I’m going to start with the story it’s a
story that we’ve all been involved with along with
every other form of life on this planet for billions of years. It’s the story of how Thorium has sustained and nurtured life on this earth. The Thorium within our planet along with
potassium releases heat that keeps our earth’s core molten which helps generate the magnetic field through a complex
process that many engineers and scientists try to explain to me and I
still don’t understand but i’m glad it’s there because as an old NASA guy it does this
important role of the deflecting the solar wind which would otherwise strip our
atmosphere off – we don’t like that. It also generate the heat that drives volcanism
which leads to plate tectonics and the recycling of
carbon in the earth. And, so we get to enjoy this
lovely green fertile, inhabitable planet thanks to the blessings of thorium and I tell this story to people and sometimes
they can scarcely believe it, but it is an amazing story and I appreciate Kim Johnson
who helped turn me on to what thorium has done to sustain our planet. This gift from the stars, even after doing all this, is now potentially ready to help us in our
moment of crisis ’cause this is the human race right now. We are in a
precarious situation. The energy that sustains our marvelous
industrial civilization – we can gaze out the windows and we can see what access to abundant and significant sources of
energy can do for a civilization. We live a lifestyle, we have a standard of living, we have the ability
to travel to eat to sleep, to be kept safe from the
elements. We live a lifestyle that no people in history has ever even
approached and we have it because of our access to energy. But, our access to energy has risks attached
to it going forward in the future if we want to have an industrial society we can’t continue
to base it almost entirely on the use of fossil fuels. Not only [is there] the risk of fossil fuel
depletion but also the risk to the environment. Due to the accumulation of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere, due to pollution, spreading of mercury from
burning coal this isn’t sustainable. this isn’t a sustainable solution, it’s not a
sustainable way of living. And, just looking at the scale of what we
do with fossil fuels: natural gas, coal, oil – the pollution associated with it, the risks
to global climate change, we sense intuitively that this is not a way that we can continue to go forward. There’s a lot of people who think that this is the answer – that it’s going to be
natural energy flows like wind and solar power. Those energy flows are conceptually very attractive because
they seem an infinite. They seem abundant and indeed on the scale of
human existence they are essentially infinite – but they’re intermittent. And, they’re also very diffuse they do not have the ability to concentrate energy production in a small
volume like more dense forms of energy do. The inevitable conclusion of using a diffuse and
occasionally intermitent power source particularly with solar is- well the sun
goes down every night. And, you’re forced to turn to energy
storage which is expensive and difficult. So, people like us think about the energies of the atom because the energies of the atom are so much greater then the energies of rearranging chemical bonds of
chemistry. To access the energy in the nucleus offers a million times the potential of accessing the energy of the
elections. But, stuff like this is often thrown in our face and then
possibly for good reason too. I got my issue of The Economist the
other day and there they were telling me what i’m working on
is “the dream that failed”. … I really wanted to craft a letter to
the editor right then. It’s funny because I’ve actually been an economist a before, so I kinda wish
they would have maybe interviewed one of us about this, although they did make
favorable mention of thorium and molten salt [reactors] in the articles that were part of this sequence. But, a lot of people have read this and
they’ve talked to me and they’ve said: “you know Kirk, why is a magazine like The Economist saying
nuclear power is the dream that failed? Is that true, because a lot of people
seem to think it.” My rebuttal to that is that I say there are some
inescapable truths about nuclear energy that are not
subject to public opinion and if we do turn away from nuclear
energy we’re still going to be facing these
inescapable truths. One of them is nuclear fuels have a million times the
energy potential of fossil fuels, that is simply a truth.
The other one is nuclear power does not emit carbon
dioxide and can operate without oxygen, it’s not based on combustion. We have some submarine officers in the room with us who can attest to
the ability of nuclear power to operate underwater without oxygen for
very, very long periods of time. My time at NASA that was of particular interest us because you are not able to employ
combustion when you’re in space. I really think that there are three basic keys that we’ve got to get into the public’s mind if we are to
realize a new era of thorium energy, and the first one is that liquid fuel is a superior approach to nuclear energy
than solid fuel. And, feeding off of that realization is the thorium fuel cycle which is uniquely enabled in liquid fuel offers more potential for the long run than the uranium fuel cycle. I think this
has been missed for many decades because the focus has
been the use of solid fuel and thorium does not perform particularly well in solid fuel.
