Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kirk Sorensen to Announce Silver Bullet in Manchester

Kirk Sorensen is a young aerospace engineer and the father of four children. During his research on a potential space reactors, Kirk first encountered molten-salt reactor technology, and quickly recognized the unique potential of the molten-salt reactor to provide a truly enormous amount of energy that could be used to meet human needs. Kirk has been promoting an upgraded molten-salt reactor (the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, or LFTR) concept for some time though his Web site Energy from Thorium, and through a variety of other means.

Kirk Sorensen has been invited to offer a presentation at the Manchester, England International Festival on July 4 or 5. The Manchester Festival and the Guardian, a newspaper historically associated with Manchester organized a festival event to be held in the Manchester Town hall on July 4 and 5. People with innovative ideas for solving climate change were invited to make submissions to the festival. The top submissions have now been chosen and Kirk's submission was one of them. Kirk's submission will be included in the Manchester Report, which will be an account of the two day Manchester proceedings.

Kirk and I agree that the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) has great potential for fighting global climate change. In contrast with the conventional wisdom. We and others have pronounced the LFTR to be the silver bullet in fighting climate change. Thorium is an exceedingly abundant mineral that can be substituted for uranium in the nuclear process. The technologies for LFTR were designed by Oak Ridge scientists 60 years ago, to efficiently convert Thorium into heat and electrical energy. Despite the success of Oak Ridge technology research in the 1950's and 60's, the United States government decided during the 1970's to commit to coal rather than thorium as a major energy. Despite warnings from Oak Ridge scientists about the dangers of the commitment to coal, political leaders such as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter chose to commit to coal rather than thorium with potentially disastrous consequences.

LFTR technology remains a viable future energy option. Oak Ridge scientists solved many of the technological problems related to LFTR development, and were confident that they could solve the rest. They left a detailed research and development program that can guide future scientists in developing the LFTR. A number of years ago Kirk Sorensen began to explore the tens of thousands of pages of research reports left by Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers. He discovered that ORNL researchers had between 1950 and 1976 had made steady and often dramatic progress toward the development of the LFTR.

Kirk was not alone in this discovery. Researchers in France, Russia, the Czeck Republic, and Japan are currently investigating LFTR potentials. Kirk discovered that the Nobel winning scientist Eugene Wigner had advocated a LFTR-type reactor for electrical production during World War II, and that famous nuclear scientists such as Alvin Weinberg and Edward Teller were LFTR backers.

Reactor pioneers Eugene Wigner and Enrico Fermi both recognized that reactors could either be built with solid cores or fluid cores. Eugene Wigner, who had a PhD in chemical engineering, recognized that while fluid core reactors posed some technological challenges, they also offered solutions to many of the problems of solid core reactors. Wigner believed that thorium offered a superior basis for a nuclear fuel cycle, and that when used in a fluid core reactor, a thorium fuel cycle would solve many of the problems created by solid core reactors. The Molten-Salt Reactor was invented by Oak Ridge engineers in 1947. It was originally intended to be a light weight but powerful reactor that could offer nuclear power to jet aircraft. In 1954 a test molten-salt reactor, the Aircraft Reactor Experiment was successfully tested in Oak Ridge. During the 1960's a more advanced reactor the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) was built and tested in Oak Ridge. By that time the USAEC had determined that LFTR type technology was very promising as a future energy source. The MSRE was a proof of principle test of the LFTR idea, and was very successful.

With the success of the MSRE, Oak Ridge scientists set out to design both small modular LFTR-type reactors as well as well as very large LFTR's. Work on the project was shut by the Nixon-Ford administration for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with project merit.

Kirk rediscovered the Oak Ridge LFTR story, and quickly recognized that the LFTR held promise as a superior energy technology that could replace fossil fuels in many energy applications including electrical production, heat for industrial processes, large scale desalinization of sea water, and district space heating. The LFTR has a number of unusual "inherent" safety features. It is the most efficient energy producer ever designed. On ton of thorium in a LFTR will produce as much electric power as three million tones of coal. The LFTR produces very little nuclear waste, and has significant proliferation advantages.

