‘Lack of Genocidal Application’ Keeps Science From Exploring Thorium Energy

Thor Donner Arthur Rackham Wagner Rhinegold Rheingold Ring Nibelungern Norse mythology myth German GermanicHow ‘Thor’ May Save the World:

Unbeknownst to most climatologists that decry nuclear energy for its environmental liability (in the form of radioactive waste and potential Chernobyl/Fukushima meltdown), there is a friendly and feasible cousin to the Uranium reactor that uses Thorium (yes named after the Norse god of thunder).

Thorium is an element much more abundant than Uranium in the Earth’s crust (comparable in abundance to Lead), and is already produced industrially as a byproduct of rare-earth-metals mining.  Thorium reactor designs (using liquid Fluoride as coolant) consume atomic fuel far more efficiently than Uranium reactors using pressurized water as a coolant.  Furthermore, these reactors are ‘incapable of meltdown’ and produce hazardous radioactive materials lasting only 300 years as opposed to 10,000 years for Uranium, in relative quantities of 1 ton instead of 35 tons, respectively.  Unlike Uranium reactors, Thorium does not pose a proliferation risk because none of the products or reactants present viable materials for creating an atomic bomb.

Ironically, this is one of the primary (and only) reasons why atomic energy in the United States went the way of Uranium, because Kruschev was making ICBMs like SAUSAGES! and we needed plenty of fissile material to account for our perceived lag in the ability to end life on earth.

Thorium reactors are NOT new technology.  Research and development started in the early 1950s.  From 1965-69 scientists and engineers had successfully operated a working plant for 15,000 hours.  Glenn Seaborg (of Seaborgium fame) announced to the Atomic Energy Commission in 1968, “I think that some day the world will have commercial power reactors of both the uranium-plutonium and the thorium-uranium fuel cycle type.”  The future for Thorium seemed bright!  However in 1973 Alvin Weinberg, the foremost advocate for Thorium energy, lost his position as director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, effectively because he was unwilling to throw Safe Energy under the bus of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Due to its lack of genocidal application, the obscurity of Thorium reactors persists to this dayMost people, including nuclear scientists, know little about it.  From Chemical and Engineering News:  “it’s possible to have a Ph.D. in nuclear reactor technology and not know about thorium energy.”  Nuclear physicist Victor J. Stenger first learned of it in 2012:  ” It came as a surprise to me to learn recently that such an alternative has been available to us since World War II, but not pursued because it lacked weapons applications.”

It seemed suspiciously as if Thorium had been erased from the books altogether.  I tried to surmise whether there is an ‘old-boy’ coalition of military generals, politicians, and Uranium miners keeping an impish hand in the face of Thorium advocates.  However it’s probably just mass incompetence again; the International Atomic Energy Association seems amenable to Thorium-based reactors, though pessimistically contradicting Dr Joe Bonometti with regards to the fuel’s abundance in the Earth’s crust, and the reactors’ cost of operation.  Watch Bonometti’s talk titled The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be or the short version (recommended).

Currently Thorium nuclear energy is finding a large niche in India, who has lots of Thorium-rich monzanite deposits and very little Uranium (and a huge number of people).  India has plans for 62 mostly-Thorium reactors to become operational by 2025.  Other players are China, and Norway (Thor Energy, how pagan!) and the US who is “quietly collaborating with China” on reactor designs, and has found some lofty advocates like Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch after 40 years of obscurity.

If this technology indeed has proven reserves capable of lasting (by one estimate) 1000 years at current energy consumption rates, and would  (by one account) be cheaper than coal, and significantly safer than Uranium fuel-rod reactors, what is to stop it from capping the climate crisis (right in the knee)?  Talk about it to your nuclear engineer and tree-hugger friends!

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  • リカルド 忍者の心

    Another energy bullshit!! Mr. Tesla would be laughing (or probably crying) at this.

  • Simon Valentine

    live in stone age
    lift stone, roll up hill, big
    smash on mammoth
    no need emergy
    eat good
    bye

  • jasonpaulhayes

    Planned obsolescence and suppression of technology is a very real thing but considering that nuclear non-proliferation is still an issue to be addressed… I’m not sure introducing a new form of nuclear energy is in our near future, unless it’s one of several Fusion reactors like K-Star being tested now.

    • kowalityjesus

      I think the phrase by someone far more qualified than me “The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: What Fusion Wanted To Be” says it all. Why would we continue to spend vast amounts of resources and money on developing and implementing an energy technology that may or may not be possible when we have proven technology that performs just as well?

      Is this a question I am not supposed to ask? Will I be killed for bringing it up?

  • Mark Fabin

    I think another reason it’s been suppressed is because it’s scalable. A small town could build a thorium reactor providing all it’s own power without control of some huge corporation. And it would be cheaper.

  • trompe l’oiel

    Thor was all for genocide of the Ice Giants, He learned that from poppa Odin, I don’t think they have the proper kind of faith in this…

    *tilts glasses down nose*

    Thorium business.

