If your only focus for 2050 is man-made global warming, maybe you should consider expanding your horizons?
Commentary by Jon Morrow
Edited by Michael Goldstein
I preface this article with my personal belief that although man does have the ability to affect the earth’s climate, I do not believe we are doing so to any significant extent right now. I can, however, entertain a man-made global warming hypothesis conceived in accordance with certain rules, that suggests that I may be wrong.
In explanations of natural phenomena, I am a big believer in science and not in consensus. Just because a consensus of all the King’s men concludes that the earth is flat, is no reason whatsoever for me to believe the earth is flat. Show me a man-made global warming hypothesis based upon reproducible scientific evidence that vindicates your hypothesis in a meaningful way, and we can discuss and debate it.
Let’s assume that man-made global warming exists, that it is a very big problem, and that we are tasked with not only making policy to avoid this precipitous crisis, but also the pollution crisis brought on by rapidly expanding populations, and a water and food shortage crisis as well.
We have to get from point A (an insupportable crisis of expanding air pollution, expanding man-made CO2 production, and expanding use of precious potable water reserves and diminishing food supplies) to point B (our salvation technology).
Let’s assume that we need to find our salvation technology before 2050.
Let’s assume that as an economist, I accept as accurate the accounting behind the wind industry’s published numbers that show that wind is able to produce electricity as cheaply as natural gas does. Let’s also assume that in 20 years (in 2034) solar technology will be able to produce electricity as cheaply as wind.
To make an accurate and fair comparison of energy sources, we must look at the shortcomings of wind and solar together with all other relevant energy technologies. The problems we identify with wind and solar are that they need storage capacity to work well with other technologies employed on the grid, and to work with our modern lifestyle. This is because they cannot produce electricity when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, and there is no present way of storing the electricity produced when they do.
The storage issue for wind and solar is not new and has been a problem the federal government has been trying to lick since 1970’s. For more than 40 years no economical grid level storage system has been developed. Many of the grid level storage systems that have been developed tend to be not of a distributed nature, i.e., they must be centralized (for reasons of economics).
One of wind and solar’s strongest selling points, however, is has been that it is distributive in nature (power generators being close to power users).
Grid level storage for renewables must be centralized in order for storage costs to be economical. So a generation system that is physically distributed (such as wind turbines and solar panels) would feed a centralized storage system that would in turn distribute electric more evenly to the grid, making the power source dispatchable, yet, still, in many cases, not dependable. This winds up being no different than the large centralized fossil fuel electrical generation systems we have today, with the added disadvantage of energy lost in additional electrical transmission.
Batteries can store only a limited amount of energy, and they can only store that energy for a limited time. If Mother Nature would throw us a weather-peak or a weather-valley outside of normal operating parameters then energy will become unreliable, even with battery back-up (grid level storage).
Wind and solar either have to have economical storage capacity or collocate with a complimentary, reliable, and on demand power source.
Because the wind and the sun can change quickly, if we are to make wind and solar dispatchable and dependable, they must be backed up with an energy technology that can ramp up power quickly and ramp down power quickly, and do so very efficiently, without producing emissions. Today, that backup power comes in the form of “natural gas peaker plants.”
While being very clean, peaker plants still produce more carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour than natural gas base-load plants. Many in the energy community argue that in several places where wind and solar are being utilized, their complimentary peaker power source may be generating more CO2 than if just a base-load natural gas power plant had been utilized. The most efficient solution (least amount of CO2 produced) would be to use solely a base-load natural gas plant in lieu of the entirety of the wind, solar, and peaker natural gas plants.
In places where it is consistently windy and consistently sunny, wind and solar paired with a complimentary power source can make sense. This is at best a very small area to work with. While such areas may hold a great potential amount of energy, harnessing and transmitting this energy dependably, consistently, and economically and safely, has been a challenge.
In identifying these myriad problems we have not even gotten to how to eliminate alternate (non-energy related) forms of air, land, and water pollution, and how do we produce more water and food?
Thorium is a plentiful and an abundant element, and we have many thousands of years of supply readily available if used as a power source.
Although there are engineering challenges in developing thorium MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors), the initial research and experimentation was completed in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s. A 10 year development to commercialization time frame is not unreasonable (though the current regulatory environment could push that to two-four times that length).
A LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) is a MSR which uses thorium as fuel. It has load following capabilities and produces no CO2. It can potentially replace both base-load and other technologies that ramp power up and down very quickly. This reactor produces no long-lived nuclear waste, is inherently safe, and can be configured to consume present day long-lived nuclear waste. So, a LFTR solves the safety problem, the pollution problem, and any global warming produced by burning fossil fuels in electrical generation plants.
Because MSRs can be configured to burn both uranium and thorium, and uranium and thorium are both found in coal ash, which is the by-product left over after coal is burned in a power plant, it is likely that reclaiming these elements from coal ash could very well be profitable. This also means that because large amounts of coal ash would be handled and processed, it could conceivably be profitable to harvest many more valuable materials from coal ash, such as aluminum, titanium, vanadium, and iron. This would greatly reduce the amount of land fill pollution that coal ash has caused over the past 100 plus years. Such reclamation requires a lot of heat, and LFTRs will produce prodigious amount of process heat. They will be ideal for this purpose.
MSRs are expected to produce electricity at a cost half that of the cheapest fossil fuel. This means recycling technologies like plasma gasification of municipal waste and sewage is possible. This would allow us to start eliminating landfills and stop flushing treated sewage into our lakes, streams, and oceans. This process can produce fertilizers that can be used in food production.
MSRs could power, on a very large scale, sea water desalination plants, which could eliminate any potential water shortage problems for the populations of 2050 and beyond. This would also provide potable water to be used in food production for agricultural irrigation and livestock.
MSRs will produce medical isotopes for treating cancer and for medical imaging.
Because of the high heat of MSR’s it is quite probable that synthetic carbon-neutral gasoline can be produced from seawater and waste.
We must overcome many obstacles by the year 2050, not just global warming. Successful development of economical grid level storage for wind and solar, even if it proves to be possible, solves only one problem. We will still have water and food issues to deal with.
Development of the MSR is a solution that would be embraced by the marketplace and not need to be mandated. It can be rapidly deployed once proven, and will be a comprehensive solution to many problems.
If you were going to rely on a technology to be our salvation, would you bet on renewables? Or would you bet on MSRs?
Although there is a very high worldwide demand for aluminum, as will be seen below, the American aluminum industry is hamstrung in its goal of meeting this demand by a series of outsized costs, including the cost of building a new plant; regulatory costs; and energy costs. Plant costs and regulatory costs must be addressed by the industry and by their federal, state, and local governments.
A steep reduction in energy costs, which constitute a very large portion of the cost of producing aluminum presently, can and will be addressed by the production and operation of the LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor).
What would it cost today to build a typical aluminum reduction plant with an annual production capacity of 250,000 tons? Based on the most recently completed plants, an estimated $1.5 billion would be required.
Add to this the regulatory requirement that this new smelter provide its own generating facilities to provide the large amounts of electricity needed for processing the aluminum which it will produce, and that it meet governmental regulatory emissions goals. This will increase the installation cost by $300 million to $406 million. Now we are pushing the $2 billion mark for a new aluminum smelting plant. All of this assumes that a suitable site location can be found with the necessary support services, and that the site will be approved by all the relevant federal, state, and local regulatory agencies, and in a timely manner.
Today in the United States it would take several years to get the required permits and clearances. It is almost as hard to build and Aluminum plant as it is a Nuclear power plant. The construction of an aluminum plant would involve the need for environmental impact studies and reports, and hearings with many regulatory agencies and local and national governments, with no guarantee that final approval would not be challenged by court appeals.
Such cumulative considerations, when combined with the present unavailability of needed energy at a competitive price, lends some credence to the often heard statements that another aluminum smelter plant will not be built in the United States. These roadblocks must be overcome for American industry to take advantage of the huge worldwide demand for aluminum. Americans’ jobs and America’s prosperity are at stake.
Ormet Aluminum, America’s 4th largest producer shutdown in December of 2013
There is an enormous market for continued and increased production of aluminum in the United States. Like oil, the world cannot get enough aluminum. China and India’s reach from the third world to the first world has dramatically increased the demand for aluminum. Top market sectors for the industry are transportation, including automotive and aerospace, beverage cans and other packaging, building/construction, and the electrical industry.
Chinese demand, as measured by Chinese consumption of unwrought aluminum, grew almost every year during the 1995-2004 period, nearly doubling between 1995 and 1999, and subsequently more than doubling between 1999 and 2004. Over the full 10-year period, Chinese consumption rose nearly three-fold (up 4.0 million metric tons) to reach 5.9 million metric tons by 2004, equal to 20.1 percent of global consumption in that year. From 2004 to 2012 there was nearly a four-fold increase in Aluminum consumption.