My father was an Oak Ridge scientist who was a pioneering researcher of LFTR technology. Because of my father's work I have always been aware of the LFTR and its potential. In 2007 I determined that the LFTR was potentially the most easily scalable, low cost technology available for rapid replacement of fossil fuel generated energy. I determined that mass production of LFTRs in factories was possible, and that enough LFTRs could be built by 2050 to supply a greatly expanded world energy demand, with as much as 80% of the world's energy coming from LFTR's as soon as 2050. I realize that this is an exceedingly bold claim, but no one has ever offered a serious refutation of the claim.. Thus from 2007 I have supported Kirk's effort to create greater public awareness of LFTR potential. I have done so by posting on my own blog, Nuclear green, and on Kirk's blog Energy from Thorium. I have posted on other bogs as well including The Oil Drum, Daily Kos, Harry's Place, and The Energy Collective.

My posts have covered a variety of topics including the history of the LFTR, practical approaches to lowering LFTR costs, the compatibility of the LFTR with "Green" goals, the sustainability of LFTR technology, and LFTR competitiveness with both traditional nuclear and renewable technologies.

Update: Kirk just announced that he will be giving a talk for google on July 20. Picking up the pace.

Update 2: The Silver Bullet


David Walters said...

Should the title read "...Thorium Bullet..."


Charles Barton said...

I am collecting silver bullets today.

Rod Adams said...

I think the reality is that humans have a variety of heavy metal bullets in their arsenal that makes the idea of energy scarcity a solvable problem.

That scares the hell out of the energy supply establishment.

Anonymous said...

There is a striking increase in BOB METCALFE’s level of knowledge about the finer points of nuclear power in the short time frame between the MIT video that you reference and his recent article about small reactors in the Wall Street Journal. This shows the essential and unique talent of a technology profit to absorb information quickly and draw accurate conclusions from that information.

He has rightfully identified the bottleneck toward progress in small nuclear energy to be the bureaucracy at the NRC. A nuclear reactor license from the NRC is the proverbial “Meal Ticket” for the very exclusive club of big multinational corporations that only they can afford. The HOT venture capital money that will make small nuclear energy really take off like the internet did in days long past will wait patiently on the sidelines. Girded by their enthusiasm and idealism, one of these small companies will eventually prevail. One of these small startups will endure the prohibitive level of bureaucratic absurdity to eventually get their mail ticket from the NRC. Then venture capital will jump hard into the stock of this small nuclear reactor provider with both feet.

This is a tragic indictment in the conundrum that is the nuclear power industry. We find ourselves stuck in our current energy paradox like a huge and pitiful mammoth sunk deep in the black and suffocating tar pits of stupidity. Only its trunk protrudes out of the muck barely clinging to life. It vainly thrashes in an ever weakening state in desperation at the hope of life and gasping for air. Such is our current state. Such is the consequences of the heavy and oppressive hands of government tightening around the neck of innovation. Such is the tragedy of our self imposed energy predicament paralyzed by caution and fear. Let us hope against hope that the current administration will take these insights of our best and brightest to heart and pull us out of this bureaucratic quagmire.


David Walters said...

I didn't care for it personally. Its a rather forced analogy to compare the internet, communication technology and software, with energy. It is a huge stretch and I don't think he made his case, as interesting as the talk was.

Also he doesn't define terms. For instance he takes up the Greens, mostly correctly, but then repeats one of their great mantra's: "distributive generation" without defining what HE means by it. Very frustrating.

He touched on a VERY touch subject: the ascendancy of Silicon Valley over Rte. 128 starting in the 1960s. I remember this well as I had a cousin who worked for Xerox who made that move...from Rt. 128 in Ma. to Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (he worked on the first 'mouse' and the first color Xerox machine).


Anonymous said...

RE: The Silver Bullet

The Lftr was the first date in my love affair with thorium power. But other beauties have caught my eye of late. There is the PB-AHTR and the thorium hydride nuclear battery. Then there is my current favorite, my best love, a beauty with overwhelming powers of seduction, the FRC thorium/fusion hybrid reactor. I hope you don’t think me a cad and a rake, but I just can’t help myself. But, the Lftr still remains a dear, dear friend. That being said, I now confess my weakness and my infidelity. With this admonition, I sincerely beg your forgiveness as the steadfast and loving father of this wonderful and hansom daughter.



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Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High