America Is Letting China Steal Our Valuable Nuclear Innovations

George Washington's picture

Microsoft and Apple grew rich by using Xerox's innovation.

Xerox's research arm (called Xerox Parc) invented the "graphical user interface" used by all modern computers. Bill Gates famously admitted to Steve Jobs that both Microsoft and Apple had ripped of Xerox's GUI.

Xerox could have made a fortune on its innovation. But it didn't realize what it had ... and failed to capitalize on its breakthroughs (Xerox tried to sue to protect its invention ... but years too late, and the lawsuit was thrown out because Xerox had missed the deadline for suing).

The same dynamic is playing out in the nuclear industry.

Specifically, the U.S. created a safer, more efficient form of nuclear energy running on thorium. But - like Xerox Parc - America isn't doing anything with its innovation, and China is running off with prize.

The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes:

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape ....


China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.


Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.


“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.

Here is a short, must-watch TED talk by Sorensen:

The Telegraph continues:

Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University said thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord,” he said.


Dr Cywinski, who anchors a UK-wide thorium team, said the residual heat left behind in a crisis would be “orders of magnitude less” than in a uranium reactor.


The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.




US physicists in the late 1940s explored thorium fuel for power. It has a higher neutron yield than uranium, a better fission rating, longer fuel cycles, and does not require the extra cost of isotope separation.


The plans were shelved because thorium does not produce plutonium for bombs. As a happy bonus, it can burn up plutonium and toxic waste from old reactors, reducing radio-toxicity and acting as an eco-cleaner.


Dr Cywinski is developing an accelerator driven sub-critical reactor for thorium, a cutting-edge project worldwide .... The idea is to make pint-size 600MW reactors.

Popular Science reports:

It would be based on thorium, a radioactive element that is much more abundant, and much more safe, than traditional sources of nuclear power.


Some advocates believe small nuclear reactors powered by thorium could wean the world off coal and natural gas, and do it more safely than traditional nuclear. Thorium is not only abundant, but more efficient than uranium or coal — one ton of the silver metal can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, as the Mail on Sunday calculates it.




Thorium reactors would not melt down, in part because they require an external input to produce fission. Thorium atoms would release energy when bombarded by high-energy neutrons, such as the type supplied in a particle accelerator.

Wired points out:

“President Obama talked about a Sputnik-type call to action in his [State of the Union] address,” wrote Charles Hart, a a retired semiconductor researcher and frequent commenter on the Energy From Thorium discussion forum. “I think this qualifies.”


While nearly all current nuclear reactors run on uranium, the radioactive element thorium is recognized as a safer, cleaner and more abundant alternative fuel. Thorium is particularly well-suited for use in molten-salt reactors, or MSRs. Nuclear reactions take place inside a fluid core rather than solid fuel rods, and there’s no risk of meltdown.


In addition to their safety, MSRs can consume various nuclear-fuel types, including existing stocks of nuclear waste. Their byproducts are unsuitable for making weapons of any type. They can also operate as breeders, producing more fuel than they consume.


In the 1960s and 70s, the United States carried out extensive research on thorium and MSRs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. That work was abandoned — partly, believe many, because uranium reactors generated bomb-grade plutonium as a byproduct. Today, with nuclear weapons less in demand and cheap oil’s twilight approaching, several countries — including India, France and Norway — are pursuing thorium-based nuclear-fuel cycles. (The grassroots movement to promote an American thorium power supply was covered in this December 2009 Wired magazine feature.)


China’s new program is the largest national thorium-MSR initiative to date. The People’s Republic had already announced plans to build dozens of new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, increasing its nuclear power supply 20-fold and weaning itself off coal, of which it’s now one of the world’s largest consumers. Designing a thorium-based molten-salt reactor could place China at the forefront of the race to build environmentally safe, cost-effective and politically palatable reactors.




