The heavy water reactor will use about 0.7
percent of the uranium’s energy value, and the light water reactor will use about half
of one percent. They both do terrible. At normal pressures, water will boil at 100
degrees Celsius. This isn’t nearly hot enough to generate electricity effectively. So water
cooled reactors have to run at over 70 atmospheres of pressure. You have to build a water cooled
reactor as a pressure vessel. The number one accident people worry about… Pressure is lost, water that’s being held
at 300 degrees Celsius [makes splashing sound] flashes to steam. Its volume increases roughly
by a factor of 1000. If you don’t get emergency coolant to the fuel in the reactor, it can
overheat and melt. This is what drives the design of this building.
If this happens, all the steam is captured in this building. The reactors we have today use uranium oxide
as a fuel. It’s a ceramic material, chemically stable, but not very good at transferring
heat. If you lose pressure, you lose your water, and soon your fuel will melt down and
release the radioactive fission products within it. So they have a series of emergency systems
designed to always keep the core covered with water. We saw the failure of this at Fukushima
Daiichi. They had multiple backup diesel generators, and each one probably had a very high probability
of turning on. The tsunami came and knocked them all out. People always say “Is nuclear energy safe?”,
and the first thing I say is “Which one?” There are thousands of different ways to do
nuclear energy. Is a car safe? Well, which one? I had the good fortune to learn about a different
form of nuclear power. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor. We can fully burn up the thorium in this reactor
versus only burning up part of the uranium in a typical light water reactor. It’s not based on water cooling and it doesn’t
use solid fuel. It’s based on fluoride salts as a nuclear fuel. You have to heat them up
to about 400 degrees Celsius to get them to melt, but that’s actually perfect for trying
to generate power in a nuclear reactor. Here’s the real magic – they don’t have to operate
at high pressure. They don’t have to use water for coolant and there’s nothing in the reactor
that’s going to make a big change in density. Unlike the solid fuels that can melt down
if you stop cooling them, these liquid fluoride fuels are already melted. In normal operation, you have a little piece
of frozen salt that you’ve kept frozen by blowing cool gas over the outside of the pipe.
If there’s an emergency and you lose all of the power to your nuclear power plant, the
little blower stops blowing, the frozen plug of salt melts, and the liquid fluoride fuel
inside the reactor drains out of the vessel through the line and into another tank called
a drain tank. In water cooled reactors, you generally have
to provide power to the plant to keep the water circulating and to prevent a meltdown.
But if you lose power to the LFTR, it shuts itself down all by itself without human intervention. A staggeringly impressive level of safety,
even if there is physical damage to the reactor. Thorium is a naturally occurring nuclear fuel
that is four times more common in the earth’s crust than uranium. It’s so energy dense that
you can hold a lifetime supply of thorium energy in the palm of your hand. We could
use thorium about 200 times more efficiently than we’re using uranium now. Because the
LFTR is capable of almost completely releasing the energy in thorium, this reduces the waste
generated over uranium by factors of hundreds, and by factors of millions over fossil fuels. We’re still going to need liquid fuels for
vehicles and machinery, but we can generate these liquid fuels from the carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere and from water, much like nature does. We could generate hydrogen by
splitting water and combining it with carbon harvested from CO2 in the atmosphere, making
fuels like methanol, ammonia, and dimethyl ether, which could be a direct replacement
for diesel fuels. Imagine carbon neutral gasoline and diesel,
sustainable and self-produced. You can see that uranium-235 is on par with
silver and platinum. Can you imagine burning platinum for energy? And that’s what we’re
doing with our nuclear energy sources today, we’re burning this extremely rare stuff, and
we’re not burning thorium. Some people are kind of environmentalists,
and they say “Listen, nuclear power is not sustainable. We’re going to run out of uranium.”
OK, I will yield that point to you, if we’re talking about today’s nuclear technology.
In 2007 we used 5 billion tons of coal, 31 billion barrels of oil, and 5 trillion cubic
meters of natural gas, along with 65,000 tons of uranium to produce the world’s energy. I have a friend who’s trying to start a rare
earth mine in Missouri. “Jim, how much thorium do you think you’ll be pawing up a year?”
And he goes, “I think about 5,000 tons.” 5,000 tons of thorium would supply the planet with
all of its energy for a year. And he goes “And there’s like a zillion other places on
earth that are just like my mine. It’s a nice mine, but it’s not unique, it’s not like this
is the one place on earth where this is found.” Every time mankind has been able to access
a new source of energy, it has led to profound societal implications. Human beings had slaves
for thousands and thousands of years. When we learned how to make carbon our slave, instead
of other human beings, we started to learn how to be able to be civilized people. Thorium has a million times the energy density
of a carbon-hydrogen bond. What could that mean for human civilization? Because we’re
not going to run out of this stuff. We will never run out. It is simply too common. On our Facebook page, the gender demographic
is about 87 percent male, 13 percent female. I have never been a proponent for nuclear
energy. It’s because of the consumption, right? It allows us to continuously consume that
I believe is unsustainable. Do you think other forms of energy will prevent
us from consuming as much? If we’re running out of it, yes. I think we
will start to ration it and re-use things as opposed to just creating a new one. What about solar and wind then? The sun will
always shine, the wind will always blow. Those give us life support. Thin gruel of a diet of energy. Yeah. I believe we don’t really appreciate
what we have, and I only speak for myself. So you intuitively perceive wind and solar
as being energy sources that are not on the same par with like oil and gas. In the scope that we’re currently using them,
and I think that if we amplify the scope of both wind and solar, then we’re also going
to be looking at a larger destruction as well. So you recognize that wind and solar are environmentally
invasive forms of energy generation? They take up a lot of area. Yeah. In order to prevent unacceptable levels of
environmental destruction limit how much wind and solar we put in. We’ll have to use them in different ways incorporating
them within already existing structures. I actually looked at this with my own home.
If I covered the house with solar panels how much would I make and the problem was it wasn’t
nearly enough. Their performance went down. Every single time I go on the roof to clean
the solar panels I’ll be putting my life at risk. We have roofers, we have people that do that
professionally. My brother’s a roofer. It’s a rough job. That’s
why a 21-year-old like him was out roofing roofs and making big money because he was
putting his life at risk, just like the coal miners. You perceive it as a good thing to constrain
energy supply right? Yeah. I do. Going to a low energy lifestyle will almost
certainly correlate to going to a lower-quality-of-life lifestyle. While efficiency is worthy of being pursued
and we could probably all knock 25 percent of our energy consumption out, that’s not
nearly enough to eliminate the need for fossil fuels. Elizabeth May, you know, she may be saying,
and I would probably agree with her, “We should pursue more energy efficient lifestyles,”
absolutely. When you came to debate oil sands/tar sands
development in Calgary, you set up sort of an expectation on what would be acceptable.
You said certain return on energy efficiency. Some nuclear technologies that I think are
quite promising, liquid fluoride thorium reactor. Our policy is very simple to understand, no
nuclear. Is there more nuance demanded there? Concerns
about nuclear energy can be addressed with future technologies? Since the Greens have a policy against nuclear
energy, would we ever reconsider with some of the new technologies which are being discussed
but don’t yet exist? I guess the answer is, of course. If Greens globally found some reason to re-assess
nuclear, but we only have a limited amount of money. You want to reduce green house gases.
So you want to apply the dollars in ways that reduce the green house gases the most while
creating the most employment possible for that investment. We waste 60 percent of all the energy that’s
used in Canada. And that’s because of inefficient building and transportation design. Our infrastructure
is designed for cheap and abundant energy. So, no surprise, there’s lots and lots of
waste. What you want to do is improve productivity with which we use energy. When you look through the whole hierarchy
of choices and options that we have and we have a long list of options that work quite
well, nuclear energy is down the list because it’s not terribly reliable, it’s hugely expensive
capital cost, very few jobs created and it only produces electricity. It’s about 14 years
from when you project forward to when it’s built and it’s famous for cost overruns. The
risk of accidents, long lived nuclear waste that has to be kept out of the biosphere for
a quarter of a million years. The risk of nuclear proliferation for use in military
terms, you don’t even have to look at those issues for nuclear to fail. We should pursue more energy efficient lifestyles,
absolutely. How far can we go, though? Will it be enough to make it so that we don’t need
to have better and newer forms of energy generation? I don’t think so. I don’t think even close. You don’t see wind and solar as… We have been trying to put solar and wind
online for decades. It is still on the order of about one percent of total energy production
in the United States. Wind is quoted in terms of its capacity. Like you’ll say this is a
three megawatt windmill. If I have a 3,000 megawatt nuclear plant, 1000 of these windmills
are equivalent to one of these. The wind is only blowing about 15 percent of the time,
one out of six. That correlation becomes absolutely meaningless
now, because one is running all the time and the other one is only running one out of six
times. If you had a car and you thought “I’m going to go out and get in my car and turn
the ignition, and I have a one in six chance the car’s going to turn on.” How useful would
that car be to you? The wind industry says, “That’s OK, Chelsea, you need to have six
cars.” Energy is all about reliability. Can we address those concerns by using batteries
which are making great advances with nothing more than a laptop? It’s a very, very expensive proposition to
use battery backup for the grid. It has not ever been able to be accomplished on a grid
level before because of how much it costs to store a watt hour in a battery. You’re not even looking at lithium-ion, you’re
looking at cheap batteries. You know, you’re looking at like lead-acid, really cheap batteries.
Because you need a lot of them. It’s better to get a bunch of lousy ones than to get a
few really good ones. If we had a high-conducting or… what do
you call them? Superconducting? Intermittent power from multiple sources. If you want to make a power transmission line,
you want to make the economic case pay off for you. You have to show how electricity
is going to be thrown into that line almost all the time. Otherwise, it’s not worth building,
it costs too much money. So the idea that “OK, there’s going to be
a wind farm here, there’s going to be a solar array here, and there’s going to be a wind
farm over here, and one of these three at any time will be working, but we’ll have power
transmission lines to all of them.” I mean that’s just nonsensical. People who propose
that haven’t run the numbers. People don’t want to see power plants and
power transmission lines. They will fight tooth and nail against power transmission
lines. We need to have a reliable energy source that is close to where the energy is needed
to be consumed. I know how you can get more women on board. OK. Go on Oprah. Oh! How could I get in her book club? Many of you have been part of a class in nuclear
science and the politics surrounding that. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you very much, Kiki, I’m glad to be
here. Hey, you guys are a pretty techy group, right? There was a sign that was talking about what
hacking was about. There’s such a thing as nuclear hacking. I’m very glad to be here with you today and
be a part of this discussion. The answer is energy cheaper than from coal. All sorts of things that give us the advantage
and they’re all based on energy. Based upon the assumption that we’re willing
to only sacrifice 160 million people’s lives to sea rise, climate change, and so forth,
then January 2011, we need to start reducing CO2 emissions by four percent a year… Well, are we doing that? I was two years and ten months old when I
saw Star Wars. It is my earliest memory. My dad didn’t believe that I actually remembered
that until I started actually relating details from the day it happened. He said after that
all I could talk about was space. I spent 10 years working at NASA. In the beginning
of my time there in 2000, this is the kind of community I was thinking of. It had all
of the same needs as a community on earth would have, but it had some very unique constraints.
There’s no coal on the moon, there’s no petroleum, there’s no natural gas, there’s no wind, there’s
no atmosphere. The moon orbits the earth once a month. For two weeks, the sun goes down
and your solar panels don’t make any energy. If you want to try to store enough energy
in batteries for two weeks, it just simply isn’t practical. I thought nuclear power was dumb. I had no
interest in it. I was like “Ah, old junk, who would want to be into that?” It wasn’t
until I realized that these efficiencies were possible that I began getting really interested. I’m in this buddy of mine’s office. He’s got
this book on his shelf and the book was called “Fluid Fuel Reactors”. He used to work at
Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee and he said “Yeah, way back when, they were doing
some stuff on this at Oak Ridge,” he goes “I just went to the library and I got this
old book.” It was written in 1958 and he said “I’ve been meaning to look through it. I knew
a little bit about it but not very much.” So I took the book home, a big old thick book,
it was about 1,000 pages, struggling really hard to try to grasp the nuclear concepts
in the book but it was intriguing enough to me and it seemed really different than the
kind of nuclear energy that we have now. They also mention in this book a lot about thorium.
Thorium, thorium, thorium, thorium. I was like “Dude, what the heck is thorium?” But I was intrigued enough that I began researching
as much as I could. I was reading online, I was reading blogs especially Rod Adams. Taxpayers in the United States sent me to
sea on submarines. I’ve lived in an environment that was 100 percent nuclear powered. It’s
something that people just don’t hear about. Nobody in the world knew that a self-sustained
fission chain reaction was even possible up until somewhere around 1938. Very few people
understand all these options that are available in nuclear energy. Now with liquid fluoride thorium reactors,
no high-level waste material is generated and it can also reduced stockpiles of existing
waste. So given that, is there more the government can do to test the technology? The reality is that we have waste, so it’s
not going to improve the nuclear waste. Please forgive my ignorance, but what is thorium? If only my O-level science teacher could see
me now. It is named after the Norse god Thor and I know the noble baroness will be pleased
to know that it’s dimorphic and there are all sorts of other facts that she can find
in Wikipedia, as indeed, I did. My lords, my lords… my lords. The Department of Energy cited my website
as the single technical source for the molten salt reactor in their Generation IV when they
first published it. People say “Well that’s quite an honor,” no it’s actually very pathetic
because I’m Joe sitting in my garage doing a website and this is the single technical
source you came up with? Does the administration understand all the
options available? No. Does anybody really understand clearly the fact that nuclear energy
is a completely disruptive technology? The liquid fluoride thorium reactor, I saw
some of you kind of smile when it brings up and that does concern me a little bit. What
are you hearing about LFTR that’s not… what are you hearing about the molten salt reactors
that’s not there? I would really be surprised if our leadership
knows about this. I don’t think they read blogs. The fact that we have an Internet today
is going to ultimately make the difference. You know we had Bronze Age and we had Iron
Age and we had the Industrial Revolution. I really think hundreds of years from now,
they’ll say there was a Thorium Age that began. Let me tell you how this stuff was discovered.
