Atomic Car Revisited: Thorium Could Power A Vehicle for 100 Years?

George Kennedy

A car that could run for 100 years on one tank of fuel? It sounds like a far-fetched idea, but it is just what a company is apparently claiming possible with the use of an atomic fuel that was abandoned during the Nixon administration. We’re talking about the sounds-too-good-to-be-true substance called “Thorium.”

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive element. It was discovered in 1828 by a Norwegian mineralogist and identified by a Swedish chemist, who then named it after the Norse god, Thor.

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According to this video from The Young Turks (which is informative, if a little low-rent at times), if put to use properly, would be low pressure and have lower chances of danger to the environment and humans than a uranium-based reactor. The thorium reactors can be much smaller too. Like a conventional reactor, the heat produced would create steam that would power a turbine:

The report claims that small amount of the dense thorium could produce tremendous amounts of heat. A company called Laser Power Systems is attempting to employ this power source in a vehicle. The company claims that: “1 gram [of thorium] yields more energy than 7,396 gallons of gas.” By their math, 8 grams of the substance could power a thorium turbine car for a century. This is not the first time this fuel has been suggested for cars. The concept of an automobile use was brought up in the 2011 documentary “The Thorium Dream”:

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It has also been envisioned as a power source futuristic-looking designs like the Cadillac World Thorium Fuel Concept, shown here.

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Could this be a viable fuel for car? The testing in the 1960s found that the Thorium tetrafluoride used in a molten salt reactor was easier to process and quicker to stop a chain reaction, but light water reactors are far more common. In the LWR, thorium produces the same levels of toxic waste as our good ole’ uranium reactor. So there still may be a long way to go before we’re driving atomic cars.