A Chinese thorium-based nuclear power supply is seen by many nuclear advocates and analysts as a threat to U.S. economic competitiveness. During a presentation at Oak Ridge on Jan. 31, Jim Kennedy, CEO of St. Louis–based Wings Enterprises (which is trying to win approval to start a mine for rare earths and thorium at Pea Ridge, Missouri) portrayed the Chinese thorium development as potentially crippling.


If we miss the boat on this, how can we possibly compete in the world economy?” Kennedy asked. “What else do we have left to export?”


According to thorium advocates, the United States could find itself 20 years from now importing technology originally developed nearly four decades ago at one of America’s premier national R&D facilities. The alarmist version of China’s next-gen nuclear strategy come down to this: If you like foreign-oil dependency, you’re going to love foreign-nuclear dependency.




While the international “Generation IV” nuclear R&D initiative includes a working group on thorium MSRs, China has made clear its intention to go it alone. The Chinese Academy of Sciences announcement explicitly states that the PRC plans to develop and control intellectual property around thorium for its own benefit.

“This will enable China to firmly grasp the lifeline of energy in its own hands,” stated the Wen Hui Bao report.

The U.S. is acting just like Xerox Parc, letting others steal its innovations ... and losing entire markets in the process.

If America fails to capitalize on its breakthrough, and let's China obtain all of the relevant thorium energy patents, we could lose the entire market.

Too bad the U.S. government - instead of developing the thorium concept which it innovated decades ago - is protecting an obsolete uranium model which was chosen only because produced plutonium for nuclear warheads and powered nuclear submarines.

Indeed, our government is doubling-down on archaic and unsafe technology: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved construction of new nuclear plants which do not incorporate the safety measures needed to prevent a Fukushima meltdown here ... and the same companies which built and operated Fukushima will build and run the U.S. plants as well.


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ReeferMac's picture

Thanks for all your hard work and research GW!

BanjoDoug's picture

ATTENTION :: GW (GeorgeW) has a lot of info WRONG here:

THIS IS TRUE :: Microsoft and Apple grew rich by using Xerox's innovation.

THIS IS ALSO TRUE :: Xerox's research arm (called Xerox Parc) invented the "graphical user interface" used by all modern computers.   BUT IT IS INCORRECT TO IMPLY THIS GUI DEVELOPED INTERFACE WAS THE PROPRIETARY PROPERTY OF XEROX.

XEROX-PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) USED GOV'T MONEY TO DEVLEOP THIS GUI INTERFACE - MOSTLY DARPA FUNDS.   I KNOW BECAUSE I WAS THERE (I am now 60 y.o.), I worked for Xerox at this time & had an ALTO computer system in my office (the monochrome GUI interface computer system, vertical screen, mouse, etc, based on a Data General Nova CPU).




George Washington's picture

Wikipedia says:

Xerox filed a similar lawsuit against Apple; however, it was thrown out because a three year statute of limitations had passed.

Tom Terrific's picture

Apple sucks ass and so did that sociopath Jobs

Joaquin Menendez's picture

There is no honest discussion about nuclear power in the U.S.  If there was, you would know that Thorium might have some potential but probably is not practical.  All of this talk about fast neutron reactors that breed fuels out of waste is just talk.  The practical reality of Thorium is that it has to be mixed with Uranium to be used so it has all the problems of present day fuels and more; much more dangerous waste.  Thorium is not fissile, it has to become Uranium first by absorbing neutrons then it splits.  Even in an advanced fuel cycle that is beyond our technology, about a tenth of this by product is a very dangerous kind of waste, worse in some ways than what comes out of present day reactors. Maybe someday we will have warp drives and Thorium reactors; I don't know.  I like the idea of more research but I don't like the dishonesty of the discussion going on.

Son of Loki's picture

Wait until The Middle Kingdom produces $10 iPads just like the Japs did with other electronics in the old days.....that's when the AAPL Bubble meets its pin.

