a middle-aged lady who seemed to me to be very intoxicated ignorantly babbling about Fukushima while wearing some kind of costume. Why did they do this? In order to try and make the statement "these are the kind of people who say nuclear energy is bad." How do I know that's what they were trying to say? A few scenes prior one of the narrator/interviewees literally shouts (paraphrashing) "the only kind of people who say nuclear energy is bad are idiotic hippies." in a vitriolic and perhaps even childish tone.

Sorry boys, if mankind was perfect we'd have built Thorium-Uranium fuel cycle power plants back when most nuclear power plants were still being built.

This documentary has affirmed by belief that solar is the future, although I still recommend it because it was very fun learning about Thorium, even if I can't tell what was myth and what was fact.

I think it honestly deserves a 5/10.

8 years ago

This doc. raises more suspicion than it does hope. A couple of the proponents are outright nationalists. A good thing will never remain a good thing in the hands of people like that (eg 'we will rise to preeminence again').
The other thing is the almost total lack of demonstrating applied uses of thoriums, data, or facts of its capabilities. They say it will work, they've put power behind lobbying it, but I didn't see much of substance here. I don't think it deseves the rating it got at all.

Jo McKay
9 years ago

How much promise is yet to be seen. It is also true that the super rich have their money in maintaining the status quo, and they 'own' most Western govts... However, the technology and the possibilities are being explored right now...China is in in a big way; Norway has begun a 4 year testing program, Japan is in planning stages. So whatever others say about the unlikely development of Thorium, it is happening, just not in the western world...yet.

10 years ago

Great accessible documentary, but oh boy there's a lot of misinformed comments here. Lets clear some things up.

Thorium 232 is hundreds of times more abundant than uranium 235, and we should be able to use it much more efficiently and thus also more cleanly. Thorium has a half-life of 14 billion years, meaning it is very slighly radioactive (the radioactivity detected in granite may not necessarily be Thorium itself but it's daughter products).

On average 12g of every ton of the earth's surface is Thorium, which would provide you with power for 10-15 years. That makes mining plain rock economically viable, let alone mining thorium rich rock, which we likely won't do for along time because we have vast amounts already left over from mining other things. The cost of fuel in thorium power will be negligible overall. We probably have millions of years worth of it here on earth, let alone on the moon and the rest of the solar system.

China seem to think Molten Salt fuelled reactors are a good idea, they will have a full test one in 2017 (they will first build Molten Salt cooled pebble bed reactor in 2015 to test various aspects). They are looking at using silicon carbide as a highly corrosion resistant containment material. The main problem so far seems to be in online reprocessing of the fuel, but it's early days yet.

Its not just China, not by a long shot. I know of many other national and privateer projects around the world who are trying to make this happen. Many of them are aiming to get their test reactors online by 2015 (the 50th anniversary of Oak Ridge MSRE going online), after that I think we'll hear much more about them.

No matter which way you look at it the promise of Thorium is far too good to ignore. While there will surely be problems along the way we will find ways to overcome them, and they will be vastly less than the problems we will cause continuing as we are without it.

11 years ago

this is not the first time you see something become so simple and become so better, there many things round become way more liter, chipper and better, this is technology, simple.

11 years ago

Where to start with what's wrong with this film....

- Firstly, there are other ways of utilising the Thorium cycle, notably the HTGR (or VHTR or Gas cooled reactor as they are sometimes called) or using the CANDU (Heavy water reactor). Most experiments to date with Thorium have focused on these as they are much more mature reactor designs, although to date such efforts have yet to yield a commercially viable plant.

- The bulk of Chinese and Indian research into Thorium, unsurprisingly, involves the reactors mentioned above. LFTR's are more of a “blue sky option” piggy-backed onto a larger research project.

- LWR's favoured because they can make plutonium? And easily debunked consipracy theory! where is all that plutonium? Still locked up in the spend fuel rods! as US civilian reactors largely ran on a “once-thro” process with no effort made to reprocess them. The best way to make Plutonium is with purpose build breeder reactors, which is where the vast bulk of US military Pu stockpiles came from.

