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Mike Holt is a Senior VP, Wealth Management Strategist with The MDE Group, an innovative Wealth Management Firm located in Morristown, NJ that manages over $1 billion for corporate executives and other high net worth individuals located across the US. Mike's diverse background includes auditing... More
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  • Epilogue to TREM '11 -- Potential Applications for Thorium in the Nuclear Power Industry 10 comments
    Sep 9, 2011 8:39 PM
    The purpose of this article is to research and compile information related to the topic of potential applications for thorium in the nuclear power industry.
    It was inspired by the memory of Thomas Jefferson’s reason and imagination, and by the main reading room of the Library of Congress, pictured below.
     LOC Main Reading Room
    The LOC Main Reading Room is encircled by bronze portrait statues paying tribute to great thinkers on various topics. Let’s call them the smartest guys in the room, who were very influential in their fields. This article is intended to serve as a virtual reading room that likewise seeks inspiration from great thinkers, but rather than relying upon statues with plaques known as pendentives, this virtual reading room will draw upon the knowledge of credible experts in fields related to the topic of this article.
    Comments posted to this article should therefore include links or references to primary sources of information, and the comments themselves should consist only of brief descriptions of the source material or its author accompanied by a key quote or passage capturing the essence of the main point(s) deemed to be of greatest interest or importance. If it is believed that personal knowledge or interpretations might be helpful, they should be clearly identified as being your own thoughts or opinions, so that the integrity of information compiled in this virtual reading room is preserved to the greatest extent possible.
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  • Mike Holt
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    Author’s reply » As we ponder the rapid changes taking place in the world today, and question what may come next, I think it is important that we recall Habit Number Two from Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:"

     

    Begin with the End in Mind.

     

    In keeping with this advice, I urge anyone with an interest in the future to invest an hour of their time viewing the following link to a presentation by Joe Bonometti regarding the potential for thorium-based nuclear energy to revolutionize the energy industry.

     

    http://bit.ly/xcHDSw

     

    I believe that the correct paths to be following today are those that lead in this direction. Today, the fact that rare earth deposits are often accompanied by thorium is sometimes considered a curse. Tomorrow, I believe it will be considered a blessing.
    22 Jan 2012, 11:26 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
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    Author’s reply » The March 10th – 16th 2002 issue of The Economist magazine features a 14-page “Special Report” on Nuclear Energy that leads with an article titled “The Dream That Failed.” Judging by the title, one can easily guess that this alternative to other alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and algae is not portrayed in a favorable light. After mentioning three well known disasters involving nuclear energy plants employing the outdated and dangerous form of nuclear energy technology that even many proponents of nuclear energy frown upon, the article then delivers what is apparently intended to be the final blow:

     

    “In liberated energy markets, building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive.”

     

    This is apparently a widely held viewpoint that the Economist supports first by describing two common ways of measuring the cost of a nuclear power plant, and then giving some examples of how these costs have actually increased, rather than decreased, over time. The first way of measuring the cost of a nuclear power plant is the “overnight” cost, which “counts up the material and labour that goes into a new plant as if it had all been purchased simultaneously.” The second is the “levellized” cost, “which is a measure of the total amount of energy a plant provides over its life divided by the total expenditure – construction, operation, maintenance, fuel and, eventually, decommissioning. The first is the cost of the capacity to produce electricity, while the other is the cost of the electricity produced.

     

    According to The Economist, “cost escalation has been the rule throughout the industry’s history. In the late 1960s what is now called the ‘great bandwagon market’ took off in America. …As orders flooded in, costs started to climb. Projects meant to be completed in years dragged on for more than a decade, in part because of new environmental concerns, in part because designs were revised as lessons were learned. At the Vogtle plant, in Georgia [one of the states that has not deregulated its market for electrical energy], a pair of reactors originally priced at $660m in 1971 came in at $8.87 billion 16 years later.”

     

    However, in the blog linked below (which includes a number of helpful links to other sources of information on this topic), the author claims that much of the rising cost to construct and operation nuclear power plants stems from ever-escalating safety regulations that may not be required with respect to the 4th generation nuclear energy technology that uses thorium rather than uranium, which involves a process that can be conducted at normal atmospheric pressure, rather than at temperatures so high that they typically require the process to be completed at 50 times normal atmospheric pressure.

