Kirk Sorensen: A Detailed Exploration Of Thorium's Potential As An Energy Source
Kirk Sorensen, NASA-trained engineer, is a man on a mission to open minds to the tremendous promise that thorium, a near-valueless element in today's marketplace, may offer in meeting future world energy demand.
Compared to Uranium-238-based nuclear reactors currently in use today, a liquid flouride thorium reactor (LTFR) would be:
- Much safer - no risk of environmental radiation contamination or plant explosion (e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three-Mile Island)
- Much more efficient at producing energy - over 90% of the input fuel would be tapped for energy; vs <1% in today's reactors
- Less waste-generating - most of the radioactive by-products would take days/weeks to degrade to safe levels, vs centuries
- Much cheaper - reactor footprints and infrastructure would be much smaller, and could be constructed in modular fashion
- More plentiful - LFTR reactors do not need to be located next to large water supplies, as current plants do
- Less controversial - the byproducts of the thorium reaction are pretty useless for weaponization
- Longer-lived - thorium is much more plentiful than uranium and treated as valueless today. There is virtually no danger of running out of it given LFTR plant efficiency
Most of the know-how and technology to build and maintain LFTR reactors exists today. If made a priority, the US could have its first fully-operational LFTR plant running at commercial scale in under a decade.
But no such LFTR plants are in development. In fact, the US shut down its work on thorium-based energy production decades ago. And has not invested materially in related research since.
Staring at the looming energy cliff ahead created by Peak Oil, it begs the question - why not?
As best Kirk can tell, we are not pursuing thorium's potential today because we are choosing not to - we are too wedded to the U-238 path we've been investing in for decades. Indeed, the grants that funded the government's thorium research in the 50s and 60s were primarily focused on weapons development; not new energy sources. Once our attention turned to nuclear energy, we simply applied the uranium-based know-how we developed from our atomic bomb program rather than asking: is there a better way?
This is an excellent and thought-provoking interview. I highly recommend you also visit Kirk's website  and its FAQs  to familiarize yourself with the thorium cycle, as I predict we will be revisiting the thorium story again in the future.
And we encourage our readers with engineering and nuclear expertise to share their insights in the Comments thread below. We are looking for ways to light the path ahead as we begin to descend down the global energy cliff. Will thorium shine brightly for us?
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Kirk Sorensen (36m:02s):