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

  1. Congratulations on your on-line anniversary Kirk and indeed on your impact on the conversation about future nuclear power. I hope that molten-salt thorium reactors do indeed break through into commercial use, and your efforts will have been pivotal.

    Regrettably your answers to the muted response may lie in economics and self-interest. Certain environmental organisations seem unable to break out of nuclear power in the role of villian – and banging that drum has been a great earner for them. Similarly the nuclear construction industry, such as it is, will normally prefer to earn money from their expertise in existing reactor technologies. The harder question is the non-response of government. There I have no simple answer.

  2. Congrats!!! Some thought to consider.
    1) I wonder if there's a critical number that needs to be reached before the word starts to spread more rapidly.
    2) I also think that a real prototype would make all the difference. Even if a news crew could get a building on camera that's a step in the right direction. You at one time discussed building the barebones without the nuclear fuel present. Even that's a start.
    3) That's why its exciting that you started up Flibe Energy.
    4) It seems that a couple of prototypes need to be started. Not just the ractor but a gas turbine.
    5) Getting even one university or college to add a full course on the LFTR or TMSR would also make a significant difference.
    6) You need to write a book. Everone who wants to promote their passion writes a book these days.

  3. I discovered the blog around 2 years ago. I'm just a mechanical engineering undergrad now, but I would love to get into the nuclear industry somehow and help the cause in any way possible. I've spread the word as best I can in my small sphere of influence. I even contacted a couple of news agencies since Fukushima, though nothing came of those efforts. There's still a long way to go. Hopefully, Rick is right and we reach that critical number soon! Thanks for your blogging efforts, Kirk!

  4. Kirk,
    Congratulations on five years of dedication to this important topic. I first became aware of thorium energy and your work promoting it in reading the Wired Magazine article a year or so ago. I have continued to follow the progress (or frustrating lack thereof) ever since. In fact, I did a little work with Andreas and iTHeo, and I've had a couple of conversations with John Kutsch. My engagement has fallen off recently, but I do still have great passion for the subject and hope to soon re-activate my effort on behalf of the movement. Congratulations again, and thanks for carrying the torch!

  5. Congratulations Kirk and thank you for your excellent past work and ongoing efforts. I often think that one well placed article in a prestigious international magazine, National Geographic for example could inform tens of millions and win huge support for the technology. It's been my experience that when people learn of this remarkable technology the overwhelming response is amazement that it exists firstly and that it hasn't been commercially developed and widely deployed. Many more people need to be informed and those people need to be asking hard questions of our representatives in government and industry. A great deal depends on it.

  6. Kirk, Congratulations, you have moved mountains during the last five years. You almost singlehandedly resurrected the Molten Salt Reactor from obscurity. You are in the process of creating a bottoms up social movement for energy change.

  7. Thank you Charles–without you this blog would have died in 2007. I appreciate all of your help.

  8. Congratulations on your fifth year of proselytising the benefits of Thorium-based energy. Don't think of giving up, as you are reaching more and more people. It starts off like a mustard seed, but slowly this is going to grow into something big. Those who have eyes to see have gotten the message. The Chinese have certainly taken the hint – they know a good thing when the see it, and although it's unfortunate that the US, where this technology was born, has failed taken the lead on this, a rapid development by the Chinese may yet force a rethink. So keep on blogging, you are a source of hope to many of us.

  9. Thanks for the incredible work you and Charles have done Kirk! I had no idea you had gone through such hard times.

    The knowledge about MSR's really need to be spread, I had no idea it even existed before I stumbled over this page several years ago.

    About the industry reluctance. Speaking as a nuclear engineer within the Swedish nuclear industry, one can't say there is a resistance against molten salt. The reality is rather that there simply doesn't exist any conceptual understanding of the technology and no realization that the technology is actually feasible. Within the nuclear industry most people seem to think other reactor types are far into the future "sci-fi" kind of tech.

    The utilities can't buy them so they don't care and the engineers at the utilities are to busy taking care of their reactors. The vendors doesn't realize the technology is real so they don't try to develop it. The regulators doesn't encourage it because they don't realize it would improve safety, waste management etc.

    One needs to educate all three groups about molten salt technology.

    This quote from Freeman Dyson's book Disturbing the universe says it all!

    The fundamental problem of the nuclear power industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors. It is inconceivable under present conditions that a group of enthusiast could assemble in a schoolhouse and design, build, test, license and sell a reactor within three years. Sometime between 1960 and 1970, the fun went out of the buisness.

    The adventurers, the experimenters, the inventors, were driven out, and the accountants and managers took control. Not only in the private industry but also in the government laboratories, at Los Alamos, Livermore, Oak Ridge and Argonne, the groups of bright young people who used to build and invent and experiment with a great variety of reactors where disbanded. The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors. So the weird reactors disappeared and with them the chance of any radical improvement beyond our existing systems. 

    We are left with a very small number of reactor types in operation, each of them frozen into a huge bureaucratic organization that makes any substantial change impossible, each of them in various ways technically unsatisfactory, each of them less safe than many possible alternative designs which have been discarded. Nobody builds reactors for fun anymore. The spirit of the little red schoolhouse is dead. That, in my opinion, is what went wrong with nuclear power. 

  10. I think Rick has some great points. The entire system could be built, sans enriched uranium (at first), and perhaps use concentrated solar as your heat source for the fuel salt. The rest of the operation could be run for testing purposes and PR purposes. The only thing missing would be the preferred amount of neutrons. I think if you were that much on the cusp that you could succeed in getting fissile fuel (maybe the U233 that some are so "worried" about!).

