Now with Thorium on the horizon, we should take a different tack. And we should do it fast. Why? Because every day we wait, the longer it is until we start to enjoy the benefits. In the meantime, things can get worse and/or more expensive.
How fast could we get Thorium in full production? Back of the envelop calculations call for about ten years and $2B. The goal of this would be to design, build and test a prototype and start bringing initial units off the production line. But you can’t really know how much and how long until you have a detailed design. Personally, I believe these numbers could be improved. But one has to assume there will be bumps in the road and obstacles to overcome.
Is this acceptable? Not to me. As I described in other pieces on this web site., the potential benefits are immense. And I don’t know how long we have until we can’t delay endless climate change. I also don’t know how aggressive the Chinese or others will be in this market. If we want it, we need to do it now, not next year or the year after. This is NATIONAL SECURITY of the highest order.
We need to mobilize a will and zeal that equals that of the Apollo Project. This needs to be a national priority.
For you penny pinchers out there who say we can’t afford it, you are wrong. First, we can’t afford to not do it. But secondly, the money is sitting on the sidelines, waiting. Long ago, the government mandated that the nuclear power industry set aside a percentage from their revenues for waste disposal solutions. Today, there is approximately $25B in that fund, more than enough for the initial project, which I like to call ‘Project Thor’. And these new reactors can process today’s spent uranium down to safer levels, thereby serving the purpose of the fund.
Between Now and Then
In the meantime, we shouldn’t change much else about our energy policy. We need to “conserve, conserve, conserve”. We need to continue to raise the mileage CAFÉ standards for cars and light trucks.
A significant event will occur after the prototype is built and taken through initial testing. If things go well, then it will be time to consider the future. Should less promising lines of investigation be cancelled? Should more resources be poured into Project Thor?
An allied issue concerns thorium fuel. There seems to be no good reason that, at the outset, the project could not rely on the 3200 tons of refined thorium that the government has buried in the Nevada desert. To provide all the energy needed for the country, it has been estimated that you would need 500-600 tons a year. The stockpile represents at least a five-year supply if that was your sole fuel source. But in a start-up phase as you ramp up production, you only use a fraction. The stockpile might easily provide enough fuel for the first ten years of serious usage. But you need an ongoing continuing supply. Around this time, it would be smart to start mining and refining.Another major decision point occurs when Thorium reactors start coming off the assembly line. Do we deliberately mandate replacement of the worst greenhouse gas polluters with Thorium reactors?
Once units are in production, the question becomes what is the build rate. The military is a ready customer for many early units. Thorium will be a cheap power source. Demand should be strong and can be stimulated with financing assistance.
Early estimates have projected that if we started generating one reactor a day, in fifty years we could replace all fossil fuel plants in the world. That would provide us a world with a future.From then on, following generations should continue the good star that we provided and tackle other important global questions for the next 1000 years.
I defy you to find a better prospect for the future of the US or the world.
You need to scream “THORIUM NOW” to your lawmakers, over and over and over until we have funded and kicked off a major project.
China currently mines 97% of the Rare Earth metals. Recently, it withheld supply from Japan in a border dispute. Japan backed down. Rare Earths include some of the strongest magnets. But they are used widely for a variety of applications in all high tech equipment including military equipment, satellites, computers and automobiles. For the US, to maintain any serious manufacturing position going forward, we need to develop a strategic metals reserve including Rare Earths. China can barely meet its own needs. Soon these metals will be put on quotas. We have ores here. We need to start mining and refining capacity. We need to start ASAP and smooth the regulatory path. And yes, odds are that we will need Rare Earth metals in a thorium reactor.
Secondly, we need to continue R&D for electricity storage devices, i.e., batteries and/or fuel cells. Our future will depend on our ability to store energy and deploy it on demand. These are the devices that will power our electric cars. They are necessary to get us off our oil addiction, a critical step for the whole program to succeed