For decades, medical researchers have sought treatments for cancer. Now, Alpha Particle Immunotherapy offers a promising treatment for many forms of cancer, and perhaps a cure. Unfortunately, the most promising alpha-emitting medical isotopes, actinium-225 and its daughter, bismuth-213, are not available in sufficient quantity to support current research, much less therapeutic use. In fact, there are only three sources in the world that largely “milk” these isotopes from less than 2 grams of thorium source material. Additional supplies were not forthcoming. Fortunately, scientists and engineers at Idaho National Laboratory identified 40-year-old reactor fuel stored at the lab as a substantial untapped resource and developed Medical Actinium for Therapeutic Treatment, or MATT, which consists of two innovative processes (MATT-CAR and MATT-BAR) to recover this valuable medical isotope.
Thorium based Nuclear Power does not produce much Plutonium-239, which is the preferred material used in nuclear bombs. The higher Plutonium isotopes and other TRansUraniums are about as nasty as they get, need expensive protection against terror attacks, and need to be stored for a very long time.
One anecdote from my youth. The time had come to apply to University, and to my delight I was accepted to Chalmers’ University in Sweden as a Technical Physics major. I felt, maybe I can do my part by becoming a Nuclear Engineer and help solve the energy needs of the future. The Swedes at that time championed the heavy water – natural Uranium program together with the Canadians. Sweden is a non-aligned country, so it was not privy to any atomic secrets, it had to go it alone. They settled on the heavy water moderated natural Uranium process because Sweden had an ambition to produce its own nuclear bomb. Officially this was never talked about, and I was not aware of it at that time. They could have gone with Thorium instead, but a Thorium based nuclear reactor produces very little Plutonium, and what it produces is nearly all Pplutonium-238, not fissile and as such not suitable for bomb making.
I was excited to learn about all the possibilities and signed up for a couple of nuclear classes. One lab was to design a safety circuit, then run the heavy water research reactor critical and hopefully watch the reactor shut down from the safety circuit before the system safety circuit shutdown. About that time the word came that U.S. will sell partially enriched uranium at bargain basement prices if Sweden agreed to abandon the heavy water project and sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a treaty being formulated by U.N.
Sweden was in awe about U.N, all the problems of the world were to be solved through it, and it had such a capable General Secretary in Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swede. I looked at the light water, partially enriched Uranium nuclear power plants being developed and decided to have no part with it, not due to safety concerns but it was the design that produced the most nuclear waste of any of the available designs. At that time there was still optimism that fusion would be ready by about the year 2010 or so. The cost of maintaining spent fuel in perpetuity was never considered, so light water reactors became the low cost solution.
India on the other hand refused to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, kept their heavy water program going and had by 1974 produced enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb, which they promptly detonated. They still use heavy water moderated reactors, but since India is low on Uranium but rich in Thorium they have now converted one heavy water reactor to Thorium with a Plutonium glow plug. It went on-line in 2011.
They are also developing molten salt Thorium reactors, but full production is still a few years off.
There we have it. We could have gone with Thorium from the beginning, but the cold war was on, and the civilian peaceful use of nuclear energy was still all paid for by nuclear weapons research and development. Once all the bombs we could ever wish for were developed the greatest asset of nuclear power became its greatest liability.
The nuclear waste meant for Yucca
would destine Nevada the sucka
But with Thorium we rid
us of waste that is hid
No need for that waste to be trucka!
Radioactive waste from an LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) decays down to background radiation in 300 years instead of a million years for U-235 based reactors. Initially LFTRs produce as much radioactivity as an U-235 based nuclear reactor, since fission converts mass to heat, but the decay products have a much shorter half-life. See the figure below.
Where is the storage for spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste now? Look at the map, it is scary.
And these are just the U.S. installations!
Many years ago I studied Engineering at Chalmers’ University in Sweden and I thought I would become a nuclear engineer. Sweden had at that time a peaceful heavy water based nuclear power program together with Canada and India. The advantage with heavy water as moderator is that it can use natural, un-enriched Uranium. One of the end products is of course Plutonium 239, the preferred material to make nuclear bombs, but it could also use Thorium, and the end product is then mostly Plutonium 238, used in space exploration, and we were dreaming big. One of the advantages of Thorium as fuel is that it produces about 0,01% of trans-Uranium waste compared to Uranium as fuel. About that time the U.S. proposed we should abandon the heavy water program and switch to light water enriched Uranium based nuclear power. They would sell the enriched Uranium, and reprocess the spent fuel at cost. They also had the ideal final resting place for the radioactive waste products in Nevada. This was an offer the Swedish government could not refuse, at the height of the cold war. This was in the 1960’s! India on the other hand did refuse, and they eventually got the nuclear bomb. Since that meant Sweden was never going to use Thorium as nuclear fuel, and I could not figure out how to get rid of all the radioactive waste products, I switched my attention back to control engineering.