In contrast to developed countries where the transportation sector dominates, building and construction is the largest aluminum-consuming sector in China, a reflection of ongoing building construction and infrastructure development and significantly lower per capita automobile ownership. In addition, the share of Chinese aluminum consumption accounted for by electrical products and consumer durables exceeds that of many industrialized nations, a reflection of both the country’s growing export-oriented manufacturing sector and its rising domestic consumer markets.
China’s relatively low per-capita consumption rate for unwrought aluminum, coupled with its expanding industrial activity and government housing programs, suggest that Chinese demand for aluminum will continue to grow, particularly in the construction and automotive sectors. An estimated 3.3 million apartments are being built every year in China, averaging approximately 240 million square meters of new housing each year.
Integrating lightweight aluminum into transport vehicles is one of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of fuel our vehicles consume. If conservation is a goal of America’s energy plan, then the use of lightweight and more affordable aluminum should be part of that plan.
In 1994, transportation first emerged as the largest market for aluminum, at about one-quarter of the market, with passenger cars accounting for the vast majority of the growth. Up until 2009, that trend largely continued. However, 2009 marked the worst year for auto sales since 1982 and, as such, transportation applications accounted for only 23.7 percent of all aluminum shipments in 2009 – 4.22 billion pounds in all.
The majority of this aluminum was used in automotive and light truck applications, as vehicle manufacturers continue to opt for lightweight aluminum solutions to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and enhance vehicle performance, for which aluminum is ideal. Accordingly, the aluminum content in passenger vehicles and light trucks has grown more than 40 percent and 68 percent, respectively, since 1991. Aluminum-intensive automobiles include the Audi A8 – with its aluminum body, aluminum front and rear axle, aluminum engine block, and numerous other aluminum components – and the Jaguar XK, with its aluminum body structure.
The China automobile market is expected to surpass that of the United States in 2014, which will result in more aluminum usage. Ownership of private automobiles in China is expected to increase. According to the Central Government, vehicle sales in China may rise to 20 million units in 2014 (from 5.1 million in 2004). By 2010, Chinese aluminum usage in automobiles was anticipated to approach 5 million metric tons.
In the aerospace market, increased build rates for both military and civil aircraft have led to increased demand for aluminum. For example, between 1995 and 2004 U.S. production increased from 1,625 to 3,440 aircraft per year, despite a significant drop-off in production after the September 11 attacks. A new surge of aircraft orders in 2005 has sustained aerospace industry demand for aluminum through 2013, even in America’s slow growth economy (new orders are expected between 2014 through 2016 to replace aging aircraft).
Demand for aluminum packaging, consisting mostly of flat-rolled aluminum sheet for beverage cans and foils for food packaging, has dramatically increased in China and India as their standard of living increased. Adding to this, many new applications for aluminum beverage cans have been introduced, particularly for energy drinks and beer. Additionally, the packaging market reflects increasing trends for prepared and frozen meals and blister-packaging for pharmaceutical products.
In the construction market, leading uses of aluminum are for window frames, doors, siding and facades, closely followed by support framing for roofs and walls. The construction market has been particularly strong in the industrializing economies of China and India.
Aluminum has many advantages for electrical applications. It is lightweight, strong, corrosion resistant, and a highly efficient conductor (aluminum has twice the conductivity, per pound, of copper)—rendering it the material of choice for widespread applications such as transmitting power from generating stations to homes and businesses, and to make electronic boards for computers and handheld electric devices such as cell phones. Aluminum is also infinitely recyclable, making it a perfect fit for today’s environment and environmental priorities.
Aluminum is one of the few products and industries left in America that truly impacts every community in the country, either through physical plants and facilities, recycling, heavy industry, and/or consumption of consumer goods.
China is rapidly dominating aluminum markets, from securing mineral rights to many foreign countries’ bauxite formations, to building refining and smelting plants in China. All the while, America is not constructing any more aluminum manufacturing plants due to environmental regulations and electricity costs.
So, it is in America’s best interest to lower the manufacturing costs of aluminum, to produce aluminum economically and with a high degree of environmental responsibility for our nation’s greater economic security.
America exports much of its recycled Aluminum. A discarded can of soda has a 75% chance of ending up in China.
China’s impact on the global market has been significant in three principal ways.