Dan Conway's picture

Something tells me that GE doesn't want this stuff built.  You don't become the #1 lobbying firm to save a few bucks in taxes when most of the big firms get their tax avoidance schemes from their Big 4 tax advisors.  GE gave up on those dirty old fashioned light bulbs because they didn't want to invest any more money into that plant to make it competitive with the chinese.  Remember that GE labor in the US is expensive (unionized) and shutting down a plant and telling the workers "it's not our fault, blame congress" is a good way to shut-down a plant with less headache. 

steve from virginia's picture

It’s never going to end, the fabulous fantasy of Thorium reactors and more free mileage, presumably. It’s always about the cars, in the end, there is no escape from the fucking cars, the TVs, the useless and pointless waste that has taken over from civilization.

First of all, only two liquid sodium fluoride reactors have ever been built: the Oak Ridge MSRE and the ARE (Aircraft Reactor Experiment) both were constructed in the 1960s. The MSRE never burned Thorium fuel, only Plutonium and Uranium. As with all reactors, there are ‘on paper’ pros and cons to the sodium fluoride designs. One positive is that transuranic- and actinide isotopes can be burned in this kind of reactor as in ‘fast’ reactors.

In reality, Thorium reactors are actual nuclear reactors. The problem with ALL reactors is the energy flux is contained in a space too small for the reactor to operate safely. Without the concentration of energy in small spaces, the reactors will not work at all.

– All reactors operate at the very edge of 1960s metallurgy- and design technology. There is very little margin for error with ANY reactor, certainly for large power reactors of the kind built since 1975 (3500 mwt).

– All reactors — including Thorium reactors — are proliferation hazards with multiple pathways to enrichment of U, Cu or Pu fuel or using enriched U within the ordinary operating cycle to produce nuclear weapons. Power reactors of all kinds and forms are the children of nuclear weapons industry, the front for it. Until reactors are repudiated, there will be no end to nuclear weapons and the threat of all-out (thermo)nuclear war.

– Reactor buildings/equipment within MSR-type reactors become too intensely radioactive to approach ( for repairs or other necessary work). This is usually promoted as a feature rather than a bug. Proactinium-233 is more radioactive than Plutonium or Uranium 235 which are ordinary reactor fuels.

– Because of radiation, potential criticality (leading to a nuclear explosion), fluorine poisoning and other technical matter the decommissioning of the MSR was not completed (for a small research reactor) until 40 years after the experiment concluded in 1969:

– Reactor types operate at much higher temperatures than current light water reactors.

– Fluorine is sublimely toxic, it must never be allowed near humans without protection.

– Reactor operating stresses in experimental reactor exceed the limits of current metallurgy: the ‘superalloys’ (Hastalloy N’) used in reactor vessel, processing equipment and heat exchanger(s) are expensive and very difficult to fabricate. Operating stresses on equipment and materials is currently a cause of shutdowns and leaks in light-water reactors which do not operate under MSR heat loads. MSRE operation took place over 4 years: current operating cycles for light-water plants at much higher thermal loads is 50 years and longer. It is unknown whether the Hastalloy materials as well as supporting components (pumps, valves, vents, tanks, stirrers, etc.) would survive the high-temperature, high corrosion, high thermolysis, high radiation environment long enough for a reactor to be economically useful (pay for itself).

– No reactors (no industrial enterprises of any scale at any time in history) have ever paid for themselves, all require endless debt subsidy. Can the (broke) world afford more junk?

– There is no current operating experience with MSRs (although this lack of experience would become less of a problem over time). The no-experience interval would be one of great danger as was the no-experience level with light-water reactors (Chernobyl-4, TMI, Davis-Besse).

 – There is no purpose to the energy generated by way of this kind of reactor. Electricity would be generated to waste for no return as electricity is generated today. Best to have uses with returns — electric uses that pay for themselves — before more capacity is added. The best way to ensure this outcome is to price electricity much higher, at least 10x higher than it costs today. It will then not be wasted.