What did President Trump mean with innovative approaches?
Is this where Thorium comes in!?
Thorium nuclear power is the only realistic solution to power space colonies. To form space colonies, power has to be provided to sustain the colony. This means that Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) have to be fully developed and operational here on earth before serious space colony development can even begin. It need to get started in earnest NOW!
Kirk Sorensen has provided an intriguing teaser on the cause for Thorium nuclear energy.
Watch it and enjoy!
NASA relies on pu-238 to power long-lasting spacecraft batteries that transform heat into electricity. With foreign and domestic supplies dwindling, NASA officials are worried the shortage will prevent the agency from sending spacecraft to the outer planets and other destinations where sunlight is scarce. Thorium reactors produce PU-238 as a “free” byproduct. In 2009 Congress denied a request to produce more Pu-238 by traditional means, instead relying on Russia to sell us the plutonium. (Remember the Russian reset?) Russia made their last delivery in 2010. PU-238 production has since been restarted by converting Ne-237 to Pu-238 at a cost of over 8 million dollars per kilogram. The Ceres-Dawn spacecraft used over 22 Kg of Pu-238 as electricity generator.
To get the best efficiency of generating Pu-238 out of a molten salt Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, the excess U-233 and TRansUranium products have to be extracted continuously while the reactor is running, and this technology is not yet implemented, but is necessary to implement before we can also have Thorium power on the moon, and Thorium Power is the only viable solution if we are ever going to have a moon colony, so we should get to it.
A Thorium based fast breeder nuclear reactor produces much less TRansUranium waste, 0.012% waste products compared to a Uranium-235/238 fast breeder with between 3 and 8% U235. The Thorium process has a much higher efficiency of fission than the Uranium process. See the figure below.
Pu = Plutonium, Am = Americum, Cm = Curium, all TRansUraniums, nasty stuff.
With Thorium based Nuclear power, there are few storage problems, with traditional U235 power long tern storage is an immense and urgent problem, and has been since the 1960’s. At that time Sweden had a heavy water U-238 nuclear power program going using unenriched Uranium, but abandoned it in favor of traditional U-235 enriched nuclear power, because U.S. promised to provide the material and take care of the reprocessing and final storage of all nuclear waste at cost if Sweden joined the nuclear proliferation treaty. Reprocessing was to be done in Washington State, and one of the final storage sites mentioned was Yucca Mountain in Nevada, having the ideal geological properties.
Time went by and in 1982 – Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, requiring the establishment of a deep geologic repository for nuclear waste storage and isolation. Yucca Mountain was high on the list out of of 9 possible sites.
Time goes by, and Congress is still not able to decide on a solution. Meanwhile, TRU’s from spent and reprocessed fuel is piling up in less than ideal locations. There is now more than a quarter million metric tons of highly radioactive waste in storage near nuclear power plants and weapons production facilities. Thorium based nuclear power would go a long way to alleviate this problem.
Thorium is a by-product of mining heavy metals and rare earth metals. The price is the cost of extracting and refining, which can be as low as $40/Kg. No extra mining is required for extracting the Thorium, and we all know that mining is a major source of pollution.
The first thing we must realize is that rare earth metals are not all that rare. They are a thousand times or more abundant than gold or platinum in the earth crust and easy to mine, but more difficult to refine. Thorium and Uranium will be mined together with rare earth metals.
U.S. used to be the major supplier for rare earth metals, which was fine up to around 1984. Then the U.S. regulators determined that Uranium and Thorium contained in the ore made the ore radioactive, so they decided to make rare metal ore a “source material” with all what that meant for record keeping and control. This made mining in the U.S. unprofitable so in 2001 the last mine closed down. China had no scruples, such as human and environmental concerns, so they took over the rare earth metals mining and in 2010 controlled over 95% of the world supply, which was in line with their long term plan of controlling the world by 2025. Luckily this has now been rectified with U.S. and Australian mines reopened, but the U.S. mined ore is still shipped to China for refining. However, in July 2019, President Trump activated Section 303 of the Defense Production Act to declare domestic production capability for rare earth elements and other critical minerals “essential to the national defense.” Domestic refining is scheduled to begin late 2020.