First, China’s need for alumina to fuel its expanding aluminum production has driven alumina prices to record highs in some places, narrowing profit margins for producers of unwrought aluminum, and contributing to restructuring throughout the industry. In other places, because China’s aluminum business have been operating at a loss and because the world economy has been failing there is a surplus of aluminum and American aluminum manufacturers are going out of business (because they are not subsidized like China’s Aluminum companies).
Second, anticipation of growth in China’s demand for aluminum has increased production capacity worldwide. New countries have emerged as leading players in world markets as firms look to streamline operations and take advantage of low-cost electric power.
Finally, China’s role in the global marketplace has expanded significantly as state-owned Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco) has emerged as one the world’s leading aluminum producers and China has moved from a net importer of aluminum to a net exporter.
Looking forward, it is uncertain whether Chinese aluminum output can keep pace with anticipated growth in domestic consumption from its rapidly urbanizing economy and that of India, and their expanding industrial production. If China does not receive help in producing more aluminum for the world market, aluminum prices could rise dramatically.
In 2005, 40 percent of China’s smelters were operating at a loss, and an estimated one-quarter of Chinese capacity was idle. Additionally, the Chinese aluminum industry’s rapid expansion risked overwhelming the world market, leading to sharp declines in the global market price for unwrought aluminum.
Inadequate electricity supply and the lack of high-quality bauxite constrained faster expansion of Chinese aluminum production. For example, inadequate and uncertain electric power supplies had prevented expansions of several primary-smelting operations. As new coal and nuclear power plants come on line, the problem of inadequate power supply is being erased. Additionally, China currently relies on imports for an estimated one-half of the alumina necessary to meet its aluminum smelting needs, as the mineral content of the Chinese bauxite renders it more expensive and difficult to refine than bauxite available elsewhere.
The only major supplier of alumina from domestic sources in China is Chalco, which has traditionally supplied many Chinese aluminum smelters with alumina through contracts priced below the cost of imports. Imported alumina usually reflects the spot market price. However, as Chalco has expanded its production of domestic unwrought aluminum, the firm has reduced sales of alumina in order to supply its own smelters and has raised the price at which it sells alumina to other firms outside the country. Chalco’s actions have increased market demand for alumina, causing worldwide prices for alumina to rise significantly.
Future prospects for growth in China’s production of unwrought aluminum depend on further progress in addressing high-cost and inadequate supplies of alumina and electric power, upgrading outdated smelting technologies, and complying with potentially strict government measures to rein in production overcapacity (Chinese price controls are not unlike OPEC’s price controls of the oil market) in the aluminum industry.
In order to understand the nature of the non-regulatory costs of aluminum production, it is first necessary to understand how aluminum is created and the breakdown of the costs of its manufacture.
Aluminum does not occur in nature as a metal, but in the form of deposits of bauxite ore. Unfortunately, at present there is no domestic source of bauxite, and U.S. aluminum manufacturers import 100% of their bauxite ore from Jamaica, Guinea, Brazil, Guyana, China, Sierra Leone, and Greece.
Bauxite is mined, and by a two-step chemical process, the bauxite is refined into an oxide called alumina – one of the feed-stocks for aluminum metal. The end of this alumina creation is a drying process which requires large quantities of heat energy.
Aluminum is made from alumina, and this process requires enormous amounts of electricity. Alumina and a molten electrolyte called cryolite are combined in a cell. Direct current electricity is passed from a consumable carbon anode into the cryolite, splitting the aluminum oxide into molten aluminum metal and carbon dioxide. The molten aluminum collects at the bottom of the cell and is periodically “tapped” into a crucible and cast into ingots which are then sold to customers which process the metal into its various applications.
The aluminum industry is a major industrial user of electricity. Because the electrolytic process is the only commercially proven method of producing aluminum, the industry has on its own pursued opportunities to reduce its use of electricity. In the last 50 years, the average amount of electricity needed to make a pound of aluminum has been slashed from 12 kilowatt hours to about 7 kilowatt hours, but the aluminum industry is constantly searching for ways in which energy and other production costs can be reduced. Although continual progress has been made over the 125-year history of aluminum processing to reduce the amount of electricity used, there are currently no viable alternatives to the electrometallurgical process.
Electricity is a huge component of the manufacturing cost of aluminum (30% to 40%). As energy costs increase, so does the price of aluminum. This cost increase of aluminum, caused primarily by the rise in electricity costs, results in less aluminum being incorporated in the manufacture of automobiles. This, in turn, increases the weight and lowers the fuel economy of our vehicles, and raises our use of and dependence on imported fossil fuels. The more affordable aluminum is, the less dependent we are on other countries for transportation fuel derived from oil.
