107: A Thorium Thubject – Future of Nuclear Energy

Matt and Sean talk about recent advances to thorium reactor research and projects that might solve some energy production needs.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Revisiting Thorium Energy – The Future of Nuclear Power?”: https://youtu.be/uv6qt45lXDM?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi55IJwXkqPkgtq03bgQDNoH

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Hey, everybody on today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re talking about thorium reactors the progress and bringing them into the real world energy production scheme and can this be a solution to energy needs before we get into that reminder I’m Sean Farrell ah how you all doing I’m Matt Ferrell’s older brother Matt is of course the talking head behind undecided with Matt Ferrell Matt how are you doing.
I’m good this talking head is doing well.
We won’t make any assumptions about any other parts of our bodies. We’ll just let everybody know that we think we’re doing okay today we’re gonna be talking about revisiting thorium energy the future of nuclear power question Mark we’re back on the question mark train and I’m cheo cheo chu there for it. Ah, this episode broadcast on February Eighth Twenty Twenty two and since this episode dropped I’ve been living through some of the issues that your recent videos have been bringing up regarding energy production energy costs. Ah.
New York is going through. There has been a sudden spike in energy costs Con Ed has been sending up bills in some cases. They’ve been going up as much as 25% suddenly above last year. Um, kind of well that’s.
Wow! Any reason for it.
That’s the question people started getting bills. Some people were getting bills as much as twice as high as previous months and immediately people started pushing their politicians to say what’s going on here the politicians began to push Con Ed Con Ed says it is a combination of a colder than usual january and a rise in the cost of natural gas. What I think is interesting about the argument about January is we here in New York City have seen.
Much milder winters than we have previously while this past January has been cold. It is by no means in my experience any colder than any other January so that explanation seems a little like what are you talking about? and.
Um, yeah.
Then there’s the natural gas aspect and one of the things that Con Ed has been saying is ho ho don’t worry we are looking into renewable sources as a way of curtailing this kind of issue in the future. The governor Governor Hockel does not think that.
Ah, right.
Their explanations meet the needs of of the citizens of New York and there has been a citywide call for there to be an investigation looking into why this unexpected there was no announcement there. It just suddenly people started getting bills that were much higher. So.
Um, right.
That’s the lived experience. That’s literally the front page news here in New York City and then you drop this a little video talking about. Maybe there’s an option here and along with recent videos. We talk about this every week. Um.
And I couldn’t help but think yeah, yeah, this is this is the kind of discussion that our conversations are very much a part of my alignment with the world in saying that’s what our future should hold.
Is it.
You know, looking at the Horizon saying That’s what our future should hold recent lived experience has made me feel like that future needs to get here now. So this video in particular talking about recent advances. You’re revisiting a subject you talked about in the past and you’re trying to give an.
Now. Yes.
Updated scenario and I thought it was very timely. Um, as I said not timely enough. But if we if we take a look at the comments we can see that that I’m not alone in saying like okay, there’s a solution here maybe solutions to multiple problems. Even.
Not timely, not timely enough though it sounds like.
Another thing that you talk about in your video in the fact that there are byproducts out of this technology that are beneficial such as the desalinization aspects. Um, and then there are positives to it from a it can use the waste products from other. Energy production in creating another layer of Energy. So This really does start to feel like my head scratching around nuclear is that really the best option to suddenly how do I build my own thorium reactor.
Um, right.
Don’t own this building so I can’t put solar panels on the roof. But maybe I’ve got some space down here in my basement where I could just tuck away a little thorium reactor maybe behind the exercise bike in the comments were full of similar thinking to mine. Not. So the idea of building a thorium reactor but there was there were comments like these from Jim Denning who wrote Matt could you say more about msrs burning up radioactive waste from pressurized water reactors I understand this is possible and if so in the near term. It may be as important as producing energy. So what is this about burning up radioactive waste. How does that work with these types of reactors.