More critical thinking is needed before there are any further endorsements of any sort of nuclear enterprise, thank you.

dontgoforit's picture

This was your doctoral disertation thesis, right?  If correct, then why are the Chinese going ahead?

falak pema's picture

the whole thingie about the Westinghouse BW and PWR spiels, along with Framatome GCR spiels in the 50S, was that it helped BOTH military and civil nuclear activities, as it was based on Uranium sparkle. MIC was happy as was the successors to Tennesse Valley authority; and of course Westinghouse and all those others! Win-Win for Corporate USA and MIC!

We now had Frankenstein technology to iconise the biggest swindle in heebee jeebies driven electrical power play: using nuclear kalamazoo to boil water! 

Einstein was laughing all the way to the grace of his eternal resting place!

lakecity55's picture

O'bama is a communist black supremacist. He is giving his communist brothers anything he can find while ordering a draw-down of our nuclear inventory below that of Russia and China.

Hot Piece of Bass's picture



Sometimes stupid is funny.

Jim in MN's picture

GW, check this out, strangely I read it in the Japanese press and then had to dig around to find anything on it here.  Highly radioactive waste at a 1959 meltdown site 30 miles from LA that was supposedly all cleaned up...twice.  Gotcher Cesium-137 riiiiiight here.

By the way, the thorium idea is nonsense, ultimately.  But very interesting nonsense.

Rocketdyne radiation is still abundant


By Susan Abram, Staff Writer  Posted:   03/05/2012 07:49:52 PM PST Updated:   03/05/2012 07:51:34 PM PST




Some levels of radioactive chemicals found on a portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site were as much as 1,000 times higher than standards, according to federal data released on Monday.

Acting as an independent monitor, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted radiological surveys on a portion of the land known as Area IV, where a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor occurred in 1959.

That portion is currently overseen by the Department of Energy.

The results of the radiological survey show that of the 437 samples collected, 75 exceeded standards agreed upon by the DOE and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control in a cleanup agreement signed in December 2010.

Seven radioactive isotopes, including one known as cesium-137, measured at levels between 100 to 1,000 times higher than the standards. Other radionuclides that suggest nuclear presence include strontium-90, tritium, plutonium, and carbon-14.

The recent data is significant to residents, activists and public officials who have fought for years for the removal of radiation and chemical contaminants at the former Rocketdyne site, which is nestled in the hills between Chatsworth and Simi Valley and was purchased by the Boeing Co. in 1996.

The numbers provides hard evidence that not only do the radioactive materials exist, but that the levels are higher than expected.

fnordfnordfnord's picture

Ridiculous article (but I am glad to see somthing about Thorium), first off, when did the US respect others' patents? Second, even if we did give a shit, we have prior art. Third, LFTR has been marginalized by the incumbent Nuc power industry. You can't do anytihng in this coutry in nuclear if your name isn't GE or Westinghouse. It has been dying on the vine for fifty years. Fourth, go to youtube and watch all the "Thorium Remix" videos. Thorium could change the world (and make some people rich) if some 1% douchebags would drop a billion dollars in Kirk Sorensen's lap.

PS The Chinese don't give a shit. They are going to use any and every technology that they can.

PPS, The US could develop and give Thorium technology away, and watch the whole world begin to prosper (with no weapons proliferation risk). Thorium could end wars over energy.

davood's picture

George Washington: If you haven't done so, please consider exposing the "Kony 2012" war propaganda before the US invades and kills another country "to save civilians."

coltek's picture

What took you so long? Ambrose Evans Pritchard wrote the article a year ago!!

SilverTree's picture

China owns our "Valuable Nuclear Innovations". Stealing is just semantics.

bugs_'s picture

i've always had the feeling that thorium reactors had some major (classified) downside that was so bad that "they" decided not to roll them out.  everything you read about thorium reactors implies they are sugar and spice and everything nice.  even the russians didn't do it and they did a lot of weird newk-you-ler stuff.

