Kirk Sorensen: Thorium Could Be Our Energy "Silver Bullet"
Safer, cleaner and cheaper thorium reactors could change the world
Kirk Sorensen has been studying thorium technology since 2000 and has been a public advocate for its use and development since 2006. He started the weblog, Energy from Thorium, which has spawned a global movement of interest in liquid-fluoride thorium reactor technology. He has a masters’ degree in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and is studying nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee under Dr. Laurence Miller. He worked at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center from 2000 to 2010 and led advanced technology development for new space transportation systems. From May 2010 to May 2011 he served as Chief Nuclear Technologist to Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, but left recently to found a new company, Flibe Energy, which is devoted to the design, development, manufacture and operation of liquid-fluoride thorium reactors.
Jim Puplava is pleased to welcome Kirk Sorensen to the Financial Sense Newshour this week. Kirk explains how thorium reactors can change the world through the use of a safer, cleaner and more available energy source than uranium.
Jim Puplava: Joining me on the program is Kirk Sorensen. He is the founder of Flibe energy. He also started a blog, “energyfromthorium.com.” He's a former NASA engineer. He was also the chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering. Kirk, I want to talk about something that I think a lot of us that follow the energy world believe: that we’re on the edge of an energy crisis. Whether you want to talk about it from a climate change point of view, if you want to talk about it about peak oil, or if you want to talk about it from conflicts going on in the Middle East that controls our energy supply. But we’re on the edge of a crisis and we’re coming to, I believe, a limit in terms of how we power our society. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Kirk Sorensen: (0:52) Jim, I feel the same way. We definitely are at the crisis point in our energy supply and the fossil fuels that we’ve relied on for so long. The amount of those that area remaining is always a question and you get a wide variety of answers, but certainly the conflict that we find ourselves bound up within in the pursuit of those fuels is certainly enough reason for us to question whether or not that’s a prudent way to go forward. And the excitement that we feel at Flibe Energy is by exploiting the energy of thorium, we have the potential to tap an energy source a million times more energy dense than the fossil fuels.
Jim: (1:33) Kirk, correct me if I’m wrong, but around 1939 we discovered some new elements that created power. And these two elements, one of them was uranium 238 and the other was thorium. But given the fact that we were at war during that period time, we went with uranium as a source of power because we could also make weapons, and of course we had the cold war. Talk about that discovery and some of the driving factors that change sort of the, we were at the beginning of a new the technology and we took the left road instead of the right road, but we went with uranium and what are the consequences.
Kirk: (2:14) Yeah, I’d be happy to talk about that, and forgive me for maybe getting into a little bit of history, I love history, but it helps to understand why these things happened. You know, thorium and uranium were both discovered as elements in the late 1800s. And nobody really thought there was anything special out them until Marie Curie discovered that they were radioactive. And again, nobody understood what that meant. But in 1939, as you mentioned, the process of nuclear fission was first discovered by a chemist named Otto Hahn in Germany. And it was a totally new idea that you could actually split an atom release all this energy. And because this was discovered right at the beginning of World War II the obvious question was, can we use this to make an explosive? And that was the origin of the Manhattan project. They looked at uranium and uranium has two isotopes. One of which is uranium 235 and that is naturally fissile, you don’t have to do anything to it to make it fission. So that was the beginning of one kind of effort in the Manhattan project to manufacture a weapon. And then uranium 238, which was much more common, they found that they could bombarded it with neutrons and create a new element, plutonium, that was also fissile, and you could potentially use it for a nuclear explosive. So that was another line that was taken. And then they looked to thorium and said well could we try the same technique with thorium, and found that, yes, you could bombard thorium with a neutron and create uranium 233 and it was also fissile and could potentially form explosives. But there were certain severe drawbacks in the practicality of trying to use uranium 233 as a weapon. And so the attention focused overwhelmingly on separating the uranium isotopes and on converting some of that uranium into plutonium. Those were two directions that were taken during the Manhattan Project. And they resulted in the Hiroshima bomb, which was a uranium 235 bomb and the Nagasaki bomb, which was a plutonium bomb. After the war was over, the overwhelming concern of the US Atomic Energy Commission was to replenish our stockpile of nuclear weapons, which after Nagasaki, was depleted. We didn't have any more weapons, and that was one of the biggest security secrets in the United States at that time. We had to replenish that supply and so all the effort was put into creating materials intended for weapons. And because uranium and plutonium had shown themselves to be more amenable to that type of work than thorium, the work on thorium was neglected. It was only as we moved into the ‘50s that the idea of making electrical power from nuclear energy began to take prominence, and so because the uranium plutonium technologies were more understood, and considered a safer bet, that was where the bulk of the effort in the earlier atomic power program went, was to uranium and plutonium. Although at that time there was a small and beginning effort to investigate thorium, which as in turns out, has some very superior properties when your goal is to make nuclear power rather than to make nuclear weapons.
