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What’s Oxford’s “Junk Metal” That Can Produce All the Energy You’ll Ever Need?

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The Oxford Club is looking at the promise of a new material and technology again — last time around, a few weeks ago, it was genetic material and the power of RNAi to extend human life … this time, it’s thorium and the power of that material to make nuclear power generation safe and fuel a “new nuclear renaissance.”

We’ve heard the thorium pitch before — much of the time it was used to tease the nuclear fuel research and consulting company Lightbridge (LTBR), but that’s not the case this time around (LTBR is a teensy stock that designs nuclear fuel assemblies and consults with the nuclear power industry, they’re not profitable and will probably need financing soon). But this isn’t about the design of thorium reactors or fuel, this is a step down the product lifecycle to the actual thorium miners.

So which thorium mine is being touted by the Oxford Club? Let’s check out their clues and get you some answers:

“Just 15 miles from the Nevada border, on the edge of the desert, lays an open air pit filled with what could soon be the world’s most precious commodity…

“This mine – which once produced over 20 million pounds of valuable resources a year – was left to collect dust after competition from China drove it out of business in 2002.

“But little did the mine’s operators know that some 11 years later, one “junk metal” contained within its walls would prove to be the most powerful metal on Earth…

“I’m talking about a little-known metal that, according to the findings of former NASA engineer Kirk Sorensen, can generate 639,000 times more energy than oil… create 99% less waste than coal… and is four times more abundant than uranium.”

So yes, that “little-known metal” is thorium (they don’t keep that a secret in the ad, they just wait a few more interminable pages before revealing it). Here’s some more on how they sell the idea of thorium as a valuable asset:

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“In the mid-1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey found that the mine contains massive deposits of an extremely powerful – yet little-known – element. One that’s been considered ‘junk metal’ for more than a hundred years.

“But that’s all about to change…

“Over the coming months, we believe the value of this metal could rocket as much as 700% or higher.

“Here’s why…

“You see, like uranium, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. Only it produces 10 times more energy… and generates 99.4% less waste.

“Even better, a study conducted by the University of Cambridge found that any waste it does produce can be re-used as fuel.

“This metal is also ‘non-fissile,’ which means it won’t react on its own… So you could literally stop and start a nuclear reaction with the flip of a switch.

“And here’s the real kicker…

“It has a boiling point of 4,790 degrees Celsius – almost 1,000 degrees higher than uranium. In other words: This element is essentially meltdown-proof.”

So that’s the argument for why you’d want to use thorium as your nuclear fuel instead of uranium — though it’s also been the argument for decades, so I’m not sure what catalyst might get us over the hump. Let’s see if they say anything about that …

“In August 2012, China announced it would spend $350 million to develop a state-of-the-art plant that runs exclusively on this resource.

“India has plans to develop dozens of these types of facilities over the next decade. The head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission has even said the country’s “long-term objective goal” is to use this metal to become “energy-independent.”

“Norway recently teamed up with a well-known Japanese manufacturer to bring its first reactor online in Halden.

“And there are plenty more on the way. But they’re all going to require massive amounts of this obscure metal.

“Which is why that desert mine could soon see a flurry of activity for the first time in over a decade.”

OK, so … some hope of actual reactors being built and tested that use thorium. That might help to create a market, though I can’t say that I know where thorium comes from these days — presumably it’s produced as a byproduct of some mines somewhere. If you start to research the mining of thorium ore right now, you mostly run into stories about how to farm thorium in … the virtual lands of World of Warcraft, a massive video game universe owned by Activision Blizzard (ATVI). So the video games are, again, out ahead of the real world on this one.

As I understand the story of thorium, it was one of two materials that were being considered in the 1940s and 1950s as a source of nuclear power. The other one, of course, was uranium — and the pat answer (maybe the right answer too, I don’t know) was that uranium was chosen for the US nuclear power program because it created the byproduct of plutonium that was needed for making nuclear warheads and thorium did not. That’s a huge benefit now, of course, with worries about proliferation and nuclear waste much more at the forefront than they were 50+ years ago. And Thorium’s claims of a safer and less meltdown-prone or accident-prone reaction is obviously appealing, particularly with memories of Fukushima (and even Chernobyl) still very strong (safety depends at least partly on the design of the reactor, I gather — thorium can be used in some forms in conventional nuclear reactors now, but the safest designs are apparently the molten salt reactors that many researchers are excited about).

