Five Years of Energy from Thorium
Last Friday this blog quietly celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Very quietly in fact because I was busy getting the family to the in-laws to celebrate Easter and I imagine many other people were busy too. But even though it’s a few days late, permit me to tell the story of this blog.
Like many other things in my life, this blog was born of frustration. In 2002, Bruce Patton (now of ORNL, then of NASA) and I had obtained some modest funds to get the records of the Molten-Salt Reactor Program digitized and scanned in PDF documents. By the end of 2002, I had a stack of five CDs that contained the bulk of these records and I wanted to see them read by people in key-decision making positions.
I made copies of the CDs and sent them to various leaders–heads of national labs, the Secretary of Energy at the time, university professors. I viewed my role as akin to the medieval monk who had obtained a copy of the great works of Aristotle or Plato and wanted his contemporaries to read it. I had hope that one of the people who might read the documents on the CDs would say, “Aha! This work was incredibly important! We should restart it!”
But that simply didn’t turn out to be the case.
By early 2006 my friend at Glenn Research Center Ray Beach told me that he was going to set up a meeting with me and some of his friends and colleagues in the energy generation arena. We had the meeting in February 2006, and I credit that with being the start of my public advocacy for LFTR.
Sometime in April of 2006 I saw an advertisement for a web site hosting service for $100/yr and 25 GB. I realized that would be enough to hold the documents and so I bought the domain name “energyfromthorium.com” and began uploading the documents. It took a few days. Then I needed to promote it, so I started a blog using the Blogger software and some of you might remember the original location of Energy from Thorium being a blogspot.com address.
Those first few months were still some of my very best blogging, as I would write articles about the various aspects of LFTR design and processing. The readers to the blog came slowly but steadily, and I really appreciated everyone who came and commented. Back then I only had two kids and they were sleeping through the night so I had more time to blog.
By November of 2006 I noticed that some of our discussions were getting pretty long and I wanted a discussion forum to complement the blog, so I installed one on the server and we got the Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum. It was a lot of fun and active discussions stayed near the top of the list which was a substantial advantage over the blog comments.
In the spring of 2007 I led a graduate design team as part of my coursework at the University of Tennessee and we had a baby boy, so both my blogging and commenting on the forum dropped a lot. But I really enjoyed all of the things I was learning through the attempt to design a fluoride reactor albeit for a school project.
On June 30, 2007 I awoke one Saturday morning to find that my baby son had died in the night, and my life seemed to end. I stopped blogging. I pretty much stopped doing everything. I appreciate Charles Barton co-blogging at Energy from Thorium as well as at Nuclear Green for those years where it was difficult for me to get going again.
In June of 2009 a panel meeting at the American Nuclear Society meeting in Atlanta got me excited about blogging again, and I took over the reins of Energy from Thorium once more. I’ve done better since 2009 but I’ve never come close to matching the output of that first year in 2006 or the prolific blogging of my friends Charles Barton or Rod Adams. Frankly, I don’t think I ever will.
Lots of people came to know about thorium from this blog. John Kutsch found out about it and started the Thorium Energy Alliance, which has been a tremendous force for moving the message forward. We had our first conference in October 2009 in Washington, DC, then our second in March 2010 hosted by Google in Mountain View California. In a few weeks we’ll have our third conference again in Washington DC.
As far as I know, Andreas Norlin found out about thorium from this blog and started the International Thorium Energy Organization (IThEO) which had its inaugural conference in London in October of 2010 and was a great success.
In March 2010 I started a Facebook page to correspond with the blog which has turned into a bit of a “micro-blog” for the thorium message and has attracted over 2500 fans and is growing every day.
Many people have learned about thorium from the blog and the organizations it has spawned and inspired. That gives me deep satisfaction.
But I have also been surprised at how muted the response to the thorium message has been among two communities that should have embraced it with open arms.