Jim: (5:23) You know, unfortunately Kirk, we still live on a planet where, if you look around us today, our industrial society is still powered mainly by fossil fuels. But even more troubling, you have a situation, when you mention nuclear power, you know, people would think of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and now they think of Fukushima. And they're not aware of the other things that are going on. For example, thorium. How many people really know that we could do this, make nuclear power more efficient, get rid of the waste problems, get rid of some of these things about meltdowns, weapons, all the stuff that everybody's afraid of today?
Kirk: (6:02) It is so funny that you ask that question Jim, because as I have told this story to many people, I’ve had a lot of different responses. But one of the most powerful examples of that just has happened last night. I was speaking with a retired gentleman who lives in Australia, over Skype like this, and he talked about how he worked in the United Kingdom back in the ‘70s on their most important nuclear power program. And he told me that he had had absolutely no exposure during that program to learning about the thorium technologies or about liquid fluoride thorium reactor. And he only discovered it last year after he retired and he began, as he said, snooping around on the Internet trying to find out what was going on with nuclear. And I realized that the overwhelming majority of people in the world don't know at all about the potential that thorium offers. And even more surprising, the overwhelming majority of trained nuclear engineers do not know anything about this. It’s not taught in school or in the classroom. The potential of thorium is incredibly under appreciated. And as you pointed out in the beginning with your question, in today's world that is still overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels, how can we continue to let an oversight like that go by. We need to train our attention on this possibility and and really find out if it has a reality.
Jim: (7:21) You know, when you talk about nuclear power, there is an anti-nuclear element in this country and I am always amazed at this because we've been running aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines for half a century. And I don’t recall the Navy ever telling us about sailors, sailors dying. But if you take a lot of the anti-nuclear sentiment in this country, it centers around a couple things. Nuclear waste, you've got stuff that's good take a gazillion years to erode in terms of its radioactivity. It cost a heck of a lot of money to build a nuclear power plant, not to mention it'll take what, at least in this country, 7 to 10 years. And not to mention given our tax laws, you've got a very powerful energy lobby coming from the fossil fuel sector.
Kirk: (8:10) Yes, and let me try to take on those questions one by one. With regards to the waste, that is a powerful question and certainly one I asked myself when I got started in this. I was surprised to find out that when nuclear fission takes place most of the products of nuclear fission decay to stability very quickly. The things that last a long time are ironically those things that didn't fission in the reactor. And that's one of the things that thorium can help change. Is rather than only fissioning less than 1% of the fuel and leaving 99% to decay over a long period of time, it will fission 99% of the fuel and leave only a small percentage which, ironically, turns out would be incredibly useful to NASA to explore space. So even that 1% would be something they would want. So it really changes the balance of the story on waste. I think if the people who’ve opposed nuclear power in the past, perhaps had a chance to learn about thorium and the potential it offers in a liquid fluoride reactor, it might change some of their opinions on that. The second question you brought up was about the cost. And a lot of the cost of nuclear power today, the pressurized light water reactors, has to do with the high pressure that the reactors have to operate, because they use water as a coolant. Water doesn’t stay water at high temperatures unless you put it under high pressure, and that's a recipe for some serious expenses. Not just the pressure vessels, and the containments, but all the emergency systems. When you use a different medium as a coolant, the salt that we intend to use in the liquid fluoride reactor, it doesn't have to operate at high pressure. It operates at regular pressures and so everything becomes much simpler in the reactor and that can lead to a significant change in the cost or you can reduce the physical size and complexity of all manner of systems there. And finally the power that the fossil fuel industry has, I don't know much about that. I know it is very real and I don't really have much of response that. But I think that our energy industries in this country, which you know primarily now are focused on fossil fuel, are looking around going what are other energy options? What can we invest in the future that will bring the same kind of benefits to us that fossil fuels have. In other words, abundant energy that is reliable and dense and doesn't cost too much. And I think that they will perhaps find great interest in the thorium story.