It’s a marginal improvement, but not radical. And then, this third one which has been a
realization that has been somewhat slow in coming to me as well, which is that the most useful things that these
machines might produce might not even be electricity. It may be other things and I’m becomming more and more convinced that medicines and desalinated water
and process heat are going to end up being more valuable
products from the use of liquid fluoride thorium reactors then electricity, but electricity may
be a secondary product. we spend a great deal of effort in the fabrication of solid nuclear
fuel. My colleague Kirk Dorius… his father- in-law is an expert in the fabrication
of zirconium cladding for nuclear
fuels. And, he spent some time with us recently, and i really got an
appreciation for just what a tenuous material that which
is just one part of how we make nuclear fuel is. We begin by making these uranium
oxide pellets and we form them into fuel rods, clad in this zirconium. Turns out the zirconium in certain
conditions can be quite reactive with the water that’s surrounding the reactor. the part I kept coming back to in
discussion was we have a fuel, and a coolant, that are inherently incompatible with one
another and that’s how we run nuclear today and there’s a risk there. There is a very
real risk and it was realized at Fukushima Daiichi when hydrogen gas was generated from
the reaction with zirconium in water and lead to a very visible explosion – several of them
in fact that resonate in the public’s minds. They said, “What about the explosions?”
You mean the hydrogen gas explosion. “Yeah.” people just saw an explosion, they heard
nuclear and thought “Oh, that’s bad”. But, it’s expensive to make nuclear fuel
and I don’t like the way we do it. It costs too much and it works to
poorly. We are only using a small amount of the potential energy in the nuclear fuel, and there is
a number of reasons for that. One of which is, any nuclear fission is
going to make gaseous fission products – xenon, and krypton, other products but, xenon and krypton are significant because
they have as gases, they have a huge amount of volume per unit mass. And, that leads to cracks and distortions
and swelling in the fuel. When the fuel swells to a certain point the clad can’t hold it anymore and when the clad can’t hold it anymore
it’s time to remove the fuel from the reactor. At this point only a small amount
of the enery has been consumed. But, even if we had a fuel or that was impervious
to radiation damage, in uranium fuel you’re only able to burn up a small fraction because you
cannot breed uranium to plutonium in a thermal
spectrum, you cannot breed that sustainably – you can’t achieve a conversion ratio of one. Thus, the interest traditionally in fast
spectrum reactors for uranium. But, with liquid fuel we can address most of these concerns fundamentally because the liquid fuel
is ionically bonded, not covalently bonded. So, it is impervious to radiation damage. It will not be altered in its properties by the withering radiation environment inside the reactor. It has a wonderful liquid range of about a thousand degrees C. You have to get it to a certain
temperature before it’ll melt, but once you get it to that point it will stay liquid
for a tremendous range. Contrast that with water which is what we use, which only has a hundred degrees C of liquid range at standard pressure. We increase that liquid range by putting it under tremendous pressures
but therein is a risk that I’ll cover in just a moment. And, into these liquid fuels we can
dissolve the fuels of the thorium fuel cycle
or the uranium fuel cycle but we can put the uranium and the thorium in a true solution in these nuclear fuels. And, as many of
you know lithium fluroride, beryllium fluoride – if
you rearrange the letters, you get this funny word called “FLiBe” that we took as the funny name of our company. One of my favorite things though about
the liquid fuel form is this safety feature that is inherently… …unique to liquid fuel and standard operating at atmospheric pressure – the ability to
drain the reactor into a passively safe configuration without operator intervention, without anything active, mechanical or computer-based needing to take place. The notion of having a small port of the bottom of the
reactor that has kept blocked by a frozen plug
of salt that when the power is lost, the reactor will drain itself passively into a configuration where decay heat can be rejected to the
environment. This is such a remarkable feature and it really is unique to having this liquid fuel form and having something to operate at standard
pressure. You can’t do this in solid fuel. If you do this in solid fuel, it’s called a
meltdown, that’s bad. For us, it’s no problem. But, this is to my experience one of the key ways
that we’ve reached out to the public ’cause we’re able to show them here’s the simple and safe way. This reactor’s not going to harm you. Because the
public is worried about am i going to be harmed by the use of nuclear power? We’ve got to
show them that within this approach there is an opportunity to drastically reduce that risk. I can only contrast this with what
happened in a solid fuel reactor – Fukushima. As coolant levels drained in the reactor,
these ceramic fuel rods were not being cooled nearly as effectively as they were with the liquid water. Gas is a much poor coolant then
then liquid and without that removal of heat the rods melted, they failed, and
you had a radiation release. And, then that’s not good we don’t want that. The entire pressurized water reactor, as we know,
operates under tremendous pressure – wether in the boiling water mode or or in the pressurized water mode.
