Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rare Earth China Syndrome, Pt. 2

All you need to know as an American politician or bureaucrat is that Thorium is bad, because it is radioactive.

Thorium was discovered in 1828 by the Norwegians who named it after the God of Thunder. At one time, annual U.S production of brightly glowing thorium mantles in gas lamps stood at 40 million units. But as we in the U.S. matured from a manufacturing powerhouse, we learned that nearly all naturally occurring thorium exists as thorium-232, which undergoes alpha decay with a half-life of about 14.05 billion years. 

Alpha decay consists of two neutrons and two protons, basically a helium nucleus, ejected from a Thorium atom at such a high velocity that a few centimeters of air stops its forward motion. It is really bad stuff, says Jean McSorley, senior consultant for Greenpeace's nuclear campaign. For any American politician, that’s all you need to know.

The abandonment of thorium in the United States is so complete that Tim Worstall tells us over at Forbes that he gave a 15 pound bar to a client about 10 years ago.  This was the only recorded transfer of thorium in the U.S. for that entire year. That is good, right?

Suzanne McGee, also over at Forbes, showed us a particularly nasty chart for Molycorp. (MCP), which holds the only rare earth mining facility at Mountain Pass Summit in California. “Molycorp's $1 billion rare-earth gamble,” announced a little more than a year ago, aimed at extracting neodymium and other rare earths from stockpiled waste, while assuring everybody that it will safely dispose of that dangerous, dangerous thorium

The MCP chart tells me that somebody else is winning the rare earths mining battle. That somebody appears to be Lynas Corp. Ltd., which reported on December 11, 2012 that its Malasyian rare earth separation plant license remained issued and valid. This news, along with a gap down for MCP, caused Mr. Worstall to declare that, “The Rare Earth Crisis Is Over.“

Mr. Worstall also called attention to a little noticed portion of a statement from Lynas’ Executive Chairman Nick Curtis.  Lynas received “significant commercial interest” from potential buyers of thorium containing by-product.

Who could possibly want something that is so bad?  Is there anybody out there that has a history of stockpiling raw materials?  


Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Thorium is found naturally in granite. Which is why those fancy granite counter tops are actually (mildly) radioactive. I have had more than one anti-nuke upper middle class type turn white when I give them the above fact.

India is doing a lot with starting up thorium reactors. There is a company called Lightbridge that is pushing one design. There is another group championing the molten salt thorium reactor.

frithguild said...

Present theory posits that 8 of the 44 constant terawatts of heat that radiates from the earth to space is from thorium decay. Some have floated the idea that there may be a natural nuclear reactor somewhere deep inside the Earth, perhaps at the outer border of the iron core, where fissile elements have accumulated and initiated a sustained fission reaction.

ikaika said...

I was in the center of the rare earth surge a few years ago trading mineral and miners from around the globe.
It was fun watch the heard run to Australia and then the whole Rare Earth thing go kaput when Geology 101 emerged and said: "No Big Deal".
But we are ass-backwards in the USA - 2016 can't get here fast enough