Jim: (10:34) Now one of the things that you have written about is when you, you look at this space, you look at energy, you describe something in terms of boundary conditions. And it really sets the stage in terms or where you start and where you might end up, and how the solution is arrived at. And I wonder if you might address that. Everything from the obvious one, we can't keep using fossil fuels whether you’re a peak oil believer or a global warming believer, we've got problems out there. So let’s talk about the boundaries in terms of which this debate is framed.
Kirk: (11:13) Okay, thank you. When you're taught in engineering, you end up taking a lot of mathematics courses. And one of the principles they teach you is the notion of boundary conditions which set where your solution begins and where it ends, and as you mentioned, those boundaries along the way. Where we are now in 2011, is obviously different from where we were in 1952 when these decisions were originally being made. We have 104 nuclear plants. We have a lot of coal and gas and other things. We have a population that by and large has a fear of nuclear power. So these are our boundary conditions today. And in addition we have the results of operating normal conventional light water reactors for all these years, which is about 60 to 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. So, these are the elements we have to bring to a solution space. How are we going to move forward trying to produce the energy we need, while addressing the legacy of what we’ve done previously. And with regard specifically to the spent nuclear fuel, this is a great opportunity for us to take the spent nuclear fuel and to remove from that which is useful to go forward and to destroy that through fission that is, that would otherwise constitute the long-term burden. Specifically plutonium and other long-lived radioactive elements. Those can be fuel in these types of fluoride reactors. Those can be burned up. And then it doesn’t take tens of thousands of years for them to give up that radioactivity. It happens very quickly in fact through fission. So fission is a much more effective way to reduce what’s called the radio toxicity of spent fuel. And so, I know that this is something that is of great concern to a lot of people about what is the ethical burden we place on future generations by going forward with conventional nuclear. I think this technology has a way of addressing that. Our other boundary conditions have to do with, ah, we in the United States are blessed with an abundance of fossil fuels. Some have said we are cursed with an abundance of fossil fuels. I often smile when I hear advertisements for the fossil industry describing how we have 50 or 80 or a hundred years worth of some particular kind of fossil fuel left, because that seems to say don't worry about it right now, put off any decision, let's keep going the way were going. And I smile because looking at thorium, we have hundreds of thousands of years, maybe even millions of years of accessible resources of thorium that could provide the same amount of energy we have now. So in our real world of fighting with the entrenched interests, we have to be cognizant of these boundaries. But there is also the notion that we want to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, and I know that not everyone shares that opinion, but that is a legitimate objective for many parts of the public, and I think it's one that we should be cognizant of. If we can bring energy generation online that does not emit greenhouse gases, then we can be part of addressing this concern globally. And even more significantly, if we can bring that energy generation on at a cost point that is lower than our fossil fuel competitors, then those things will, I believe, proceed much more readily, rather than trying to hobble existing generations with carbon taxes and cap and trade scenarios, and so forth. I was speaking with a senior official several weeks ago, and I said what would it mean if we can make energy cheaper than coal? And he said, if we did that we wouldn’t need carbon taxes and all these other sorts of things. Things would happen as we would want them to happen rather than trying to make them happen in a particular way. And I'm a big believer that that's really the most logical path to take. But that’s a high bar. When you try to make power cheaper than coal, a lot of things that people think of as traditionally being the solution fall of the table. Solar and wind very quickly fall off the table if you’re trying to make power cheaper than coal. And that’s what I think is compelling about the thorium and the liquid fluoride reactor. There is a legitimate argument therefore how we can make power cheaper than coal.