That leads to every system needing to be of a very
high quality, with very high grade because every penetration or valve or way for
pressure to be released in this reactor is critical – it’s safety critical. The loss of pressure can potentially lead to a meltdown. All
of our safety systems in existing reactors are built to mitigate this. And, I’m very impressed with how the nuclear industry has operated safely for so long. But, it comes with great complexity, great carefulness and
great cost. And, if we want to move into a world where nuclear is far more prevalent, safer and cheaper we’ve got to change these fundamental principles, and we’ve got to move away
from high pressure operation. That will also free us from having to
build very, very, large containment buildings. We
can build containment buildings that are more close fitting to the reactor – they’re cheaper, they’re smaller we can
build them in a factory. I’ve talked to people about modular construction which is certainly
one of our goals, lots of people are talking about small modular reactors –
in fact reconstruction. And I think, well, how do you do this when you’ve got to build a big pressure
vessel? I mean, I know it’s possible but it’s challenging. This is a way to make it a lot less
challenging by using a non-pressurized fluid. So here’s the
basis of the LFTR that we’re working on at Flibe Energy. It’s got a fuel salt
which contains uranium 233 that flows through graphite moderator elements. It’s heated
by fission and it heats a coolant salt in the primary heat exchanger. All of this
is contained inside a containment boundary. Then that coolant salt exits the containment boundary and heats a gas, probably nitrogen or helium, which in turn drives a gas turbine. Due
to the temperatures at which the reactor is operating it’s possible to achieve higher efficiencies –
higher thermal efficiencies with this configuration. Because, the reactor is fundamentally delivering heat at a
higher temperature. With our water cooled reactors we can
convert heat to electricity with about thirty five percent efficiency. With salt and gas turbines we could
potentially go a lot higher – forty-five, coming up close to fifty percent. That’s
really an impressive improvement in thermal efficiency performance. But, one of the things that really excites me
is this back-end. So you spin the turbine you make electricity, the electricity goes out on
the grid, but then you cool the gas from the turbine and there’s still a lot of heat energy in that gas, in
thermodynamics we it call it enthalpy. [There is] still a lot of enthalpy in that gas and that enthalphy can then be used to desalinate seawater using just waste
heat. This is something that a water-cooled steam turbine reactor can’t
do because it has to cool its steam at a very low temperature in order to
achieve attractive efficiency. They can use electricity to drive
reverse-osmosis rather processes, but that’s a penalty. That’s electricity you didn’t sell to a
customer, or didn’t use or shaft power that didn’t go do work for you on the on the grid or
spinning a propeller or whatever it is. This is energy that would otherwise go to waste
that we can use productively in the gas turbine to desalinate seawater. Just visiting the the potential coolants that reactors can use, I mean i like to
try to boil down a space. Okay, what’s everything that could be done in nuclear reactors? And, I know there is a few others but i think this
really captures the majority of the coolants that have been considered.