First is the environmentalist community. Thorium is a reliable and energy-rich substance that can address many of their issues with existing forms of nuclear power. Yet not a single environmentalist organization of any stature has embraced it. Why?
Second is the nuclear power generation community. LFTR technology addresses concerns about safety, high-pressure operation, spent-fuel management, nuclear fuel resources, and a host of other concerns. Yet not a single large-scale nuclear manufacturer has any effort to develop LFTR. No national nuclear program outside of the Chinese has an effort to develop thorium/LFTR. Why?
It truly makes me wonder if the things that the nuclear and environmentalist communities say are important to them really are important to them, because if you take them at face value, they should be enthusiastic about thorium/LFTR, and after five years of effort it’s safe to say that they’re not. It really makes me wonder.
Nevertheless, our efforts have brought many thousands of people to know and advocate for thorium and LFTR who probably never thought much about nuclear energy before that, and I am very very grateful for that.
Thank you all for your support of this blog and the larger effort to move the world to sustainable and safe nuclear energy powered by thorium and LFTR technology.
40 thoughts on “Five Years of Energy from Thorium”
I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your baby boy. What a tragedy. It must still be very difficult to deal with.
The apathy and resistance of the nuclear community is to be expected, unfortunately. Our current nuclear technology has too many stakeholders who make a lot of money from building and running these behemoths with their high construction costs, need for many expensive skill sets, and need for huge numbers of personnel in day-to-day operations, and they will be the losers in the transition to the LFTR.
I'm pretty certain the environmentalist community simply doesn't know about LFTR. Anything nuclear carries a heavy negative connotation, which makes it only too easy to dismiss without proper examination. I only stumbled across this site, and the whole liquid+thorium concept, thanks to George Monbiot's recent articles about how relatively benign conventional nuclear power is compared to the alternatives:
As an influential UK environmentalist and columnist for the Guardian, he's taken a lot of flack for that position, which made him probe the anti-nuclear movement further. In one of his back-and-forths with anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott, he mentioned thorium in passing, which got me searching.
After watching several of yours and other's lectures, I was impressed. I sent him an email telling him about this site, and about LFTR in particular. He seems interested. Here is my email and his response. Keep up the good work!
I'm genuinely impressed by how you've lived up to your tagline this week. It takes a lot of effort to overcome the natural human psychology to ignore evidence inconsistent with one's prior beliefs and evidence gathering. Just weeks ago I was quite happy about how protests in Germany had caused the government to given in on new nukes. As a young scientist, I'm happy to report that your tagline doesn't seem to apply to me, at least in this case. Your recent articles about nuclear power have convinced me that nukes are the lesser of two evils.
You mentioned Thorium reactors in one of your questions to Helen Caldicott. After some searching, I realized that David MacKay mentioned it briefly in his book "Sustainable Energy", which led to a reference to https://energyfromthorium.com, run by Kirk Sorensen. If you're not familiar with this group, they advocate combining the benefits of thorium fuel with a molten salt reactor (MSR) to allow for cheap, compact, highly scalable, load following, inherently (passively) safe nuclear energy, with little to no nuclear waste, the ability to consume existing high level nuclear waste, and no possibility of weapons proliferation. A prototype reactor was built and ran for years at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 60s, but was ultimately cancelled *because* it couldn't generate weapons grade plutonium the way the already entrenched uranium reactors could.
China just recently announced their intention to start a serious R&D program into Thorium MSRs (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/china-thorium-power/). They're the first nation to do so. Perhaps it would be timely for you to do an article about the potential for this technology. You could look at how something like Fukushima, even with a total loss of power, could never occur in a LFTR. An interesting angle revealed in a couple of the talk videos linked to at https://energyfromthorium.com is how threatened the existing nuclear industry would be by LFTRs. Apparently, most of the revenue stream for the nuclear industry comes from the complicated and expensive manufacture of solid fuel rods that go into existing light water reactors. Since LFTRs continuously reprocess their own fuel online in liquid form, that revenue stream would be jeopardized. It wouldn't surprise me if in a sick twist of fate, the nuclear industry might astroturf by surreptitiously funding environmental groups to further increase opposition to new nukes, simply to prevent LFTRs from coming to fruition and threatening their profitability.
