Thorium Superfuel: A Clean, Safe, and Abundant Energy Source?

thorium free energy image periodic table
A 0.1 gram thorium sample free energy nuclear power

A 0.1 gram thorium sample

Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic element that’s number 90 on the periodic table.  It is silver in color but tarnishes black when oxidized, forming thorium dioxide.  Thorium is hard yet malleable and has a high melting point.

While uranium nuclear reactors, like the ones commonly used today, utilize uranium directly, thorium nuclear reactors derive uranium from thorium.  In a thorium nuclear reactor, thorium undergoes a series of nuclear reactions until it eventually emerges as an isotope of uranium called U-233.

Thorium was first discovered in 1829 by Norwegian amateur mineralogist Morten Thrane Esmark and named by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

While catastrophic nuclear disasters like Fukushima (2011), Chernobyl (1986), and Three Mile Island (1979) make it difficult to consider the possibility that nuclear power can be safe, interestingly, thorium advocate Kirk Sorensen has made the claim that none of these disasters could have occurred if thorium was being used to generate nuclear power at these facilities using Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR).  Sorensen suggests that energy generation using thorium as a base substrate is clean, abundant, and efficient.  He also claims that thorium also makes impossible a nuclear meltdown like the ones mentioned above.

Thorium (Th) is around four times as abundant as uranium and about as common as lead.  If you grab a handful of dirt, it contains about 12 parts per million of thorium.  As Thorium activist Kirk Sorensen has said, “It’s so energy-dense that you can hold a lifetime supply of thorium in the palm of your hand.”

Sorensen wrote in his debut blog post for Energy From Thorium in 2006: “Despite the fact that our world is desperately searching for new sources of energy, the value of thorium is not well-understood, even in the ‘nuclear engineering’ community.”  Sorensen then answered the common question “How much thorium would it take to power the whole world?”, the answer to which I’ve outlined in the table below.

World Energy Supply (2007) Thorium
- 5,000,000,000 tonnes of coal
- 31,000,000,000 barrels of oil
- 5,000,000,000,000 m³ of natural gas
- 65,000 tonnes of uranium
About 5,000 tons would supply all of the world's energy needs for one year.

Advantages of Thorium Nuclear Power

According to the World Nuclear Association, “The thorium fuel cycle offers enormous energy security benefits in the long-term – due to its potential for being a self-sustaining fuel without the need for fast neutron reactors. It is therefore an important and potentially viable technology that seems able to contribute to building credible, long-term nuclear energy scenarios.”  The following are some more advantages of Thorium nuclear power.

Clean:

Producing energy with thorium is so efficient that the thorium is almost completely burnt up, and the waste generated is 100’s of times less than uranium, and 1,000,000’s of times less than fossil fuels.  And the small amount of waste that is produced from the thorium cycle is less hazardous.

Meltdowns Impossible:

Because the Thorium reactor is inherently stable and the liquid fuel can be readily drained from the reactor core, a meltdown is physically impossible.  If you lose power to the lifter, it shuts itself down without human intervention.  A staggeringly impressive level of safety, even if there is damage to the reactor.

Abundant:

According to the Nuclear Energy Agency,The United States has about 440,000 tons of thorium reserves, and the world’s largest reserves of thorium are in Australia, at about 539,000 tons.  Thorium is about 4x as abundant as uraninum.

Efficient:

We could use thorium about 200x more efficiently than we’re using uranium right now.  Thorium is a more energy dense and efficient source of energy than uranium or plutonium.

Less Expensive and Smaller:

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors could be built far smaller and less expensively than conventional light-water reactors.

Disadvantages of Thorium Nuclear Power

Expensive testing, licensing and analysis:

According to a 2012 report by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, about using thorium fuel with existing water-cooled reactors, it would “require too great an investment and provide no clear payoff.”(R)

Higher Cost of Fuel Fabrication and Reprocessing:

The cost of fuel fabrication and reprocessing exceeds that of traditional solid fuel rods. (R)(R)

Dangerous:

When dealing with Thorium, it’s important to acknowledge the potential dangers it can pose to humans and the environment.  Thorium, when being irradiated for use in reactors, will make uranium-232, which is very dangerous due to the gamma rays it emits.