There was a guy named Glenn Seaborg who worked at Berkeley Labs in California in 1942. This
was the guy who discovered plutonium. Coming off discovering plutonium he thought, “I wonder
if we can hit thorium with a neutron and turn it into something.” You got to remember, fission
had been discovered three years earlier, so they were still in the very beginnings. So he got this grad student. You know, everybody
who’s been a grad student knows what it’s like when a professor says, “All right. I
want you to go into the nuclear lab and turn on the neutron bombardment system and expose
this sample of radioactive material and find out what happens.” “It’s a war right now, isn’t it, sir, right?
I could be on the front lines.” “Yes, you could.” “OK. Yes sir. Absolutely. Off I go.” So the grad student went off, and he did the
experiment. And he came back to Seaborg, and he said, “Yep, I’ve done it, sir. I have made
something new. Thorium did absorb the neutron. It became uranium-233. Isn’t that cool?” Seaborg said, “Yes, absolutely. OK! Now, let’s
take the next step, poor little grad student! I want you to go back. Now I want you to hit
it with a neutron and see if it will fission. Because I think it’ll fission. I think it’ll
fission just like uranium-235.” “OK. Yes sir.” Goes off, does the experiment, comes back
and says, “Yep, you were right. It did fission. You’re correct. It is a new form of nuclear
fuel.” Then Seaborg popped the really, really important
question. He said, “Now I want you to go figure out how many neutrons came off when it fissioned.
Because if that number is below 2, we really don’t have a story here. If this number…
you come back, and say it’s like 1.5, then… interesting fact goes in the back of the book.
But if that number’s above 2, then that is a big deal.” Goes back, comes back. “Sir, the number is
2.5.” Seaborg looks at his grad student. This is
December 1942, and he said, “You’ve just made a $50 quadrillion discovery.” Grad student was like “Uhh!” Seaborg was absolutely right. He had figured
out that thorium could serve as an essentially unlimited nuclear fuel. And he knew how abundant
thorium was in the crust of the Earth. And he realized that through this process, if
you had some uranium-233, you could catalyze the burning of thorium indefinitely. You’re fissioning uranium-233, but you’re
making a new one. So it’s not really a catalyst in the true chemical sense that a catalyst
is not consumed in a reaction. But you can almost think about it as a pseudo-catalyst. So we’ll take it from first principles. Let’s
talk a bit about what nuclear fission is. You have fissile nuclei. That means this is
a nucleus. If you hit it with a neutron, it’s going to fission and split into two pieces,
two fission products. And also significantly, this one neutron is going to spawn the formation
of two or three additional neutrons. Why do we care? Here’s why we care… Because every kilogram of fissile material
will produce as much energy as 13,000 barrels of oil. Nuclear fission is a million times
more energy-dense than a chemical reaction. Civilization has changed over advancements
in technology a whole lot more modest than this. When you fission something, it breaks into
these two pieces, but they’re radioactive. Why are they radioactive? And this is a chart that shows the number
of protons in matter and the number of neutrons. Now, if the number of protons and the number
of neutrons were the same, all of these isotopes would stay on this nice line right here, you
see? But they don’t do that. At the beginning,
it’s a roughly equal number of protons and neutrons. But as they get heavier, they definitely
get on the very neutron-rich side of things. You see these black dots? Those are the stable
nuclides and all the other guys are radioactive. The strong nuclear forces holding the nucleus
together, the protons are pushing the nucleus apart. OK, the protons are all positively
charged they want rip the thing apart. The neutrons are adding more of that strong nuclear
force glue, holding everything together and they are not adding more of the push-it-apart
stuff. Way down here are uranium and thorium and
they have about one and half times as many neutrons as protons. When you burst them in
half the two pieces that you get inherit that ratio but it’s the wrong ratio for them. They
are over here they wanted to be more like one and a quarter instead of one and a half. They have too many neutrons. Nature has a
nifty process for fixing this little problem it’s called beta decay. A neutron essentially
turns into a proton and it spits out an electron. When you fission a nucleus why is what you
get out radioactive? And it has to do with this proton and neutron balance. The balance
is wrong for what you have made even though it was right for what you started with. These are the mass numbers of each of those
and they assume two broad peaks of distribution. This is the smaller fission product and this
is the larger fission product because each fission generates two of them. But, because
they are neutron rich they have to beta decay a couple of times before they reach a stable
nucleus. Let’s talk just a minute about radioactivity
because I had an erroneous notion of what radioactivity was. I thought that if you had
something that have like a half-life of a day, and you had something that had a half-life
of a million years, it meant that the dude that was radioactive for a day is like brrrrrr
for a day and then, “Opp! I’m done.” And the dude with half-life for a million years is
like brrrrrrrrr for a million years and done. OK. So you go which one of these is more dangerous?
Well, definitely the one that’s got a half-life of a million years because that’s got to be
like radioactive forever and the dude’s radioactive for a day that’s not a big deal, right? Completely wrong. OK. Utterly backwards. The
dude who is radioactive for a day is really, really radioactive. The dude that’s radioactive
for a million years is hardly radioactive at all. Which one of those two is more dangerous?
The one that’s radioactive for a day by a long shot. So your radioactivity is directly and inversely
proportional to your half-life. So all these guys that have real short half-lives, very,
very dangerous, but they are going away real quick. This guy, 2.3 million years, no problem.
It’s not going to hurt you. It’s just not nearly radioactive enough. Now What about thorium and uranium? Both are
naturally occurring materials. Thorium has only one isotope thorium-232. It has a 14
billion year half-life. So when the Universe is twice as old as it is now, thorium will
have only decayed one half-life. What does it tell you how radioactive thorium
is? Hardly at all. That’s why it is still around.
Uranium, two isotopes uranium-235, uranium-238 both of course are radioactive. U-238 has
a 5 billion year half-life, that’s pretty old, that’s how old the earth is, that’s how
old the Universe is. Uranium-235 on the other hand has a much shorter
half-life, seven hundred million years. OK. How common is this stuff on the earth? Most
of the earth is made of oxygen. Isn’t that strange? Like 46 percent of the crust of the
earth is oxygen. Because everything is oxidized, all the rocks, then silicon, aluminum, iron,
calcium, a bunch of stuff. Well here is thorium at 10 parts per million,
but there is other stuff that we think of that is even less common; beryllium, tin,
tungsten. Here’s uranium, two and a half parts per million. Tungsten, aluminum, mercury,
silver, and no surprise where is gold? That’s why girls want you to give it to them. Now, let’s say we were looking at uranium-235
as if it was its own thing. It’s less than one percent of uranium, it’s about 0.7 percent
uranium. You can see that uranium-235 is on par with the abundance of silver and platinum. Can you imagine burning platinum for energy?
That would just be nuts. It is nuts. And that’s literally what we’re doing with our nuclear
energy sources today. We’re burning this extremely rare stuff and we’re not burning the common
stuff, the uranium-238 and the thorium. We’re leaving that stuff unburnt. Some people who are kind of environmentalists,
they say, “Listen, nuclear power is not sustainable.” They say to me, “We’re going to run out of
uranium.” I said, “OK. I will yield that point to you if we’re talking about today’s nuclear
technology. On the other hand, if we start thinking about some of these other things
we can do, that story changes.” Thorium all by itself is not going to release
nuclear energy. But if you hit the thorium with a neutron, the thorium will absorb the
neutron and it will turn from thorium-232 into thorium-233. Thorium-233 only has a half-life
of like 20 minutes, so is it really radioactive? Oh yeah, smoking radioactive, really, really
hot stuff. It’s going to decay into protactinium-233, which has a half-life of about a month. So, pretty darn hot stuff. You probably don’t
want to mess with this stuff either. Then it will decay over about a month to uranium-233,
which has a half life of about 160,000 years, and is much less radioactive. Uranium-233, if you hit it with a neutron
it will fission. In addition to releasing all that energy, it will release two or three
additional neutrons. You need one of those neutrons to go find another thorium and you
need another one of those neutrons to find another uranium-233 to continue the reaction. Some of these fission products have a really
big propensity to eat neutrons. The way they describe this in nuclear reactions is they
call it a cross section. How probable is a reaction going to be? One of those fission
products is named xenon-135, and here is its cross section relative to two nuclear fuels.
See these little bitty guys? Imagine we’re playing darts or something, and throwing them.
Which one are we going to hit? When xenon-135 forms from fission, look at
all these chain, blah, blah, blah. Where’s 135? OK, that’s not particularly an uncommon
event to form that particular guy. Xenon-135 has a half life of nine hours. It’s very radioactive,
but during that nine hours, it really wants to eat your neutron. This turns out to be a big problem for real
nuclear reactors. It messes up how they want to operate because of the existence of xenon.
This actually was a contributing effect to the Chernobyl disaster was the presence of
xenon-135. And it’s really hard to deal with in solid fuel reactors. Xenon was such a big
deal, in fact, this was one of the first reactors that was ever built. This was the Hanford
reactor in Washington. They built this during the Manhattan project to make plutonium for
nuclear weapons. When they first built it, they turned it on
and everything seemed to be going. After about a day or two of running it, all of a sudden
the power went and dropped, almost to zero. They were like, “What the heck is that?”,
and they couldn’t figure it out. They left it alone, and after about 12 or 18 hours it
went and it came back up to power again, and it held there. They’re like, “What?”, and
pretty soon it goes and drops off again. They’re going, “This makes no sense, we’re not doing
anything! The thing’s turning on and turning off, and it’s turning on and it’s turning
off.” What was going on was, the reactor would turn
on, and xenon-135 would begin to build up. And as it built up, it would start eating
all these neurons, right. And they were and it would take the reactor back down again. Then after a while it would decay away, and
once it decayed away [makes ascending plane sound] the reactor would come back on again.
So it was following this up and down effect. Just crazy, I mean, these guys didn’t even
know what xenon-135 was, because this was one of the first nuclear reactors ever built.
Luckily for us, the guy who built this reactor was this guy, Eugene Wigner. He was unbelievably brilliant, maybe one of
the smartest guys who ever lived. Won the Nobel Prize. He would just lie in bed, trying
to figure out “How far ahead of the Germans are we? Where do you think they are?” He
was just always gaming it and trying to figure it out. He had thought, “What could possibly go wrong
in this machine I built.” He goes, “Well, there could be something that we’ll make that
will be very, very absorptive of neutrons. And that something we make might decay quickly.
And if it was really absorptive and it decayed quickly, the reactor would do… this!” He didn’t know what it was yet! He just was
hypothesizing that such a thing existed! And so when this machine of his started doing
this, he goes, “I think I know what’s going on.” There were a bunch of places to put in
extra fuel, and he was able to override this effect. I mean, we’re really lucky he did
this, or we would not have been able to finish the Manhattan Project. So they were able to
complete the creation of plutonium in order to make the first nuclear weapon. They took natural uranium, and they separated
those two isotopes, highly enriched it in uranium-235. They’d take uranium-235 from
less than one percent up to like 90-plus percent. And this was really hard. It took big factories,
very difficult to do isotopic enrichment. But this is how they made the uranium for
the first nuclear weapon used in war. This was the bomb at Hiroshima. It was called “Little
Boy,” and they never tested it, because they already knew it was going to work. Then they said, “Well, what can we do with
all this junk uranium-238, the 99.3 percent of it?” Well, Seaborg had already figured
out you could expose it to neutrons, and you could make it into Plutonium. After a short cooling-off period, the now
highly irradiated fuel rods were transported to T-plant in Hanford’s 200 area. Now, plutonium is a different chemical element
than uranium, so they can be chemically separated. The process yielded minute amounts of plutonium.
By weight, the most expensive material on the planet. And chemically separating things is like a
bazillion times easier than isotopically separating it. Because uranium-235 and uranium-238 are
identical chemically. There’s no chemical difference between them. But there is a chemical
difference between plutonium and uranium, so it was a lot easier to do a chemical separation
of the plutonium you’d made. And that’s how they made the first nuclear
weapon, the Trinity blast in New Mexico, and that’s also how they made the Nagasaki bomb,
Fat Man. Seaborg says, “OK, well, maybe we can do the same thing with Thorium. Maybe
we can expose it to neutrons, and we can make it into uranium-233. Uranium will be chemically
separable from Thorium, and we can go make a bomb out of it.” Right? Sounds great. So they started looking at it, and it turns
out, no, it’s a really bad idea, because as you made the uranium-233, you were always
making uranium-232. Here’s the decay chain that uranium-232 is on. It jumps down one
year, three days, 55 seconds, 0.16 seconds, and it jumps down to these guys – bismuth-212,
thallium-208 and these two decay products have harder gamma emission. They put out very, very strong gamma rays.