That’s my non-scientist, quick and dirty explanation of why people like the idea of thorium reactors. There’s a good story here about a thorium prospector who’s hoping to revitalize the 1940s-era thorium mine in Idaho, and that also talks about the broad promise of thorium if you’re curious … or if you’ve got time, you could dig into pretty much anything from the Thorium Energy Alliance and you may well come out ready to drink the thorium kool-ade yourself. There’s also the Energy From Thorium site, which features a lot of commentary from researcher Kirk Sorensen, a very vocal proponent of the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR).

But none of that gets us all that much closer to which stock the Oxford Club folks are pitching — so what is it?

The tease says that it’s …

“The only operational mine in the U.S. that could possibly turn out this incredible resource in mass quantities… positioned to become the top global supplier of this resource for the foreseeable future….

“They already have a fully operational mine with massive amounts of reserves – discovered decades ago – that could soon be processed and shipped to new plants all over the globe.

And some more specifics for us? (or as we like to call ‘em, “clues?”)

“This company owns the exclusive rights to one of the world’s most significant deposits of this element – an area that covers an estimated 2 million square feet.

“So far this year, the company’s revenue has shot up more than 73% from the previous year. But when each new reactor comes online, it’s going to create an unprecedented frenzy of demand that is all but certain to drive that number even higher….

“For more than four decades, this company supplied a massive chunk of the world’s more unusual metals. In the 1960s, it was the No. 1 europium producer (the element that made color TV possible).

“And at its height, the company’s main facility in the Mojave Desert generated 40% of all global rare earths.

“But by 2002, the balance of power had shifted… competition from China forced the company to shut down its top-producing mine indefinitely.

“The facility collected dust for almost 10 years….”

But although it’s a rare earths mine, and thorium isn’t a rare earth metal, they’re also sitting on a bunch of thorium:

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its open-air pit mine contains “widespread occurrences” of thorium sources. The largest vein measures nearly a half-mile long and 700 feet across.”

According to what I’ve been browsing through online in sniffing around this topic, the primary source of thorium currently is rare earth mining (and, on the flip side, a fair amount of rare earths have been found as a result of mid-twentieth-century thorium exploration), and rare earth mining produces more thorium than is currently in demand for research and the other industrial uses (there’s some kind of welding that uses a bit of thorium, etc.). It’s a pretty abundant element in the earth’s crust, though the costs for extraction vary widely — there are thorium sands in India that are theoretically more expensive than the seams of thorium in Idaho to extract, for example.

But thorium is way, way more plentiful than uranium and less dangerous to mine and process, that’s for sure — there’s no real infrastructure to mine it and build up a supply chain as there is for uranium, so that would take a long time if indeed thorium is going to become a substantial fuel source globally, but there’s a lot of it around — with big deposits in the US, Australia and India and probably lots more yet to be found or proven (it’s on every continent, but it hasn’t been worthwhile to search for it in recent decades).

Here’s some more from the ad:

“So far this year, the company’s revenue has shot up more than 73% from the previous year. But that number is poised to explode once thorium reactors are switched on… this situation is eerily similar to when uranium took off in the 1970s. Only this time, the vast majority of profits will likely go to one underappreciated mining play.”

OK, so that’s enough of the pitch and tease — what’s the stock? The Mighty, Mighty Thinkolator can confirm that the Oxford Club is teasing … Molycorp (MCP)

Molycorp is a rare earths miner that has spent the past few years re-starting the Mountain Pass mine and processing facilities in California. The stock had a heckuva run in late 2010 and early 2011, as rare earth mania gripped that little corner of the stock market that’s dedicated to natural resources and all the companies that had any kind of potential project for producing rare earth metals, the stuff that enables much of high-tech life and that’s still almost monopolized by Chinese producers and refiners, doubled or tripled in price (or more). The stock got to $70 or so back then in the heady days of 2+ years ago, then stumbled downhill in a series of violent falls and quiet bounces to get to the current price, wavering right around $6 a share.