Water, is the one most commonly used. It operates at relatively low
temperatures and very high pressures. That’s exactly what we don’t want. We
want to operate at low pressures and high temperatures in order to
achieve high thermal efficiency. Gas can operate at high temperatures but it has to go
to high pressure. Only the salts appear to offer the
potential to go to the high temperatures and at
the low pressures and that’s a unique combination in the potential
space of nuclear coolants. Now, let’s talk a minute about thorium as a
fuel and how thorium is enabled by the liquid fuel approach. Thorium’s only got one isotope and a very
long half-life. It’s much more common than natural
uranium. And, if you think about all we’re consuming now, is that very, very, very, small sliver of
natural uranium – that is, uranium 235 – that’s
what we’re using up. And, we’re not accessing the much larger
amounts of uranium – We need a fast reactor to do that. On the other hand with thorium we can access the
energies of thorium in a thermal spectrum reactor – and thermal spectrums are much simpler, safer reactors to build. With the thorium approach we absorb a neutron, causing thorium to decay through a chain to uranium 233, which is the fuel. The absorption of another neutron leads to a fission in uranium 233. That releases more than two neutrons, and that’s very
significant, because you need more than two neutrons.
One to continue the fission reaction, and the
other to continue the conversion of thorium into new fuel. The physical mechanisms by which we are
working on to make this take place have to do with what we call a two-fluid reactor and in this design you have a fuel salt which contains uranium 233. This is a
FLiBe salt with uranium, and as it passes through the reactor it undergoes
fission. About half of those neutrons are
absorbed in the fuel salt and the other half are
absorbed in what we call a blanket. Now this is not
what the core looks like. This is just a cartoon. But, the blanket contains thorium and the
the thorium’s main job is to become new fuel. So, as thorium turns into uranium it is extracted from the blanket through
a very simple process called fluoride volatility. This will extract uranium preferentially and not
thorium Uranium has the ability to go from one valence state, uranium tetrafluoride to uranium hexafluoride
which is a gas, so it will just come out like bubbles from cola drinks. It will come out as uranium hexafluoride in order to fuel the core salt, you contact that uranium hexafluoride gas with a little bit of hydrogen gas and
some of this fuel salt and that hydrogen will be removed to the fluoride ions, and it will reduce UF6 back to UF4 which will
be in solution. So you are continuously refueling the core while the core is continuously
regenerating new fuel in the blanket. The resultant products of this anhydrous hydrofluoric acid can then be electrolyzed in an
electrolyzer, which regenerates both the fluorine and the hydrogen.
So, this is a closed cycle process that regenerates it’s reactants. What we need to do to keep the machine
running we need to continually add new thorium to the blanket. So it’s
basically burning thorium by turning it first into uranium 233
and then into fission. And. we haven’t ascertained yet, and won’t be able
to until we have some better depletion calculations, how often we will
need to process the core salt and it’s processing is very much similar. Both fluoride volatility, hexafluoride distalation and reduction, those are just repeats of
these processes over here. So, there’s a little bit of a different
approach you do for the core because you’re
processing on a different schedule but all these industrial processes, they’re
radiation hard, they don’t require the fuel to be
aged or stored for some period of time, and that’s a real contrast but how
people talk about doing existing nuclear fuel processing today. The power of thorium in liquid fluoride
thorium reactors, if used at these kinds of efficiencies becomes really
mind-boggling. And, to try to put this in perspective I commissioned this
animation. The notion of a single cubic meter
of regular earth, anywhere on the planet. By weight, it will contain roughly two cubic
centimeters of thorium metal. So if you could extract all of the thorium from a regular piece of dirt, anywhere, you get
about two cubic centimeters of thorium, and about half a cubic centimeter of uranium. If you were to consume that thorium at high efficiency which is the kind of
thing you could potentially do in a LFTR, It would be as if that cubic meter of earth had the energy
content thirty cubic meters of crude oil. So, this is a remarkable potential
capability. The ability to take worthless dirt anywhere in the world and make it worth many multiples of crude oil. I can’t think of any
industrialist who if you were to present him with an easily accessible huge pool of
crude oil. wouldn’t say, “Yes”. let me slurp that up and go sell it to
somebody and make a lot of money. You know, here’s a way to turn worthless
dirt into something worth more than that, but the key is to build a machine that has the ability to very efficiently convert thorium into energy. Part of the reason for this is because thorium starts so much lower on the on the chain of nuclear masses than uranium 235 and uranium 238 when we build an existing reactor it’s mostly uranium 238 fuel and a few percent uranium 235. This is where the fissioning takes place, and uranium 235 will fission about
85% of the time, so about 15% of it will become uranium 236.