And these gamma rays are super bad news if you want to go and build a practical nuclear
device. Because, number one they kill you when you work on them, number two, they tell
everybody who’s got gamma ray detectors where the stuff is. So really quickly they were going, OK, we
can work with uranium-235, that seems OK, we can work with plutonium, that seems OK,
but this uranium-233 stuff has bad news for making a nuclear weapon. Thorium was set aside as a potential nuclear
weapons fuel all during the war. After the war, they picked up on this again because
now they were thinking, “Let’s talk about making power instead of making nuclear weapons.”
This is a chart that shows absorption propensity of each of these different nuclear fuels as
a function of neutron energy. This is what’s called thermal energy, this
means they’ve been slowed way down. This is fast energy, that means a neutron is still
going really fast. Look how much bigger the cross sections are in thermal than they are
in fast. What’s this guy down here, this is fast times
25. Taking this row, because you can barely see these little bitty dots, and I’ve blown
it up by a factor 25. You can see some proportions here. Now what these colors mean is the red
means that it’s going to absorb the neutron and the blue means that it’s going to absorb
the neutron and fission. What you want, you want blue. Thick blue is
good. Well, lots of blue, because when you hit these dudes with neutron, you want them
fission. Look at plutonium, wow, big target, right?
But one third of the time it’s just going to eat the neutron in thermal fission. That’s
not good. On the other hand, in fast fission, look at that, wow, was going to fission almost
all the time. We like that was, but look how many these little dots we are going to need
to add up to this size. We are going to need a lot. How much energy did the neutron have that
you smack the nuclear fuel with? How energy did they have and then how many neutrons did
you kick out when you smack it to fission? These little bitty dots, they appear in this
part of the curve. This is the fast region, this is the thermal region. On the thermal
region, look who is doing the best, look at uranium-233, about 2.3. Look at plutonium,
is that deep low two right there. That’s what makes it that you cannot burn up uranium-238
in a thermal-spectrum reactor like a water cooled reactor like a CANDU or like a water
reactor. You just can’t do it. So they look at that
and say, man, we just can’t burn uraniun-238 in the thermal reactor. It just can’t be done.
These guys aren’t deterred, they said, “Well, here is what we’ll do, we’ll just build a
fast reactor, because look how good it gets in the fast region, wow, it gets above two,
three, wow! This is really good!” This was the genesis of the idea of the fast breeder
reactor, a reactor that was based around having fast neutrons and plutonium fuel. But uranium-233 on the other hand, OK, it
gets a little better in the fast, but dang it’s still pretty damn good right in the thermal. Big targets, a lot easier, everybody who is
pushing thorium said, “We like thermal. This is the kind of reactor we want to build” and
everybody who is pushing plutonium said, “No, no, no, we want a fast reactor, that’s the
only way to do it.” What did we really do, we didn’t do either
one of these. In reality, all our reactors today are burning uranium-235 which is like
burning platinum, very, very, very rare. We didn’t take either one of these paths ultimately.
This was the great division in the beginning, was it going to thorium or is it going to
be plutonium. Wigner was not successful in convincing the
bulk of the nuclear community to take the thorium approach. They by and large said,
“We’re going to go the plutonium route.” One of the reasons why was they had developed
a great deal of understanding about plutonium from the weapons program. They had made the
stuff. They had worked with its chemistry. They’d made fuel out of it. They go, “We get
this. Thorium? We haven’t really messed with thorium. It would be like starting over.” That propensity there was to go and do what
you already knew how to do. The plutonium was so much better developed than the thorium.
So, Wigner was not terribly successful in making converts in the nuclear community.
He did make one convert – Alvin Weinberg. He was his student during the Manhattan Project. Weinberg got it. He got the big picture. “We
need thorium. We need thorium reactor. We need liquid fuel. I see it. I see what we’ve
got to do.” Weinberg got a job offer to be the director of Oak Ridge National Labs in
1955. He was 35 years old. He was a year younger than I am. I’m sitting there going, “Dude,
when Weinberg was my age he was running Oak Ridge National Lab. What am I doing? I’m in
a basement somewhere.” [laughter] I’m just teasing. [laughter] It’s not my mom’s basement so I feel better. So he goes to Oak Ridge and Wigner said, “Alvin,
you’ve got to go there because you’ve got to go see if you can make this thorium work.
It’s that important.” Alvin got it. Here was a quote from his book. He said, “Until
then I had never quite appreciated the full significance of the breeder.” When he’s talking
about breeder he actually means the thorium reactor. “But now I became obsessed with the
idea that humanity’s whole future depended on the breeder.” The idea that if you don’t
go and access the energies of thorium, we’re not going to make it. We can’t make it on
the uranium-235. One of the first things that happened when
he got to Oak Ridge, the Atomic Energy Commission called him up and said, “You’re done in the
reactor business. We’re giving all the reactor work to Argon National Labs in Chicago and
you guys aren’t part of the deal anymore.” Argon National Labs was fully going for the
plutonium fast breeder. That was there whole thing was to do the plutonium fast breeder. Right off the bat, Weinberg was like, “Oh
my gosh! What are we going to do?” About that time, the Air Force said, “The navy has built
their nuclear submarines and the Army has come along and they have taken the same technology
as the Navy, the water cooled reactor. They’re doing their thing, but the Air Force wants
to build a nuclear powered bomber.” Does that just sound crazy? [laughter] It was just absolutely nuts. Weinberg was a practical man and he said,
“Hah, nuclear powered bomber? That is probably a really dumb idea.” But the military has a lot of money, “It wasn’t
that I’d suddenly become converted to a belief in nuclear airplanes. It was rather this was
the only avenue open for ORNL for continuing in reactor development. That the purpose was
unattainable if not foolish was not so important.” [laughter] “A high temperature reactor could be useful
for other purposes even if it never propelled an airplane.” He knew that to make the nuclear
airplane work, they couldn’t use water cooled reactors. They couldn’t use high pressure
reactors. They couldn’t use complicated solid fuel reactors. They had to have something
that was so slick, that was so safe, that was so simple, that operated at low pressure-high
temperature, and had all the features you wanted in it. They didn’t even know what it
was. If this nuclear airplane program had not been
established, the molten salt reactor would have never been invented, because it is simply
too radical, too different, too completely out of the ball field of everything else for
it to be arrived at through an evolutionary development. It had to be forced into existence
by requirements that were so difficult to achieve, and then nuclear airplane was that. So they began working on this high temperature
reactor, and here was their notion. This reactor was going to produce this high temperature
heat. It was going to be ducted into a turbo jet engine. The air was going to be sucked
in, compressed. Then instead of a burner here that would be injecting fuel, like a combustion
system, you would have this heat exchanger with a reactor. It would make the air hot,
then the air would exhaust through the turbine
and make thrust.
So it’s the same idea as a jet engine, it’s
just the heat source was the reactor rather
and make thrust.
So it’s the same idea as a jet engine, it’s
just the heat source was the reactor rather and make thrust. So it’s the same idea as a jet engine, it’s
just the heat source was the reactor rather than the combustion of fuel. Remember this
was invented before we had ICBMs or anything like that. This was a doomsday weapon. If
you’re flying this thing to Russia, it’s the end of the world. So they didn’t even know
what kind of reactor this would be, and they began working and came up with the molten
salt concept. They didn’t know if it would work, so this
built this proof of principle reactor, called the Aircraft Reactor Experiment. They circulated
the liquid fluoride salt in these tubes to produce two and a half megawatts of thermal
power. Xenon is a gas. What happens to gases in a
liquid. The gaseous fission product xenon just came right out of the salt. Can you imagine if what happened to poor Wigner
in his Washington reactor happened to the dude flying to Russia? He’d be like, “This
is your captain speaking. We’re going to have to make an emergency landing over Siberia.
Xenon level’s just getting a little too high in the reactor back there, so we’re just going
to set down on the tundra here for nine hours while that old xenon’s going to come on down.
We’ll be lighting up and taking off shortly.” You know, I mean that’s not going to work. And it ran for about 11 days in 1954. It reached the highest temperatures that had
ever been achieved by a nuclear reactor up to that point. And proved to them that, essentially, their
notion was correct – that you could sustain nuclear fission reactions inside a salt, that
it would operate at high temperature and low pressure, that it was very stable. And the
reason why it was so stable was, as the salt would heat up, there would be less fissile
material in the nuclear reactor core, and so fission became less likely. Conversely, as the salt cooled down, there
was more material, because the salt was contracting, and fission became more likely. The engineers out there, that’s a dynamically
stable system. It gets hotter, cools down, gets too cool,
heats up. Well, by this time it was about 1960. ICBMs
were going great. We’d perfected air to air refueling. The Air Force was going, “Oh, man,
you know, I don’t think we really need that nuclear bomber anymore.” Weinberg petitioned the Atomic Energy Commission
in the United States for money and he got a little bit. He got enough to build a demonstration
reactor that was supposed to be less than 10 megawatts. They built it, and it was called
the Molten Salt Reactors Experiment. It ran from 1965 to 1969. It turned out that thorium was a great fit
in this reactor. This is what’s called a two fluid, molten
salt reactor design. What is molten salt reactor in relation to
LFTR and vice versa? LFTR is a molten salt reactor. All LFTRs are
molten salt reactors but not all molten salt reactors are LFTRs. You’ve got this core fluid, a lithium beryllium
salt, with uranium tetrafluoride in there. Now what you want to do is you want to move
that fuel you’ve made from the blanket into the core. And here’s how you do it. You take
this stream of this blanket salt off and you put it in this fluoride volatility column. You hit the salt with fluorine gas, and what’ll
happen is… Uranium has two kinds of fluorine states it’ll be in. There’s uranium tetrafluoride,
four fluoride ions, and there’s uranium hexafluoride, six fluoride ions. Uranium hexafluoride is a gas. Uranium tetrafluoride is in solution. If you hit it with fluorine it will start
to bubble out of the salt, just like bubbles in your pop. And that’s great because this
is a neat trick. This is a way to get your uranium product to come out of the blanket
and leave everything behind. This wouldn’t work if thorium also had this
same trick. If thorium would turn into a hexafluoride in a gas, we’d be up the creek. But this is
one of these little miracles of nature. So you can sit there and pound thorium with
fluoride all you want. It’s not going to change. It’s going to stay in solution. But the uranium
will come out as uranium hexafluoride, a gas. Well now you need to move it into the core
salts. So you bring a stream of core salt over here and you introduce this uranium hexafluoride
here. And now you hit it with a little hydrogen gas. The hydrogen will say to UF6, “Hey man, I
want those two fluorines a whole lot worse than you do.” Ahh! UF6 gets stuck up at the
gas station, has to give up two fluorines you know and drops from UF6 back to UF4. Whoop!
It’s in solution now. So now, you’ve just refueled your core salt
with uranium tetrafluoride. Cool trick, huh? You’re continuously refueling your reactor,
all the time. You’re always refueling the core with new uranium-233. And uranium-233
is being consumed but the neutrons from the fission are making new uranium-233. OK, well out of the top of this column comes
hydrofluoric acid – HF. You send that down to this electrolyzer unit. And you hit it
with some electricity and the HF will split into hydrogen gas and fluorine gas. And guess
what – now you’ve regenerated your two reactants. So your fluorine and your hydrogen are ready
for duty again to make this trick work. This is a piece you can actually buy off the
shelf. So this is pretty cool! This is a closed cycle for how to get your new fuel from here
into here. You’re essentially converting thorium into energy. First into U233, and then into
energy through fission. Now of course you’re using up some thorium doing this. So you need
to have a little feed of thorium fluoride, you need to feed some new thorium into the
blanket to make up for the thorium you are consuming. But a very efficient reaction. Let me introduce you to a typical nuclear
reactor. Watts Bar Plant in Tennessee, I’ve actually
been to this nuclear reactor before. This has a distinction of being the newest nuclear
reactor in the United States. This came online in 1996.
A big pressurized water reactor vessel. 150 atmospheres, solid nuclear fuel. Fission is
going on. Water is being pumped through. It’s getting hotter. This water then goes through
a steam generator and in another loop of water steam is being raised. It goes to the turbine,
spins the turbine, which spins the generator makes electricity. This is the steam turbine. And when I was
at Watts Bar this is the part I got to go see. There was not a skitch of dust on anything!