     

    http://bit.ly/whFYGY

     

    Reference is then made within this article to a book titled “The Nuclear Energy Option” by Bernard L. Cohen who also cites numerous examples of escalating costs to construct nuclear power plants, but reaches a conclusion opposite that of The Economist, namely that something other than incompetence is clearly involved, and identifies that something as huge safety restrictions. “When the risk of meltdown is removed, these restrictions will be lifted” since “waste and containment—the two main sources of cost and controversy for traditional reactors—are all but eliminated with thorium.”
    15 Mar 2012, 11:32 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
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    Author’s reply » The Thorium Energy Alliance hosted their fourth annual conference on Thorium based nuclear energy on May 31, 2012. Their website,

     

    http://bit.ly/OHAsyO

     

    features a number of presentations by a number of distinguished experts in this field who provide a compelling case for why cheaper, safer energy from thorium based nuclear reactors make so much sense -- to anyone who is willing to listen. Are you?

     

    They claim that the nuclear energy technology in use today is an expensive, unsafe relic of the Cold War, and that the fourth generation nuclear energy technology being proposed for use in the near future is still far less safe and economical than the thorium based nuclear energy that was developed by the US in the 1960's but is now being more actively pursued by the Chinese.

     

    In the second presentation featured on their their website linked above, Jim Kennedy, president of ThREEM3 Consulting, also explains how thorium based nuclear energy ties in with the development of rare earths.

     

    Rare earths are commonly found in two types of mineralizations, namely monazite and bastnaesite. Higher concentrations of the more valuable heavy rare earths that are more critical to our national defense due to their use in our most advanced weapons systems, and more critical to the development of numerous high tech industries that we rely upon for economic growth and development are found in monazite.

     

    Yet, development of monazite based rare earths projects has been hampered even further than rare earth projects in general because rare earths in monazite deposits are typically accompanied by elevated levels of thorium, a low level Alpha emitter that is nonetheless feared because the public's lack of understanding of radiation translates into irrational fears that discourage its use as an energy source even though it is far more abundant, cheaper, and safer than uranium.

     

    The proposed solution to both our dangerous reliance on China for rare earths, particularly the critically important heavy rare earths, and the entire world's dangerous reliance upon a single commodity, oil, for nearly 100% of our vital transportation needs, is to facilitate the use of thorium as a safer, cheaper energy source so that the development of abundant sources of heavy rare earth deposits outside of China will no longer be held back due to the under-utilization of thorium.
    20 Aug 2012, 02:25 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
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    Author’s reply » The merits of thorium-based nuclear energy are difficult to assess unless one first has some understanding of nuclear power in general. For an excellent primer on this topic, I would recommend "Nuclear Power" by David E. Newton.

     

    As with the other volumes in the Library in a Book Series from Facts on File, this volume contains:

     

    - a historical survey of the topic (essentially the first chapter of the book, which readers should find to be invaluable in and of itself. It's intended to be a primer, but the novice reader is likely to feel much better educated on this topic after reading its 59 pages.)

     

    - a chronology of major events

     

    - concise biographies of important people

     

    - a glossary of important terms, names, and acronyms

     

    - information on court cases and/or significant legislation

     

    - a listing of important assocations and organizations [and in this case, a chapter on How to Research Nuclear Power Issues that is loaded with additional references to sources of information presented in an organized manner that should make it even easier for readers to navigate their way to answers to just about any question they may have on topics related to nuclear energy.]

     

    - an extensive annotated bibliography [approximately one-third of the book]

     

    - a detailed index.

     

    In sum, it is, as the name of the series implies, a veritable library in a book. Given the theme of my Instablog, it is especially deserving of some digital shelf space in my virtual reading room. And readers should be pleased to learn that a hard copy of this book may be available at your local library, as it was at mine.
    25 Nov 2012, 11:29 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
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    Author’s reply » Interest in nuclear energy has waxed and waned over the past several decades, as a result of its tremendous benefits on one hand, and its tremendous risks on the other.

     

    To many, the benefits should be obvious, but few people are familiar enough with nuclear energy to feel comfortable with assessing its risks. Previous disasters, such as those at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukoshima, coupled with mistrust that may have resulted from misrepresentations by some proponents of nuclear energy, have played an important role in holding back the development of nuclear energy.

