Thorium: The NASA Story

2016 ,    »  -   26 Comments
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Ratings: 8.83/10 from 285 users.
Storyline

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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26 Comments / User Reviews

    fancypants
  1. fancypants

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

  2. Derek
  3. 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

  4. bart
  5. bart

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

  6. Rokas
  7. Rokas

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

  8. KsDevil
  9. 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.

  10. Gordon McDowell
  11. 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.

  12. Craig
  13. 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

  14. madhur gupta
  15. 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.

  16. Gage
  17. 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.

  18. Robert Weekes
  19. 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

  20. Gordon McDowell
  21. 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.

    WASTE is CONTAINED.

    POLLUTION is UNCONFINED.

    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.

  22. Gordon McDowell
  23. 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.

  24. chuck
  25. 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.......

  26. MarthaMarkham
  27. MarthaMarkham

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

  28. Mike
  29. 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.

  30. Just Sayin
  31. 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?

  32. zen
  33. 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

  34. Gordon McDowell
  35. 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.)

  36. Rob
  37. 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.

  38. Daniel
  39. 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!

  40. ST
  41. 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.

  42. Gordon McDowell
  43. 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.

  44. TD
  45. 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.

  46. leighatkins22
  47. leighatkins22

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

  48. leighatkins22
  49. 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...

  50. Gordon McDowell
  51. 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.

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