Now, if any of you have been to a coal plant and seen the same steam turbine, because they
use the same technology at a coal plant. It is nothing like this. A coal plant is dirty,
it’s smelly, it’s filthy, and it’s dripping. This thing was almost antiseptic in the way
it look. I don’t know. So I’m standing next to this
machine. You can’t really see a person, about I don’t know. So I’m standing next to this
machine. You can’t really see a person, about
I don’t know. So I’m standing next to this
machine. You can’t really see a person, about yay high here. This is this low-pressure turbine. And this
is turning the shaft that’s running this. Now in front of this guy is this little thing
called the high-pressure turbine. And you can’t really see it. You see the big three
low-pressure turbines but you don’t see the high-pressure turbine. The high pressure turbine
is little bitty. It’s like a third the size of the generator. The high-pressure turbine
is making about two-thirds of the torque that’s turning the shaft. And the low-pressure turbines are making about
one-third of the torque that’s turning the shaft. This little guy is doing almost all
the work and these big, big, big guys are hardly doing anything. When the steam goes into the high-pressure
turbine, it’s dense. It’s got a lot of energy and a little volume. But then you let it blow
down as it goes across the high pressure turbine and becomes low-pressure steam. That’s why these machines have to be so darn
big. Because the steam that’s heating them has already lost the vast majority of the
energy that it’s going to give up. This is the reactor itself, the reactor vessel
up here is where all the control rods slide in and out of the core. And then there’s these
four steam generators, as big if not bigger than the reactors and they also have to operate
at these very high pressures. There’s four of them. Look at that. One, two,
three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Big pipes. The number one accident people worry about
with this kind of reactor is what’s called the double-ended pipe break. One of these
eight pipes, for whatever reason, shears. And all of a sudden, pressure is lost in the
reactor. That water that’s being held water at 300 Celsius by 150 atmospheres of pressure,
when you lose pressure it flashes to steam, almost instantly to steam. And when that happens,
its volume increases roughly by a factor of 1,000. So what was yay dense is now not so
dense anymore. The other thing that happens is steam doesn’t
take away heat nearly as well as liquid water does from a surface. So all of a sudden your
fuel rods are not being cooled nearly as effectively as they were before. Now fission will stop
because one of the things the water is doing is slowing down the neutrons. So without the
water the fission reaction stops. You don’t have to put control rods in or anything. The
reactor will turn off immediately. But it will still be generating heat from those fission
products. Here’s what’ll happen if you have a double-ended
pipe break. You get this entire containment vessel filled with water. Now, I don’t want to tell you all this because
I’m trying to focus on negative situations here. I’m telling you this because this is
what drives the design of this building. This building is the size it is and it’s the way
it is precisely to accommodate this event. They’ve designed this reactor so if this happens,
all the steam is captured in this building and doesn’t get out. Look at the size of the reactor. Look at the
size of the containment building. It’s huge. It’s much bigger than the reactor and it’s
all driven by that thousand to one difference in the density between steam and liquid water.
Now if this happens, you have to figure out a way to get water back on the fuel rods to
cool them. So they have a series of emergency systems in this reactor and they operate at
all different stages of pressure. So the idea is if you’re still at high pressure
and you’ve got to get water in there, we’ve got a system for that. If you’ve lost some
of your pressure and you’ve got to get water in there, we’ve got a system for that. If
you’ve lost all your pressure and we’ve got to get water in there, we’ve got a system
for that. So there’s a lot of systems and then there’s backups to those systems, and
it’s all driven by this high pressure and by the use of water. Yes sir? Does the control rod missile shield to keep
the control rods from punching a hole through the roof if the steam explosion reaches the
reactor chamber? Precisely. Here’s the control rod drive mechanism.
Here’s the rods. If you breach this part, let’s say the welding failed, and this thing
goes “boom” and out shoot the control rods, that’s there to keep them from doing bad things
like punching a hole in the top. That actually did happen one time. That was
an army reactor and they did not have a containment building. One poor guy got impaled to the
ceiling by a control rod so… That’s got to be the coolest way to die. That was a real bad day. If he didn’t get
impaled the radiation was going to get him. The pinhole camera spotted several locations
and sources of high gamma radiation activity outside the reactor vessel presumably from
reactor components blown from the core by the force of the 500 PSI explosion. The reactor vessel is about nine inch thick
steel. When you’ve got nine inch thick steel and it has to be nuclear grade and it has
to be perfect, you can’t go and weld nine inch thick steel. They don’t make it that
way. They forge it in one piece. Not a lot of people have the capability to build a 10-meter
diameter, 20-meter long, single piece, nine inch thick forging. In fact, there’s exactly
one place in the world you can build this. It’s a place called Japan Steel Works in Japan. It’s a limiting factor because you say “I
want to build lots and lots of nuclear reactors.” Either you’re going to build a new heavy forging,
which is really just for this task, or you’re going to wait a long time to get your reactor
in line to go do this. Let me diss on water a few more times. Here’s why water is not such a great thing
for the inside of a nuclear reactor. Number one, it can’t hack the temperature, we already
talked about that. Number two, it’s a covalently bonded substance. The oxygen has a covalent
bond with two hydrogens. Neither one of those bonds is strong enough to survive getting
smacked around by a gamma or a neutron. They’re just going too fast. Sure enough, they knock
the hydrogens clean off. Now, in a water cooled reactor, you have a
system called a recombiner that will take the hydrogen gas and the oxygen gas that is
always being created from the nuclear reaction and put them back together, because chemically
they’d much rather be water than being hydrogen and oxygen. It’s a great system as long as
it’s operating and the system is pumping. Well, at Fukushima Daiichi, the problem was
that the pumping power stopped. When the pumping power stopped, water was still getting busted
apart. Hydrogen is real light, and even though it wants to get with oxygen again it will
dissociate fairly quickly. The hydrogen will sit at the top of the vessel and the oxygen
will sit in a layer below it, and then there’s the water. The designers of that particular reactor had
intentionally designed it so that you would vent the hydrogen outside of the containment
building. This has always been kind of controversial. They ducted the hydrogen up to the upper decks
of the reactor, which were outside the containment. They’re just kind of a sparse steel frame
structure up there. And one, two, three, we say it happen on the news. First one filled
with hydrogen, got to a certain point, boom. The news said, “Oh, We had a nuclear explosion.”,
and I’m like, “No, we didn’t. It wasn’t a nuclear explosion. It was a hydrogen gas explosion.”
It didn’t burst the containment. I don’t want to diminish it too much but it
was not nearly as scary as it sounded. It happened one, two, three. The tsunami hit about an hour after the reactors
were shut down. Fission was long gone by the time the tsunami came along. But the reactors
were still managing decay heat. The tsunami came and destroyed the diesel generators,
but they still had batteries and those batteries ran for about eight hours. That eight hours was the most important time
of all. If you had to pick eight hours to make sure that the pumps were still working,
those first eight hours were the most important time. By the time the batteries ran dry and
the pumps stopped, the reactor had gotten past the worst part of its decay heat comedown.
It was still going on, decay heat doesn’t turn off, and it continues even in spent fuel.
That decay heat continued to build. Heat was not being removed from the reactor. Why weren’t they using the power from the
reactor to run the pumps? Because the reactor had been turned off. This shows if you do stupid designs, something
bad will happen, even after 40 years. A friend of mine was GE’s first nuclear safety engineer
and he worked on the Fukushima plant, and they would have meetings with the TEPCO officials
and engineers and they would all nod their heads in long meetings and say “We’ll do this,
we’ll do that,” and then they go off after the meeting and do whatever they wanted. That’s
why you had a 15-foot sea wall with a 45-foot wave coming over, and diesel generators and
fuel in the basement. It has nothing to do with nuclear power, it
has to do with bad management and you wouldn’t even design a simple factory the way that
was designed. I’m sure you could talk to the Japanese representative here about TEPCO’s
management getting kicked out years ago for fraud and other things. They’ve had a history. Let me talk about today’s nuclear fuel, because
that is common to both boiling water reactors, pressurized water reactors and CANDUs. This
is a handful of these uranium oxide fuel pellets. The guy’s got gloves on and it’s easy to think
he’s got gloves on to protect him from the uranium oxide, but now that I’ve taught you
about the true nature of radioactivity, you might go “I’m not so sure that stuff’s so
dangerous after all,” and you would be correct. He is not protecting himself from the uranium,
he’s protecting the uranium from himself. That stuff has to stay super pure and super
clean and you don’t want to get any of your oils, or grease or sweat on nuclear fuel that’s
going to go inside a fuel rod so that’s what the gloves are for. They take these fuel pellets and slide them
down these zirconium tubes and they actually will segregate the pellets along the length
of the fuel assembly according to enrichment. They’ll put the most enriched ones in the
middle, and then they’ll kind of decrease the enrichment along the length of the fuel
assemblies. It’s really, really expensive to fabricate solid fuel. Back in the day, their business model for
how to make a nuclear reactor was sometimes referred to as a “razor blades business model,”
in other words sell these reactors to utilities pretty much at cost in order to lock them
in to a long-term supply contract. It was good money for them, because once somebody’s
bought your reactor, they’re going to buy your Westinghouse 17×17 array fuel. They’re
not going to go “Hey, GE, what kind of deal can you give me on this?” And be told “Dude,
you don’t have my reactor.” You’re working with that guy, there’s no market out there
once you build the reactor, you’re using his fuel. If he decides to change the price on
you, well, that’s tough. Here’s the reactor. It’s got its lid off,
and then they’ll fill the whole thing up to a level with water, so they make the whole
thing into a swimming pool. Fill this whole thing up with water, because the water is
radiation shielding. They take the fuel assemblies out and put it in the spent fuel pool. This
is what they have to do about every 18 months to the reactor. They’ll take out about a third
of the fuel and then they’ll load in about a third new fresh fuel and then they’ll reshuffle
the fuel that’s already been in there. They’ll move it from the center out to the periphery. It’s like “Lord of the Rings,” “The Great
Eye is looking,” no, it’s really not in the eye. Here is what it really is. It’s a cross-section
of nuclear fuel. This is uranium oxide and when you put it in a reactor for a while,
one of the things xenon does, it’s a gas, so it’s way, way, way less dense than solid
fuel. When you make this gas, it starts to break up the solid structure of the fuel. The solid fuel will begin to swell and crack
and the gasses, the krypton and the xenon begin to fill up, and you begin to get this
central void. This is actually a gap in the fuel. Fission product gasses will accumulate
here. Wigner didn’t like solid fuel. He was a chemical
engineer by training and he thought, “What kind of industrial process do we run chemically
based on solids?” He goes “We don’t. Everything we do, we use as liquids or gasses because
we can mix them completely.” You can take a liquid, you can fully mix it. You can take
a gas, you can fully mix it. You can’t take a solid and fully mix it unless you turn it
into a liquid or a gas. To give you an idea, here’s what we do today.
We make this solid uranium oxide fuel and there’s a single pellet, and then we put them
in these big reactor fuel elements, zirconium tubes that are like 12 feet long and about
this big around. We then stick them in the reactor and irradiate them for a couple of
years. We only burn up a small amount of the uranium that’s in there, we take it out and
we stick it in a spent fuel pool. It is not very efficient. The heavy water reactor will use about 0.7
percent energy value and the light water… Reactors in the United States, we’re extracting
about half of 1 percent of the energy that’s in the uranium. You can imagine going to your
boss saying “I developed a new system”, “Well how efficient is it?”, “It’s less than 1 percent”,
“Excuse me, what did you build? I think you need to go work on that again,” you know.
We just simply wouldn’t accept this. I’m an engineer. If you’re that far off 100
percent, man I want to get a whole lot closer and Weinberg did too. They wanted to get to
nearly 100 percent of the energy utilization. The molten salt reactor experiment was the
core part of it. They didn’t have a blanket around it, they just wanted to see if they
could get the first step to work, and they were successful. After they completed the molten salt reactor
experiment, they went to the Atomic Energy Commission they said “Hey, G, can we have
some more money? We’d like to go now and build the real thing. We’d like to build the blanket
and hook a power conversion system on and make electricity,” they felt like they’d shot
the moon. The Atomic Energy Commission unfortunately did not share their zeal. They had invested very heavily in an alternative
technology, the plutonium fast breeder reactor based on solid fuels and turning abundant
uranium-238 into plutonium-239 and then burning it in the reactor. It involved a whole different
set of technologies that were much more in line with the light water reactors. It’s funny,
even at that time 50 years ago, nobody thought the light water reactor, the heavy water reactor
would be around very long. They were just simply too inefficient in their use of nuclear
fuel. Like I was saying, the Atomic Energy Commission
said “Hey, guess what, we’re putting all this money in the fast breeder. We’ve got all these
companies lined up to do the fast breeder. They even actually built one in Monroe, Michigan.
It had had a meltdown. They were undeterred, they were moving forward and so they told
Weinberg to take a hike. The story gets a little more complicated too
because in addition to being a thorium guru, Weinberg was also the original inventor of
the pressurized water reactor. He had invented it and gotten his patent for it in 1947, so
it was a little bit of a tricky thing to have the inventor of the light water reactor advocating
for something very, very, very different. And got a little worse than that too, because
Weinberg was never really crazy about the light water reactor. He didn’t like the fact
that it had to run at really high pressure. There would be an accident someday where you
were not able to maintain the pressure or keep cooling it. There could be a meltdown,
there could be a release of radioactivity. Does any of this sound familiar? And he was
making enough of a stink about this that there was a congressional leader named Chet Holifield… A member of the joint Congressional Atomic
Energy Committee… Who told Alvin Weinberg, he said, “If you’re
so concerned about the safety of nuclear energy, it might be time for you to leave the nuclear
business.” He wasn’t questioning the value or the importance of nuclear energy, if anything
he was far more convinced about that than anyone else. What he was questioning was whether the right
path been taken in the development of nuclear reactors. He was particularly well suited
to make that question because his role as inventor of predominant technology so he was
quietly shown the door. After he had left Oak Ridge you can imagine
things did not go well for the research team the Atomic Energy Commission, commissioned
a report WASH 1222 I like to call it white wash 1222. Because they really nitpicked on three very,
very small issues about the reactor and said look big problems here. I don’t think we can
go forward until these are resolved. When it came time to talk about the safety and
the performance of the reactor there may be some safety advantages that haven’t been quantified
yet regarding this approach but you know we just really can’t be sure about that. Just burns me up because I think big, big,
big mistake United States made in walking away from this. So they put all their chips fast breeder reactor
and that didn’t work out too well for them. They start building one in Tennessee. The
program ended up in getting canceled by Carter in 1979 and was briefly resurrected by Reagan
in 1981 and then cancelled again. So that’s what happened to fast breed reactor in the
United States, a couple of countries kept going with it. The French went with it in eighties they built
Phénix and Superphénix and then they ended up shutting down there fast breeder too and
the Japanese tried it but they had several but one called Monju and it had been shut
down since the mid 90s. Then a few months ago they turned it back
on and then somebody dropped a crane in liquid sodium and then they shut it off again, so
you know everybody has tried the fast breeder reactor. I think the Russian’s are trying
it. I have some good friends in nuclear industry.
