Should We Try Thorium Reactors?


  1. #1 John Moeller
    January 17, 2012

    Maybe. My understanding has been that the potential problems of thorium fission are in the actinide wastes, in particular Pa-231. The Wikipedia article seems to bear that out:

    Also, what he didn’t mention is that you still need fissile uranium in the mix to achieve criticality.

  2. #2 itzac
    January 17, 2012

    Interesting talk, but it’s a lot more salesmanship than substance. I wonder why no one is trying to build on of these on even an experimental scale.

  3. #3 Limulus
    January 17, 2012

    John Moeller, RE Pa-231, it would be mainly a problem in a one-pass (solid-fuel) system; in a LFTR it would remain in the salt until it captures another neutron (it has a substantial neutron capture cross section; around 200 barns as per ).

    RE Uranium requirement, a LFTR breeds U-233; ideally you can seed a new LFTR from an old one. The US has ~450 kg of it that it wants to “dispose of” Sorensen thinks there is a better application for it 😉

    itzac, RE “salesmanship than substance” that wasn’t Sorensen’s best talk; if you watch the Thorium Remix 2011 it has a lot more details.

    RE “no one is trying to build on[e]”, Sorensen has started a company called Flibe Energy to build one, with a prototype reactor hoped for 2016:

    There’s a Czech/Australian group working on one:

    a Japanese/Czech group:

    and a major Chinese project:

  4. #4 jeg3
    January 17, 2012


    The TED video was more an intro for a general audience. Videos with more tech depth are here (Thorium Videos):
    (also has a forum and blog that generally addresses critics)
    see to begin:


    And no I have no financial interest, just did my research on energy other than hydrocarbons.

  5. #5 Vince Whirlwind
    January 18, 2012

    It’s just a sales pitch. They want our (the taxpayer’s) money to fund this, just as they’ve gobbled up huge sums of our money to fund the existing disastrous nuclear industries.

    The proof can be in the pudding: if they can fund their own insurance without any government subsidy (or exclusions for terrorism and whatnot), and if they demand no more subsidy per GWh than is received by solar or wind power, then I’ll buy it. If it’s just more of the existing nuclear industry scam then I’m not interested.

  6. #6 Paul
    January 18, 2012

    I’m sure every utility will want to operate an on-line radiochemical separation unit attached to each reactor. Also, having the fission products flowing in the molten salt pipes isn’t going to make working on that plumbing very easy.

    Having said that, eliminating zirconium metal from reactors is a good idea. Zr/steam reactions have featured in multiple accidents, including Fukushima and TMI.

  7. #7 StevoR
    January 23, 2012

    Great talk. Thanks for that. The guy there makes a very good case for thorium & liquid fluro-salts reactors which only leaves me wondering why we’re not hearing a lot more about them as an alternatiev energy source now.

    Why not? Politics? Commercial problems? Lack of awareness?

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2012

    I just spent several days in a remote area of the deep south somewhere with 450 scientists, science journalists, and science bloggers and some of had the conversation about Throium reactors that I needed to have to understand the situation a bit better.

    The technology is doable, maybe even not a bad idea at some level, but it is virtually undeveloped and not easy to develop. Keep in mind that all those great moments in technology of energy or nuclear technology were like so many other first runs … the hardest, most complex, leading edge approaches take longer and are done later because they are harder. Uranium powered water cooled reactors are low hanging fruit compared to Thorium.

    My understanding at this point is that to go from zero to Thorium reactors making energy for regular use would be very expensive and take 40 years plus/minus. What I’m hearing is that investing that same amount of money into building windmills, geothermal, solar, etc. would get the results we need now.

    So, my current answer to my own question is “probably not.”

  9. #9 Dunc
    January 24, 2012

    Yeah, there’s a very big difference between “this technology can almost certainly be made to work” and “this technology is ready for immediate large-scale deployment”. Whenever you hear somebody talking about how great New Energy Technology X is, the question to ask is “OK, suppose I’m sold and I want to roll out, say, 10GW of capacity ASAP – how long will that take and how much will it cost?” At which point they’ll usually hum and haw a bit, then hit you with a pitch for seed capital to develop a prototype.

    Roughly speaking, the pipeline from “this technology can almost certainly be made to work” to “this technology is ready for immediate large-scale deployment” is usually somewhere between 20 and 40 years. Assuming that it actually can be made to work, of course…

  10. #10 @OzThoriumEnergy
    January 29, 2012

    Re: Greg Laden: Greg your scientist colleagues are correct in their description of the thorium technology. It is doable (sic) and what’s more, the Aust/Czech private company partnership IS DOING IT RIGHT NOW! Development on a 60MW thorium molten salt reactor is underway, with anticipated completion within 2 years. As for funding: the project is fully-funded by the JV. The scientific brains active on this project have already designed, built, operated thorium MSR previously, which is not a well known fact. Power to the grid in 2 years.

  11. #11 Andrew Dodds
    January 30, 2012

    Greg –

    Actually, the main reason we use PWR-style designs for commercial reactors is that they happen to be very useful for military applications – i.e Nuclear submarines/carriers. Very useful in those cases due to their high power density, probably not the best bet for commercial operation.

  12. #12 Steve Garcia
    February 2, 2012

    Greg – You are making statements here that you haven’t even done basic online research on. Evidently about all you’ve done is watch this one 10-minute video.

  13. #13 Wow
    February 2, 2012

    “Development on a 60MW thorium molten salt reactor is underway, with anticipated completion within 2 years.”

    However, that’s been the case for over 40 years.

    You’d think if it were so easy, they’d have done it by now.

    And Finland’s nuke is new and over time and budget.

    Whereas everywhere they’re building wind farms, they’re ahead of schedule and budget.

    Lets sort out the short term problem of coal/gas with ideas that work now and can start now, and when we’re comfy work out what we’re doing to do besides that, hmm?

  14. #14 James Duhachek
    May 11, 2012

    After viewing the video, I think that the issue relates to people being misinformed that solar and wind energy sources could ever replace the world energy needs. Thorium salt reactors are engineered to be much safer and Thorium reactors are in use in India right now. Only 5000 tons of Thorium would provide the energy needs of the of all the energy provided by natural gas, oil, and uranium in 2007. It comes down to fear of nuclear energy.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    May 11, 2012

    Thorium reactors are in use in India right now.

    I don’t think this is true.

  16. #16 Spin & Disinformation Prevention Centre
    June 28, 2012

    We dig up our fragile outback ; they get the radioactive thorium and the taxpayer gets the ecocidal externalites.

    Thorium pushers say their reactors will gobble up all the radioactive waste that’s been produced and then say thorium RA waste will “only” need to be isolated for three hundred years. Huh?

    Same dog as nuclear, different haircut.

    (27.06.2012) India’s Atomic Energy Commission reported that the country has to wait for a few more decades to use thorium as the base for nuclear reactors.

    “Using thorium as the base for reactors will take time. We have to wait a few decades to make it possible,” AEC chairman RK Sinha said.

    Beware the jabberwock.