Thorium Molten Salt Reactors (THMSR) will revolutionize, for the better, the American aluminum industry in several ways. Most effective is thorium power’s production of electricity at $.02/kilowatt hour, which is one-half the cost of coal ($.04/kilowatt hour), one-third the cost of natural gas ($.06/kilowatt hour), one-fourth the cost of traditional nuclear ($.08/kilowatt hour), and at one-sixth the cost of wind energy ($.12 and greater/kilowatt hour). As stated above, the electricity costs to smelt aluminum constitute 30% – 40% of total manufacturing costs. Depending on the fuel for the production source of the electricity being used, this electricity cost will be cut by at least 50%. Because of the increasing regulatory burden being placed on coal fired power plants, and the turn to natural gas, it is likely that the aluminum smelting electricity costs will be cut by two-thirds by use of THMSRs. This is sure to have a salutary effect on the building of new aluminum plants and the creation of jobs in the industry.
Because electricity this cheap will dramatically reduce the cost of making aluminum, which will lower the market cost of aluminum significantly, aluminum will become more attractive to auto manufacturers. The resultant reduced weight of vehicles will help America conserve transportation fuel and make America less dependent on foreign countries for its transportation fuel needs. Less demand for oil can translate to lower fuel costs.
In addition, in creating this very inexpensive electricity, and unlike with coal and natural gas, the THMSR will be a non-polluting and non-carbon emitting energy source.
Again, there is no American domestic source of bauxite ore to use for aluminum production; it all must be imported. However, there are abundant domestic sources of aluminum other than bauxite. Notable among them is coal ash or fly ash, a “waste” product of the combustion of coal. There are landfills nationwide replete with coal ash from historical burning of coal, and we produce 60 million tons per year.
Aluminum oxide is a major constituent of fly ash (14.8%). If this could be recovered from the fly ash produced in the United States, bauxite would not have to be imported. Coal’s “waste” product is, in reality, a strategic resource important to the United States.
A large part of the process of removing aluminum oxide from fly ash requires the use of a lot of heat. Providing that heat by use of the burning of coal or natural gas is both expensive, and involves a large carbon footprint.
A THMSR produces abundant process heat; it runs much hotter than a traditional nuclear reactor. THMSRs will produce, without any carbon footprint, sufficient heat required for the process of separating aluminum from coal ash.
Combining affordable heat conversion and the affordable electricity necessary to “smelt” aluminum, both being derived from the same THMSR, there then begins to emerge great market potential for the aluminum industry in the “Coal Ash to Aluminum process”.
Coal ash also contains Thorium. If a THMSR is used to drive the process of Aluminum conversion, 100% of the Thorium could be extracted from coal ash and be used to fuel the “Coal Ash to Aluminum” production process.
In addition to thorium, coal ash also includes valuable components of iron, titanium, and vanadium, as well as the hazardous elements mercury and arsenic. Uranium is found in coal ash; it is slightly radioactive, and the thorium is less radioactive than the uranium.
Radioactive materials are rarely found alone in the earth’s crust. The mining of rare earths yields other metals extremely important rare earths in addition to the miners’ targeted elements. As in coal ash, rare earth mining finds the radioactive elements thorium and uranium. Under government regulations, these must be treated as low level radioactive “waste” by the rare earth mining industry, and secured and stored. This requirement, of course, raises the cost of mining rare earths. Millions of dollars are spent in storing and destroying thorium, when instead the thorium should be used to provide energy to us all.
Commentary by Jon Morrow
I have recently been working with a fairly famous science fiction writer, and have been pressing him to include thorium based MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors) in his next movie or television production. Hopefully this would raise the profile of thorium based and help gain interest in the technology. Like many futurist and good scifi writers, he was able to dream up a tantalizing vision of the future, which was not immediately obvious to me. He is very active in the seasteading world. See video below.
When those in the thorium community dream of a future with thorium based power plants we normally dream of them powering space ships and moon-bases as well as powering the planets need for pollution free electricity.
In a previous storyline this author had conceived of a future with a “weather modification net” that prevented extreme weather on Earth. It was integral to preventing tornados and hurricanes in this made up world of his. He had never came up with a plausible explanation of how a weather modification net might actually work. He was toying with the idea of scientist strategically drilling deep sea hydro thermal vents that not only controlled underwater currents like the gulf stream (that keeps the United Kingdom relatively warm) but, would create and power new under water currents. These underwater currents would prevent extreme weather events and could be turned on or off as needed to modify the weather.