     

    Most people shudder at the mere mention of the term "radioactivity" and the fact that nuclear technology has also been applied to produce devastating weapons of mass destruction doesn't help to overcome their fears. Add to this the huge costs associated with the construction of nuclear energy facilities due to a myriad of regulations and measures intended to ensure that producers of nuclear energy will bear significant financial costs in the event of a nuclear accident and the tremendous benefits of nuclear energy seem to pale by comparison.

     

    Putting aside the risk of a nuclear accident, there is also the issue of how to safely store the nuclear waste produced as a result of the normal operation of nuclear power plants. After decades of wrangling, this issue has still not been satisfactorily resolved.

     

    Some believe that the solution is to store nuclear waste from nuclear power plants in the same manner as nuclear waste associated with military weapons programs. The following link taking viewers on a tour of the Department of Energy's nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] in southern New Mexico should help to put this alternative into better perspective.

     

    http://bit.ly/10V6G1R

     

    However, more creative solutions to the disposition of nuclear waste are offered in this presentation by Kirk Sorensen. As you may know, Kirk Sorensen is also a proponent of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors [LFTRs], so it should come as no surprise that the solutions that he proposes dovetail nicely with the development of LFTRs which he believes to be safer and more economical than the nuclear energy technology widely used today.

     

    http://bit.ly/QFtOR9
    26 Nov 2012, 12:23 AM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
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    Author’s reply » Those who advocate for thorium-based nuclear energy, in particular Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, present arguments that make tremendous sense. In fact, the benefits are so great, and they exist on so many fronts, my greatest concern is whether this technology that was developed in the US decades ago will be commercialized in some other country rather than in the US.

     

    For example, if China commercializes this technology, and obtains global intellectual property rights, as they have boasted that they will, this could mean that they will gain an edge over the US as the country with the lowest energy costs. This advantage has tremendous significance since energy is an important input for many industries, and can therefore influence which country will enjoy the benefits of economic growth in an era when the benefits to be derived from sustainable economic growth and development have become all too clear.

     

    Coupled with their labor cost advantage and their near monopoly over rare earths, together with the fact that they have already "acquired" much of our technology that is also so vital to our economic growth, the risk of such an outcome, if it is real, should be taken very, very seriously. The barriers don't seem to be technological in nature; rather they seem to be based upon roadblocks put up by our government and established companies with a preference for the status quo and little incentive [defined in a narrow sense and within a relatively short time period] to incur the costs and risks associated with the commercialization of a new technology.

     

    To assess how real this risk may be, readers should pay attention not only to the arguments put forth by advocates of thorium-based nuclear energy technology, but also to the developments, or lack thereof, taking place within the conventional nuclear power industry. Since the comment above focuses on the issue of nuclear waste, the following articles appearing in Nuclear Energy Insider regarding nuclear waste should be helpful.

     

    This first article, "Spent fuel storage: could Congress fast-track a decision on US spent fuel storage?" ends with this quote by James Conca, a nuclear geological specialist and Forbes contributor, "We will get this right as a Nation, and we will lead the way for the rest of the world. Just let us do it."

     

    http://bit.ly/VqKYU4

     

    But, is storing, rather than recycling spent fuel, even the right course of action? This second article titled, "Recycling spent nuclear fuel: the ultimate solution for the US?" suggests otherwise, and points out that the US has not taken the lead in this regard in the past: "Unlike Russia, Japan and several European countries, the United States does not recycle its used nuclear fuel. But new, advanced drivers are reviving the possibility of recycling the nation's spent nuclear fuel. What will influence this decision and what conditions will need to be met first?"

     

    http://bit.ly/VgoLSG

     

    I would like to think that due attention would be given to the role that Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors could play in this process, given the many other benefits that could be derived from this technology--especially if the US commercializes this technology before it is commercialized in another country.
    3 Dec 2012, 11:12 AM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
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    Author’s reply » In 2000, thirteen countries where nuclear energy is significant joined forces to launch the Generation IV International Forum. These ten countries include:

     

    1. USA
    2. Argentina
    3. Brazil
    4. Canada
    5. China
    6. France
    7. Japan
    8. Russia
    9. South Korea
    10. South Africa
    11. Switzerland
    12. United Kingdom
    13. the EU (Euratom)

     

    Argentina, Brazil, and the UK subsequently dropped out, and India decided to independently develop its own advanced technology using thorium as a nuclear fuel.