- The reason why LWR's were favoured is simple, LWR's can be made from easily forged or cast Steel, use water and steam as working fluids (of which there was ample experience from conventional power stations) and were based on military reactors that had been running successfully for a decade or more. MSR's are made from exotic nickel alloys (of which there was very limited if any manufacturing experience of back in the 60's) and involved mucking around with molten salts and "nuclear lava".

- Most of the claims made in this film are outlandish, unproven and highly implausible. The bulk of research into LFTR's done in the US (or UK) these days involves the use of powerpoint and you-tube!

- The original MSRE did not “function flawlessly”. Unless you consider distorted graphite elements, a fatigue failure of a critical component and numerous problems with intergranual cracking as a “success”. By that same token North Korea's recent rocket launch was also a “success” in that it managed to go further than the last one and got off the ground okay.

- The bulk of nuclear scientists I've spoken too or heard expressing an opinion on this matter think the LFTR is a crazy idea. They reckon there may be some case for thorium fuelled kit if Fusion power fails to arrive on schedule (i.e. in 50 years time) but by and large they recommend sticking with what we know works for the time being.

- The reason for this scepticism, is due to the fact that even with our more advanced knowledge of material science, building something such as a commercial LFTR would be a daunting engineering challenge. It is doubtful one could be build at a rate faster than existing nuclear technology (which is already lagging behind renewables), or cheaper (and already many will argue renewables are now cost equal to nuclear if not cheaper with renewable prices falling while nuclear energy costs are rising).

- Thorium in Granite....Groan!....yes and by that same token I could claim that you can run a car off of water as its packed full of hydrogen! Unfortunately, there's this pesky little thing called EROEI (Energy Returned Over Energy Invested), which says that below a certain tipping point we'd expend more energy extracting the Thorium from Granite than you'd get back in usable energy. Also there's the issue of “cut-off grades” for ores, below which its just not really technically possible (nor economically desirable) to extract a mineral. All that this demonstrates is a disturbing lack of knowledge on the part of the participants as to the basics fundamentals of energy and physics.

The truth is that the LFTR is a blue sky idea at the very early concept stage of development. It is decades or more from commercial deployment, indeed there's nothing to say that in the process of answering the research questions, some ironclad show stopper won't emerge. We've been here b4 with OTEC, Fast Breeders, Cold Fusion and numerous other “miracle” technologies.

And the simple fact is that if we want to avert dangerous climate change we can't wait for technology like this to emerge (after all, what if it never emerges?). Hence why I favour going with what we've got, notably renewables and various energy efficiency strategies and considering nuclear plants such as these at some distant future date when the technology has proven itself.

….cue ad hominem attacks from the Thorium Trolls!

11 years ago

willful, destructive, unremitting mismanagement of freely available resources and here we all go, considering more profits, waste, destruction for the same sickly fat and easy ilk. get a grip and stop 'tilting at windmills'.

Meera Rangarajan
11 years ago

In India we are running the Atomic Power Project thro Thorium only. Our FBTR have become operational and not ecologially insensitive. For that matter, Kalpakkam Aproject called MAPP, is one of the successful FBTR. The Kakrapar Project uses Thorium as the core. The tsunami of 2004 has not damaged MAPP, which is in its direct sweep.I vote for Thorium which is the clean energy. Probably we should develop more safety standards. Let America embrace Thorium based atomic projects and let them signal that Nuclear sanctions have no value if they use.

11 years ago

The key here is social, group think belief and the profit motive compelling this social compliance. For example, eliminating fossil fuels is another reason why anything like a Thorium reactor hasn't been used. With Fossil Fuels we talking about the most politically and economically powerful people in the world. That economy power is far more socially acceptable than anything science can come up with, to most sheople getting rid of gas guzzling cars is unthinkable despite the durability of electric motors and making a change to Thorium, well that is unthinkable to the powers that be. Innovation virtually stops dead in it's tracks under political pressure. The results play this out over and over and over again. Pick your issue, how about medicine? How long before sailors became limeys! How long did it take to city create sewage systems and there is evidence of this deep apathy. Or consider the issue of Alumina, when dropped in H2O it oxidizes freeing up usable Hydrogen. Why isn't this being more widely pursued? Well that is an economic question and economics is the bane of scientific innovation. Look at wind power where the powers that be are not doing anything to encourage small scale localized energy production instead they want to centralize production to keep control in order to maximize profits. The explanation is really simple.