Jim: (15:22) Now when you take a look at the energy debate, and we started our conversation that we’re on the edge of an energy crisis, so if you take a look at, if we’re to get off of coal, fossil fuels and in particular to replace the transportation energy that we consumed to make goods, transport goods. It’s been estimated that we’re going to need somewhere in the neighborhood of over 1000 GW of electrical power or about 10 times what were getting from our current nuclear fleet today. That means a lot of uranium, if we go that route. But I can tell you this, and I've talked a lot of experts in the field and I don't pretend to be a scientist, but wind and solar, Kirk, you know isn't going to cut it at the present time.
Kirk: (16:10) It’s not going to cut it. No. When you said 1000 GW, I think you're being kind. Most of my estimates have been, well, more on the range of about 2000 GW when you factor in the transportation energy. And that’s, we’re putting about 700 GW of electrical energy on the grid now, but if we throw in transportation energy, I think it’s safe to double that. And then accounting for growth, not only in population, but also in standard of living, because we want people to have a better standard of living in the future. I think it's pretty safe to say that we are going to be in the neighborhood of 2000 GW. That’s about three times our current electrical generation capabilities or 20 times our current nuclear generation capability. And with each existing nuclear reactor consuming about 250 tons of uranium a year versus these lifters that would only consume 100 ton of thorium a year. It’s the difference between using 65,000 tons of uranium a year or using 2000 tons of thorium per year. Two thousand tons of thorium a year is a very very tractable proposition. There are a number of sites in our country, where that site alone would produce 4 or 5000 tons of thorium from a single site. So from a fuel supply perspective, a move to thorium would solve our fuel supply crisis. The real cost is going to be the capital cost of building 2000 GWs of new generation capability, and that’s why reducing the cost per dollar of watt installed. I mean, right now, coal I believe is running for somewhere from $2-$4 per watt installed. Typical nuclear, $4-$6 per watt installed. Gas is really cheap. It’s $1-$2 per watt installed. Solar, I’ve seen $9 plus dollars. Wind, it all kind of depends on your assumptions. And what we’ve got to shoot for is around a dollar a watt. We’ve got to look for an installation capacity, or capacity installation cost of around the same as what we’re paying for gas now. But yet removing the cost of the gas itself, which is really the big cost you pay when you put a natural gas fire plant on line.
Jim: (18:17), You know, another factor that I think many Americans are well aware, that we are spending a fortune, in fact almost half of our trade deficit every month is dollars going out to pay for oil imports. But a lot of people may not be aware that we import a lot of our uranium. So Kirk, if we looked at thorium, how do we move from where we are? Because we are definitely in an energy crisis and we’re in, that crisis is going to get worse as we go forward. So how do you transition from where we are now? We have all this excess nuclear waste that we've accumulated over the years, and you know, you take a look at what it would take to crank up our present system to even meet future needs as well as maybe electrifying the transportation system. Even something like a Yucca Mountain would probably be, what, one or two years worth of waste supply. So how do we transition from where we are now to where we need to be? What do we need to do?
Kirk: (19:19) Great question. I mean, that's precisely why I started Flibe Energy. It was to begin to do the research and development and the construction of these machines. Recognizing that it's not getting any closer unless we’re working on it, and it was time to take that step. We need to design and develop the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. And with full financing we can quickly get to a demonstrator unit in five years and a probably to a utility scale unit before the end of the decade. Once we have built that unit and have a facility where we are building those machines the way we build, like a 737 today. We’re building it on an assembly line. We’re moving it out on mobile modular units to different sites rather than going there and pouring a bunch of concrete and rebar and building a fixed facility. We’re building mobile units that can be dispersed throughout the country where they need to go to generate the power. And it's really getting to that factory build scenario that’s been sort of the Holy Grail of the small modular reactor community movement. And what’s different about us is we think we have a far better argument for why you can do that, because we’re operating at high-pressure. We don’t need big fixed steel pressure vessels. We don’t need huge concrete containments. We think we have a whole lot better argument for why we can do that. But that's the kind of build we have to have in order to start making a major difference in our energy generation portfolio. If we simply go forward with conventional large light water reactors, we can't build them fast enough to go and really make a dent in our energy generation scenario. All were going to do is make up for the light water reactors that will be decommissioned over the next 20 years. So it’s absolutely essential that we move quickly to getting to modular factory built, inherently safe units like what we’re trying to produce at Flibe Energy. And once we get to that point, the fuel supply situation is going to be very tractable. Thorium, we already have 32 hundred tons of thorium buried in Nevada. That’s going to last us for a while because we’re not going to get to a 2000 GW society, you know, right off the bat. But there’s other sites where they're mining for rare earths where they will bring up lots of thorium just in the process of mining for rare earths. So I am not one bit worried about being able to meet the thorium demand. You’d mentioned very accurately that we import all of our uranium right now. And that is a, that is loss. You know, obviously in a, in a trade deficit situation from our economy, we can get away from that by moving to thorium. The cost of the fuel will be essentially trivial compared the other costs and operating the reactor.