And then, ultimately Neptunium 237. But 97% of it, is only one neutron absorption away from
being … plutonium 239. So, the formation of these transuranics – that’s really what drives a lot of the
worry about long lived nuclear waste for making plutonium making americium, curium, these higher forms. Why don’t we make as much in thorium
cycle? The reason is we start down here with thorium 232 which once it
absorbs a neutron becomes uranium 233. that’ll fission 90% of the time.
It is only 10% of it makes it to become U234. It absorbs another neutron and becomes
uranium 235 which will fission, 85% of the time so now
you’re down to about 1.5% of this material could potentially make it to neptunium 237 which is your first transuranic. That then can be physically extracted from the salt if
desired and you’ve arrested the formation of further transuranics, or an
alternative would be to retain it in the salt, this can lead to some neutron loss, and form plutonium 238. Which. at NASA we are just really, really, dying to get our hands on
because we use plutonium 238 to explore the solar system. LFTRs if operated in a particular manner would have the potential make small
quantities of this. In fact, I was at a meeting at NASA with some of
my old friends there and telling them about this potential
and they got really excited and they said “Can you make- Are you just going to make this stuff anyway?”
and I said. “Well no we have to choose to make it… …it’s to our advantage to actually
take it out at this stage so as not to make
plutonium 238.” “Ohhh, darn”. Then I said, “But, under the right circumstances and if
there was a national need for this and a national interest, there’s the potential there to do this.”
And, he got kind of excited because we really are hurting for this. We launched the curiosity rover
to Mars last year and it’s got a large fraction of our
remaining plutonium 238 on-board. It’s going to be able to explore Mars using that material which is really gonna be cool. Getting back to some of the things we can make with the LFTR, with
existing reactors we basically make electricity and that’s about
all we do. We throw it out all the waste heat and we don’t use the fission products.
With the LFTR on the other hand, we can not only convert to electrical energy at much higher efficiencies,
but we can also use the low temperature waste heat for desalinated water. We can alternatively tap off some of
the process heat for potential generation of hydrogen, and my favorite product from hydrogen, which
is ammonia. Because, ammonia leads to fertilizer and fertilizer leads to the green revolution that we’ve enjoyed as inhabitants of this
Earth for the last few decades. That’s why seven billion of us can be fed on this
planet when before we could only feed about one billion, is because now we know how
to make fertilizer and that’s primarily driven by fossil fuels. And then there’s also a great value
potentially to the separated fission products. This is a slide –
I believe I borrowed this from [Para?] Peterson – about how high temperature heat from gas cold reactor – but the same principle
applies because of the power conversion system how high
temperature process heat can be then converted to
electricity and then the waste heat is used to cool
seawater in order to lead to desalination. So, let me talk about molybdenum for a
moment. Molybdenum 99 will
decay to technetium 99. And technetium 99, is used in more radioisotope procedures worldwide.
than anything else. About 30 million procedures worldwide use technetium 99 [m]. Some of these other smaller radio
isotopes iodine 131 also produced in a reactor like this, xenon 133
also produced – these guys no, we don’t make those. But, there’s the potential there to make these medical radio isotopes. And,
then technetium 99 [m] in turn is used in a variety of different
diagnostic procedures – primarily related to your heart, how’s your heart
performing. also your bones, your liver, your lungs – it’s really a
remarkable diagnostic tool. It is combined with a variety of different compounds these
are called cold kits. In order to try to ascertain different formats,
gallbladder function or kidney scan or blood pool imaging. Each one of these is a compound of the molybdenum is connected to in order to do that. Right now it’s made in just a handful of
research reactors that are scheduled to be shut down.