By the way, David MacKay knows a thing or two about Bayesian inference from his work in information theory. Your tagline reiterates in a nice way that the human brain is a Bayesian brain.
Hi Martin, thank you very much for writing and please accept my apologies for taking so long to reply. Thanks for these links, which are helpful and for your kind words. Time I looked into thorium more, and into Bayesian inference.
With my best wishes, George
I have been reading you now for about 3 years. I did not realize the events that had happened in your personal life, my heart hurts for your loss. You have done an amazing job of presenting solid factual information about a vast potential source of energy and have pointed a way forward for generations to come. Your facebook interaction is amazing. May God bless your heart with peace and your mind with continued passion.
They ate the apple, but left the core. Your seeds will rise right through the floor….
@Kirk – congratulations on starting and sustaining a real movement. Thorium has a bright, perhaps near-term future.
Like many of your other commenters, I am sorry for your losses and personal struggles and happy about the way that you have allowed them to strengthen you, instead of destroying you.
You asked some very important questions near the end of your post. My response is that there is no reason to limit your understanding of the world to what people say. Instead, observe what they DO and dig more deeply into understanding why there is so often a disconnect between the two.
With regard to the mainstream anti-nuclear groups that are often mislabeled as "environmentalists", the truth is that they are not terribly interested in any capable replacements for fossil fuel. They SAY that they are advocating a lower energy society, but I have seen the parking lots of large environmental organizations and been inside the homes of some of the leaders of the groups. They own and operate just as many large SUVs as the rest of the population; they own as many big screen TVs; and they lie in just as large and energy consuming homes as everyone else I know.
I believe their real interest is in maintaining the status quo energy systems and keeping The Establishment in power.
With regard to the rest of the nuclear industry – part of the reluctance to embrace LFTR is caused by the large investment in current technology. Part of the reluctance is the natural conservatism of the leaders who often act like they hail from Missouri and demand that an advocate of charge "show them" that the proposal works with a real life operating system.
Another factor is the fact that many of the problems that LFTR solves are not really problems at all. Uranium really is abundant on any reasonable scale – even without any recycling it will last a lot longer than "abundant" natural gas. Waste storage really is relatively simple and low cost – pools and dry storage containers are pretty cheap, even under currently onerous regulations.
Fission in any form is far better than fire. I wish that all fission advocates would turn their competitive juices towards the real target – the one that currently controls about 85% of the world's energy supply market. Despite what you might have heard or read in the advertiser supported media, Fukushima did not result in widespread damage and will not alter any one's chances for a long and productive life. Evacuated areas can be surveyed, cleaned up and repopulated.
Good luck in your new endeavor. Thanks for being a friend.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Don't underestimate the power of intertia. It's easy for me to say, but keep pushing. I agree with some others that the Chinese development may be the turning point. We will have to see if they are serious, but if they are, then I think the world will be playing catchup in a decade or so.
Some of my colleagues in the physics department were testing an early Accelerator Driven Reactor ten years ago but they could not get any funding to take the next step.
The feeling was that "You can't buck City Hall"; the entrenched physics establishment could not see any point in building weird reactors.
That seems to be Freeman Dyson's opinion but he puts it rather better when he says the fun has gone out of NPP design.
Thank you for keeping the faith. There are still wild ducks like LeBlanc out there designing simple LFTRs that will be a breeze to mass produce in factories prior to shipping to site on a single truck.