Jim: (22:00) I was really surprised Kirk, there’s a conference that's held, it’s TEAC 3 which is on thorium. And I was really surprised that China is already moving in this direction. And correct me if I'm wrong, but by mid decade I think they have plans in place that they will have their first thorium reactor. So China is currently picking up and becoming an energy leader. They dominate solar. Now they're moving into thorium. And I was surprised to see that because of the NRC, if we were to move to thorium, probably it would be easier to do through the military. So let’s talk about that. You have a formidable roadblock here.
Kirk: (22:42) Well, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates all of our civilian reactors and they operate in a fee recovery mode. Where the monies that it takes to run the operations come from fees charged in existing reactors. And that operational mode this has been something that's been a concern to a number of people that have looked at developing new nuclear reactors, because there's just not a lot of funds left over to do the preparatory regulatory research needed to ready ourselves for the use of new kinds of nuclear reactors. There is, as you mentioned, another way to develop nuclear power plants and that is using military regulations. The US military has had independent regulatory authority for a number years. Now those will be reactors that would be on military facilities accomplishing the goals of generating power for those facilities. This has been a topic of great interest, especially to the U.S. Army for many years. And it is something that we are very focused on, in supporting that goal. I spent several years when I was at NASA on an assignment to the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. I learned about their energy needs at remote sites and also at facilities across the country. The notion of what is called “base islanding” which means that you want each military base to have independent power generation. That has been a military objective of significant importance for quite some time. And we’re not the only ones to be looking at that, but I think we got a great story for how LFTRs (liquid fluoride thorium reactors) can help the US military achieve its goals of a base islanding. We've got about 200 facilities in this country that would probably be, that would qualify for the need for base islanding. And that represents a significant initial market that would be fulfilled under military regulatory authority before you would necessarily need to undertake the issue of going with the civilian regulatory authority. So that’s a big part of our goals, is to go and help the U.S. Army meet it’s goals for base islanding with the, with the small safe modular reactor that can provide the power they need at an affordable price.
Jim: (24:52) Now one of the other aspects that have come out, I mean if you look at thorium, it makes a lot of good business sense. And it's also very important, I mean, look at all the effort and the diplomatic effort that is made to try to stop Iran from making weapons grade uranium. And there are a lot of concerns in at least the Middle East, that of nuclear proliferation. So from a national security point, if we started moving more towards thorium reactors, where you can’t make bombs, that also handles some of the geopolitical concerns that we have. But given the recent events that we've seen in Japan, from Fukushima, I mean, you know what it's like Kirk, one little event like that and every single night for almost a week and a half, that’s all you saw. The headlines with the same pictures, the tidal wave, this is worse than we thought, you know. So, has the thorium movement been set back as a result of this as many companies and even countries are saying they’re re-examining nuclear? And if they are re-examining nuclear isn’t this a good opportunity for thorium to step up to the plate?
Kirk: (26:05) Well, Jim, you ask a very good question there, and I almost have two completely different answers to it. On one hand I can say, what happened at Fukushima definitely represents a setback for the nuclear industries. It is still a head scratcher to me, why this is viewed as such an awful thing. We have had, nobody has been killed from radiation of Fukushima. Hundreds have of probably been killed from fossil fuel fires associated with the tsunami, but we never talk about that. And yet sovereign nations on the other side of the world are going, ah, we’re going to get out a nuclear because of Fukushima. It seems to be a completely unbalance response to a nuclear power plant that took a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami. On one hand I absolutely do not understand why there is this incredibly disproportionate reaction.