There’s some great papers written about the market failure of not having the money that’s being made in
technetium going back to operate these reactors, they’re gonna be shut down. This is the supply chain for one of
these reactors that’s in the netherlands the molybdenum’s produced there, it’s
extracted, then its shipped over to Chicago – right here into O’Hare and is trucked down to Maryland Heights in Missouri to Covidian’s Maryland Heights
facility where it is made into – what’s called
generators. This is what they look like. They’ve got this little column of silica, and they lay the molybdenum
on there and then when they take it to the hospital and, it is eluted. They run a small sailine line through here and they extract the technetium.
The technetium comes out in the saline and the molybdenum doesn’t. And, these run for about a week or two, and they treat patients with this you
know this a really remarkable process. Unfortunately, the ability to service the world’s
molybdenum needs is already very limited and its on its way down, which is which is bad. For over fifty years we’ve been focused
on the electricity that can be generated from fission, but about five percent of fission leads to the formation of the molybdenum 99m –
The [Mo99m] mass decay chain. And, it could be that this is potentially
worth even more than electricity. What’s unique about LFTR is that we can extract this
valuable product while making electrical power – we do both at the same time. Our power reactors today they make lots and
lots of molybdenum but it’s not extractable. If you want to get it out you have to
shut the reactor down, depressurise it, cool it, extract the
fuel, reprocess it. By the time you did that, the molybdenum’s all gone, it’s only got a 66
hour half-life. So you can’t do it fast enough, and these little research reactors where
they do make the molybdenum they have to use targets and there’s a lot of issues surrounding the use of targets.
Here’s a way where we can do both at the same time.
We can make electrical power and we can make this useful medical isotope.
I want to talk about another one that’s somewhat related to thorium and uranium and that is the idea of targeted alpha therapy. Targeted alpha therapy is when you take an antibody and you attach an alpha emitting radioisotope. And, the one they’re showing here is bismuth 213
which is probably the most promising. The notion is the antibody then goes in the
body, it attaches to whatever you want to target typically a cancer cell but maybe other
things. And then, when the bismuth decays it gives this knockout punch to the cancer cell and kills it. And so, this is an exciting technique and theres lots and lots of alpha
emitting radioisotopes. There’s four decay chains, three of which occur
naturally – the thorium, uranium and actinium. decay chains occurr natually so, you look at this and you think, “there’s got to be a good alpha emitter,
there’s got to be lots of good alpha emitters.” Well, it turns out there’s not. Bismuth 213, which is the
favored one, exists on the decay chain that no longer exists in nature, the
neptunium decay chain. We in the course of pursuing a thorium powered world recreated this decay chain about fifty
years ago. And, we have an inventory of uranium 233
that has led to the formation of the precursors of bismuth 213. It’s sitting up in
Oak Ridge right now slated for destruction. Many of you know about this.