So, why is this important? Just take a look at all the uses for rare earth metals. The most sought after pays all the cost of mining and refining, and the rest are readily available at nominal cost.
The Chinese almost got away with it, and that was but one reason the trade negotiations were so complicated and hard fought, but necessary. Donald Trump fought for reciprocity and fair competition. Since the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic, originating in Wuhan, China, it has become more and more obvious that China can no longer be allowed to be single source supplier of anything.
We have immense environmental problems. CO2 is not one of them. There is a great need for a green new deal, but that involves cleaning up the earth, not destroying it even further. Cleaning up the earth requires a lot of electric energy. There is only one solution to this dilemma, renewables alone will not even begin to solve it, only Liquid Fluoride Thorium nuclear reactors, and in the future fusion power will have a chance to carry us through the next ice age, which will come when we have used up all available fossil fuels. We must save the bulk of it for our great grand-kids.
My suggestions for the green new deal are quite different from what is commonly proposed. Here are some suggestions:
Do harden the electric grid so it can sustain an electro-magnetic-pulse, either from a nuclear EMP-bomb or from a solar storm like the Carrington event of 1859. Make the grid safe from malicious hacking.
Do not build more wind-turbines except in areas where there are no raptors. The allowable kill of bald eagles per year is 4200, and if we build many more we risk to eliminate the bald and golden eagles as well as other rare birds. More here.
Do fill up fully the strategic petroleum reserve, taking advantage of the low, below cost crude oil prices due to lack of demand. This will be important and avoid price spikes and shortages should the strait of Hormuz be cut off. By eliminating that threat it will ensure that it will not be cut off. Peace is the final goal. (Note: This is already happening, at $10 a barrel)
Make all dams producing profitable hydroelectric power fully equipped to pump up water from a pool downstream to refill the dam during low power demand and provide extra power during peak demand. This is important, since that peak demand otherwise would be satisfied by burning coal and natural gas, and even using diesel-powered generators.
Do plant trees where-ever practical, especially in urban environments. They help immensely to alleviate the urban heat island effect, and are good for mental health, and provide habitat for birds and squirrels. They have to live too. In rural areas abandoned farms, like in upstate New York should be planted with managed forests.
Encourage protection and reforesting of the tropical rain forests. Plant a few billion trees worldwide. The Arbor Day Foundation operates worldwide and is reasonably efficient.
Do serious research on how to clean waste water including removing antibiotics and hormones such as birth control medicine. This is necessary in arid areas, water must be reused since the aquifers are already exhausted in much of the arid west. It will require a lot of energy to implement and run water recycling plants, but it is necessary to secure clean water, not only for ourselves, but also for aquatic life downstream.
Do not build any more large solar power installations until our dependence on Chinese rare earth metals is eliminated.
Do eliminate the regulation that Thorium is a source material and subject to nuclear regulations for mining. With this regulation eliminated we can again be independent from China on rare earth metals mining and refining.
Do not build any more Uranium based nuclear power stations. Even before we sold 20% of our uranium mines to Russia we were the world’s biggest importer of Uranium, and vulnerable to supply disruptions.
We must start immediately a large research and development effort into Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactors. China, India and Russia are way ahead of us, and China is grabbing IP rights as fast as they can. There is a million years supply of Thorium available, far more than anything else we are mining, and enough Thorium is already mined! Thorium reactors produce one ten-thousandth of the nasty TRans-Uranium waste products compared to a Uranium reactor, and the TRU it produces is Plutonium-238, used in space travel. Thorium waste products cannot be used for nuclear bombs, only dirty bombs, and the waste products radiation lasts only about 300 years, rather than 100000+ years. It is a good isotope producer for medical treatment and research.
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors are inherently earthquake safe, operate under atmospheric conditions, have a large negative temperature coefficient, making it very stable and easy to control, and they can never have a meltdown, the salt is already molten!
LFTR reactors can be placed nearly anywhere, does not need an evacuation zone because of its inherent safety, uses very little cooling water, produces very little waste, scales beautifully from very large power plants to small portable plants for small communities, can be run at variable power output with a small reaction time, all of this lessens the need for an expanded power grid.
The U.S was once the leader in Thorium reactor technology, but bombs were more important, and so we lost out on safety. Nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima could not have happened with Thorium reactors.
LFTR can produce electricity at about 4c/kWh, a very competitive cost.
And lastly, it can, in a slightly different configuration be used to eliminate spent nuclear fuels and nuclear bombs. They will have to be placed away from urban areas, not because of safety, but because nobody want to transport spent nuclear fuel or nuclear bombs through city streets.