Unlike many of the rare earth stocks, most of which were and are junior explorers, Molycorp is a real company — they’ve still got a market cap of a billion dollars, and about that much in debt, and they bring in meaningful revenue. They’re not profitable, and only the most optimistic of analysts thinks they’ll be profitable by the end of next year, but they are just now hitting their stride with something near a commercial level of production and they are ramping up sales quite nicely. They disappointed in their last quarterly earnings update, in part because prices for rare earth oxides were softer than some hoped, but there are plenty of investors who believe the stock is getting appealing at these historically low prices given their continued ramp-up in production and the likely continuing demand for (and continuing Chinese hegemony over) rare earths for automobiles and all manner of electronics. There’s one semi-optimistic piece from a Motley Fool writer here if you’d like another perspective.

From a quick glance at their last quarter, it appears that they have roughly enough cash to finish the year if they complete their capital investments as scheduled and burn through roughly as much cash in the operation of the business as they did in the first half of the year. So they may well end up having to raise money at some point in the next several months, though they may well have options to do deals with strategic partners or customers if they want to avoid selling more stock at depressed levels, we’ll see.

Usually whenever I mention Molcyorp their preferred stock comes up, too, but do be careful with that one these days — we’ve only got two more dividend payments on that preferred stock to go before it matures and turns into two shares of Molycorp Common. That would be $11 in dividends, $5.50 in December and $5.50 at maturation on March 1, I presume, and then you lose the preferred and get two shares of common in its place. With MCP-PA (the preferred) at $22.60 as of the last close, that would mean you’re paying $11.60 for two shares of Molycorp in March — which is dang close to where the common is trading now (that would be $5.80 if you don’t have your calculator handy). So no one is bidding up the preferreds with hope that they’ll provide some leverage to the stock price anymore, or to get that “income,” it looks like they’re just arbitraging to see whether it’s worth getting that dividend — expect the stock to drop another $5+ when it goes ex-dividend for that December payment. And remember — it’s not really working out quite even right now unless you’re in a tax-deferred account, because you’ll owe income taxes on that preferred stock coupon payment. If you want leverage to MCP and think rare earths are going to the moon again, then there are also options trading on MCP, including January 2015 LEAPs, so you can go crazy if you feel like it and are confident that Molycorp is going to be a great investment at these levels. I said, “if you feel like it” — I think our local rock junkie Myron has talked up Molycorp some in the past and he might even still own it (I don’t know), but I have no idea where rare earths prices are going these days or when MCP will become profitable, so I’m just avoiding it entirely.

If you do decide to buy Molycorp, buy it because it’s a large rare earths producer that’s becoming established and might break through to positive cash flow at some point — not because it also produces thorium. Thorium has consistently been a negative for Molycorp, the difficulty of dealing with radioactive mine waste because of the thorium content was one contributor to the Mountain Pass mine being shut down in the first place (Chinese price dumping was arguably a larger contributor). I admit that I didn’t dig all that deeply, but I can find no evidence that Molycorp has ever considered trying to process and sell their thorium. Like most rare earths and uranium miners, they have considered thorium to be a cost — thorium production is not and won’t soon be a cash generator, it’s a radioactive waste problem for a miner.

Now, if that does change and thorium becomes a product with real demand, which is always possible, then I’m sure all of the uranium and rare earths producers who end up with substantial thorium byproduct would try to collect it and sell it. Whether that will begin to happen next year or in ten years or never, I have absolutely no idea.