and have tried to help fight against the destruction that material. But, on the other decay chains there’s not a lot of promising
alternatives. Bismuth 212, this is on the same decay chain as
thallium 208, which is a hard gamma emitter. Many of us in the thorium world are familiar with one of the ancestors uranium 232, that can lead to these hard gamma emissions. So, putting the stuff in the body’s not a
really great idea either and then over here on this decay chain they have to make astatine 211
in a particle accelerator – that limits how much you can make. So, really it turns out that this Neptunium
decay chain is unique. Now, golly wouldn’t it be great if there was this
stuff on earth and lots and lots of it and
we could just go mine it? We can’t, because it went extinct a
long time ago. It’s the only one of the four decay chains that doesn’t pass though radon on the way through its decay. And, that’s significant
because all the other decay chains, as they pass though radon, radon’s a gas. As you go through radon your stuff gets away. It gets out of
whatever you’ve got it in, usually a liquid, and so it’s hard to retain. And so, not passing through a radon
step is very, very significant to starting out with a parent material and getting to this bismuth 213 which can be a real cancer killer. We need to get this stuff in the hands
of doctors so that they can use it to treat deadly diseases like acute
myeloid leukemia and other cancers. If we had this material extracted from this parent source, I really think it would lead to a revolution
in fighting cancer. We’ve talked about political challenges, situations, this is
yet another one that’s got a real political challenge situation attached to it. Okay,
so all these great benefits, how do we know
this can work? Quite simply because we did it. Back at Oak Ridge in the 1950’s, 1960’s we built two reactors the aircraft reactor
experiment and the molten salt reactor experiment. I had the
great pleasure [in the] last couple days to talk with some of the pioneers of the molten salt reactor
program and that was one of the things they kept emphasizing to me in my
discussions with them. We really did this. We were trying to prove feasibility. We felt like we proved that feasibility, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Because, there were the forces of economic energy commission
despite the success of the molten salt reactor program, were very
focused on building plutonium fast breeder
reactors. That was really the sole focus, and the decision point at the
time when we needed to decide whether we were
going to go forward with this technology the entire focus of the AEC was
was on the plutonium fast breeder, and so [molten salt technology] was set aside. Now, when the plutonium fast reader
program floundered in the late seventies, to the best of my knowledge nobody went
back in revisited that decision. Nobody went back and asked, you know, “Should we have gone the other way, should
we have should we have used thorium?” I wish that question had been asked because maybe we would be having a very different
conversation today if in the early eighties people have said let’s go back and and revisit that. We could have taken
advantage of existing understanding the men and women
who were working on this and making it happen. Well, nevertheless that’s where we are.
Here we are today – in a world that desperately needs more energy at lower prices with a far
lower impact on the environment. And, how are we going
to do that? Well, i remain convinced that thorium is the
answer. And, I have come to this belief because
of the learning about the technology of the liquid fueled reactor and the potential to have a tremendous amount of energy that would quite literally be able to be held in
the palm of your hand and would cost a few cents. And, Jim would probably challenge
that and would tell me it would cost nothing. I got currious. How much thorium would it take
to power all North America for a year, and and it would quite easily fit in
this grain silo which I passed many on my drive up here from Alabama yesterday. So the good news is we’ve already got four grain silos worth of thorium sitting
out in a whole in Nevada. So, it’s not as if thorium is going to be something that somebody’s going to go and corner the market on. I’m
I’m often asked that question, “Is somebody gonna get the drop on us on this?” And, I say I don’t think it’s going to happen with
regards to thorium supply. I think it’s much more likely to happen with regards
to the technology to make that thorium worth something – you know worth more than
zero, which is basically where we are right now. This is a cartoon. This is a a notion of what we’re striving towards. This is kind
of an aspirational goal of what we’re striving towards at Flibe Energy – with a small and minimally invasive thorium reactor installation. So, the
reactor – this would be the outer containment structure of the
reactor – inside would be the reactor vessel, the drain tanks, the primary heat
exchangers and the pumps. And, what would be exiting the reactor you
see here would be the coolant salt. The bare FLiBe, or FLiNaK or
whatever we decide to use to use for the coolant salt, is just carrying the heat from the nuclear reaction out to gas turbines. The idea of saying lets go and be able to
put in case a silo underground, fill it with water, both for radiation shielding and for seismic isolation and then go and place the reactor in it
and connect it to gas turbines above grade. So, this is kind of the idea of what our design is striving
towards. We’re focused as many of you know on trying to provide electrical energy for our military facilities here in the United States. In Alabama last year we suffered some
really, really awful tornadoes and our base
? arsenal was off the grid for a week-and-a-half. That’s left an indelible
impression in the minds of our leadership there and
also in the minds of the community that that’s not acceptable. We need to have an energy solution that gives us what’s
called secure redundancy And so, people get it as we’ve talked to
civic leaders, as we talk to the community, they’re getting it.