There is a certain inevitability about Thorium cycle nukes but it would be nice to get the band wagon rolling before we exhaust our fossil fuel reserves.
so interesting to read the history of your blog – I think a lot of people have reason to be grateful for your perseverance. Wanted to wish you good luck on Thursday – cannot be there. Are you going to video the conference – if so would love to get a dvd off you. Really itching for more on this. Re refusal to understand – I think many people who have invested a lifetime in Uranium dont want to know – many who have safely established their prejudcies against any form of nuclear dont want to know either. I have lost count of the number of times people go on about waste active for tens of thousands of years and the number of times I have explained —not so!
Am most interested in keeping up so anyone in London please get in touch.
Memeber of an internet community with US-EU-Azian intellectuals discussing many subjects also the benefits of Thorium.
Somebody came with some interesting critics on Thorium:
Thorium 2009 factsheet written by the president of The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research IEER. http://www.ieer.org/fctsheet/thorium2009factsheet…
Arjun Makhijani, President of IEER, holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley. He has produced many studies and articles on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years
Would like to learn your commends on this piece.
@Karel – Arjun Makhijani has been professionally employed for several decades by organizations with the stated mission of halting all nuclear energy development. He cannot tell the difference between a power producing reactor and a nuclear weapon. He does not understand how difficult it would be to use power reactor left overs to produce explosive devices.
As demonstrated by his choice of majors – nuclear fusion – he has no real understanding of the importance of energy production since there is no possibility that fusion will be producing any useful energy for the foreseeable future.
One of his most widely publicized recent studies was done on commission for an organization called the Nuclear Policy Research Institute – with primary fund raising by a famously misguided antinuclear activist named Helen Caldicott.
That study was titled "Carbon Free, Nuclear Free" and it is a fantasy claiming that unreliable renewable energy sources like the wind and sun can be assumed to be reliable if you put enough of them onto the grid.
He does NOT describe the technical barriers in the way of making that imaginary system a reality. His lack of understanding of reality can be illustrated by simply looking at the photo and description of a 750 kWe (peak) solar installation over a parking lot. That facility is large enough to shade 400 vehicles.
If there were 400 Nissan Leafs, each with a 24 kilowatt-hour battery parked under the facility, it would require more than 2 full days of collection in perfect weather for the facility to produce enough electricity to charge those vehicles. That calculation assumes that there is no energy lost in the charging systems.
Bottom line – please do not trust anything that Arjun Makhijani says or writes about energy. His professional mission is to halt nuclear energy development. By default, that makes him a strong supporter of continued massive consumption of fossil fuel because no one will follow his "do without power" advice.
re Rod Adams above and Makhijani – I think "not believing anything he says" is not good enough – even though he may talk rubbish.
We do need to have arguments to refute these comments – I am intersted in what seem to be genuine weak points – Resistance to proliferation and the dangers of U232 contamination to workers and others during and after the process.
If we are to "talk the talk" we do need to have answers – I am sure they are there !
Hope yesterday went well – really wanted to be there
I looked at the Makhijani hit piece, and BOY does it ever have some howlers in it! Here's one that's gut-busting funny for sheer stupidity:
The most trivial bit of thought shows that if that were true, Th-232 ores would be too dangerous to mine in the first place. Makhijani thinks his audience is either unable to use logic, or will just breeze over contradictions because they are unwilling to consider anything contrary to the pre-ordained conclusion. Sadly, he's mostly right.
The "leaders" in the environmental movement generally have a personal agenda. Their true love is power. They often recruit people who are genuine, but the leaders are different. They are more aptly called politicians.
And worst of all, they don't really want solutions. Like some other groups that sell fear, they don't want any progress to interfere with their positions of power. It's a waste of time trying to sell them on an energy solution. Like the merchants of death, they don't want to see their wars end.
Congratulations and thanks to you Kirk for your good work. Your persistence will win out.
Keep it up Kirk. You're doing a great job. You have many colleagues, family and friends behind you. I believe in LFTR and hope to be there the day you "flip the switch" and turn on the LFTR for the first time in the United States.