That’s about all I can come up with to share about Molycorp and thorium — there are also some “pure play” thorium companies beyond Lightbridge (which isn’t really a thorium pure play, though it’s probably the public company that would benefit most from thorium nuclear fuel demand immediately), but as far as I know there aren’t any viable public thorium stocks, just lots of uranium and rare earth miners that either produce a little thorium for the limited current commercial uses or have to deal with thorium as a waste product. It seems quite unlikely that there will be real, sustainable demand for thorium fuel over the next several years — and when I say “several years” I’m thinking in my head “probably 10-15 years or more.” Most of the reactors that I’ve seen mentioned for thorium are either on the drawing board or are small-scale tests or research projects that won’t get to the point of proving that a thorium reactor design can become a commercial reality for at least five years, and no one really knows what thorium production capacity might be should any customers begin to get the itch to buy truckloads of the stuff. Things move slowly in the nuclear power industry, plants take a long time to build, and change is almost as frightening as leaving things the way they are, so if you have a handle on where all this thorium talk is taking us then you’re a step ahead of me — who knows, maybe I’m missing something big. If you’ve been following this stuff or have a thorium (or Molycorp, or rare earths) opinion, feel free to chime in with a comment below. Thanks!

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28 Responses to What’s Oxford’s “Junk Metal” That Can Produce All the Energy You’ll Ever Need?


  1. They recommended this some time ago. Did you receive a new report on MCP from Oxford or are you just coming across this now?

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  2. I can’t see Thorium being suddenly valuable in near-term time-frames, as there are still issues with the recycling of waste products from thorium reactors. To boil down what the Wikipedia article effectively communicated:
    1.) The efficiency of burning the fuel is higher, but only AFTER transmutation of the source thorium into the fissile material, during which process, there are other problems, including:
    2.) The decay / waste from the transmutation into actual fissile material (U 233 / U 235) has various problems, and just figuring out how to handle this waste is only “under development”.

    After Fukushima, I’m pretty sure no one is going to be operating a commercially viable thorium powered reactor anytime in the next decade without the exact process of how to handle ALL the byproducts being completely nailed down and proven, and in the nuclear industry, EVERYTHING takes longer than expected. So unless a mining company has suddenly done nuclear research on how to handle the problems that still exist, I’m not buying into a sudden boom on thorium. Maybe a decade from now…

    Also, I’m not a scientist, and while I do have a strong science background, it’s not that hard for me to mis-translate the rather scientific material I found on Wikipedia, so if I’ve mucked up my understanding, someone with more science chops can feel free to correct my mistakes. I’m still awfully sure that the problems suggest that any sizable demand for thorium would have to come from non-nuclear uses instead of nuclear ones in order to happen near-term. Read the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_reactor

    Despite the considerable science included, it still reads pretty well, considering, and it appears to me to make a rather strong case for “not now”….

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    • I have to agree with this. It’s way too soon to get excited about thorium. If you decide to buy Molycorp it should be for the other stuff they mine.

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      • I’m inclined to agree with this and also in treading very carefully with MCP which had such great promise a couple of years back.Does anyone know anything about ABC Advanced Alloys…. IAALF and IB.V ,,,,who purport to have a Beryllium device that lessens the heat and danger of nuclear reactors….why aren’t they booming? they
        seem to have the answers…..
        John Murnaghan

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        • The simple answer to your question John may have been provided earlier by Stephen Munson, “in the nuclear industry, EVERYTHING takes longer than expected.” Due to regulatory, design, waste disposal and other issues thorium is not about to replace uranium fueled reactors quickly. On the other hand, I would think modifying uranium fuel to make it safer as per the research of the Univ. of Texas alliance with IBC Advanced alloys, IB-V has a better chance of early acceptance as it would be less disruptive and expensive. That however may not be the primary reason to buy IB-V, they are the pioneers in beryllium alloys, which for many reasons of superiority (light weight and strength) has resulted in key contracts with the U.S. military, (airforce in particular). While their stock price does not YET reflect the high level of success they have achieved, that may not be all that far away and I think patient investors like myself will be rewarded handsomely.

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  3. Oxford is the most prolix and one of the phoniest sites in the spectrum. anything they recommend is garbage, detritus and worse. Their publisher has an entire empire of gassy, useless voices. Avoid their stuff and save money!