    Also, I think the book idea is smart – it would help the PR side tremendously as you go on a book tour. I can picture you on various TV and cable news shows, radio, interent, etc. And you can harvest the website and Facebook page for nearly all the book material. The e-book version could have animation, the Java applets, links to the various speeches, and so on!

    Stay strong and good luck!

  11. Thanks for your work, Kirk. About two years ago I published a 700-word article about LFTR in a local newspaper, the Hickory (NC) Daily Record. I received many, many telephone calls from "just plain folks", all of them excited and positive. I have contacted NC Senators and Representatives with no discernible effect. Where is the tipping point?

  12. On my google home page I have a section where I get results of the search term "Thorium". Since Fukushima I have noticed a LOT more articles from all over the world discussing the benefits of Thorium-based reactors. The interest is there, and growing, but it's going to be very difficult to get past the "nuclear is evil" mindset that so many have; the fear-based approach.

  13. Kirk,

    Congratulations on your initiative and follow through, both!

    Obtaining visibility in universities would help the LFTR cause. We should keep our eyes open for some up-and-coming assistant professor of nuclear engineering who could also coauthor this blog.

  14. Very sorry for your loss, Kirk. I live in high hopes that America will elect some strong governors who will stand up to Washington and support/build Thorium reactors to power their states. National politics are driving to third world status, it seems.

  15. Kirk;
    Congratulations on your anniversary. Thank you for your passion and perseverance in advocating LFTR. From the time I first came across your blog two years ago I have been a solid believer that this technology is far better and more achievable than anything else before us. You are taking your place in history through your tireless and articulate advocacy and your efforts will become increasingly recognized over time. I share your bemusement at the lack of support from those professing concern for the environment. I guess LFTR exposes as well as empowers.

    In my work I get to tell around 70-90 people per week about LFTR and the history of nuclear development. I always put in a plug your blog so they can find out more (I'll mention the facebook page as well from now on). Many come to me afterwards and want to share their excitement about it all and amazement that they never knew such a thing existed. There is a real hunger for the hope that LFTR brings. I sense an inexorable tide building. Keep going!

    Charles; Many thanks to you for keeping the torch burning during such a long, dark night.

  16. Hi Kirk

    I echo the other comments – fantastic efforts but heck how hard it is to get those who are set agaionst nuclear energy to listen. As a non scientist (although learning fast) I have trailed my coat on the UK claverton energy site and whilst they are happy to trash nuclear no one will raise decent arguments against! Not very scientific! I still have hopes of attending the conference but dont know if there are any places – are there?

  17. Nuclear power is highly technical requiring a high degree of academic and manufacturing skills.The requirement of resources is correspondingly high and is managed at the level of governments and big corporations. Now that basic awareness has been created, it is time to concentrate on two undeniable advantages over existing designs.
    a. Liquid fuel with its resultant advantages. There are many but the the neutron economy created by constant purging of neutron poison Xe has to be stressed on designers and academics.
    b. Non-volatile liquid salt for heat transfer. This results in safer low pressure reactor cores and higher thermal and all round efficiency and economy.
    The real test would be convincing Indians nuclear establishment, already the foremost thorium admirers of giving up their aversion to molten salt reactors.

  18. Hi Jagdish

    the indian attitude to Molten salt intrigues me – is it the military dimension do you think?

  19. Kirk,

    Congrats! I am proud to know the man most responsible for the coming real nuclear renaissance.

    Tipping point. We have seen it. China's adoption of LFTR development as a nation scientific goal. They/LFTR are now unstoppable. They have the knowledge, the money, the demand, and no effective anti nuclear or entrenched uranium LWR establishment to overcome. Short of another "Manhattan" project, the US could and will not develop and deploy LFTR nearly as fast as the Chinese can and will.

    Take a bow Kirk.

  20. I echo everyone's feelings here, Kirk. I think the Chinese have vindicated LFTR, but not only LFTR, it vindicates your own involvement in launching this site because without it, and it's many decedents, I doubt seriously the Chinese would of picked up on it. Where else would they have been able to garnar the information needed?

    David Walters

  21. Facebook EFT "like" #2001 here, cheers Kirk and Charles for finding this torch and bringing it back from the brink of obscurity and into the light, or at least, light's edge. Bravo, cheers, and on behalf of my two young children, a most heartfelt thank you.

  22. Kirk:

    Here's a twist on free enterprise and the free market system that helps me to understand the present situation regarding nuclear reactors:

    Nuclear Power Reactors: A Study in Technological Lock-in
    Author(s): Robin Cowan
    Source: The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 541-567

    I down loaded this from:

    The light water reactor(s) were good enough for the US during the cold war and naval discipline worked to insure the necessary safety for that environment. This approach to safety does not necessarily transfer to the civilian power enterprise. Fukushima proves that Alvin Weinberg was right about reactor safety for the civilian environment. However, at that time and in the political environment of the cold war, "atoms for peace", required the only technology then available. Since "light water" technology was the first successful technology in the US it crowed out any subsequent development of alternatives.

  23. Hi Kirk,

    I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now and have greatly enjoyed it. I'm so saddened to hear of your loss a few years ago. I never realized. I can't imagine what you went through.

    The blog has been a great source of interest and education for me. Its certainly made me a disciple and evangelist of LFTR technology.

    Becoming a father recently has helped me realize the importance of leaving a good legacy for our children. I appreciate the personal commitment and sacrifice you're put into keeping this blog going.


  24. Kirk, as a recent reader I didn't know about your baby son dying, and I am so sorry for your loss.
    @Jim L. How about developing a virtual LFTR to prove the concept (LFTR@Home)? A demonstrated working design could convince the environmentalists and nuclear power industry. I suggest getting Elon Musk interested (SpaceX is a similar innovation).

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