They agree that something like this needs to be done. And, they’re excited that we were in Huntsville, rocket city USA –
a city that put men on the moon a long time ago. And, I told my wife for many years
Huntsville’s been looking for its second act for a long time and there’s a lot of great talent there,
a lot of people at the army and NASA and industry. We have one of the second-largest
research parks in the entire United States We’ve got a tremendously educated workforce.
It’s a great place to live. Come down and you’ll probably see why we are so
excited about Huntsville, Alabama, why we think it’s the right place to move forward on this. What is our opportunity with thorium and the liquid fluoride
reactor? Trivial fuel cost, that’s actually not the biggest deal because
fuel cost is still pretty low right now for existing reactors. No carbon
dioxide emissions – very attractive in our carbon intense world. A very high availability factor – that as a very distinguishing thing – versus other low or zero carbon sources. And, the potential to be much simpler and safer
than conventional uranium fuelled reactors that operate at high-pressure. And, with the two fluid design we also have the
potential to be scaleable, to go up and go down. I was talking with one of the gentleman
who was on the molten salt reactor program i was asking why the one fluid design they
went to. I said “what about the scaleability?” They said, “We weren’t even thinking
about scaleable. We were thinking about thousand megawatt units”. I said, “We’re thinking about a forty megawatt unit”. He goes,
“Oh! Well that size, yeah it’s probably not going to be a real good idea. You’re going to
want to take a different approach”. So, again with the two fluid we have the
potential for some great scaling. We have political pressure to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, we obviously have economic pressure to reduce the cost of energy. Most of the world considers these two
pressures to be completely at odds with one another. And, who’s gonna give – you know? What’s
more important the environment or economic growth? You know, different nations
are making different decisions. Wouldn’t it be good if we could have both? And, the public pressure to address concerns of current nuclear power.
This has really increased since Fukushima, fanned by unfortunately, by the poor away it has been described in
the media. But, there is definitely a public
pressure there. And, the military pressure to generate power reliably in remote
locations, as well as the aspect of secure
redundancy which is needed on bases in the United States. I think all these point
to LFTR as a global energy solution. Well, why go now?
Why not wait a generation? A lot of people think that in technology
develops without pushing on it. You know, why not wait? there’s a lot of proposals for small
modular reactors right now but as Rick said it’s the same old here again and I look at these SMRs that are being proposed, and I go “It’s not a lot of new here. this is this
is pretty much an existing reactor packaged in a new
smaller form”. Only LFTRs will be able to manufacture the radioisotopes, desalinate water
and [produce] electrical power simultaneously. You’re not going to have to pick from one of the other,
You are going to be able to do them all at the same time. I really think that the aftermath of Fukushima will be that
alot of conventional reactors are going to be cancelled and delayed. And, the real very real risk is that
some societies will reject nuclear power all together. We’re seeing this already
we’re seeing it in Japan, we’re seeing it in Germany, we’re seeing
it in Italy where it’s just like “No, i’m not going to it”. And, is that happening because they’re
just completely radiophobic, or is it happening because they don’t know about a
better alternative? I hope … we can
put an alternative in front of them and make them go “Oh wait, maybe were are being a little hasty. We’re throwing the baby out
with the bath water”. I think that revenues from medical sales of radioisotopes are
going to be what gets this operation out the gate initially
rather than electricity. Electricity is still pretty cheap but these medical radioisotopes
are extremely valuable. I think that’s going to fund the global expansion of energy
from thorium. And, finally, this is a belief I have – i think thorium will become the world’s
dominant energy source, and this is the most important development of this
century. You know, we’re still at the beginning of this century – a lot of things still gonna happen, but i really
think that by the time to get the end thorium will be the dominant energy source. I want to leave you
with a quote that i love from Alvin Weinberg: “During my life i’ve witnessed
extraordinary feats of human ingenuity. I believe that this struggling ingenuity
will be equal to the task of creating a second nuclear era. My only regret is I will
not be here to witness its success. Thank you very much.