There’s some of these technologies that are being developed that you can take literally the waste product that comes out of a traditional nuclear reactor that’s using uranium and use that waste material to power something like what I talked about in this video where it’s literally just eating up the radioactive waste. You don’t have to store that waste now for 10000 years it’s putting it into another reactor that can then use that waste and produce waste that only you have to store for a few hundred years so there’s still a waste product involved but it’s you’re basically just like ah a food chain. You’re just kind of working its way down the line. Um. It got a lot of press number years ago because ah bill gates was backing I think it was ter power I think was the name of the company. Um, that was promoting this kind of technology and there’s other companies that are doing the same exact thing. So it’s like will it become a reality I don’t know. It still needs to be built into pilot projects to be like ticket to a full scale. That’s part of the problem even with the price I talked about around thorium reactors. It’s a proposed cost that nobody knows yet because we don’t have thorium reactors in operation yet. It’s like we know how the technology works. Know what kind of fuel sources it needs so we can scope out what we think it’s going to cost but the reality of the cost is something completely different. So it’s going to be interesting to see once China gets theirs running for a few years once we finish building some out around here and and we can start to see what the costs look like. Then we’ll see if it aligns with what we think the cost will be as well as what that waste product is like and how we actually manage that waste product. So this stuff is it’s all intertwined and when you talk about nuclear. It’s kind of a gigantic umbrella that includes a bunch of technologies underneath it. Like the one you just brought up from that commenter. Um, but we still need to build up pilot projects to actually prove it out.
Yeah there’s that raises the question of has there been any speculation about how many layers to this. There could be you talk about? Okay, you take a uranium reactor the waste from that. Needs to be stored for thousands of years but if that waste can then be used in the thorium reactor. It only needs to be stored for maybe 500 years as opposed to thousands is there on the horizon another layer to that which would say okay we can take that waste and we can use it and it shortens the lifespan to even shorter than the previous one. Or have we reached a point of having depleted the energy production value of that waste to the point we’re like okay this is it. This is the ash we’re we’re done.
I I can’t answer that for sure all I can say is based on what me and my team have researched. It looks like this is kind of like the end state The best that can be right now there may be other people that are listening to this or have watched my video that are work in industry and research and they may know that there’s actually a different technology that actually does.
Um, yeah.
Use up everything and so if you if you are in the industry and you do know comment down below in the Youtube video shoot me at email I’d love to talk to you about it.
Yeah I can’t help but at moments like this talking about like well we we can take the waste from here and use it for this and then maybe there’s a potential next step and in my head I see Doc Brown putting
Mr. Fusion
Ah, soda cans and banana peels into the mister fusion. The top of the car. Yeah, there was also this comment from Richard Sleeve who wrote I think given just the challenges in long distance transmission.
That’s the ideal.
There’s absolutely still a place for a reliable output source like this not to mention the whole desalinization hydrogen thing the latter of which may be largely excuse me the latter of which may likely be a big part of decarbonizing Transport Aircraft. They could at the very least build msr powered plants that are mainly for that purpose could they not is that an aspect of this that is being looked at.
Oh yeah, definitely it’s um, like 1 of the biggest downsides to green hydrogen and technologies like that is. It’s not a clean process today and creating green hydrogen and other like side effects from things that we need. Ah, costs a lot of energy a lot of money and so if you haven’t.
Is this a place where Green is being applied as ah, almost like a brand name and it actually doesn’t mean.
Yeah I guess it it was. it’s it’s I talked about this in the solid hydrogen video that I did a while back and I’m doing another solid hydrogen video where I’m revisiting it and going even more in depth into it to answer a lot of questions but it’s one of those. There’s different aspects of different technologies we need for our green future but producing biofuels producing green hydrogen is still way too expensive today and if you have a system like a nuclear reactor whether it’s uranium or thorium or whatever. The fuel source is. You have waste heat. You have waste products that you can just like layer additional things on top of and produce some of these things that we need like desalination or ah producing green hydrogen’s like and it’s the incremental cost to add that on top is negligible. So it’s like It’s like 2 birds 3 birds with 1 stone which is why it’s so appealing when you’re looking at something like a nuclear power plant because there’s so much stuff we can do beyond just generating electricity for not that much extra cost.
Right? There was this from Mr F Miller F writes thorium reactors could be a good way to augment grid storage as well as emergency backup grid storage isn’t where it needs to be yet. 4 hours isn’t enough. 1 arcic blast could suck up all the juice and people could be in serious danger problem is neither grid storage nor thorium reactor technologies are where they need to be yet. Do you see this as is he missing the mark and that’s what I was going to ask you.