Going back to original question, I can answer it in a completely different way, and say, this represents a tremendous opportunity for thorium and the liquid fluoride reactor because we have a chance to show why the inherent safety features of “lifter” would've prevented the accidental release of radiation. It was driven overwhelmingly by the high-pressure operation in these water-cooled reactors. And so there is a door opened. A lot of people are asking now, what about this other technology? Why is it safer? What would've happened in Japan if we had this instead? And when they find the answer they find it very compelling. But these two forces, the forces of curiosity on one hand and the force of fear on the other, are ramming right into each other. And I don't know how it will ultimately play out. It is of great concern to me.
Jim: (27.46) Kirk, we eventually get to a situation where you do have countries like China which, is surprising has taken the lead in alternative energy. They've got a large population. They’re industrializing and like the United States they’re having to import a lot of raw materials. Including energy, whether it's oil, coal, natural gas. And so they're looking at alternatives and they’re moving very quickly on solar. They're moving on all energy fronts. Is it one, do we get to a situation where actually one country ends up becoming the leader and pioneer and then the rest of us go along or follow along? I'd hate to see that, but it seems like from what I'm seeing going on, that that maybe one direction we’re heading in.
Kirk: (28:27) It’s certainly possible and it's a, it’s a situation that I have felt strongly enough about that I’ve taken this move to start this company in order to try to establish leadership in the United States to pursue the thorium option. I'm not aware of another avenue, either governmental or private, to engage this. I know the Chinese are working on it. We have very few details about their plans or their operations, and we probably should not expect we’re going to get any more details. They don't need to ask us for money or technical expertise. They're plenty smart enough to do that on their own. I think the next step in their program will either be it will disappear and we’ll never know or they will come up one day and say, “Hey we just turn the thing on. Look it, that’s pretty neat, huh? And you know, next year you can order out of a catalogue.” And we will have missed a tremendous opportunity to have taken leadership in a technology we invented 50 years ago and we pioneered. So I feel very strongly that it is high time for the resources of the United States, private, academic, governmental to be brought to bear on an issue that has everything to do with our ultimate success as a nation in this economy.
Jim: (29:43) Do you think that as we look at this and as we’re were dealing with higher energy costs, I mean, you know, people are very upset right now that they're paying over four dollars at the pump. In the past, Kirk, when we had problems, energy problems like deforestation in England, we discovered coal. And after coal, and we found out it was dirty, uh pollution, especially let’s say downtown London in the 19th century, we discovered oil. And I guess, you know, as the world struggles with this problem, looking for a silver bullet, does thorium? Let’s say that we decided we’re going to electrify our transportation fleet. We’re going to electrify our trains, as they do in the Europe. Could thorium or does it have the possibility of becoming the silver bullet?
Kirk: (30:38) Oh absolutely. It is the possibility of a new age of humanity. All of our previous ages have been defined by access to a new form of energy or a new material. An Iron Age, or a Bronze Age, or so forth. I truly believe we're on the cusp of a thorium age. And it will define a 1000 years of human history because it will change what would otherwise be the outcome if we continue with fossil fuels. And if you're familiar with peak oil, you know it is a pretty bleak subject to contemplate a future where we don't have access to affordable energy. I think we could be looking at societal regression if we don't have access to affordable energy. But if this thorium age comes about, it will change all that. Energy will become less expensive. It will become more accessible and there will be enough of it to lift the last majority of humanity out of the grinding poverty that they endure today. And allow them not only to live better lives, but realize their potential. We can't even imagine the inventions, and the ideas, and the poetry, and the novels, and the rock 'n roll, and everything else that 5 billion people could be making, but they’re not because they're starving to death. You know, I mean, what could this mean for our future? It could absolutely change the course of human history.
Jim: (32:00) Let me throw another idea, and I've often had this conversation, with the late Matt Simmons, who was a big believer in peak oil, and was kind of looking for that silver bullet. And that is, could it take a crisis? I know in the midst of a crisis, World War II, you know, we discovered nuclear power and also weapon grade uranium in the Manhattan project where we basically produced a bomb in a short period of time. So if we were faced with a severe energy crisis, global warming, or just shortages of fuel, could we turn this into a Manhattan project and turn thorium? In other words, how quickly can we turn the table and really start to get this thing running?
