Thorium: The NASA Story

Thorium: The NASA Story

2016, Technology  -   40 Comments
Ratings: 8.70/10 from 732 users.

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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40 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Lau

    Thorium is the future.

  2. Sum Yung Gai

    As you can see from the comments here education is the key. Many of the concepts discussed are beyond the ignorant majority. Its far easier and more profitable to use the arrogance and ignorance that's in us all to manipulate us than it is to educate us. Give us convenience or give us death!

  3. Alv Vatzdal

    33:07 is simply too long a time into a documentary until it reaches the point where the narrator explain that he was fortunate to learn about something else then conventional nuclear power. If it's about Thorium you don't need a documentary lasting six and a half hours and it's not a smart move at all if you plan to popularize it. Not even me, with an obsessive compulsive disorder for all things that have to do with new knowledge, have patience for this.

    What is needed is to make it abundantly clear that we are reaching a point of civilization collapse, as well as a extinction event not seen since the dinosaurs died out, by our current use of energy, push a doomsday scenario, make sure to present Thorium as green as can be, and then add some positive music to the parts where there the talk of Thorium is as compressed and simplified as possible. Also make sure to mention the cost benefits. The limitless fuel source etc.

    1. Jean-Pierre Tardif

      This way of thinking, like you say «  we are reaching a point of civilization collapse, as well as a extinction event not seen since the dinosaurs died out » is so stupidly trandy and unbelievably dumb. I am so sick of hearing you People writing about end of the world scenarios about this fall climate change crisis that leads to nothing but discouragement of human kind. Shame on you. All you want is to see mankind disapear . You don’t know it yet but you are playing the game of this global elite who wants to get rid of those useless human ants...

    2. ashur

      Well! Some need six hours, some need a whole life and others need two hours etc, etc to get it inside, to understand the complexity and to really, really GET IT. Big companies, billionairs, not billionairs, average human, nit avearage human. :)

  4. NotFooled1bit

    Pure propaganda, Nasa and Darpa is no friend of Mankind just pure Technocrats involved in Eugenics and Transhumanism.

  5. Sirlos

    This was great. 6 hours was probably a good length for a documentary like this.

  6. Phillip Kalaveras

    Everything was going well up to 14:25 when Stephen Colbert started narrating. After all the low life things that pompous bastard said about our President, I don't care if he was about to tell us the meaning of life.

    1. gregulater

      You, sir, are a baboon

    2. Dean Moriarty

      Your emotional post and your reaction(reactionary?-definition is in the dictionary?ok?)to a voice narration! is quite revealing! Great Job in figuring out and including the time stamp Corky! That's not easy! But we need you to CALM down,do your 10 deep breaths ok? There, feeling better? Because remember what you've long been taught ok?? You know that throwing tantrums only makes YOU upset Corky! We know how frustrating it's is for you when you can't understand the grown ups conversations with all their "analysis," "critical thinking,"intelligence?!" Their "wit," "ironic humor?!" And "common"sense?! It frustrates you, not being able to grasp ANY of these concepts is clearly painful reminder of your strict limitations, we know little buddy! But it's okay! So maybe you don't know what the "big" words mean. Everyone doesn't have to understand SO MANY! words , and you do so well with words that you DO KNOW! Remember what Mama always said..And Mrs. Taylor too! Every day in 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd grade she loved being your teacher and would always tell you the same thing mama always did. Every morning when you walked into her class rooms, every morning for three whole grades, she reminded you that you are so "special!" Remember❤? When you'd have a tantrum and be brought back to class early? Crying , sputtering , angry because you couldn't understand what the "smart kids" were talking about? Using the"big words" and trading off the "letter books" they finished SO FAST would get you so frustrated and down on yourself, huh? But Mrs. Taylor would always welcome you back into class and say again how " special" you were as she wiped away your tears of frustration.
      Ok, I'm going to respond to your post now very simple, explain it like I would 2 a small child?. So Stephen Colbert is a COMEDIAN...Okay?? He also incorporates a lot of political and cultural humor into his astute and ironic humor. Sly commentary on celebrity buffoonery as well. He also uses some of his platform 2 shed light on and inform, educate, and shed light on various issues and often critical injustices dad you don't see on Fox News, or for that matter any of the so-called news entertainment / propaganda mills that serve to fill the vapid minded (huge] portion of the public with BLATANT lies and misdirection in order to make the cattle easier to steer. So much so that any ability of individual common sense or critical sauce they might ever have had is extinguished which is the most logical explanation for how one of the most reviled and revolting quasi celebrities in the Gnomes world, I mean it's been clear since the '80s this guy was/is making history in the fields of douchery and hilarious, PUBLIC and transparent overcompensation. He was and is a absurdist clown whose only compelling trait is akin to rubbernecking an accident on the highway. Coney island shut down,unable to compete with the travelling freak show he puts on. Taking little handed pomposity and striving to capture it on film. The method actor of sad clown denial,24/7 he BELIEVED his sad painted face was smiling happily. Always trying to portray the contented con man, a joke of a man,the person most worthy of derision and contempt in this world.

    3. Jake

      Wow. All the derogatory comments towards you because you called a "spade a spade". Some people can't handle the truth. Colbert is everything you said and much more, none of it good. That's the problem with the "lefties", when someone tells a truth they don't like to hear they go into insanity overdrive. Having said that though: their insanity will ensue the reelection of President I hope the leftist nuts keep up their great work, they're truly the greatest ally our President has.??