I just I disagree with that. But I don’t think he’s missing the mark completely. But I think he’s not completely I don’t know what his knowledge base is, but there’s a lot of stuff going on with energy storage technologies that. Go beyond lithium ion batteries what he says that 4 hour Mark is really when you’re talking about lithium ion but there are so many energy storage technologies that are meant for 24 40 8 five day seven day storage technologies that when you look at the levelized cost of storage and levelized cost of energy. It’s cheaper than building a nuclear power plant. So like there is technology today that’s available right now for mass energy storage. We just have to build it and just have to start implementing it and that’s one of the frustrating parts the more I read into this stuff and learn about this stuff. The more frustrated I get because it’s like we have the know-how and the knowledge the technology available today to store energy for immense amounts of time. And immense’s amounts of power and it’s actually cheaper than building a brand new uranium-based nuclear reactor. Why aren’t we doing it and so that’s the big question with thorium. It comes back to cost too. It’s like if the costs of thorium plan out. It’s cost-wise it’s a little bit better than building out solar wind and the battery.
Um, right.
But not by much and so it comes back to if we’re going to build something that’s today that we need today like you’re talking about the natural gas prices spiking in New York why aren’t they why isn’t New York just building out massive you know, compressed air storage systems or you know.
Um, right.
Basically rust batteries I talked that about in another video. It’s like there’s these different technologies flow batteries. There’s different technologies available today that have incredible costs when you’re talking about multi-day storage and it’s we’re just not building them yet.
You’ve just raised this and you yourself have said the question a couple of times while you were just describing it. Why hasn’t Why haven’t they built that out. Why aren’t they doing it. Do you have any speculation as to an answer for that is it is a lack of is it a lack of.
So some.
Um, does storage somehow not sound as enticing to investors as production is storage somehow like like well that’s no, we’re not interested in storing. We want to make energy.
Now when you talk about utilities they want to maximize their profits. They’re going to go where the money is I think it probably I haven’t confirmed. This is my assumption but I’m assuming it’s because of you don’t want to be the first mover in this space and invest $5000000 building out a system that proves out not to be good. And you’re waiting for somebody else to prove it out to do it to be the who’s going to be the first one to do this? Um, that’s that I think is what’s holding some of the stuff back like.
Right? So we’re in a situation where it’s literally everybody is standing at the edge of the pool waiting for somebody else to be the first one to jump in and say how cold it might be.
Right? Like ah I talked about like this liquid air energy storage system that the company’s still roughly new but they’re building on a pilot project I think it’s in New Hampshire and so it’s like I have a feeling that once that’s built and it’s been running for a year and they have all this data showing. How. Efficient. It is and how much money it costs and all that kind of stuff I think it’s going to leap the dam is going to break and you’re going to start to see more people going. Oh I want that because they can they can point to something that’s a grid scale operation that’s actually working I think that’s what we’re waiting for for some of these technologies and. There’s so many of them that are building pilot projects or have pilot projects in operation right now. So to me, it feels like the next 3 to 4 years. We’re going to start to see a spike because that’s the period where we’ll start to see actual data and numbers coming out of these pilot facilities that will start to convince more utilities to jump on board. Because right now it’s you’re talking about lithium ion battery pack like the tesla mega packs those have already been proven for that 4 hour window for costwise which is why we’re seeing more and more of those ramp up but we’re not probably seeing the 24 hour ones because they’re just waiting for somebody else to go first.
Right? right? There was this interesting comment from Mark Davitch who wrote that at 9 minutes 3 seconds into your video while thorium is more plentiful than your radium.
It is more expensive to mine close quote is not exactly accurate. Thorium is a byproduct a nuisance. In fact, that has to be separated out of other commercial mining processes. In other words, there are stockpiles of the stuff just waiting for something to be done with it. Also it is in a rare earth metal like uranium. In regards to the waste life waste half-life being 500 years it’s also worth noting that the fuel cycle in an msr can further exhaust that fuel. We can use an Msr to eliminate existing stockpiles of nuclear waste while benefiting from the useful waste isotopes for medical purposes space flight and many other applications.
That ties back to what you said earlier? yeah.
So he’s yeah it goes back to something we started the conversation with but as far as the sourcing his comment of the thorium being a byproduct and that they’re being stockpiles of the stuff is that something you’ve seen in your own research and is your comment more along the lines of.
Yes, yes.
Regarding its ah expense in mining if it in fact, becomes your goal It’s harder to mine for was that your your statement there or was it you you were you were you aware of the existence of thorium stockpiles and or are they less? um. Then Mr Davitch might be laying them out to be.
I I don’t think it’s one of those he is right or wrong or I’m right or wrong I think we’re looking at it from 2 different points that comment I made was about specifically about the mining there are stockpiles but there’s still a huge cost involved of processing those stockpiles.