They are very big advocates of the fast breeder reactor. The common name for now is the integral
fast reactor. I am not the biggest fan a reactor that is full of liquid sodium. If any of you
are chemists in here you probably recall sodium has a great infinity for just about everything. What are your thoughts on the traveling wave
reactor? The traveling wave reactor is another form
of a liquid metal fast breeder reactor. It is a particularly difficult implementation
of that reactor. That reactor is already hard to build in first place, with the traveling
wave they make it even more complicated by saying we are going to leave the fuel in the
reactor for the lifetime of the reactor. Physically propagate this deflagration wave,
a nuclear conversion and burning wave. Why on Earth would you take such a hard reactor
and make it even harder to what end? What is your goal? And all I’ve been able to read
as far as their goal is that they want to never have to recycle or replace the fuel. At the end of their life their concept is
to just bury the thing in the ground and leave it there. I’m thinking, “You don’t leave a
bunch of plutonium in a pool of liquid sodium underground for an extended period of time
that is a bad disposal option.” They have attracted Bill Gate who of course
is an extremely wealthy man. If Bill Gates wants to save a lot of money he can get in
touch with me and I think I can talk him out of traveling wave. He won’t return my calls. Don’t feel bad. I used to be so into fusion, specially helium-3
fusion, mining in the mood. Oh my God! I’ve read so many books about that stuff. Fusion is magical. If we make that happen
it would be magical. I took this fusion class when I was at Georgia
Tech and I will never forget it. We started studying and I go, “Man, this is really hard.” Charged particles don’t want to get near each
other. Bare nuclei are both charged, positive charged, they want to avoid each other. And my professor had a really great way of
putting it. “It’s like going to the mini golf.” He says, “You know how in mini golf you’ve
got the volcano, and the volcano’s got the hole at the very top, and you’ve got to putt
your ball in a way that it goes all the way up the side of the volcano, and ‘phwep!’ falls
in the hole.” He goes, “OK. That’s like fusion. The ball is like a nucleus, and the volcano
is the scattering effect. So any time you want to have a nucleus go
to another nucleus, it scatters; it rolls up the mountain and it rolls down the side,
it rolls over here, over there… and only when you just perfectly get it on the right
angle does it go in the volcano.” Now, the problem with fusion, he goes, “You can’t steer
the ball, you have to have enough temperature so that it can make it all the way up the
side of the volcano and fall in, and then you have to have enough balls because you
can’t steer them there at the mini golf park”, that’s density, “and then because they’re
flying all over the place, you’ve got to make sure that there’s a fence around the mini
golf park so that they don’t get away.” That’s confinement. He said, “Those are your three things, density,
temperature, and confinement, to make fusion happen.” I said, “Dude, that’s really hard!” So, I
came up with another analogy, “So, I guess fission would be like the mini golf park except
now the volcano was flush, the hole was about this big around, the balls are going slow,
and every time the ball goes in the hole, two more balls come out.” He goes, “Yeah, that’s pretty good.” I’ve looked at focus fusion, I’ve looked at
steam-piston fusion, I’ve looked at D-helium-3 and P-boron, and all these other kind of things
and I’m still going, “I’m just not buying it yet.” You’re saying the business case isn’t there.
That’s what you’re saying. It’s just so darn hard! I mean, a fusion reactor
is a big vacuum tube at 10 keV, which is like 15 patrillion degrees, and then inside this
are superconducting magnets that are held in liquid helium, and all of this is jacketed
in a lithium blanket that will breed megacuries of tritium, which will then be injected into
this reactor which is driven by these giant neutral-ion beams. I mean, it’s like, “Oh my gosh! Can we make
this thing any more complicated then it is?” And even then you can’t hold the confinement
for more than a few microseconds in the Tokamak configuration, which is the most favored and
desired. Thorium’s actually a little bit more down
to earth. If you go to the liquid form, force yourself to make that technology commitment,
50 years from now, people will go, “Of course that’s the answer!” Fusion is so hard that we can build a fusion
reactor, and we can have 100 PhDs working on it. Fission is so easy that we can take
a couple of kids out of high school, train them for a few months, and they can be running
a nuclear submarine. Want to build a reactor to bring energy for
the oil sands. This would be the perfect opportunity. Well, if we have a reactor like this, do we
need the oil sands? I mean, that’s the way I look at it; I don’t
know a lot about oil sands, but I know that it’s a particularly hard way to get oil. People
in the middle east can get oil a whole lot cheaper from their place then people can get
it from the oil sands. If I can beat them by a million to one, maybe we ought to do
that. If you were to make the oil sands just a little
tiny bit cleaner, then they would perk up their ears, as opposed to clean energy in
and of itself, because it relates to something they know. I sat on the plane next to a guy who was in
the oil business, and he was telling me all about the oil sands, and how much money they’re
making and so forth. I was just sort of sitting there, taking it in, listening… Gas… How much does gas cost here? A dollar… A dollar ten? Gas costs a dollar ten? Yeah, it’s expensive, because we have more
tax on gasoline, which I think is a good idea. What do you pay for gas? I’m paying like, $3.50 for gas. Really? I thought gas was cheaper in America! The Canadian dollar’s almost on par, isn’t
it? Yeah. Oh wait… you all do it in liters! Do we pump your car with gas and go, “I just
pumped twelve gallons of gas into my car. Do you know how much napalm that would make?
If I dropped that on a village, I would kill 5,000 little children!” You know, and you’re
like, “No! Of course not! I’m going to get into my car and drive 300 miles on it!” I
mean, it’s all about what you do; none of this stuff is inherently good or bad, it’s
what you decide to do with it. You know, one of the things that doesn’t earn
me a lot of friends is the notion when we talk about, “Oh, so-and-so can’t enrich uranium,”
I go, “No offense, but who are we to tell anybody what they can do?” I mean, uranium’s
uranium, and it’s not exactly like we have a monopoly on the stuff. Same thing goes for things like plutonium.
Plutonium is… I’m not the biggest fan of plutonium because I’m not crazy about the
plutonium fast-breeder reactor, but there’s nothing good or bad about plutonium. Plutonium
just is. It’s what you decide to do with it. Now, we’ve made a lot of plutonium in our
reactors. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to drop it in a hole in the ground,
or are we going to feed it to a reactor like LFTR and make power out of it? I think that’s
a whole lot smarter thing to do. The other day I was debating some anti-nukes,
and they were getting on LFTR because they said, “Oh, this is going to use uranium. You
know, from nuclear weapons!” And I said, “I think you guys would be all over that! Take
nuclear weapons, take them apart, take the uranium out, burn it up, make electricity!
You want to leave it in the bomb? What do you want to do with it?” The Navy has as many reactors as we have in
the civilian world. Think about the security posture that the US would have if we didn’t
have this nuclear capability. Submarines can stay underwater and go under the polar ice
cap. If you look the ground forces today, we seem to be using a lot of energy, people
wonder if we could cut that down. The energy is used for good purposes. So, the reason that we can fight in the night,
take out enemies without losing our own soldiers is because we have energy powered capabilities.
We have sensors, radios, all sorts of things that give us the advantage, and they’re all
based on energy. The way that we’re sustaining the force is we’re trucking liquids over the
ground. When I was waiting to go into Iraq since we
began invasion in 2003 some of generals couldn’t get spare parts or supplies out forward because
the convoys were busy carrying fuel and water. More significantly, cost in lives, half of
our losses in Iraq are associated with the supply chain. If we didn’t have to carry all that liquid
– 80 percent of the supply chain – we might be able to find another way, something called
an adaptive brigade. This force could provide its own energy and water and not really have
to be resupplied for say a month at a time. If you need energy during the day, put about
a hundred acres of solar panels. If you have a threat out there, that might
not work too well because you have to secure the whole perimeter and so now all your soldiers
spend their time patrolling the hundred acre solar farm. What if we had a reactor that was so safe
and simple and economical that you could take it out to the battlefield and use it, and
then when you leave, leave it for the host nation and they run it. Prosperity is related to energy. If we can
bring people to about 2,000 kilowatt hours per year of electrical energy, they have a
chance of achieving prosperity. Now, of course, prosperity depends upon the rule of law, good
government, property rights, education, but electric power for heat, light, transportation,
safety and so on is a critical element of prosperity today. Developing countries know this. Energy in
coal use is growing rapidly in all the developing countries. They want to achieve that level
of prosperity and they’re being supported by Peabody Coal. The National Academy of Sciences said that
every freshwater fish in the United States of America now has dangerous levels of mercury
in its flesh. And that mercury is coming from coal burning power plants. My levels of mercury came back 10 times the
amount of what the EPA considers safe. I was told by Dr. David Carpenter, who is the national
authority on mercury toxins, that a woman with my levels of mercury in her blood would
have children with cognitive impairment with permanent brain damage. I said, “Do you mean she might have?” And
he said, “No, no, no. The science is very clear right now.” Her children would have
some level of permanent neurological impairment, probably as a permanent IQ loss in those kids
of five to seven points. There are now 640,000 children born in this
country every year who’ve been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in their mother’s
wombs. Ozone and particulates from coal burning power plants kill 60,000 Americans a year.
A million asthma attacks, a million lost workdays every year. That’s part of the cost of coal that they
don’t tell you about when they say “Oh, it’s only, you know, ten cents a kilowatt hour.” Both light water reactors and CANDUs do not
use very much of the energy in the fuel and they leave behind two classes of materials.
One is the actual fission products – that’s what happens when you fission the stuff. Then
there is what’s called the transuranics. That’s what happens when the uranium absorbs the
neutron and doesn’t fission, and turns into plutonium, americium and curium and few other,
most of it is plutonium. The overwhelming majority of transuranics
are plutonium. So when you talk to people about waste disposal, they say, “What’s the
concern?” Well, most of the stuff that’s in the fuel is just uranium. It’s no more radioactive
than it was when you stuck it in, and it’s not really a concern. And the fission products, they are very radioactive
when they are created, but they decay rather quickly. They don’t really have long-term
radioactivity. They just decay too fast, it is the deal. There are a few of them that
have very long half-lives but that means their radioactivity levels are extremely low and
they just don’t really pose a hazard. The real challenge with spent fuel management
is the presence of those transuranics – plutonium, americium, curium – because they have moderate
half-lives and they have complicated decay chains. When you’re looking at a Yucca mountain
or a disposal site you say, “What are we going to do with that?” The basic advantage of LFTR over that approach
is we don’t form those transuranics. We burn up essentially all of the fuel in this process
because we don’t remove fuel from the reactor until it’s a fission product. General idea is you don’t want uranium, thorium,
or anything else to end up in your waste stream and that’s a pretty straightforward proposition
in this fluid-fueled reactor. So our waste story is a lot different. You can also then
turn around and go back and take some of the waste that’s already been created in our uranium-fueled
reactors and potentially destroy those long lived transuranics through fission. Waiting them out to decay is a very slow process.
Plutonium 239, for instance, has a 24,000 year half-life. That’s a long time you’re
going to be waiting for that to decay. On the other hand, you can fission it and then
those fission products will decay very rapidly and you also get an energy release and a neutron
release, both of which are good. A thousand kilograms of U-233 is roughly what
we’ve got. Ninety percent of that’ll fission. We can make about 500 to $600 million in electricity
and another 50 or $60 million on the fission of the uranium-235. Almost all of it will
ultimately end up fissioning. Out of about a thousand kilograms, about 15 kilograms of
plutonium-238 will be left over. This is good stuff. NASA is desperate for this stuff. Plutonium-238
is different than plutonium-239, the stuff we use in bombs. In fact it’s worthless for
bombs. These radioisotope thermoelectric generators
are based on plutonium-238 and this is the only way that we’ve been able to explore the
outer solar system. The United States is unique. It’s the only country in the world that has
sent space probes beyond the Asteroid Belt and it’s all been based on having this technology.
Short answer, we’re out of this stuff. It ‘s gone. We’ve used it all up. The Russians
used to sell us some. They’ve sold us all their inventory. It’s gone. NASA’s got billions of dollars of deep space
missions hinging on having enough of this stuff to run the batteries to let the thing
call home. We will be able to make this in LFTR. If you’ve heard sometimes about us saying
“We burn up 99 percent of the fuel and there’s one percent left”, the one percent left is
that stuff and it’s worth almost as much as the stuff we burn up. In addition, it would make medical molybdenum-99. We are about to shut down the one reactor
in Canada that is making molybdenum-99 for medical purposes in 2015. There are hundreds
of thousands of patients that will not be able to get their molybdenum-99 that they
need for diagnostic procedures when that happens. We can make molybdenum-99 just in normal course
of operation and we can remove it very easily. There are four natural decay chains of alpha-emitting
radioisotopes. One starts with U-238, U-235, thorium-232, and then there’s one that’s extinct
because it has no long-lived precursors on it. It was there in the supernova billions
of years ago. It’s gone now. It’s on the U-233 decay chain. There’s a special product on
there, bismuth-213, that could be a smart bomb against cancer. They attach the bismuth-213
to an antibody. That bismuth only has a half-life of 45 minutes
so it’s very radioactive and it’s going away quickly. But in that time, that antibody can
go and find a cancer cell. The bismuth decays and alpha particle goes through the cell,
and it kills the cancer. The radiation technique we use in cancer therapy today, they’re all
based on beta-emitting isotopes, not on alpha-emitting isotopes. They have a big kill radius. They’re
not very directable. It’s OK, but it’s really not a smart bomb. Alpha-admitting isotopes are really rare.