My science fiction writing friend is using a “thorium drive” as a precursor to the warp drive. In this future, thorium technology is now obsolete for spaceships but still powers the weather modification net. This net would work by strategically placing underwater thorium reactors in the oceans that would heat the water, and in this future world, would turn on and off underwater currents – which would affect weather patterns and control the weather.
When not used to control the weather they once made synthetic transportation fuel from sea water until a better power source was found for personal transportation. It was thorium energy, in this future world, that was a gateway to all other technologies that allowed man to solve so many of his earth bound problems that allowed him to concentrate on the exploration of space.
The back story of how Thorium MSRs are developed is an entirely different story set in our not too distant future. A billionaire industrialist that is super smart (think Tony Stark from Iron/Avengers movie or perhaps real life Elon Musk) family is killed by terrorists. Determined to stop the geopolitical issues that lead to terrorism he comes up with the “Thorium drive” to create fuel and power but, the nations of the world will not let him build the “Thorium drive” for safety and economic reasons. Frustrated, the billionaire buys an island in the South Pacific and creates an island paradise secretly powered by a thorium reactor and protected by super a fleet of advanced thorium powered submarines. When word gets out the United Nations try to shut him down. When attempts by other nations to steal his technology fail, they launch an all out attack – and fail miserably against the billionaire’s technology. The billionaire then addresses the United Nations and makes his technology available to every nation in the world. This brings about world peace by everyone able to have more of everything. This leads to the nations of the world coming together to build the weather modification net and starting to explore space.
Can anyone in the thorium community add any ideas (this is science fiction) that would help support the plausibility of his future vision? He normally likes to have engineers and futurists familiar with current technology that could envision how it would change the world to comment before adopting an idea because he wants his vision of the future to be plausible. Please comment.
A French Defense firm DCNS has come up with a real life under water nuclear reactor design. Read more here.
Time is running out and we hope you take the opportunity to comment on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Strategic Plan.
The deadline is by tomorrow Friday April 4th.
If you have not commented here is a video that explains how……it takes just a few seconds…..
We believe one of the things to be lacking in the mission of the NRC is the lack of competition. It is true that security is mentioned in their mission but we believe that is most often interpreted as meaning military applications, such as powering nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. The Energy From Thorium Foundation believes that to keep America’s national interest secure that we should be leading the world in the development of new nuclear technologies. This is due to economic considerations and the possibility of another country developing and economically and technologically disruptive technology before America. We believe that submissions that help to amend the strategic plan to include competition will help bolster the argument that America needs to be developing a thorium based Molten Salt Reactor and we need a regulatory environment that will allow industry to develop this technology in an accelerated time from (i.e. competetive time frame).
Copy and paste this docket number NRC-2013-0230
And then go to this website and paste the docket number in the search bar of the website and look for a comment button
They really do listen……especially if enough people comment….so spread the word!
Commentary by Jon Morrow
One of my extracurricular activities other than working for the EFTF (Energy From Thorium Foundation) is helping to run a pretty large focus group that helps politicians and corporations make better marketing decisions. What I like about this is that I can learn a lot about the perceptions and thinking of the public on a whole range of issues.
Our focus group was hired to determine the public acceptance of two different automotive commercials.
We had a public acceptance of 30% for the Ford commercial and 70% acceptance for the Cadillac commercial. Our focus group is a statistical demographic cross section of the United States as taken by the last census, and has been proven to be pretty darn accurate.
Since we finished early I was able to interject some Thorium based material to the focus group. I had them watch Kirk’s TED talks video
What amazed me is that the exact same 30% that like the Ford commercial and disliked the Cadillac commercial for its perceived materialism also, when polled, did not like the Kirk Sorensen’s presentation. When interacting with this 30%, any hypothetical nuclear energy source that was totally safe and clean, was not accepted. Why was that? The reason given after lengthy discussions was that this type of technology lends itself to “more”, to materialism, and to commercialism. The 30% do not want more for the future they want less. Some even wanted many less people to inhabit the earth than what are currently here now.
I went a bit further in polling the focus group and found that most of the 30% group believes we need to live a much more agrarian lifestyle, eat organic only foods, see capitalism as a hindrance to prosperity, believes America needs to have a reduced role in the world, and corporations should never be trusted.
Other metrics included in the group that liked the Ford commercial consider themselves political activist, are concerned about he environment and global warming, were all younger than 35 years of age, and absolutely none of them voted in the last election.