This is the same ionizing radiation emitted by nuclear bombs, which is responsible for it’s devastating effects to all biological life.  Yes thorium creates less waste, but the bottom line is it still creates toxic waste.  If we are to think long term, how can the production of any deadly radioactive waste be sustainable (or sane)?

Why Aren’t We Currently Using Thorium?

thorium free energy endalldisease

Thorium element 90

Nuclear power using uranium first began commercially in 1954 in Russia.  The primitive energy generation process used then, is the exact same process as we use today.  Kirt Sorensen said in an interview, “In every other field of technology development we’re happy to see an improvement in technology.  Nobody wants 1950’s computers, nobody wants 1950’s cars, why are we satisfied with 1950’s reactors?”

The reason why uranium was chosen as the fuel for the production of nuclear energy, and not thorium, was because the energy industrialists’ subservience to the military.  The military wanted uranium because it could easily be turned into weapons, and using uranium for energy production was a way to ensure low costs of this rare element.  Other designs slowly vanished, and the light water reactor soon became the only method used or even thought about.

It’s impossible to make a bomb from thorium, and drastically more difficult to make a bomb from uranium bred in thorium reactors than from natural uranium.

Written by Richard Martin in his book Superfuel, “Thorium could transform not only the nuclear power industry but our entire energy economy, liberating us from dwindling oil supplies and poison-spewing coal plants. It could fuel the energy revolution the world desperately needs.”  Indeed it can, and indeed it will.

In recent years several countries including India and China have announced or confirmed plans to build thorium power reactors, and research programs for thorium have sprung up at universities across Europe, Asia, and North America.  Even U.S. policy makers have started to promote thorium power: several bills have been  introduced to fund thorium R&D programs at the Department of Energy.

Conclusion

Although thorium definitely appears safer, more abundant and less devastating to the environment and all biological life than uranium-based nuclear reactors, it still results in the production of radioactive waste.  Radioactive waste represents one of the most devastating poisons to the environment and to all biological life ever discovered.  To make matters worse, there is no safe way of disposing of radioactive waste.  Nuclear power has played a larger role in bringing humanity to the brink of extinction than most people are aware.

If we are to survive in this world now and into the future, all behaviors which result in anything but a net benefit to the environment and to the health of all living creatures must cease permanently.  Thorium nuclear power is far better than the worst form of nuclear power, but as far as having a future in human energy production, thorium as an option has emerged to little to late.

Thorium Documentary

Quotes about Thorium

“By creating jobs, calling forth a surge in technological innovation, and slashing the price of electricity, thorium power could help put the economy back on a sustainable track while providing opportunity and hope to millions of increasingly disenfranchised young people.”
– Richard Martin, Author of Superfuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the Future

“Thorium is a naturally occurring nuclear fuel that is 4x more common in the earth’s crust than uranium.  It’s so energy dense that you can hold a lifetime supply of thorium energy in the palm of your hand.  We could use thorium about 200x more efficiently than we’re using uranium now.”
– Kirk Sorensen

“Thorium could provide a clean and effectively limitless source of power while allaying all public concerns — weapons proliferation, radioactive pollution, toxic waste, and fuel that is both costly and complicated to process.”
– Richard Martin, Author of Superfuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the Future

“Only thorium can produce nuclear power that is environmentally safe, is economically competitive, and does not lead to the proliferation of atomic weapons.”
– Richard Martin, Author of Superfuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the Future

“Thorium is no panacea, but of all the energy sources on Earth, it is the most abundant, most readily available, cleanest, and safest. We can’t afford not to develop it.”
– Richard Martin, Superfuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the Future

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