It’s hard to get them. It’s hard to get the right kind, the right chemical one that will
lock onto the right thing that’s close enough to being stable that even after it decays,
it doesn’t just decay ten more times in the body. Bismuth-213 is one decay away from being
done. And it’s especially good against dispersed
cancers, like leukemia, cancer of the blood. Not tumorous cancers, where there’s a big
hard lump that you can go in and cut out with surgery, but stuff that’s hard to get to.
Pancreatic cancer – you get pancreatic cancer, you’re probably looking at a death sentence,
that’s how bad it is. Here’s the problem, bismuth-213 is unique
in this capability and bismuth-213 can only be generated from the decay of Uranium-233. I sometimes even lie in bed thinking, if my
kid had leukemia, how hard would I be working on getting this therapy ready for them to
save lives and if it’s that important, why aren’t I going full bore on it right now? How much did it cost to build? What’s your ballpark figure? Is this Home
Depot stuff, or… No. No, I think a first unit which is probably
going to be on the order of 20/30 megawatts electric is – we’re looking at several hundred
million dollars to develop that, but then taking a step beyond that to utility-class
scale reactor, probably another several hundred million dollars. You’re probably looking at a billion dollars
to bring it up to utility-class, but when you consider what it’s going to do, that’s
really not all that much money. A lot of it is the engineering and then the regulation
is a huge question mark. It’s actually not a lot of money, in a sense. I’ve learned it’s not about the number, it’s
about the uncertainty on the number. You can go to an investment bank right now and you
can say “I want to build and oil drilling platform and it’s going to cost 12 billion
dollars,” and they will write you a check for that because you can go and say, “I’ve
built 50 of these platforms before, here’s about where the price came out. It’s going
to go in this area, which right now is producing this much oil, it’s going to be out here.
It’s going to take this long to recover this much oil based on how we’ve done it the other
50 times.” And they go, there’s not a lot of uncertainty in doing this. You start by not making a full LFTR… Yes. …but making like a little piece. Take some
of these by-products and you use that money to get this little first stage that starts
making money… Are you sure that we don’t have ethernet plugged
into the back of your head somewhere? We’re doing wireless here. I don’t think. Could you repeat the question? No. No. I’m sorry, this question’s not covered
by an NDA. We got some smart people in this room. In aerospace engineering, we were taught to
put development costs and unit costs in the separate category. It’s like you build a fighter
and you spend billions of dollars to design it, but then you run off copies for 20 million
dollars apiece. That’s how they build 737s or other airplanes. If you want to go, “What’s the unit cost going
to be?”, there’s reason to think this is going to be a lot less expensive than what we have
today if we set the development in another column. The reason why, #1, low pressure operation.
That’s the biggest one. When you don’t have to have 9 inch steel pressure vessels, huge
concrete containments. #2, you don’t have to fabricate fuel. You don’t have to enrich it.
You don’t have to fabricate it and you don’t have to have the approach to disposal as we
do today. Those two features right away are a big deal.
Number three is the safety systems. High pressure, water cooler reactors have an abundance of
safety systems designed to always keep the core covered with water. So, if one system
has 99 percent reliability; well, you need another one that also has it so that you can
get 99.9 and maybe statisticians will get mad at me, I might be doing it wrong. One of the things that makes the conventional
reactors so expensive the containment vessel and you’ve touched on that. The other is all
the security apparatus around the maintaining of the fissile material so that it doesn’t
get diverted for military purposes. I’ve scratched my head about that with existing
reactors because our reactors, at least in the United States, don’t use highly registered
uranium. Well, that’s one of the fears and that’s one
of the security reasons around it. Whether it’s real or not – Yeah, I guess I would have to challenge whether
it’s real or not. It wasn’t that many years ago that we were
able to show parties of visitors around the site and actually show them what good condition
the site is in and how safe it is. It’s only since 9/11 that we’ve had to stop inviting
visitors. We’ve always had a very open policy; very keen to show people how good we are at
what we do and how safe the plant is. It’s very difficult to convince yourself that things
are safe because you can’t see what’s going on. Even the plutonium inside the reactor is what’s
called reactor-grade plutonium, which isn’t suitable. Try going to any facilitate in North America
now, they have SWAT teams and – I’ve toured a nuclear power plant. We’ve really
got the working when we went in there. I’m not exactlysure what the basis of that was,
whether they were worried about theft of fissile material – that would be pretty hard. I’d
have to go and depressurize the core, take the lid off, get access to all the spent fuel,
somehow remove it from the spent fuel pool into some sort of transport cask, take it
off the site to a reprocessing facility that doesn’t exist and – I mean, I just go “There’s
got to be another reason they have all that Watch the TV news. Watch the TV news.
Watch the TV news. Well, you know. It just seems to me, when
there’s a subject that I know a little bit about and watch how the news covers it, I
get frustrated really quickly. I think just about every media outlet I’ve
seen is drumming up fear. From the New York Times to the Huffington Post to the Fox News. There’s been a recent spike in infant deaths
in Philadelphia and there’s one expert right now who is saying, “It’s radioactive levels
in our water that’s to blame for that.” This has been a very bipartisan approach to
scaring the public. Radiation comes across the ocean. It is dissipated
by wind current and salt spray, but it is reaching the shore of California. There’s radiation all over the place, every
single day, but you’re talking the damaging radiation. That’s the thing we’re most concerned
about and even in Chernobyl, that didn’t get to the United States in damaging amounts.
How is it going to do that? OK, you know what Bernie. From your mouth,
to God’s ears. Our media is not built around effectively
and accurately disseminating information to the public. Our media is built around… Thank you. Our media is built around putting
your eyeballs on their print or on their website and keeping them there. The best way to keep
them there is to scare you to death. Only 24 hours after the most horrendous tragic,
gargantuan natural disaster of an earthquake followed by the tsunami, the only story in
town was about Fukushima. As an engineer, we are taught that our responsibility
is to accurately and effectively communicate and disseminate information both to other
engineers and to the public at large. So an engineer gets on TV and they say, “What’s
going to happen, Dr. So-and-So?”, and he goes, “Well, there’s a possibility several things
could happen. A very low probability event is that this might happen, but it’s much more
likely that –” “Oh, wait. Let’s get back to that low probability event. Now, in that
low probability event, what could happen?” “You know, I guess it’s possible that – but
this is really unlikely, and the wind would have to blow this way and –” “Well, let’s
go that way.” The poor engineer, he’s thinking we’re up 10^-12 now, or something like that. And they’re going, “Does Godzilla form?” “Well,
you know, a double ended DNA break, I suppose in the right gene, could actually trigger
an increased growth rate of hormone, which could actually lead to mild gigantism.” They only wanted to know about the risks from
the nuclear incident. And what they particularly wanted to know, and asked many times was what
is the worst case scenario. Godzilla is coming tomorrow. It’s like “Oh
man, we’re like 10^-32 at this point. The proton is going to decay before this happens.” You already have a terrible scare story. It
wasn’t as if we were asking them to cover the good news, not the bad news. There was
plenty of bad news. I had a friend of mine. She and her husband
are diplomats in China and she wrote me as breathlessly as you can in an email and she
said, “Kirk, are we going to be OK? I’m in China, are we going to be all right?” I said,
“Don’t worry. The iodine-131 would have to blow all the way around the world and then
come back around to get you in China and there wouldn’t be enough of it, has an eight and
a half day life, so it would have decayed to nothing right about here.” Blah, blah,
blah. But, she was scared to death and this is a
smart girl. The Science Media Center’s job was to line
up people who know about radiation, who know about its affects on humans and without exception,
they said from the beginning, “This is a very, very serious incident, but in terms of it
being a threat, even to people in Tokyo, never mind to people in Glasgow, they were expressing,
time after time, apart from the people in the exclusion zone, that this threat was very,
very, very, very small.” And indeed, they still feel it is very small. Nuclear experts have a vested interest in
playing down nuclear incidents. We have journalists coming to us and saying,
“My editor has said to me, what are the apologists saying today?” because we were running almost
daily press briefings, with different experts. None of them actually worked for industry
as it happened, but yeah, there was this idea, that they would say that, wouldn’t they? These
leading scientists, who publish and peer-review journals, who work for very respected scientific
institutions, are playing down an incident because they support the nuclear industry.
That is quite a charge. I was just reading an article this morning
saying they detected radioactivity in milk and I thought, of course they detected radioactivity
in milk. All milk is radioactive. Two of them said, Fiona, our editors think
there is something uniquely terrifying about radiation. There is something unique to that
word that has the capacity to really terrify people. What a strange set of news values
that what justifies the amount of coverage is what your editors feel terrifies people. What they really meant to say was there was
a particular radio-isotope they found in the milk that came from the Japanese nuclear plant.
The article, of course, didn’t mention that, which would make people think, “Uh-oh, my
milk has gone from zero radioactivity to some radioactivity which must be bad and I must
be in real trouble now.” The way that this was covered was wrong. I
feel confident in saying that because of how many journalists felt uneasy about this. I
know of journalists who were taken off this story because what they were writing was too
measured and that’s in a really significant, major news room in this country. In terms of the public’s perception of risk,
things that might be true because I read them on the Internet, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted
today, “the causes of death worldwide in March 2011, starvation, three million.” Neil deGrasse Tyson, big fan of his. We’ve
needed somebody like Neil deGrasse Tyson ever since Carl Sagan died. But yeah, what’s the
first one on his list, starvation? Starvation, 3,000,000; malaria, 250,000; car
crashes, 100,000; quakes and tsunamis 28,000. Body count on nuclear power death is what?
Low. Civilian nuclear power in the United States
hasn’t killed anyone. The body count would be zero. So when Three Mile Island releases some radiation,
you’d want to incorporate statistic likelihood of someone getting thyroid cancer in any number. No, because even the statistical likelihood
is theory that is not based on facts. It’s called the linear no-threshold hypothesis
and it’s not based on epidemiological data. It’s based on the assumption that radiation
will harm you at whatever degree – to whatever degree you are exposed. I thought that that was established actually.
I thought that… No, it’s established. I’ve heard that there’s… It’s established policy. That’s where that
no such thing as safe radiation – that comes from the linear no-threshold hypothesis. It
is established in regulation yet, there’s no epidemiological data to back that up. There
is no study that says we have taken a cohort of people and we have exposed them to one
percent more radiation than normally would get and we’ve seen one percent more cancer. In fact, there are many places in the world
where back room levels of radiation are substantially higher if the linear no-threshold hypothesis
was in fact true or even approaching truth, you would see statistically significantly
higher levels of cancer in those populations, those cohorts. But what happens? Not only
is there not higher levels of cancer, there are actually suppressed levels of cancer. Which leads to a theory that does have substantiation
in the data and that’s called hormesis. Hormesis is simply a little bit is good for you and
radiation appears to be one of these things where a little bit more is actually good for
you and suppresses your development of cancer. And I say, well why would a little bit of
radiation be good for me? When you go and exercise, you damage your muscles, but your
body rebuilds them and rebuilds them stronger than they were before. Radiation stimulates
cellular damage, but it also stimulates the body’s repair mechanism. If hormesis became policy instead of linear
no-threshold, we would have an incredibly different approach to radiation. In fact,
in some ways, we actually do accept hormesis when it comes to natural radiation, but we
don’t accept it when it comes to artificial radiation. The reality is, there’s no difference
between the two. We have a three year environmental assessment
process in Canada to build a nuclear reactor and we have a weekend to produce a coal plant. Coal and gas plants are able to release radioactive
materials into the environments in much greater amounts than a nuclear plant would ever possibly
be allowed to because they are considered what’s called NORM, Natural Occurring Radioactive
Materials. For instance, when you go frack a shale and you pull gas out, a lot of radon
comes out with that too. You burn the gas, that radon’s being released.
Nobody counts that radon against the gas. If they did, the regulatory commission would
shut the gas plant down, same with coal. Coal contains small amounts of uranium and thorium.