In the Cadillac group the average age was 47 years old and there was no one younger than 35 years of age. A vast majority of this group voted in the last election, a vast majority do not consider themselves political activists, they generally like red meat, processed foods, and a GMO designation did not phase them in the least. Only about 10% of this group was distrustful of corporations and 100% of this group believes that capitalism produces prosperity.
I thought the results of this 60 person focus group that pulls from a pool of over 1,200 persons was interesting in that a division in America, or at least Northeastern Ohio, can be determined by a Ford and a Cadillac commercial.
Commentary by Jon Morrow
In the thorium advocacy community, we have all heard the stories as to why “they” will never let thorium-based molten salt reactors (like a LFTR Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) be built.
Many of us can never identify just who “they” are when these stories are relayed to us.
So many have heard the plight of developing a thorium based MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors) and they just assume some nefarious corporation with its own evil profit motive is preventing the development of this technology. Developing MSRs just makes so much common sense to so many of us that it is hard to conceive as to why we (Americans) are not running at full throttle to develop this technology with so much potential.
The reality is though, that there is not any coordinated effort by corporations acting in their own interest trying to prevent the development of thorium based MSRs. Ironically, it is not “they” it is “us!” It is the orchestrated misperception of a very small and virulently anti-nuclear (and misguided in my opinion) portion of the American public that has prevented the development of new nuclear technologies in America. To reiterate with clarity, it is not a majority of the public that misunderstands nuclear technology, most polls show that it is a very vocal and small minority of Americans. Yet, the perception persist that the American public is anti-nuclear.
If you fear that we will be lacking many vital resources by the year 2050, you are not alone. The estimated 9.3 billion people inhabiting the earth at that time will be very uncomfortable if new and alternate sources of energy such as LFTRs (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) are not developed to produce vital resources (such as water, clean energy, and fertilizers for food production). Irresponsible fear-based organizations (Physicians for Social Responsibility, Beyond Nuclear, and Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) propagate doubt and fear in the mind of the public in pursuing any nuclear technology. These organizations and many like them make very passionate arguments that have little to do with evidence that is backed up with science. If we want to make 2050 a much more comfortable place we need to stop worrying about the chicken littles of the world using their megaphones to tell everyone the sky is falling on nuclear energy, because (those of us that believe in unbiased science based outcomes) the science shows the sky is not falling on nuclear energy. To politicians however, the perception still exists that the American public is anti-nuclear because anti-nuclear advocates are so vocal and visible. The old axiom is true the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Politicians are reluctant to touch the nuclear energy topic because it is a perceived hot potato. This means it is very hard to get any politician to take up regulatory reforms concerning nuclear energy as they fear having protesters on the 5 o’clock news at their office. Politicians, even the very educated ones, fear the topic of nuclear energy, because of the very vocal few who oppose nuclear energy.
To those ends, it is very hard to get any politician to support any nuclear technology when natural gas is so plentiful and available and not such a divisive issue.
It is not the big oil, big natural gas, big coal, big wind, or big solar companies standing in the way of MSR development, it is just a tiny, but very vocal portion of the public (that is perceived to be larger than what they are).
Media bias helps Washington politicians and the general public form opinions about nuclear energy. During the Fukushima crisis, ratings for news media increased dramatically as everyone was glued to their television sets or computer screens worried about when the cloud of radiation would affect them. Many Americans do not realize that the Tsunami caused all the death and destruction and not the nuclear power plant. While the perceived cloud of death never made it to our shores in America (or anywhere else for that matter), advertising rates and Nielsen ratings were raised and “big media” reaped the rewards from paying advertisers.
Because nuclear energy and radiation is so misunderstood (due to a poor education system and irresponsible organizations with an agenda) it is easy to make them into the boogey man and get lots of attention (because many know no better). Add to this, the conspiracy theory driven paranoia of the public escalated by those that are entertained by manipulating people with conspiracy theory based websites – and we have a recipe to produce a regulatory environment based upon the unwarranted fears of the public.
Education, education, and more education is needed to break the cycle of fear. Perpetuating conspiracy theories and blaming the non-development of thorium on big corporations, big banks, and other big energy companies needs to stop for any serious grassroots education efforts. Thorium advocates also need to raise their profile by going to mainstream websites and commenting intelligently and posting links to where the public can go to find more information.
We can break the cycle of fear with the public through and we can change public perception by being a vocal advocate and educating our legislators and regulators. If we do not speak up in favor of educated policy then we let uneducated anti-nuclear advocates win.