Vendetta's picture

The US let their only real means of wealth production, manufacturing, go to China and elsewhere, why not energy technology?  The real question is why have any national defense at all with 'leaders' like we have?

naiverealist's picture

GE and Westinghouse have the approved plans for Boiling water reactors (uranium based) and will do anything to prevent competition from interfering with their worldwide profits.

gaoptimize's picture

Outrageous crony capitalism, revolving door.  More economic dead wood and underbrush.  You know what we need.

SoundMoney45's picture

Decentralized cheap energy is an undesirable situation for those who wish to control the world via controlling oil.  China has little domestic oil and does not wish to be controlled.  This is the root of the stark differences in energy policy between the Chinese and US governments. 

Money 4 Nothing's picture

I know for a fact China has a back door into the USPTO, gifted access? because we have known it for years. They also have access to the Pentagons Military R&D department too. Search it.

non_anon's picture

JPM stopped Tesla from developing free energy back in the early 1900's b/c there was no profit in it.

Money 4 Nothing's picture

Yup, Tesla wireless electricity transmission. you just needed the reciever in your home. That got squashed quick. He knew how to directly channel power around the world and proved it. Smart guy!

In my opinion, the best bang for the buck is hydrogen power, they have had hydrogen generators in the Space Shuttle for years now. Sea water is actually the best conductor, who da thunk? 

There was an HH0 project Cal Poly was working on, it was an amazing hydrogen generator that could power half the state of California. De-funded.

Orly's picture

An interesting story about Nikola Tesla and why we should seriously think twice about using his technologies, especially those developed later in his life such as wireless electricity, is that while he was in New York City and a new discovery called the "X"-ray was being developed, he placed a Crooke's tube (essentially an x-ray generator without any shielding whatsoever...) at one end of his loft and a glass photographic plate at the other end of the loft.  He sat in front of the film for nearly an hour and, he stated, only after the inside of his head got warm did he decide to turn it off and chemically process the photographic plate.

He was astonished to find that the outline of a man, including the skull table was visible on the emulsion.

Amazing.  Huh?

Wireless electricity?  Transmitted over the atmosphere?

Fer reals?



Orly's picture

Sure.  And with Faraday's Law walking around, I would feel perfectly safe having children in that environment.


Tesla's idea was to use the ionosphere to transmit electricity, not through the earth.  Either way, the idea shows a man whose brain had been fried.


BigJim's picture

  In my opinion, the best bang for the buck is hydrogen power, they have had hydrogen generators in the Space Shuttle for years now

Hydrogen is an energy transport mechanism (and one not without its own problems). You have to make it before using it. Making it requires energy.

Sea water is actually the best conductor, who da thunk?

Better than copper, or silver? Who da thunk, indeed :-/

edit - when I say 'make' hydrogen, I'm aware it's an element, I mean you have to split it from some molecule - water, for instance. THIS takes energy.

Mr. Mandelbrot's picture

Energy is as much about control as it is about profit . . .

Benjamin Glutton's picture

It would be better for all if we were evil geniuses.


Sadly, that is not the case.

AchtungAffen's picture

Of course America is doing the Xerox. Thorium reactors don't work to do the bomb. That's why there's none in existence right now. Too much money and time in investment. No bomb as a result. And we all know that, if it doesn't blow up and is able to kill lots of non white people, then America is not interested.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Another reason Bill Gates and Microsoft 'won' their legal battles re Xerox and others, is the well-hidden fact that Bill Gates' father was a lawyer in the American political - judicial legal mafia, via the 'Bogle Gates' law firm, going back decades ... the connection to the American judge-lawyer bribery machine at the heart of the US political oligarchy, was a key element in Microsoft 'winning' various spats in legal disputes, and Gates becoming the richest man in the USA ... standard 'secret of success' in America.

taxpayer102's picture


Bill "The Cat" Gates and microsoft perfected idea and product theft.  Microsoft would take a company or individual's idea or innovation then use Gates' team of 400 attorneys and judge-lawyer bribery out spending in litigation anyone fighting against the theft. 

Nassim's picture

If thorium were such a great idea, there would be at least one thorium reactor in existence.