They go up the stack, they’re dispersed. That’s why they can’t tell you how much waste
they produced. Yeah, and they spend a lot of money to make
sure that regulatory agencies do not regulate NORM for a coal or gas plant the way they
regulate radioactive emissions from a nuclear plant. If they did, we would be shutting down
all of our coal and gas plants based on radioactivity alone. Even if linear no-threshold was actually true
– let’s say for a minute it was true, and this was the reality of the world. You would
still be much better off establishing an entire world powered by nuclear power. The reason
why is because of the radioactive releases from coal. You would want to shut down coal
so you could have nuclear, because coal releases more radiation than nuclear by several orders
of magnitude. The notion that there is no safe amount of
radiation is not a substantiated or even an accurate statement. It is probably actually
utterly inaccurate. But, it is commonly found as a basis of public policy around the world. That was my understanding until just now,
that there was no safe level of radiation. Two great books on this- “Terrestrial Energy”
by Bill Tucker, and “The Power to Save the World” by Gwen Cravens- go into this topic
extensively. Until this notion of low exposure levels of radiation is addressed and put to
bed, it will forever dog the nuclear industry. A sunburn is radiation damage. That’s radiation
burn. We don’t call it that, but that’s what it is. Your body is responding, trying to
prevent further radiation damage, ionizing radiation to your skin and your cells, and
it’s generating melanin, which is a natural shielding mechanism. You don’t want to let anybody get too much
radiation dose at any one time and the radioactivity that we get from nuclear reactors is extremely
small in comparison to the radioactivity we’re getting from other sources. The biggest one
being radon. There’s a radioactive gas that’s coming out of the ground all the time. You’re
breathing it right now. It is responsible by far for the majority of the radioactivity
that your body receives. It’s just the planet we live on. Inside the earth, thorium and uranium are
decaying, and they’re decaying very slowly, but there’s a lot of them and the earth is
big. They produce most of the heat that drives the internal processes of the earth. They
produce the heat that drives plate tectonics, and they produce the heat that drives the
generation of the magnetic field. If we didn’t have the energy from thorium, we wouldn’t
have carbon recycling in the crust. A bigger deal is the magnetic field, because
the magnetic field is deflecting the solar wind. If you don’t have a magnetic field deflecting
the solar wind, over billions of years your planet ends up like Mars. Because the solar
wind will strip off a planet’s atmosphere without the protecting nature of the magnetic
field. So if we didn’t have the energy from thorium inside the earth, we would be on a
dead planet. A fun thing I tell people, I say, “What’s
green energy?” They go, “Geothermal is green energy.” Do you know where geothermal comes
from? No. It comes from decay of Thorium inside the earth. Is geothermal renewable? Yes! OK,
then Thorium is renewable. “No, it’s not, you’re using it up!” Well, you’re using up
Thorium as it decays inside the earth, too. So any argument for geothermal, if it is rigorously
pursued, is an argument for the renewability of thorium as an energy resource. And I love
to have that debate. They usually change the rules on me as I get into it. But a good one to play on your friends if
they start giving you a hard time for coming to protospace and talking about Thorium, you
say, “Dude, it’s green energy.” “What!?” If you’re concerned with the environment,
then you want to be aware of what the power density of any source is. Anybody who’s trying
to sell you biofuels, or this kind of thing, what do you do about the thermodynamic inefficiency
of combustion engines? Fuels, that you burn, is down in here. Whenever we burn something,
we’re using a very inefficient process. Thermodynamics typically gives us about 30 percent of the
energy when we burn fuel. So every time you put a dollar’s worth of
gas in your car, kiss 60 cents goodbye, because it’s going to go out of the exhaust pipe as
heat. And we waste 10 percent of what’s generated in transmission lines. So whenever they talk
about these remote solar farms, or remote wind farms or anything, you have a debt of
10 percent that you’re paying from now on, forever. You’re never going to get that energy
back. Five megawatt, top of the line Siemens wind
mill, takes 10 acres. And five megawatts per 10 acres, that’s half a megawatt per acre.
If you move up to fission, you got hundreds of thousands more watts per square foot, per
acre, per pound. Whatever. And if you move up to fusion, you get another 10,000 times
that. Fusion we don’t have to wait for, because fission is good enough for us, particularly
with the thorium cycle. A nuclear article would be written. Author
of the article will go to me, or Rod Adams, or John Wheeler – somebody who’s kind of known
as a public advocate for nuclear. And then to go find the other side, Ed Lyman, or Jim
Riccio of Greenpeace, or one of these other guys. Now contrast this with an article around
solar, or wind, and I look for this all the time. I’m always trying to see, is there another
side in those articles? There’s never another side. “Such and such a company has announced
they’re going to put 50 megawatts of windmills in this site. World rejoices.” And they’ve chewed up half the mountain to
put the windmills up there. They get more subsidies per megawatt hour
than any other form of energy by one or two orders of magnitude. I mean, it is huge! We’re
offering to buy back solar energy from people who produce it at 35 to 50 cents a kilowatt
hour. I mean, that’s obscene. Why on Earth, if you’re making energy at your home, you
should sell it back to the grid at whatever the grid is buying at that time. The grid
should not have to buy energy from you at some massively increased price. But they’re subsidizing technology until it
gets more efficient. When all of these tariffs are reduced, the
things that we’re supposed to encourage, and jump start an industry, the industry collapses.
Solar industry in Germany and in Spain is in utter collapse because of the projected
removal of fees and tariffs because these are simply not economical sources of energy.
The subsidy may be well intentioned to try to get the industry to get going on its own
but that’s usually not the way things work. Every energy source is subsidized, right?
If oil is subsidized because we’re sending people off to war… The levels of the subsidies are substantially
lower for established industries than they are for things like solar and wind. George Monbiot, who writes in The Guardian,
he has recently come out very strongly in support of nuclear power because of what happened
at Fukushima Daiichi, how if survived the earthquake and the overall effect has been
nothing compared to the death and loss of life from the tsunami. Well, he mentioned in an article that he wrote
yesterday that he talked to Caroline Lucas, the head of the green party in the U.K. And
he asked her why she would support subsidies on solar and wind. She goes “I oppose subsides
for nuclear but I support them for solar and wind because nuclear is an established industry
and solar and wind are still developing industries, and they need public support in order to flourish.”
And so George, a very smart guy, said “Will you support research into thorium reactors,
which could provide a much safer and cheaper means of producing nuclear power?” No, because thorium reactors are not a proven
technology. On an individual level we are seeing a lot
of people change their minds. But at the organizational level we’re not seeing any change. The people
who run the environmentalist organizations, and that’s unfortunate. Have you had a one-on-one where you are talking
to someone and they get this? It’s tough for people who are further up the
food chain in these organizations to come out and make public policy statements. A lot
of people get it one-on-one but they’re afraid to be the first one to stand up and say “Ra-ra-ra,
let’s go do this.” It’s a lot easier when you feel like everybody else is behind you. Why are appeals to technological advancements
always made with regards to solar and wind? It’s going to get better it’s going to get
cheaper, it’s going to get more efficient. Don’t worry about what we have now, cause
it’s going to be better next year. But yet nuclear is assigned this position back in
the ’50s where it can never get better, it can never incorporate a new technology, it
can never improve and we won’t even entertain if it does get any better. Nuclear right now means water cooled reactor,
uranium oxide solid fuel, poor fuel efficiency and steam turbine. That’s what nuclear power
means right now. So people look at Fukushima Daiichi and they go, “Is this the end of nuclear
power?” and I go, “No, it’s not the end of nuclear power, there’s a zillion other ways
to do nuclear power.” The reactor that we worked on is cooled by
a liquid salt, a nuclear fuel in the form of solid pebbles. They’re cooled by fluoride salts, but the
fuel is not dissolved in the salts, it’s in a solid form. I was invited to the director’s office. The
physicist there telling me, “What you have invented is a new thorium uranium-233 breeder.”
Have you ever heard of about EXYDER, of course not. Just imagine what would happen if there was
a light water reactor where the nuclear steam supply system was in a single vessel, no piping
penetrations in excess of about three inches in diameter. I’m working on that exact reactor. From their reaction to Fukushima, it was an
indication that people didn’t understand the options around nuclear. Updating the old infrastructure
will increase the safety standards significantly. Generation two and three are still operational,
generation 3.5 is what’s being built right now and generation four has higher safety
standards, easier to build and so cheaper to build better fuel utilization, drastically
cheaper energy, even safer reactors. Maybe there’s a better way, if you can figure
out how to do this better, I will be happy to get off LFTR and go do whatever that is
better. This is the best way I’ve be able to come up with so far. Can you do a recap on what the study said? The title of the study was “Thorium was no
panacea for nuclear energy.” They were trying to point out the deficiencies in thorium. I didn’t think they were applying a very fair
logic to it because they would say “Thorium in a solid fuel reactor would do blah blah
blah. See that’s not very good so thorium’s dumb.” Well no, thorium’s dumb in a solid fuel reactor.
Not “thorium’s dumb.” If you’re going go out there try to put something
out to the public saying “I’m going to authoritatively refute the use of thorium as an energy source,”
then it behooves you to do your homework. Is it safe as it sounds what’s preventing
North American governments from actually creating the reactor? What’s the scary thing about
it? Ah, you’re thinking like me 10 years ago,
you’re looking for a reason why not, I don’t think there is a reason why not. There may
be a reason why they may not be excited to do it. But there’s no reason why they can’t do it. If I’m a company that’s building CANDUs or
light-water reactors, what competitive advantage do I have by pursuing this other direction?
Probably don’t have any. There’s such a thing as nuclear hacking, it’s
what this whole thing is about, because we’re not talking about nuclear technology the way
it’s done now, we’re talking about a completely different approach to nuclear energy. So maybe we’ll look back in the future and
it’s meetings and gatherings like this we’ll go “Man, that was where it got started. It
didn’t get started at Westinghouse or Atomic Energy of Canada, or GE,” there’s a ton we
could do in this reactor that would even involve the radioactive materials. All the stuff like
the power conversion system all the chemistry, that could all be done non-nuclear. I don’t have a lot of faith that the current
nuclear institutions, to be honest, what exactly do we want from them? I mean all of their
technology is based around technology that isn’t what’s going to go into this machine. We want the fact they have the ear of governments
and very large banks. OK, how many- we’re not exactly building lots
of nuclear reactors right now. All their money now is coming off fuel supply contracts. That’s
how GE and Westinghouse make money on nuclear power today, they don’t build reactors, they
sell fuel. Now 30 years ago they were building reactors, but that’s not really going on right
now. So their business model is overwhelmingly
dominated by fuel fabrications. Come on now you say, “Guess what I got a reactor it’s
got no fuel fabrication to it,” you just upended their business model. In the United States we’re building two reactors
right now. We’re going to shut down more reactors than that in a few years. We’re not getting
ahead of anything, we’ll be lucky to hold the line. I don’t even think we’re going to
be able to do that. What about in developing countries like China
and India? China’s ripping it up, China’s building like
50 reactors right now. But even China’s realized, “We can’t built
reactors based around water cooling and uranium oxide fuel, it’s not going last that long.”
China’s doing LFTR, even as we speak. I found that ago a few months ago. Where are they getting the blueprints? Or
are they developing them? Well, I mean they’ve probably got a whole
bunch of stuff from the PDFs on my website. It’s been in the public domain for an awful
long time. I just made it a little easier to get. This was about 10 years ago. I got in the
car, I lived in Alabama and I was able to go up to Oak Ridge then talk to some of the
people there. And I said “Hey, I’ve heard that you guys long time ago did this really,
really cool thing. What’s going on?” and they’re like “Yeah, long time ago we did a really,
really cool thing and everybody that did it is either retired or dead now.” I’m like “Oh, well, that’s not good. What
can we do?” and they said “Well, they wrote a lot of papers and they wrote a lot of reports.”
I said “Oh, OK. Can I get them?” “Oh yeah” then they took me to this file cabinet and
it was like full of stuff. And PDF’d – not everything but most of it, about two-thirds
of it. So, I had this stack of CD’s and I thought
“Oh!” Send a copy to the Secretary of Energy, send a copy to the Director of National Labs,
send it all out to these different places just sure they were going to get CDs from
a random person and put them in their computer and study them extensively – all five Gigabytes
of them – and come to the same conclusion I had and change national policy. I mean,
of course, right? If we do not get this message out to everyone, then nothing’s going to change. In early 2010 EFT bloggers noticed that all
these guys who were trying signing up from Shanghai, Beijing and they started asking
questions about this and that. They went to Oak Ridge. They took them around
the lab and showed them everything. And it’s funny going to Oak Ridge because they’re all
about the info and the nano and the bio and you want to go, “What about the nuclear?”
They never talk about that part. Well, we get to the end of the trip and the Chinese
official’s name was Dr. Jiang Mianheng… interesting about Dr. Jiang Mianheng, his
father was Jiang Zemin, who used to be the premier of China. So, this is not a poorly-placed
guy in Chinese society. Trained in the United States in Pennsylvania. PhD in Electrical Engineer from Drexel University;
very, very bright guy. They were under a non-disclosure agreement
between RGOE and the Chinese government. So they get to the end of the meeting and
I’m told by Oak Ridge people “You know we had this great trip. Have you learned what
you wanted to learn?” and they go “We’re actually here to learn about the molten salt reactor.