    I want a second opinion.

  • emperorreagan

    It’s interesting to imagine a world where the primary thrust of technological development wasn’t for warfare.

    • Calypso_1

      In my every dream brother.

    • echar

  • Rhoid Rager

    A really interesting blog about energy is Do The Math by Tom Murphy–a physicist in California. He wrote up an alternative energy matrix about viable energy sources in the future to combat the energy decline brought on by peak oil. Here it is: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/

    From my own research, I am of the opinion that the flip side of the rush to fill the glut in energy with alternatives, such as thorium reactors, is that it would give impetus to economic growth again. I’m trying to motivate myself to write something up on it at the moment, but I think the master issue that begets almost all of the other social ills we face is usury. Economic growth allows the devious nature of usury to be hidden. So, allowing economic growth to stop and reverse will expose usury for the fraud that it is and give people caught in debt–which is most of the world now–to start over. From what I understand of my fellow humans, it’s likely not as brutal as it sounds, in my opinion.

  • rhetorics_killer

    The same way runs an extant story, one involving oil engine versus electrical engine. Some tell a lack of research has determined the fate for ‘electricity cars’, due to sensitive assets powerful people would have owned into the oil fields. The history of science may well be made up with such scenarii; war and money confuse people to irrational behavior, what we call the ‘power of love’..

  • DeepCough


    Due to its lack of genocidal application, the obscurity of Thorium reactors persists to this day.

    Who’s to say that Thorium could not be used as a power source for a Death Ray?

    • I_abide

      If it won’t make a Q-36 space modulator they’re not interested.

  • kowalityjesus

    Might I note that the ultimate irony in our reaction to the Soviets is the fact, as we now know, that at the time of Kruschev’s comment the Soviet Union had a total of 4 ICBMs and prototypes….. 4. Contemporary analysts typically estimated them at anywhere from several hundred to 1,000.

  • Chimeratic

    My roommate, in his senior design course for mechanical engineering, is actually working on a project involving this. However, it’s more complicated than this article claims. In fact, the class had to abandon really doing anything useful and just writing a general report on thorium. The future is bright for thorium energy, but to say the only reason it isn’t being utilized right now is because it can’t be turned into a lethal weapon is a bit much.

  • tesmith47

    it is very funny that the western world is so concerned about proliferation after the us has built maybe 50,000 nukes, and the soviets have maybe 30,000 and europe has maybe 30,000 all together. vs korea has maybe6, arbs, africans have none (yet0 chinese have some india has a few and israel has all they want from america

    i think the west wants to preserve the western advantage in firepower over the rest of the world like they had during the age of imperialism

  • Anonimouse9

    Actually while a valid use, Thorium refinement is hugely more expensive than traditional nuclear fuel fabrication. Also, to fabricate Thorium fuel, you have to deal with materials that while having much shorter half-lifes, are MUCH more radioactive than Uranium.

  • kowalityjesus

    While I agree that at least the IAEA talked about Thorium not being as available as its abundance in the earth’s crust would suggest. I did not find anything about how Thorium fuel fabrication requires dealing with very high levels of radiation. You may be thinking of the Thorium fuel cycle which goes through U-233 and U-232 inside the reactor, where the latter is a massive emitter of gamma radiation (actually why its not feasible to make an atom bomb). And yes, since it has such a high radioactivity, Thorium reactor products have much shorter half lives.

  • kowalityjesus

    I did simplify a lot of information, and perhaps dramatized it a bit. For example, the reactor does apparently need to be seeded with Uranium fission to begin the fuel cycle, and there are about 10 different reactor designs according to the IAEA link. But quite literally Alvin Weinberg lost his position because he was advocating Thorium “Alvin, if you are concerned about the safety of reactors, then I think it may be time for you to leave nuclear energy.” That is, safety was trumped by military applications. Unbelievable.
    I totally value any information that is more primary than an unemployed musician reading wikipedia articles, IAEA reports, and Google tech talks, and would be interested why it was so difficult for your roommate, who I presume to be a nuclear engineer, to get anywhere with a reactor design! Thanks!

    • Chimeratic

      I’ll discuss it more with him and maybe give you the contact information for the engineer his class as been consulting on thorium energy. I do agree though, uranium was given precedence over thorium because of uranium’s capacity to be turned into a devastating bomb. It seems that there are some complications that go into the process, but it’s nuclear engineering. It won’t ever be simple.

      I enjoyed the article quite a bit and didn’t mean to come across as negatively as I did. Once China gets involved, I think the US will have no choice but to take thorium seriously. It could be a leap forward in energy independence.

  • kowalityjesus

    absolutely, good point

  • kowalityjesus

    word, thanks! I might eventually write a follow up, but not anytime too soon. If you would like to give any further resources or references that would be great! I would, however, just as soon not bother the engineer himself though.

    I have a friend who is an engineer at a nearby nuclear plant and will see what he says about the idea, but there is a good chance he knows nothing about it since Thorium is rather unknown!