Comparing thorium to Xerox's graphical user interface is pretty amazing. Soon, we will be told that Obama stopped astronauts going to Mars and similar nonsense. Look, Obama is a person with below average intelligence, but that does not mean that everything should be blamed on him. Give us a break!

WhiteNight123129's picture

Pathetic attempt to rationalize incomplete knowledge.

BigJim's picture

  If thorium were such a great idea, there would be at least one thorium reactor in existence.

Two economists are walking down the street.

Economist 1: "Hey! Look! Is that a hundred dollar bill I see lying on the ground?"

Economist 2: "Don't be absurd! Someone would have picked it up."

The design, construction, and decommissioning of uranium reactors have been heavily subsidised by our government. Hence Thorium power generation, without tapayer subsidies, is a relatively more expensive proposition.

If the US government has to subsidise something (though I'd rather it didn't subsidise anything, frankly), it should be subsidising Thorium reactors, not Uranium ones.

slackrabbit's picture

thorium has been around for over 60 years. tbe us and uk wanted uranium to build bombs, hence the focus also on uranium fission reactors. to blame china for wanting thorium after fukashima, and claim this istheft is not only a sick joke, let alone a pathetic one, but it also illustrates the writers complete ignorance on a tech that has been around for over half a century.

personally i hope rossi or defkalion  are right.

Hobbleknee's picture

It's doubly sick when you consider that if anyone else engages in uranium enrichment they're labeled terrorists.

WhiteNight123129's picture

JUST a quick addendum: Thorium is a by-product of mineral sands mining i.e. lanthanides or rare earth. China controls 90% of the production worldwide and teh US and EU and Japan are pissed because China did not care that you would find naturally radioactive Thorium in the mining, now guess what the US did? It treated the Thorium as environmentally bad and so, no mines where built to mine monazite to extract all the Lanthanides rare-earth elements adn it even forced some companies in bankruptcy (TRONOX) which is a Titanium mine (Iluka is another Titanium mine in Australia and the sell-side geniuses treat THORIUM as "waste" in Iluka case). TRONOX (Kerr-McGee )used to process monazite, the environmental liabilities forced the closing of teh rare earth facilities decades ago. HOW SMART! The US will be forced to change the regulation and re-open the US mines of rare earth, and the "waste" will be used (while it is in fact the super dense energy Thorium gift from heaven). The "environmental liabilities prone" old facilities of TROX might actually be its biggest asset... The West has to get its head out of its ass, we need oil for now, but don´t cling to it too long because the son of Jiang Zeming is builting a molten salt reactor... At that point I guess we will put the debate to the archive, like the Jevons debate about Coal energy in the XIX century (Jevons was the best economist in teh XIX century and he put an article about peak "coal"). He was right, there was no way we could power the needs of humanity out of coal. And people are right today, there is no way we can power the energy needs of the planet with oil, but that does not mean we will use oil to power the energy needs. Either the humanity contracts or it gets rid of its lawyers running western democracy while politburo of China has 8 engineers out of 9 members taking decisions.

fredquimby's picture

Still not seen anybody refute the claims of Rossi's LENR E-Cat yet?

Thorium shmorium if Rossi is right.



Bob's picture

Rossi has been getting trashed for months on this thread:

Meanwhile, there's big news on solar:

And batteries:

Axenolith's picture

Assume he's right.  Until either he licenses the product, or someone reaches the same conclusions independantly and creates a non infringing similar process, he'll dictate price, and other forms of energy are competitive, not to mention the fact that Thorium based energy production processes have a far larger useful byproduct potential.  Same goes for oil, coal and nat gas based energy production, any other energy production (read electricity) that takes demand off that angle of their use will merely make it so those sources become cheaper for use as motive power sources and chemical feedstocks...

i-dog's picture

Let them build both. What happened to choice? Let the best one win.

Reptil's picture

That's the man not the process.

Shell is working on low energy nuclear reactors regardless. Were/are buying patents like crazy.