This is a tall order, but it can eliminate all fossil fuel used to produce electricity.
About four years before all fossil fuel is eliminated as electricity producer, then and first then is the time to move over to electric cars and trucks. Before then, you are really using fossil fuel anyway, putting additional pressure on the national power grid with all its inefficiencies.
This is but a short list of the opportunities for a real green new deal, but these are the most important parts.
The corona virus has given us all an education on why models fail. Everybody in any form of management have to make forecasts, plan for the future as they stare an uncertain future in the face. It is time to remember the old saying in the Army: “No plan ever survived contact with the enemy”. And so it is, the corona virus is the unseen enemy that will affect our future, and our plans will have to change on an almost daily basis as it initially worked by doubling every 3 days. No disease since smallpox or measles in the American Indian population has been that infectious. So it was time to panic when it broke out in the Wuhan city in China. The city was sealed off except for international flying which was allowed to continue. The SO2 over the city was strong from all the cremation ovens going full blast. Over 40000 cremations was paid for by the Chinese government if the descendant agreed to ask no further questions, so they were never counted. How many more cremations? Who knows, but the size of the SO2 clouds, which by the way was only over Wuhan and Chongqing indicates it could have been ten times as many. But back to the models. These rumors prompted Trump to close all air travel to all non U.S citizens that had recently been in China. The official line was that there was no human to human transmission. As the death toll mounted in Italy with a 10+ percent death rate among the infected, the models indicated that U.S would have 2.2 million deaths. The models have since been adjusted more than once a week, but has now stabilized at 60000 deaths or fewer. While this is good news, why did the models fail us so badly?
The answer is obvious. Models are only as good as the input data and the assumptive relationships. In this case the big unknown was the denominator, how many will have it and yet show no symptoms? They may even be carriers.
We now have some of the answers. The death rate will be between 0.2 and 0.3% and will affect the normal risk categories, the old, diabetes, asthma, smoking, marijuana use, other drugs, overweight, and a compromised or overactive immune system. Properly handled, early diagnosis, and protecting the most at risk will reduce the death rate even lower.
It is time to get back to work.
The other models hat has failed us badly are the climate models, but the time scale is decades, not days. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has given out projections five times, beginning in 1990 on what happens to global temperatures if the amount of the greenhouse gas CO2 released in the air is increased, held steady or decreased. The result is always alarming with predictions a high as a temperature increase of up to 8,5C globally by the year 2100. Every new assessment show a decreasing number with the IPCC5 prediction being that temperature increase will be 2.2 C or thereabout if all reductions proposed will be made. IPCC6 will show a larger increase, mostly because of the rapid increase of CO2 emissions by China, India and other developing countries (Yes China is considered a developing country by U.N.)
There is one major problem with all these models. The trends shown by the models do not match with reality. The increased CO2 already occurred since industrialization would show a substantial hot spot in the tropical troposphere. There is no such hot spot. What do IPCC do with that troublesome fact? They ignore it, because it is mostly politically, not scientifically driven. Yes the scientists are sincere and contribute their parts, but the conclusions are politically driven. Is climate change a hoax? Not at all, it is changing, and long term we will have another ice age, but until then the increasing CO2 will stop the oncoming ice age, and even increase it by as much as 7C in the arctic and antarctic, but only in the winter. In the summer there is no increase in temperature!
Why is that? To get the answer we must study molecular absorption spectroscopy and explain a couple of facts for the 97% of all scientists who have not studied molecular spectroscopy. IPCC and most scientists claim that the greenhouse effect is dependent on the gases that are in the atmosphere, and their combined effect is additive according to a logarithmic formula. This is true up to a certain point, but it is not possible to absorb more than 100% of all the energy available in a certain frequency band! For example: If water vapor absorbs 50% of all incoming energy in a certain band, and CO2 absorbs another 90% of the energy in the same band, the result is that 95% is absorbed, (90% + 50% * (100% – 90%)), not 140%, (90% + 50%).
Even in Barrow, Alaska water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas. Only at the South Pole (And North Pole) does CO2 dominate (in the long winter).
All Climate models take this into account, and that is why they all predict that the major temperature increase will occur in the polar regions with melting icecaps and other dire consequences. But they also predict a uniform temperature rise from the increased forcing from CO2 and the additional water vapor resulting from the increased temperature.