     

    A committee of 100-plus scientists from the remaining ten participating countries evaluated more than 100 designs for new nuclear energy plant designs intended to be safer and cheaper than the Gen II designs currently in use, and to produce less waste and use fuel that is not as easily adapted for weapons production. After two years, they picked the six reactor technologies that they believe represent the future shape of nuclear energy for deployment between 2010 and 2030. They include:

     

    1. Gas-Cooled Fast Reactors
    2. Lead-Cooled Fast Reactors
    3. Molten Salt Reactors (now two variants)
    a. Molten Salt Fast Neutron Reactor (MSFR)
    b. Advanced High-Temperature Reactor (AHTR)
    4. Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactors
    5. Supercritical Water-Cooled Reactors
    6. Very High-Temperature Gas Reactors

     

    R&D for these reactors is so far in line with the initial estimate of $6 billion over 15 years. About 80% of the cost is being met by the USA, Japan and France.

     

    Additional background info can be found in this link to a December 2009 Popular Mechanics article:

     

    http://bit.ly/16bxM5w

     

    and in this World Nuclear Association summary of Generation IV Nuclear Reactors (updated December 2010):

     

    http://bit.ly/XwQRjo
    31 Mar 2013, 12:10 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
    Comments (1863) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) would fall into category 3(b) above, i.e., Advanced High-Temperature Reactors. It shares certain characteristics with some of the other Gen IV nuclear plant designs, such as:

     

    - its high operating temperature (which is conducive to more efficient separation of hydrogen and can also be harnessed for salt water desalination), and

     

    - its amenability to modular construction (which can greatly reduce construction costs and allow the plant size to be better scaled to meet demand in a particular area).

     

    However, it is favored by some not only because of its use of thorium, but also because of its use of thorium in a liquid fuel that offers several additional advantages. These include inherent safety features and a much lower susceptibility to radiation damage relative to the solid fuel pellets widely used today. This means that the fuel can be processed much more fully, leading to much less waste which is a concern from both a cost perspective and a waste disposal perspective.

     

    This may explain why, per this link to the World Nuclear Association website,

     

    "the China Academy of Sciences in January 2011 launched an R&D program on LFTR, known there as the thorium-breeding molten-salt reactor (Th-MSR or TMSR), and claimed to have the world's largest national effort on it, hoping to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology. The TMSR Research Centre apparently has a 5 MWe MSR prototype under construction at Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP, under the Academy) with 2015 target operation. The US Department of Energy is collaborating with the Academy on the program.

     

    http://bit.ly/X7fRw7
    31 Mar 2013, 08:52 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
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    Author’s reply » Lockheed just announced that they have achieved technological breakthroughs in nuclear fusion energy and are now seeking investors so they can commercialize this technology within the next ten years.

     

    http://reut.rs/11onoMP
    15 Oct 2014, 02:08 PM Reply Like
  • Mike Holt
    , contributor
    Comments (1863) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Senator John Kerry arrived in Vienna last night for last-minute talks on Iran's nuclear program this weekend. Success or failure of the talks could have fateful implications for Washington's ties to the Middle East and for the potential spread of atomic arms in the region.

     

    Concerns about the use of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons rather than nuclear power could be drastically reduced if the technology used for nuclear power did not rely upon the production of enriched uranium in the first place.

     

    Since thorium can't be used for nuclear weapons, Liquid Thorium Fluoride Reactors ("LFTRs") represent such an alternative. And, LFTRs could also use existing nuclear waste to initiate reactions in their thorium based nuclear reactors.

     

    Unfortunately, when most people focus on headlines such as this weekend's negotiations with Iranian leaders to limit their uranium enrichment program, their response is to scorn nuclear energy in general, rather than to call for efforts to promote safer forms of nuclear energy such as LFTRs which were developed by the US in the 1950's and 60's but then, largely for political reasons, were abandoned in favor of the nuclear energy technology in use today which relies upon enriched uranium for fuel.
    21 Nov 2014, 09:02 AM Reply Like
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