The Mission: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses and regulates the Nation’s civilian use of radioactive materials to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.
Well, we do realize there is no “u” in “strategic plan,” but the NRC is drafting its 2014-2018 road map and we want your input before we finalize it.
The plan is updated every four years and is used to guide our work. You may not be aware that all of NRC’s business lines (operating reactors, new reactors, fuel facilities, nuclear materials, etc.) link their annual plans to the strategic plan and all our senior executive performance plans are linked to it as well.
If you’re familiar with our previous Strategic Plan, you’ll notice our mission and strategic goals remain basically unchanged, but the new plan does contain some new components. For example, a vision statement has been added to emphasize the importance, not only of what we achieve, but of how we regulate And there are now three strategic objectives, one for safety and two for security.
Each objective has associated strategies and key activities that will be used to achieve them. For example, this is one of the strategies for the safety objective along with three key activities:
Ensure the NRC’s readiness to respond to incidents and emergencies involving NRC-licensed facilities and radioactive materials, and other events of domestic and international interest.
· Use operational experience and lessons learned from emergency-preparedness exercises to inform the regulatory activities.
· Coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to strengthen national readiness and response capabilities.
· Employ outreach before, during, and after emergency-preparedness exercises, and increase collaboration and sharing of best practices and lessons learned after emergency-preparedness exercises and incidents.
The goal of the comment period is to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the public – there is a “u” in public, after all — to make sure our plan is as good as it can be.
Why should you take the time to comment? Well, perhaps you are aware of a key external factor that we have missed that could affect the strategies and activities we have planned. Or maybe you have ideas for additional strategies or activities we need to focus on to achieve one of our objectives. This is your opportunity to weigh in and tell us if we are addressing the issues of importance to you.
All comments will be reviewed and incorporated, as appropriate, into a revised plan. The disposition of substantive comments will be included in a Commission paper transmitting the resulting plan to the Commission for their final review and approval.
Please submit your comments online through the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2013-0230; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements, and Directives Branch, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. The comment period is coming quickly. It closes on 04/04/2014. Comments on this blog post cannot be considered, so please use the official channels. More information is also available in the Federal Register Notice.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
43 years ago today, man first walked on the Moon.
Three years ago today, I went to Google for the first time and gave a talk there. It was a formative event in more than one way. I met Chris Uhlik, who now serves on the Board of Advisors for Flibe Energy. Chris was one of the people, who, in years to come, was a powerful influence on my thinking and was part of the reason we started Flibe Energy. I met Iain McClatchie in person, and Iain has been another voice of advice and guidance as we have attempted to move the development of LFTR forward. And I got to meet “Google”…seeing the campus and the people, how and where they worked, it also had a lot to do with shaping my thoughts for how a high-technology company could and should be.
Baroness Worthington and I were interviewed by Jan Mazotti and Kelly de la Torre of Driving Force Radio and ICOSA Magazine during the Baroness’s visit to Huntsville, Alabama, on Tuesday, June 5, 2012.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jan and Kelly at the Global New Energy Summit in Colorado Springs in March, where we had a short interview. Jan and Kelly are a real pleasure to talk to and they came to Huntsville specially to meet the Baroness.
I hope you enjoy the interview, which you can download in a variety of different audio files or read the transcript (but I think the audio versions are better).
I really enjoyed watching Alex Pasternack’s new short video on Dr. Edward Teller:
Ralph Moir had told me this story about Teller before, but watching it presented this way with the video interviews of Teller and short descriptions of projects that we worked on, was much richer. Teller was indeed a very unique kind of person, whose early experiences with Communism in Hungary shocked his mind into responses that others struggled to understand. I hesitate to cast any judgements since I certainly did not go through what Teller went through, but I have noticed that among Hungarian emigres to the US of a particular age (and I have met several) there is an intensity of personality that I have come to believe must be a product of this environment.
In posting this, I went back to reference an earlier post I had made for Alex’s previous effort, “The Thorium Dream”, and discovered to my horror that I had never posted it on the blog! So in attempting to rectify for that past oversight, here is his enjoyable short documentary on the growing effort to bring an understanding of thorium and the molten-salt reactor to the world.
Finally, Moir references the paper that he and Teller co-wrote, which was Teller’s final paper. For those of you who would like to read it, here it is in PDF form:
Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant Based on Molten Salt Technology, by Ralph Moir and Edward Teller, 2004