THORIUM REMIX 2011 - How thorium can meet our energy needs.
The predominant technology used to generate civilian nuclear power today, yesterday, and ever since we've had "nuclear power" is the the Light Water Reactor (LWR). The LWR's co-inventor had this to say, many years after filing his 1947 patent:
"One publicist claimed that the light-water reactor had been chosen after long and
careful analysis because it possessed unique safety features. I knew this was untrue:
pressurized water had been chosen to power submarines because such reactors are
compact and simple. Their advent on land was entirely due to Rickover's dominance
in reactor development the 1950s, and once established, the light-water reactor could
not be displaced by a competing reactor. To claim that light-water reactors were
chosen because of their superior safety belied an ignorance of how the technology had
actually evolved... the Army finally decided that even small light-water reactors were
too difficult and costly to maintain, and they were all eventually decommissioned."
‑ Alvin Weinberg ("The Second Nuclear Era", 1994)
The LWR is the QWERTY keyboard's counterpart in reactor design – not
optimal, yet the industry norm. Few today remember the alternate approach that was once actively investigated, the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (Th-MSR). Today Thorium Molten Salt Reactor is frequently referred to as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR, pronounced "lifter").
For a detailed analysis of exactly why this technology has been overlooked, please watch Kirk Sorensen's presentation to Google on the subject.
Thorium is a naturally-occuring mineral that holds large amounts of releasable nuclear energy, similar to uranium. This nuclear energy can be released in a special nuclear reactor designed to use thorium. Thorium is special because it is easier to extract this energy completely than uranium due to some of the chemical and nuclear properties of thorium.
What is a liquid-fluoride reactor?
A liquid-fluoride nuclear reactor is different than conventional nuclear reactors that use solid fuel elements. A liquid-fluoride reactor uses a solution of several fluoride salts, typically lithium fluoride, beryllium fluoride, and uranium tetrafluoride, as its basic nuclear fuel. The fluoride salts have a number of advantages over solid fuels. They are impervious to radiation damage, they can be chemically processed in the form that they are in, and they have a high capacity to hold thermal energy (heat). Additional nuclear fuel can be added or withdrawn from the salt solution during normal operation.
Are the salts safe?
Very safe. Unlike other coolants considered for high-performance reactors (like liquid sodium) the salts will not react dangerously with air or water. This is because they are already in their most stable chemical form. Their properties do not change even under intense radiation, unlike all solid forms of nuclear fuel.
What is nuclear waste and how does a liquid-fluoride reactor address this issue?
So-called "nuclear waste" or spent-nuclear fuel is produced in conventional (solid-core) nuclear reactors because they are unable to extract all of the nuclear energy from their fuel before they have to shutdown. LFTR addresses this issue by using a form of nuclear fuel (liquid-fluoride salts of thorium) that allow complete extraction of nuclear energy from the fuel.
► My very own footage on thorium wasn't captured until April of 2011. This was to address the fact no new videos on the subject were being released. I'd started asking Kirk Sorensen to visit Calgary for video capture purposes. "THORIUM REMIX 2009 - LFTR in 16 Minutes" could only ever appeal to a narrow audience, given its video quality and jump cuts. We needed a decent video capture opportunity.
►TEDxYYC invited Kirk Sorensen to Calgary for a 2011 talk. They covered his travel costs, and hotel stay. Kirk's TEDxYYC talk would eventually be featured on TED.com. This solved a difficult chicken-and-egg problem, since I could not fly Kirk to Calgary without a lecture to attend, nor could I arrange a thorium lecture without the guarantee Kirk would be flying to Calgary.
►Mount Royal University's Brett McCollum agreed to host one of Kirk's thorium lectures. This was the very first talk Kirk gave in Calgary, us racing to MRU right off his delayed flight. Kirk was already speaking as I began to set up my cameras (after dropping him off and parking the car). Fortunately Chelsea Pratchett (the unpaid thorium volunteer) was already capturing the talk with her own camera.
►PROTOSPACE, Calgary's hackerspace was also willing to host a Kirk Sorensen talk on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. We were a bit better prepared for this capture, and Kirk spoke for well over 2 hours in a hot dusty basement crammed with hackers (and a few journalists).
The three Calgary talks offered a fantastic variety in subject matter: TEDxYYC was high-level and aimed at a general audience. MRU was for students studying the intersection of politics and nuclear power (with Kirk taking great questions). PROTOSPACE was an extremely technical crowd, with casual conversation continuing well beyond Kirk's 2.5 hour presentation.
TEDxYYC generously allowed my use of Kirk's talk in Thorium Remix 2011. I'd helped capture it, so retained access to multiple camera agles. This was much more versatile than the 2009 constraints of remixing low rez footage from already choosen camera angles.
►TEAC3 (Thorium Energy Alliance Conference #3) represented the first money I'd ever spent on thorium video efforts. (Man-hours don't count!) Thorium Energy Alliance was the only thorium conference I'd heard of, and represented the largest number of voices on thorium I could find. I spent about $1000 for transportation and accomidation in Washington DC during TEAC3. When I say Thorium Remix 2011 cost $1000 to create, that's where the figure comes from. (It did cost a couple thousand more to get Thorium Remix 2011 released on iTunes, but it was already available for free on YouTube by then.)
That's about 3.5 hours of lecture distilled from a full day of presentations. I incorporated slide decks and tried to cut out excess padding (like introductions and long pauses). As far as capturing lectures went, the trip was very successful. However, I barely had time to record any interviews. I simply hadn't thought of it, being so busy capturing lectures.
► "After Fukushima: The Fear Factor" was a documentary about the media frenzy surrounding Fukushima. I thought it did a great job exploring how all news media seemed to be focused on highlighting the very worst-case possible scenarios of a nuclear accident while strangely ignoring the very real and not-at-all-speculative disaster already unfolding in Japan.
I contacted the creators and they granted me permission to remix Fear Factor into my own videos. (So long as it was clear where the footage came from.)
► The 2011 remix was constructed largely from the above lectures. Almost all my interviews were with Kirk Sorensen. Rod Adams of Atomic Insights did help by enduring a FaceTime interview with me. That was a disaster on many levels (and completely my fault), but Rod did help offer a pragmatic perspective on PWR being the avaialble-right-now and non-GHG-emitting choice for our immediate energy needs.
This hit-and-miss collection of footage represents what I considered at my disposal when editing Thorium Remix 2011. I no longer think capturing lectures is a sane way to create a documentary. But my primary influence was (and is) An Inconvenient Truth. Despite Al Gore's dire predictions, I was very happy to see a science lecture serving as popular entertainment. Until 2006 I'd watched a bit of NOVA and The Nature of Things, but hadn't seen a science message packaged so well since Carl Sagan's COSMOS.
Thorium Remix 2011 was me ensuring the basic science of thorium (as an energy resource) be communicated in a time efficient manner. I'm the target audience... a guy who found Google Tech Talks on the subject to be utterly facinating, but full of awkward pauses and blurry visuals. It wasn't until the doc was completely edited, and time passed, that it resolved itself to me as being inaccessable to a general audience.
I did spend time promoting Thorium Remix 2011, and facilitating remixes. I'd been so eager for a means of propagating the idea of thorium as an energy resource, and had a dozen ideas I wanted to try. But over time, it became clear the doc was an extremely imperfect means of informing as many folks as possible. Finally, in 2012, I asked for help making a better thorium documentary.