Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

All the electricity needs of the US for the next decade, solved, clean and easy.

with 2 comments

Between 1957 and 1964, the US Department of Defence National Stockpile Centre procured 3215 tonnes of thorium from French and Indian sources – thinking that, hey, that stuff will probably prove useful some day.

Recently, due to “lack of demand” for it, they buried this entire inventory of thorium nitrate at the Nevada Test Site. (It is designed, however, so they can dig it up in future if they want, thankfully).

Assuming 50% overall efficiency in the utilisation of the thorium in a nuclear reactor (preferably an elegant, safe, economical, efficient and technically sweet molten liquid fluoride reactor) and the thermal energy conversion (efficiency of 50% is quite do-able using an efficient Brayton cycle system) and annual US electricity consumption of 3.717 trillion kWh, that thorium contains enough energy to meet the entire current electricity needs of the United States for ten years just by itself.

3215 tonnes * (200 MeV / 232 amu) * 50% / 3.717 PWh per year = 10 years.

No mining is needed – it’s just sitting there, pure thorium nitrate packaged in drums, waiting to not be considered “waste”.

Nuclear “waste” is not a substance. Nuclear waste – wasting nuclear material – is something that some stupid governments do.

10 years, with no mining of anything – fossil fuels or nuclear fuels – no reliance on foreign fossil fuels for stationary energy generation, and no dangerous discharge of the dangerous waste of fossil fuel combustion straight into the environment.

It’s a good place to start, isn’t it?


Written by Luke Weston

April 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Good observation. I guess the plutonium not taken out of spent fuel rods is also just sitting there as valuable fuel.


    April 21, 2008 at 4:59 pm

  2. […] Right now, according to the IAEA, we have no worries of running out of conventionally recoverable uranium ore for the next few decades at least. Of course, if we ditch the current once-through fuel cycle you can multiply that by at least ten times and up to one hundred, in a high efficiency fast breeder system. France uses nuclear reprocessing and although they haven’t yet transitioned to next-generation reactors, they currently have enough fuel on hand to assure that even if all mining and importing stopped, they’d have no electrical shortages for years. Here in the United States we have even more spent fuel which can be harvested for years of energy. Adding in U-238 which we currently tend to sit on, despite being “fertile” material for breeding more fuel. In addition to this, the US alone happens to have up to a decade worth of thorium on hand, which the DOD stockpiled in the 1960’s. Realizing the potential for thorium, the DOD decided it would be a good idea to get a whole lot of i…. […]

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