Flibe Energy in the UK, Part 1: DECC and AMR

“Does thorium have a role to play in generating energy for the UK?”

That is the central question that brought me to the United Kingdom as Flibe Energy to participate in the launch of the Weinberg Foundation, a new non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the advancement of thorium and the fluid-fuelled reactor.

Our trip was so full that I have struggled over the last several days to try to communicate much of it to our friends, family members, investors, and other interested parties here in the US, and the series of blog posts that I intend to write will be an attempt to tell the story through words and pictures of all that happened to us there.

I arrived on Monday, September 5th and made our way to a flat in central London belonging to a friend of one of the people involved in the foundation. This little home became our base of operations for the first week and its central location facilitated many of our early meetings. We enjoyed a wonderful meal the first night with the members of the Weinberg Foundation, and we met John Durham, Laurence O’Hagan, and Sophie Henri, as well as renewing an acquaintance with Joanne Fishburn, whom we had first met at the TEAC3 conference in Washington DC. Our palates were expanded with a variety of interesting English dishes which our hosts were kind enough to guide us through.

The next day my first meeting was with Rob Arnold at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on Whitehall Place, just up the street from the Palace of Westminster (Parliament). DECC had a great interior, with glass tube portals that would receive employees and guests, closing on one side and then opening on the other. DECC also had free wi-fi which was always greatly appreciated by visitors, especially those of us whose smart-phones didn’t work in the UK.

Early in our meeting with Rob we had a chance to briefly meet Dr. David MacKay, who is the author of the popular internet book “Sustainable Energy–Without the Hot Air“. Dr. MacKay is the chief scientific adviser to the DECC and reports to Minister Chris Huhne. David could only speak with us for a minute or two, but was kind enough to give us both paper copies of his book, which is also freely available on the internet.

The subject of our discussion with Mr. Arnold was, of course, the future role that thorium energy generated from LFTRs could potentially play for the United Kingdom. The UK is planning to shut down most of their advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors over the next decade, along with a great number of their coal-fired power generation facilities. Many of the coal-fired generators are being shut down to achieve EU carbon targets, and the nuclear reactors have reached the end of their operational lifetimes.

The DECC has been researching the future direction of nuclear power in the UK because of its potential as a very low-carbon energy generation source that is available 24/7 and does not depend on local weather conditions. They have been primarily focused on a “new build” of light-water reactors at one of eight sites identified around the country, using either the AP-1000 reactor design from Westinghouse, or the EPR reactor design from Areva. But there is also a look beyond these light-water reactor designs towards the future, and in this area the DECC has been assisted by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory, which is preparing an upcoming study of a variety of different reactor types.

The study is still under preparation but we hope that our discussions about the merits of LFTR; its safety, efficiency in fuel use, and ease of manufacture and deployment, may lead to its favorable consideration by the DECC as they plan the UK’s nuclear energy future.

Our next meeting was with Ahmet Arda of AMR Mineral Metal Inc. Ahmet and I had met on my previous meeting to London last October, at the first Thorium Energy Conference 2010 hosted by IThEO. It was there I heard Ahmet and his colleagues describe the amazing thorium deposits of Turkey and the nature of their mining claims there. Unlike most locations in the world, the thorium deposit that AMR has consists of thorite ((Th,U)SiO4), a more pure mineral form of thorium, rather than the monazite deposits found in most of the rest of the world. Ahmet and I have been in regular correspondence since last October about how we can work together to utilize Turkey’s rich thorium resources both for their own advancement and for Europe and the world.

Ahmet even had a few of the thorite crystals, each about the size of a grain of sand and beautiful green, that we looked at in a small plastic vial. I couldn’t help but wonder just how much energy each of those small crystals represented if put to productive use in a LFTR.

Ahmet had been kind enough to take us to a late lunch at Bank Westminster, a very nice restaurant located close to his offices on Caxton Street in the St. James area. The restaurant was located in the beautiful Crowne Plaza London-St James, and as we walked back to our flat that night, I thought about the exciting adventures that we had begun in England. Who would we meet and what might happen? So much of it was yet to be discovered.