You see, we’re going to build one – we’ve already got a site picked out – and we’re
going to have it built by 2020 and we’re here to learn everything we can about it.” And
in Oak Ridge we were like “Huh…” Anybody have their earphones in their ears
while I’ve been talking to try and drown me out? Older folks like me will recall a day
when earphones didn’t look like that. The whole trick has been the invention of a little
magnet based on neodymium, neodymium-iron-boron magnets. Extremely powerful magnets, and they
use a rare earth mineral called neodymium. And because neodymium-iron-boron magnets are
so powerful one of the places they find application is in the generators that sit on top of windmills. Global demand for wind has really increased
desire to find neodymium. Currently it’s all being mined in China. Now
why am I talking about neodymium? Well, because thorium is always found with
heavy rare earth elements. If you remember your periodic table, the lanthanides that
column above the actinides, those are all the rare earths. Thorium policy in all western nations undermines
the successful development of a domestic rare earth market. All of the rare earths that
most western mining companies are willing to process are what they call bastnasites
or carbonatites. They typically select these rare earths not because of the high ratios
of rare earths but simply the absence of thorium. So consequently the only operating rare earth
mine that just opened up this year, according to their own filings in the USGS, produces
essentially the lighter half of the lanthanide scale and in fact does have some monazites,
which are a thorium rare earth enriched mineralization, which they dispose of. So what happens all across America, Canada,
and South America, there are beautiful monazite deposits that have heavy rare earths which
could be very commercial except for the thorium content. Mountain Pass was originally closed, according
to CEO Mark Smith, because of the EPA and the state of California and some thorium that
came out of a ruptured tailing site. Thorium represents this unknown and unlimited liability
to rare earth production, so it plays into the hands of China. First, China provided rare earth elements
very cheaply to everybody in the world by their cheap labor, lack of enforceable environmental
regulations, and their appreciate currency. Essentially, consolidate and control the rare
earth market. And then they said, “Well, now all of you
are coming to our door to buy our rare earths. We don’t want to sell the raw material anymore.
Our manufacturers can buy it cheaper.” They impose a huge export tax on rare earth
elements. So, one had a choice to accept a huge tax and an increase in the price of the
product or relocate factory into mainland China and buy rare earth elements on the local
market without tax. It’s a strategy and it’s working pretty well. Manufacturers which use rare earth elements
in their products relocated their manufacturing base inside China. The jobs in manufacturing
transferred from the United States and western Europe into the Chinese mainland. They’ve moved all the way up the value chain
and are actually able to leverage their position into capturing other countries I.P. If Toyota
really wants to build a million battery packs, in the end, if they don’t find a solution
to the heavy rare earth problem, they’ll be building them inside China. So what we need to be able to do is let another
entity take that thorium, develop uses and markets, including energy. So, let’s say, for example, you’ve got a single
rare earth refinery creating about 20,000 tons of heavy rare earths a year. On current
consumption, that’s about 130 percent of domestic consumption for rare earths. That automatically
undermines China’s advantage. Now, there’s two places on the planet Earth where you have
a guaranteed supply of heavy rare earths. What can your country leverage that into?
This is the fulcrum you need to get back into the world economy as a manufacturer. Since 99 percent of the rare earths that we
use, including those magnets? Well, when those got mined, there was probably some thorium
that came up with it that’s probably sitting in some barrels over in China right now, waiting
for Dr. Jhang to finish his experiments with thorium molten salt reactors and to start
putting them to use. This is the most important thing that’s going
to happen in the next 24 months, and whoever gets that is essentially going to control
the destiny and the roll out of energy for the foreseeable future. They need to be able to realize the promise
of thorium. But, I’d also like to see us succeed, you know? We were working on this stuff a
long time ago, we made great progress on it. We set it down in 1974 for kind of dumb reasons,
and I think it’s high time that we picked that thread back up again. Energy seems to correlate with influence.
People who have energy, which used to be the U.S., we had a lot of influence, now, there
are others who have a lot of energy, and they seem to be gaining influence. The real question is whether the U.S. is missing
a strategic national security opportunity. We can either be on the wagon or we can buy
foreign reactors in the future. The worldwide energy business is about a three
trillion dollar a year business. And an awful lot of folks’ wealth and power rides on the
business of moving large amounts of hydro-carbon from one place to another. You’re on a billion, million dollar idea here.
And to switch over from fuels like oil, gas, uranium, do you worry that might be a possible
problem? I’m a lot more worried about someday looking
at our descendants and have them say, “Why did you give us this world that we have now?
Why did you give us this world of energy poverty, of pollution, of war, of disease, when you
knew there was a better way and you could have made it happen? Why didn’t you do it?” That’s the same question we’d ask these guys
if we could go back to 1969, right? “Why didn’t you do this? You knew about it, you could
have made it happen, but you didn’t. What’s your excuse?” Human beings have been superstitious and fearful
for most of their history. An era of enlightenment has been a relatively short space of human
history, and by no means assured that it will continue in that manner. I really believe that if we don’t have access
to affordable and clean energy, we will revert. We will go back to the way humans had been
for thousands and thousands of years, which is where the powerful and the rich oppress
the masses, who lived terrible lives trying to provide things for just a few people. We will literally not only revert to barbarism
but revert to social institutions like slavery. And I mean that with all seriousness. You only have a limited amount of money, you
want to reduce greenhouse gases, so you want to apply the dollars in ways that reduce greenhouse
gases the most while creating the most employment possible for that investment. But, all the jobs that they create have to
be built into the price of the power they provide. Yeah, it would provide a lot of jobs
but it’s at the expense of the people that use the energy. If we can provide an energy source cheaper
than from coal, all the nations, in their own economic self-interest, will choose it
over coal. Nuclear energy is not terribly reliable. It’s a turbine that we just take from a gas
plant and suspend it from a big scaffolding, a tower, and surround it by giant mirrors
in the desert. If a cloud passes over, or during the evening, the utility wants a base
load. And the way that we’re going to deliver that base load is by powering it with gas.
We’re building these all over the country, and one of the questions we ask, we need about
3,000 foot in altitude. We need flat land, we need 300 days of sunlight, and we need
to be near a gas pipe. Hugely expensive capital costs. Here are four independent proposals to build
molten salt reactors and their dates. The median is $1.98. You look at a LFTR for one to two dollars
a watt, you’re looking at a full cost there, because the fuel cost is so close to zero
that you can safely ignore it. Nuclear energy only produces electricity. Now all our reactors today use steam turbines.
Now we don’t use that because we’re stupid, we use it because the limitations of pressurized
water mean that you can’t get it all that hot. I mean, the reactor just doesn’t get
that hot. With this reactor, we can get up to more like
700 or 800C, and at those temperatures, the gas turbine turns out to be a better fit.
So you can generate electricity from the gas turbine, and you’ve got to cool the gas, and
every thermodynamic cycle has to reject waste heat. Almost no economic penalty to desalinate sea
water. Or we might try to synthesize fuel. We can
configure it, not to produce electricity, but to dissociate water. You can make ammonia
out of hydrogen, which could be a fuel. It’s also a fertilizer. Ammonia production consumes
more than one percent of the entire world energy budget today. It’s about 14 years from when you put the
project forward to when it’s built, and it’s famous for cost overruns. We used to build small reactors in a short
period of time. May of 1961, Congress funded Camp Century in Greenland. The assembly is still subcritical. We began
to transfer the fuel elements one by one, and started loading the reactor core. The reactor was operating under the ice 18
months later. The Brayton cycle uses an inert gas, so you
don’t have to worry about fuel explosions, you get more efficiency out of the turbine
side, and the turbines are smaller and cheaper to build. The risk of accidents We can achieve safety for less cost because
we’re moving to passive safety rather than engineered safety. We see this trend with
reactors like AP1000 but the LFTR can take it to a much higher level. Commercial nuclear energy around the world
has a very good safety record even if you include Chernobyl. The number of deaths from
nuclear power plant accidents is less than a hundred around the world, ever. Just last year we had a natural gas explosion
at a clean energy facility in Middletown, CT that killed seven people, a coal dust and
methane explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine which killed 29 people, and a methane
explosion in Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 people. San Bruno fire, which was a natural
gas pipeline running underneath a neighborhood and it blew up and killed about eight people
and destroyed 50 homes. Why do you pick nuclear power to pick on?
Why don’t you pick on gas transmission? Why don’t you pick on all these other sources
of actual deaths? Long lived nuclear waste that has to be kept
out of the biosphere for over a quarter of a million years. Really most of that waste is unburned fuel.
There are ways to reprocess it and burn more, but it’s quite expensive and it’s not economically
advantageous in today’s reactors. The breakthrough in going to fluid fuels means you don’t have
to reprocess or recycle, you leave the nuclear fuel in the reactor until it’s burned up. They remain in the salt and they decay in
the salt until they give off all their decay heat. Here’s our transuranics – these figures show
10^-7, 10^-4, 10^-7, 10^-9 grams, this is teeny teeny production. A thousandths of a
gram of these dreaded materials in 10 years of operation. This is good. Waste profile,
much healthier. The risk of nuclear proliferation The proliferation hardening on this one, U-232,
we’ve got protactinium. It sends out a bright gamma cascade, so if somebody tries to run
off with it we can catch them pretty easily. You don’t even have to look at those issues
for nuclear to fail. The petrochemical industry, the hydrocarbon
industry spends a lot of money advertising. They believe in wind and the sun. Exxon is
talking about growing algae, all kinds of alternatives. You’ll never hear a hydrocarbon
company talking about nuclear. You’ll see an awful lot of stories of somebody
in the gas or oil industry working against nuclear and trying to raise the barriers of
entry. That’s a simulated nuclear fuel pellet. It’s as much energy as a ton of coal, 147
gallons of oil, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. If you’re making money selling hydrocarbons,
you’re going to make less money. I was born the year they canceled this research
in Tennessee. I feel like all I’ve done with the blog, is I’ve stood up and said, “Here’s
this amazing work that was done before I was even born.” This is laws of physics stuff. I didn’t invent
it, all I do promote it. Maybe I’ll never see it happen in my life, but somebody will
do it. Once people have learned how to do it, they’ll keep using it, because it will
make that much of difference. Other people who are a whole lot smarter than
me have looked at it and said, “This looks darn pretty good, why aren’t we doing this?” How long do you think it’s going to take? At the rate we’re going now in the United
States it’ll never happen. But, that’s going to change. We’re going to make it happen. I think in
10 years we will be building LFTRs in factory assembly lines. We can be competitive with China on making
patents on things that weren’t thought of in the 50’s and 60’s. But, if we wait, Americans,
Canadians, and Brazilians will be buying LFTR and molten salt technology from China and
paying them the royalties. We buy a lot of things from China already.
It’s not as if we’re not buying enough things from China. We are definitely keeping them
busy. Let’s go develop thorium. That’s really what I’d like to do. If everyone in the world has a lifestyle like
you and I can enjoy in Canada and U.S. today, we can have world peace and we can specialize
on what areas we’re good at, and trade with one another, and not fight over limited resources. I think things will proceed different this
time than they did in the 50’s and 60’s. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, you had government appropriations
to national labs, which lead to the development of this technology. I don’t think that’s how
it’s going to happen this time. I think it’s going to be a fusion of the enthusiasts and
private industry. Enough people now, thanks to the Internet,
are learning about the potential of LFTR and thorium, and they’re asking hard questions. Mr. President, you often say there are no
silver bullets to our energy problems. Why is the federal government not accelerating
research into fluid fuel molten salt reactors that run on thorium? Liquid fluoride thorium reactors, this is
the kind… You’re already above my pay grade so… I’ll explain it to you because this is the
kind of idea Washington needs to know about. Pretty soon in 10 years we’re going to buying
these things from them if we don’t start making them right now. The AEC report given to John F. Kennedy at
his request in 1962, addresses directly the fears that they had, and it specifically outlines
what we should have done. We have not done it. We can do the thorium breeder reactor
which Weinberg and the Ornell team worked on for 20 years and perfected and operated
for four years in the 1960’s. That reactor is exactly what China now has
a billion dollars to develop using our plans, all our research, everything that we did as
an American research institution 49 years ago. Even if Washington does operate slowly,
49 years does sound to be a little excessive. If we don’t do it, it will still be happening.
It will just be happening in a place like China rather than the United States. We will
be seeing LFTRs being built in the future, make no mistake. A lot of environmentalists who are always
trying to drive us towards using less energy, because all that energy’s coming from the
consumption of fossil fuel. Well, let’s say your energy’s not coming from
the consumption of fossil fuel. Then you could use more energy, and you could use more energy
to accomplish things that you are not able to do right now. Break up carbon dioxide and
dissociate water. Make fertilizer, grow crops, all that. So much energy, an abundance of energy, that
it would drive the price down to the point where the only oil we’d be taking out of the
ground would be the easy to get to oil. And there’s not going to be any more environmental
devastation than there already is. If we didn’t have to worry about energy, we
could think of so many more things to do. If there was a lot of it and it was cheap
and it was not harmful to the environment, what would you do that you’re not doing now? The thing that caught my eye when I was still
in high school was the idea of a space solar power satellite. Gerard O’Neill The High Frontier.
His idea was we were going to go build these colonies. It was going to be like living in
a shopping mall in space. You know and, have a little home in the tube. I don’t think we’re ready to live in space
yet. We have not learned how to live in a way where we recycle much more of our… I
mean, if you want to live in space, you’ve got to recycle everything. It seemed like the liquid fluoride thorium
reactor, or LFTR, could be the power source that could make a self-sustainable lunar colony
a reality. But I have a simple question. If it was such a great thing for a community
on the moon, why not a community on the earth, self-sustaining and energy independent? Think about “Star Trek.” You can’t help but
think about “Star Trek” when your name’s Kirk. What is the world of “Star Trek” running on?
Are they running “Star Trek” on coal? Are they running “Star Trek” on oil sands? No.
You don’t see any oil refineries on “Star Trek”. You don’t see any coal mines. We live much better lives today because we
have learned how to use carbon. OK, what about thorium? Thorium has a million times the energy
density of a carbon-hydrogen bond. What could that mean for human civilization going out
thousands, tens of thousands of years into the future? Because, we’re not going to run
out of this stuff. Once we’ve learned how to use it at this kind of efficiency, we will
never run out.