Um, right.
Um, right.
It’s not like oh it’s here. Oh we got it. It’s easy. You have to have somebody that can process that stuff and it’s still costly to process and refine it. So it’s like it’s not free. You still got it. The cost is still expensive. It’s still there. You still have to deal with it. So it’s I Probably in the video should have brought that up and looked into what the costs.
Refinement right.
Actually work out to be versus mining versus refining what’s already there and it’s going to be cheaper than mining but it’s still not going to be free by any stretch. So.
Right? I think maybe that’s a jumping off point for maybe ah, a future video taking Mr Davich’s comment and using it as a leaping off point for in these new technologies that it would use various fuel sources.
What are the existing stockpiles for those fuel sources is there a argument being made for X Y or Z technology that would benefit because there’s already plentiful amounts being held by people or is in fact, the opposite the case I know you’ve talked about in other videos where.
Push to make certain types of batteries is running headlong into shortages and so that’s maybe maybe something to not take a look at it from the technology angle but take a look at it from the resource angle.
Yeah I’ve actually been thinking about doing a video specifically on the supply chain of these different technologies and showing how like yeah this stuff is the best thing that slice bread but actually making it a realities can be really hard because there’s not a supply chain in in in there to help support it and.
Um, right right.
And I also just want to say his comment is great because it’s like I love comments like that that make me raise awareness like I hadn’t thought it for from that angle. So it’s like okay probably should have so the next time I touch on it either this top or a topic like it that’s going me in the back of my head. So I I love getting the feedback from viewers and their points of view on it.
Yeah, just a reminder. Ah these kinds of comments they they feed this channel and they feed they feed Matt’s future production of other videos. So always when you have that light bulb moment.
A hundred percent
Ah, scroll below his video and leave a comment there or if you’re listening to us and you have a response to what we’re saying you can on Youtube scroll below the video and leave a comment on our video or if you’re listening to us as an audio only podcast you’ll find the podcast notes include our contact information. You can reach out to us that way and as a last comment that I wanted to share it follows in the same vein as Mr Davi is in that it I think proposes an interesting future video for you to think about this one’s from Stan Thorguson who writes there’s been an announcement by Oak Ridge they have 3 d printed a thorium reactor using ceramics which are stable under neutron radiation. This would be a great subject for your podcast so that yes so that comment I thought was was a great idea for something for you to jump off in the future have you.
Oh my God I had I did not come across that at all. That’s awesome.
I know you’ve dealt with 3 d printing in other subject areas is 3 d printing in a thorium react or something you’ve come across before or is this the first year you heard of it.
No this the first I’ve heard of it and I love it. 3 d printing is becoming a um one of my favorite subjects for myself to read it into because like we’re getting to the point now where we are literally print 3 3 printing everything. It’s like. 3 d printing rockets. We’re 3 d printing semiconductors hence oh here’s a thorium reactor for you. It’s I love this and it’s like it’s it’s a whole direction that we’re heading towards that star trek future where it’s like you have a factory that can just like spit out whatever you want it to spit out.
Um, yeah.
And it doesn’t take all this immense retooling to do different things. It’s like I cannot wait for that future.
Removing the limitations of multidimensional production that then has to fit together being able to do it start to finish as it as a single unit really does save on time saves on cost saves on design scope. The idea that.
Change Everything materials.
Yeah, materials the the idea that a thorium reactor could be three D printed. Not only would it have efficiencies in production but most of the time when we talk about things failing in nuclear reactors. We’re talking about literally leaks.
We’re talking about joints that don’t keep a seal the space shuttle accident when the challenger blew up that existed because of again a seam that broke that was the cause of that accident so when we. Talking about something as simple as well. Is it a single piece or is it 2 pieces welded together. You want a single piece and so the idea of a thorium reactor being built out of a 3 d printed single piece mechanism that to mesans right out of like you mentioned right out of star trek. A reminder if you’re interested in supporting the show. Please do consider reviewing us on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts or wherever you listen we are available in a number of different locations I won’t go on and list them all. You know where you found us. So go back there and give us a review. We’d appreciate it. And if you’d like to more directly support us. You can go to still tbd fm and you can click on this become a supporter button there. It allows you to throw coins at our head and we enjoy having coins lobbed at us. You can also click join on Youtube and you can become a member there all of that really does help support the show. Thank you so much for listening everybody and we’ll talk to you next time.
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