This is wrong on two accounts. First, CO2 and H2O gas are nor orthogonal, that means they both absorb in the same frequency bands. There is three bands where CO2 absorb much more than H2O in the far infrared band, but other than that H2O is the main absorbent. If H2O is 80 times as common as CO2 as it is around the equator, water vapor is still the dominant absorbent.
And one more thing. Water vapor is a condensing gas, and it matters greatly whether it is in the atmosphere as a gas or in the form of a cloud. Clouds warm by night and cool by day and the cooling by day is much more than the warming by night, so it also matters greatly when clouds appear. People living in rural America know this instinctively even if they have not done the calculations. They look up and discern the sky and thank God for the clouds when they appear in the summer. In the winter that may mean even more snow. Clouds are the major temperature regulators of the earth. On the other hand people living in urban heat islands go from their air conditioned offices to their parked cars heated up in the sun so much that they get blisters when they touch the steering wheel. They are experiencing the worst of climate change, don’t look up and don’t thank God for the blisters.
We have immense environmental problems. CO2 is not one of them. There is a great need for a green new deal, but that involves cleaning up the earth, not destroying it even further. All of this takes a lot of energy. There is only one solution to this dilemma, renewables alone will not even begin to solve it, only Liquid Fluoride Thorium nuclear reactors, and in the future fusion power will have a chance to carry us through the next ice age, which will come when we have used up all available fossil fuels. We must save the bulk of it for our great grand-kids.
In early May, 2019, President Xi and Vice Premier Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator, visited a rare earth metals mine in Jiangxi province. This has led to the rumor that China is seriously considering restricting rare earth exports to the US. China may also take other countermeasures in the future. The trade negotiations between U.S. and China got a lot more serious. It extended far beyond tariffs and intellectual property, it began to involve strategic materials.
The first thing we must realize is that rare earth metals are not all that rare. They are a thousand times or more abundant than gold or platinum in the earth crust and easy to mine, but a little more difficult to refine. Thorium and Uranium will also be mined at the same time as the rare earth metals since they appear together in the ore.
U.S. used to be the major supplier of rare earth metals, which was fine up to around 1984. Then the U.S. regulators determined that Uranium and Thorium contained in the ore made the ore radioactive, so the regulatory agencies decided to make rare earth metal ore subject to nuclear regulations with all what that meant for record keeping and control. This made mining of rare earth metals in the U.S. unprofitable so in 2001 the last domestic mine closed down. China had no such scruples, such as human and environmental concerns, so they took over the rare earth metals mining and in 2010 controlled over 95% of the world supply, which was according to their long term plan of controlling the world by 2025.
The U.S. used to have a strategic reserve of rare earth metals, but that was sold off in 1998 as being no longer cost effective or necessary. Two years later the one U.S. rare earth metals mine that used to supply nearly the whole world, the Mountain Pass Mine in California closed down, together with its refining capacity. From that day all rare earth metals were imported. In 2010 it started up again together with the refining capacity but went bankrupt in 2015, closed down the refining but continued selling ore to China. They just announced they will start up refining again late 2020. Meanwhile China is slapping on a 25% import tariff on imported ore starting July 1. Rare earth metals may be in short supply for a while.
So, why is this important? Just take a look at all the uses for rare earth metals. The most sought after pays all the cost of mining and refining, and the rest are readily available at nominal cost.
The Chinese almost got away with it, and that is but one reason the trade negotiations are so complicated and hard fought, but necessary. Donald Trump fights for reciprocity and fair competition.
For example, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service, each F–35 Lightning II aircraft requires 920 pounds of rare–earth materials. Who is making the most critical parts to this airplane? You guessed it – China, from our drawings and according to our specifications.
But it is getting worse. the COVId-19 virus hit China bad, probably in November or so, nobody knows and China won’t tell. Then they told us there was a small outbreak, but it is not contagious from person to person. Then on January 10 the first case of the Wuhan virus hit the U.S.A. Late January President Trump halted entry into the U.S. from foreigners having been in China recently. At one of the daily COVID-19 briefings President Trump got excited about a potential treatment. He had been shown the result of a french study. Here it is:
To make matters a little more complicated, China has stopped export of one of the ingredients in making this medicine, and they are the only source, until we have started up production of our own. We have to do it in days, not weeks.
It turns out that China had been, and is treating their COVID-19 patients with this medicine, both as a preventive, and as a cure for months, but they never told the world until now.
Why did China stop this medical export? There are at least two possibilities, either they are lying through their teeth about the COVID-19 cases and they need it for their own consumption but didn’t tell us, or, which is even worse, they do want to maximize the damage in the rest of the world.
This is the real China. The people are wonderful, but their government is evil.