For example Peter Lyons says "continuing to look at thorium..." a great political-economic answer that gives cover to the deception of the conventional wisdom. His answer admits that it is economic and scientific rather safety, efficiency and good sense that is the industries rational. i.e. they are protecting their investments first and foremost. They don't care about you or your children, the environment. Their goals are very short term.

"America has done tremendous things before..." past tense! that quote is like saying, "I give up, I quit, we can now lay down and die".

11 years ago

This has got to be one of the worst documentaries I have ever seen. It tells you virtually nothing about the science involved with thorium. It gives you alternative opinions. Most importantly, it doesn't address the question of what is stopping investors from building thorium plants. Are there government regulations preventing it. Is the technology not sufficiently developed? If the technology is still pending, then many of their claims have to be regarded as overstatements. But this documentary doesn't even give you enough to judge that. Are we talking about proven technology or a very promising potential? I just don't see why anyone bothered to waste their time on such an uninformative documentary.

11 years ago

It's a nice restart with some typical self-promotion and plenty of generalizations. But if the public is to be interested, Thorium will have to be explained in real world terms. That means from birth to death. Mining and it's impact...refining and environment concerns...operation of the reactor....and disposal of waste. Back patting self promotion does nothing but make these suits looks like your typical DC lobbyist.
I will wait for the next chapter in this story and hope it is more than a sales pitch.

11 years ago

AAAAAAAhahaha!!!! that hippy gran was hilarious>

11 years ago

Wonderful, as a chemist I knew about Thorium and had no idea it was such a well kept secret. Radioactive chemistry isn't my field but, I had heard those in the field talk about it. All I had heard was that it was possible to use it as a nuclear fuel though, I had no idea it also provided so many benefits compared to current tech. I have been up with my dog all night, I think he may have gotten ran over, and kept falling asleep during the documentary but, I wonder if they ever really explained in detail the process of using Thorium instead of Uranium. Anyway I am off to the vet to get this dog's leg set, in a splint, and get some pain pills for him. I'll check it out when I get back. Wish him luck, he is in lots of pain but no internal or seriouse damage from what I can tell. 1.5 year old Pit Bull named chance, called Bully most of the time, lives in doors and thinks he is human. He even turns his nose up at toast unless you butter it, and he has to see you do it just like your own before he will eat it. Favorite activities include watching the dog wisperer, chasing squirrels, and riding down the road with his head hanging out the passenger window.

11 years ago

Very interesting. I am surprised I have not heard of it. I wish it would have went in to more detail. I am not surprised that it was shelved 50 years ago since you can't make bombs from it.
I do believe that many more ideas on producing power have been overlooked or silenced in our past (think Tesla)
In our past, it seems that the way we have determained what is a practical source of power, seems to be based on how rich one can get from selling it, over it's ability to produce power cleanly or safely.
I will research this more, because I do believe that science can (or already has) discover better, safer, and cleaner ways to supply power.
Of course It will still require making some people filthy rich before they utilize it. They appear to have just been draining us all financially, off of resources that they were aware of not being safe or sustainable in the first place. But when you're a monopoly, why compete with yourself until you're out of supply and are forced to find a new cash cow.

11 years ago

These people really need to contact Dr. Ron Paul. What that dude is doing, is the eppitamy of a true free market, where no ideas are frowned upon, and if it works, it succeeds. He is the only man who would embrace this.

11 years ago

Just build a Private Prototype and Tell people in the mount of Profits the'll gain by investing. :3

(im no expert when it comes to inventing. )

Patrick Mclaughlin
11 years ago

I wonder how much Thorium is in the Pyramids? :)

11 years ago

Is this as good as it sounds, or is there a catch?

11 years ago

Worthless documentary. Emotional appeal to favor Thorium over Uranium in future power plants. Almost no actual facts presented. Thorium probably is the future but you can not tell it from this documentary.

11 years ago

Very intriguing doc. I don't have much of an opinion on it yet, as I need to research this more, but it's sure piqued my curiosity.