I, like many nerds, discovered the possibility of thorium as a nuclear fuel from a &feature=relmfu">complex documentary starring thorium fanatic, NASA scientist, and brain-trust Kirk Sorensen. You’d have to have a doctorate in physics to break down all the information Sorensen spews, but here’s what makes thorium exciting as a possible “clean” nuclear energy source:
Thorium, named after the Norse god of thunder Thor, is plentiful in the earths crust, burns almost completely in a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), which is orders of magnitude safer than the uranium reactor, and it is also capable of burning spent nuclear waste.
How plentiful is thorium? A cubic meter of crust earth contains 12 grams of thorium, which would power the average human’s needs for 10 to 15 years. Said another way – thorium is so energy dense you can hold a lifetime of energy in your hand. The US has thorium stored from the Manhattan project and it’s a by-product of most mineral mining around the world.
Thorium reactors have a built in safety valve. Explaining why a disaster like Japan’s Fukushina Daichii could never happen with the LFTR Kirk Sorensen says, “If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the [Fluoride salts) drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself.” Basically, the machine shuts itself down if power is crippled to the reactor.
Nuclear energy as we know it, using uranium, was developed because its by-product was plutonium – used in nuclear weapons. In one year the typical nuclear power plant generates 20 metric tons of nuclear waste. But that waste could be reused/burned in the LFTR.
India and China have already jumped ahead on thorium development. It’s attractive to India because they hold 1 to 2 % of the worlds uranium, but a projected 12-33% of the worlds thorium. China is investing considerable sums in thorium based on research done in the US at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s.
To learn more about Thorium and the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) watch this short documentary (16 minutes) featuring scientists Robert Hargraves, Joe Bonometti, and Kirk Sorenson.