Kirk: (32:47) If we were talking Manhattan project, and that’s where you're taking the smartest people out of society. You’re putting them in a place and they work on it six days a week, 18 hours a day, we could probably have one of these reactors up and running within 18 months. And we could be to a production level within a year or so after that. I mean, it would be a lot like World War II. Imagine the factories turning out B-29 bombers, you know, it would be like that.
Jim: (33:11) Wow.
Kirk: (33:11) Now Manhattan style projects, that’s a severe disruption though, to the flow society. That is a heavy governmental hand reaching and deciding how to allocate resources. And that’s really not what I would hope would happened. What I would hope would happen would be a much more market-driven approach where a fair and clear regulatory environment allows businesses and investors to make wise decisions, with a high certainty that if they fulfill the obligations laid out, and the regulations, they will be able to build and operate the machines they have designed. In that scenario, which I would call more the skunk works approach, having worked at Lockheed when I was younger, I think we could have this ready in four or five years. With abundant private financing and a clear and realistic regulatory environment. That's not really the world we live in right now. Now that may change, but that's not how it is right now. Right now we have a regulatory challenge and we are looking for ways to move the technology forward under situations that have a stronger need for the technology. For instance, the military's need for base islanding, and so, in that scenario that does stretch out the time. But I guess maybe I’m getting past your original question, which was could we do this in a Manhattan style project, and the answer is absolutely yes. And it would go quite quickly.
Jim: (34:39) Well hopefully we will be oriented more towards a market solution to this event rather than the heavy hand of government, but it seems like, that one I think at this point is hard to predict. But given the fact, consumers are paying four dollars at the pump, or in California, mid four dollars and even higher than that, sooner or later, you know, the voters are going to start expressing this and nothing gets a politician more motivated than when all of a sudden his constituents may be jeopardizing his own unemployment. So.
Kirk: (356:12) Yes, absolutely.
Jim: (35:13) Kirk, as we close, if our listeners would like to follow your blog, why don’t you give that out because you put out a lot of useful information there. If our listeners want to become educated, because I think this has the potential, at least from what I've seen, of becoming a silver bullet and also solving many of the problems that we’re dealing with, whether it's climate change or you're dealing with the issue of fossil fuels and peak oil. Give out your blog and then also talk about your company.
Kirk: (35:42) Ok. Thank you. The blog. I started a blog about five years ago. It’s called “energyfromthorium.com.” So “energy from thorium”, all one word “.com” and it is a blog, so there is some discussion on there. It’s not maybe the best place to go for an introduction to this. The corporate website that we’re starting, we only started it last week, so it’s under construction, but it's called Flibe Energy, “f-l-i-b-e-energy.com.” And I’m adding content to that daily to explain the background and technology here. Both of those pages have associated Facebook pages with them, where you can go there on Facebook and you can “like the page” (quote unquote) and then there's, those Facebook pages are updated probably even more frequently. A great place to add questions, big communities, especially on the interest on thorium site, we’ve almost got 3000 fans there. And it’s a great place to ask questions and to learn more. On the Flibe Energy site there is a page called media where there are a number of links to YouTube presentations that I've given on this topic, some of which are really probably good as an introduction to this. I gave one in Calgary recently at a TEDx conference that was only 10 minutes, so if you’ve got 10 minutes, it’s a way to begin to learn about this, and I’d recommend that. Look for more from Flibe Energy, which is devoted to the design, construction, and operation of liquid fluoride reactors. We know it’s a big task, but we’re ready to go take it on. And we’re always looking for a qualified help on that in many different forms. So I encourage everyone who is interested to try to pursue both or either of those resources.
Jim: (37:18) All right we've been speaking with Kirk Sorensen from Flibe Energy and once again you can go to Kirk's blog: “energyfromthorium.com” and you can follow Kirk’s company, Flibe Energy, that’s F-L-I-B-E hyphen energy.com. Kirk all the best with this. I see a lot of potential here and let’s hope that we’ll realize that potential, act wisely, and get ourselves out of this energy predicament that we dug ourselves in.
Kirk: (37:49) Thank you, Jim.
About James J Puplava CFP
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