Disrupting the Energy Sector with Backyard Nuclear Reactors
Using thorium to engineer game changing reactors that will leave a mark on our world.
Before I begin breaking down the solution myself and my team created using the model ore of thorium, I think one should understand first the basis on which we were driven to innovate.
What do iPods and rockets have in common with thorium reactors? Well, actually quite a lot. If I’ve intrigued you, I suggest you read on.
Conventional developments are just that: conventional. A conventionally great breakthrough often consists of ~10% increase in efficiency. While this has been the created norm for a good deal of time, these advancements only provide for marginal improvements in the productivity of our technical landscape.
When we dare to think through a lens not of marginal improvement, but of revolutionary change, the course of whole sectors get shifted, former kings of industry dethroned, and world’s course of innovation push forward.
These developments don’t come often, but when they do, they create industries and drive forth revolutions.
Think of Apple and the iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket? How could such a device exist that allows for the absence of a radio? By conventional wisdom such a device was inconceivable. No one should have been able to create such a machine. Apple lead by Steve Jobs, challenged that norm and revolutionized the music industry for the better.
When searching to buy the perfect rocket for SpaceX, Elon Musk decided on building his own, something thought nearly impossible given the assets the company had access to. Even with this understanding, Mr. Musk set out to pioneer the commercial space travel industry through the production of a cost effective rocket. He did just that.
With these two examples, myself and a team of my peers at the knowledge society sought to revolutionize the energy sector through the redesign of thorium reactors.
I’ll try to keep this brief. Looking past the stigma of this space, it has long been understood as an effective alternative to traditional sources of energy. With its many varieties, nuclear is often considered tremendously more effective than energy alternatives like wind and solar.
What this variety of approaches allows for is the ability to innovate. Unlike in virtually any other space, in nuclear, although the space can be considered established at a high level, much of the developments within the space are just that, developments. No one method has served to provide a universal basis on which to build new reactors and tools.
This lack of established players in the space means that lower level developments are now able to create new designs and establish new approach to pioneering change in this industry.
The Waste Problem.
Historically climate activist have often looked down upon the approaches of nuclear as the conventional fuel source is uranium. While the ore is quite effective for certain kinds of reactors, the waste, called depleted uranium, is toxic and has a half life of about 10,000 years.
One innovative approach to solving this problem is the traveling wave reactor, which you can learn about here, that takes depleted uranium as input and produces a decreased amount of the waste product that can be self-sufficient for any length of time corresponding with the amount of waste available. Despite the efficiencies of this particular reactor, the enrichment process and inefficiencies of processing the ore are dramatic.
Only about 1% of the extracted ore is naturally enriched and prepared for energy production. The process to enrich a portion of the remaining ore is incredibly expensive and requires extensive man power. Because of this waste, it’s viable to search for alternatives to uranium.
Starting from the beginning of the sourcing cycle, mining, thorium is nearly three times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s core. To illustrate the increase in efficiency that this results in, a conventional mine has the capability to unearth about 5,000 tons of thorium in a single year of production. Using already proposed solutions, this amount of thorium, would produce the amount of power necessary to produce to power the Earth for a single year. A single mine!
- Half life decrease
In addition to this unprecedented abundance of power, thorium, in comparison to uranium’s 10,000, has half life of about 300 years. This means that, at a practical level, our current supply of thorium has the capability to remain as a viable source of energy forever.
What this means is something groundbreaking. If innovation in the development of thorium reactors, the world can create a permanent and sustainable energy source of the future, for the future.
- Decrease in radioactivity
Thorium holds significantly less radioactive properties compared to uranium. Theoretically, you can hold the ore with your hands without fear of harm. This is impactful because these need to be refueled with relative frequency, and being ensuring the safe handling of the ore as a physical property is quite significant.
To capitalize on these novel advancements in the space of alternative energy, myself, along with others I worked with, designed a blueprint of and proposed the construction of a modular Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). I know it looks daunting, but really, the concept is rather simple. LFTRs are a type of molten salt reactor that uses the thorium fuel cycle with a fluoride based molten salt solution for fuel.
- A brief history lesson on LFTRs:
In the early 1960s, LFTRs were developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The program to develop these molten salt reactors, referred to as the MSRE, developed and sustained two reactors for four years. While the reactors ran flawlessly and were widely considered a success, project, and thus reactors, were shut down in the late 60s. Although there are speculations regarding why the shutdown occurred, one key understanding came from the short life of the MSRE: LFTRs are functional. They have been proven to work, and unlike more conventional reactors, have shown economic viability.
- Our modifications
While we understood that using the blueprint of molten salt reactors and even slightly modernizing them would be innovative and viable. The performance of these reactors often can lag behind that of newer reactors. This would, of course, result in a greater hurdle for our group, being that the everyday man or woman does not want a nuclear reactor in their district, but a power source that lags behind other sources of nuclear power? To remedy this obvious concern, we decided to follow the path of modular development.
By making the reactors’ size minimal, any concern regarding proper energy allocation can be eased. Despite the reactor operating a productivity rate that is 30% higher than conventional nuclear reactors, a large reaching footprint of energy solutions would ensure high productivity rates even if the reactor slows in energy production.
In addition to the modifications in size, we also redesigned the lining of the reactor core’s wall. Given that the reactor used liquid fuel, a heavily corrosive fuel source, we made made alterations to the reactor to ensure that the walling of the reactor core would stay intact. To do this, we proposed lining the wall of the reactor core will a multi-walled carbon nanotube and metal alloy that would greatly enhance the durability of the core of the reactor.
In a world driven by monetary and material benefit, it can be difficult to truly understand the power and need to prepare sustainably for the future. We believe that a sustainable development path is the only means of arriving at a democratized future that we would like to envision. Through further research and development on our energy solution, I believe we can accomplish our mission: to provide cheap, clean energy, for everyone.
Currently, there are about 940 million people living without access to general electricity. By 2050, it’s our intention to bring that number to 0. After getting funding and being approved for production, we plan to achieve this feat by establishing the reactor in municipalities in regions that have already embraced nuclear(locations of functional power plants). Once the reactors have been proven functional, we will emphasize safety and economics of the reactor, and present it as a new, viable energy source.
Using this method, we hope to become the trailblazers of a new age in energy focused on one core idea: democratization.
- Thinking 10x creates products that revolutionize/create industries.
- Nuclear is the alternative energy source of the future, and the key to a fully sustainable society.
- ‘LFTRs’ have been proven to function and are additionally effective in a modular form.
- Using the development of modular ‘LFTRs’ we will bring number of people living without proper access to energy to 0 by 2050.
Hey, I’m Jack. I’m a 15-year-old Innovator at The Knowledge Society. Over the past few months, I’ve been diving deep into machine learning and AI. Recently I have been diving specifically into computer vision. Over the next few weeks, I will be detailing the technical specifics of the concepts I learn. Stay tuned. Navigate to the links below to connect!
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