    4. Phillip Blows Trump

      Do you mean that dumb, greedy, childish, dishonest, fatass Donald Trump?

  7. DustUp

    This isn't the only Thorium docu on here. Sadly all that time in research and promotion of this type of tech would be FAR better spent on something far older, better, and scalable down to a size for powering a single car or home.

    There is a reason Nikola Tesla's experiments, patents, and inventions are not taught in Physics nor Electrical Engineering classes. His Radiant energy as well as many other discoveries and inventions would be a paradigm shift, taking the power out of the hands of the big boys, their utility bill collectors, and put it into the hands of everyone.

    That is energy independence, energy security, and no nuclear reactors of any type nor its spent fuel problem necessary. The reason such nuclear reactors are promoted is because the average person cannot and would not be allowed to build one for their energy needs. Hence it ties them to never ending energy bills.

    And until Tesla's technology is allowed out of the bag, there is another far older and cleaner liquid fuel tech which could easily power the planet indefinitely, which most anyone can make. No worries about terrorists nor tsunamis nor earthquakes attacking it nor little worry over pollution, waste, nor spills.

    Carbon neutral Ethanol puts out 6-8 times the energy input, including manufacturing the farm tractors, according to the Brazilians which I would trust far more than any usa govt agency or big boy granted university professor. The propaganda of food vs. fuel is also BS. The protein is not consumed in the process. Nor is prime farmland needed at all.

    A great documentary is alcohol can be a gas. Don't think it is available on this website.

    NASA is not a friend of the public but a public nuisance. Where adult children get to play, such as the hairspray girls and boys giving fake space station tours. They are quite comical if you study them.

    Not one red cent should come out of any taxpayers pocket to support NASA's BS. Same for the over bloated Dept of Energy which soaks up a lot of tax dollars and all they benefit is the big boys, like all govt agencies.

    1. NotFooled1bit

      great to see some are not fooled by propaganda sponsored by Eugenicists.

  8. Gordon McDowell

    leighatkins22 - We have had MOST of this technology for a very long time. What is completely new is the "Chemical Kidney" as detailed by Kirk at 4h04m, but that's just chemistry with all steps potentially solved we just need to confirm the various steps are practical in read-world. So that's an R&D bottleneck there, where the chemistry could easily be investigated/confirmed except that unclear regulation around liquid-fuel reactors make funding any part of LFTR R&D a challenge.

    But the physics of it, the "nuclear" part of it is very much proven. That's the combining of two proof-of-concepts: Shippingport's 3rd fuel load containing Thorium (solid-fuel), and MSRE's showing liquid-fuel reactors are doable and maintainable (it was fueled by Uranium).

    Making politicians and legislators aware how liquid-fueled reactors are stymied by regulation helps. Left-wing folk often do not appreciate nuclear is a carbon-free source of energy, and pointing that out can speak to their concerns about global warming. Right-wing folk often do not appreciate how liquid-fuel reactor research is constrained by regulation, and enabling free market solution to provide abundant (clean) energy for manufacturing and jobs should speak to their concerns too. So I see ways of communicating importance of this to just about everyone.

    Perhaps it was successfully stalled in public perception by lack of emphasis on this being LIQUID FUEL. Thorium is too easily dismissed as impractical by citing SOLID FUEL reactors which can be fueled by it. Any question to a politician must include the phrase LIQUID FUEL along with THORIUM or they'll be told Shippingport was no big deal, and drop it. That's exactly what happened to Senator Al Franken.

  9. leighatkins22

    Obviously we had all the ability & all this technology 50 yeas ago, so why haven't we progressed past this stone age?
    Humanity has been hijacked by exceedingly greedy & powerful people who DON'T want to further these technologies "because it's good for the people" - how can they possibly hang onto all that money & power if they allow LFTRs to be developed?
    And that is where all our problems lie now...

  10. leighatkins22

    4:36:18 Wait! Is that George Lucas video-bombing in the background there?!? Where are they filming that bit?

  11. TD

    I disagree with Derek's comment. If thorium can power that much energy, the amount of energy won't decrease the sales because its value is so easy to find, most likely due to the molten salt reactor's beggining rarity, it would start in the market as something few people would be able to buy because of how expensive it is. The more scarce and valuable something is, the more expensive it becomes. With more competitiors, its value will not necessarily lessen but be part of the foundation for more innovation to happen and of course, more money to return.

    Another thing is how people don't care just about money, they care about fame. Making a legacy. If this energy efficiency is so damn well made, whoever can make it big might go down in the pages of history.

    Also, I do believe that there are people in humanity who really care about its progress. Hans Rosling had statistics that showed how humanity is progressing forward. Not perfectly of course, but more good than bad. There is less poverty in this world. More countries have the life satisfaction of 80 years old when several decades ago, it was around 40 only. There is more access to education for women all around the world. And so on. I advise to anyone who is reading this and is interested to go look for Hans Rosling's TED talks or his site Gapminder for more. It's explained very simply and very accessibly.

    I'd appreciate if someone posted some valuable respectable feedback to my thoughts. I may be wrong and I don't want people to be misinformed. So there.

    I'm still about to finish this long video, but I find it amazing how something so complicated can be explained so well. Or at least to me it is. Props to the people who helped make this.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.)

  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. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. MarthaMarkham

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

  21. 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.......

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. Rokas

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

  31. bart

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

  32. 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

  33. fancypants

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