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    • EARL: Slightly extreme, have been a long time Oxford Club member and have had some very profitable picks directly and indirectly. You just have to get “beyond the hype” and do your own “due diligence” and decide which stocks have genuine merit. Oxford Club is no worse in the excessive HYPE than a dozen other newsletter publishers I could name!

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    • I’ve been with the Oxford Club for a couple years now and have received much sound advice. I have found them to be highly credible and ethical. Hulbert’s gives them a high ranking.

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  4. A class-action suit has been filed against Molycorp by investors who lost over $100,000 by investing in shares. Latest news, Aug 12.

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  5. 2,000,000 sq. ft. looks big at first glance but it is just slightly less than 46 acres
    Acres being the most common measurement for land. I am always put off by people who play this type of numbers manipulation to make some thing appear larger.
    Bob

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  6. I am a member of the Oxford Club and have never seen Molycorp being promoted. I see other stocks mentioned on stock gumshoe pointing to the Oxford Club , but do not see them either in my infor

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  7. Like with most promoted stocks by these newsletter stock report deals, Oxford, or the dozens of others, if you add them all up, you will be 50/50 in the win lost ratio. lol

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  8. You have to be a member of the Oxford Communique which is different from the Oxford Club membership. I wrote to them about the teaser and they in turn answered as above in order to receive the teaser reveal. Well, our great savior Travis and the Thinkolator always comes to the rescue as usual.

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  9. Lets talk about MCP and whether it is worth the risk. It is a cheap stock now, but the law firms are circling — filing suit for recovery for “harmed shareholders.” Isnt the gathering of lawsuits going to kill any rally? Stock is up a little today on the Oxford Hype. I would guess someone at Oxford has a position in MCP and wants to rally the stock. Go Figure.
    Meanwhile, If a company actually notified the government that they were interested in building a nuclear power plant fueled by a new “Earth Metal” do you really think that it could gain approval in the USA or Japan, (maybe China, but they have access to the metal, right?).

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  10. In case anyone is wondering, NO I do not currently own Molycorp, but I made good money on it 3 different times with options. The reason I may have a positive bias is because I was to my knowledge the FIRST to write up Neo Material Technologies, which I bought @ $5.59 and sold near $11.00 when Molycorp bought them out and it got re-named Molycorp Canada.
    This is still a very profitable division with established markets and profits, with plants all over the world including China, and the very fact the whole Company (Molycorp) AFTER a $40 Million investment by a well placed Chilean company in the rare earths space can be bought for little more than what I originally paid, for what is now a profitable division, is clouded only by the parent companies struggles since.
    I agree with all the comments that their thorium resources are not likely to rescue them as we could be a decade away from actual thorium reactors being designed and built.
    The cloud on the horizon is indeed the outcome of the pending lawsuit and given the big “swings” from a ridiculous $75. is only proof how irrational the market can be as it swings from exuberant excess to extreme pessimism around $6. Since I have made excellent returns on this combination on 4 occasions I am not about to give up on the company and if it were not for the lawsuit cloud, would probably be buying the Jan. $2015 LEAPS as Travis suggested. As it is I will be watching developments closely and when I identify a good entry point again I will report on it in my irregulars column. As an aside, I was early to the rare earth space, even had several 10 baggers plus and have a lot of friends and contacts in the industry and do believe their is a very bright future for the industry. Not to far down the road I will probably be profiling several other companies of merit in the sector.

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  11. THorium was one of the things that delayed Lynas (rare earth producer). As the plant is in Malaysia and the locals were fed all sorts of nonsense from the greens and the opposition party, people were convinced that they were going to grow wings and die horrible deaths. I cant blame them as the plant was built in a small fishing town, with little education and small play politicians.
    No less than 6 international expert organisations provided proof that all was safe, however court cases and delays followed. Hence the drop in Lynas SP from over $2 to approx 40 cents today.
    Today Lynas is running the separation plant and is producing rare earths.
    Thorium is also being produced in small qtys (by product) and there’s no market for it yet, although the PM did state that there will be in the future.

    However, what they do is mix the waste Thorium in with other things and make cement sheets for walls and ceilings or road fill. The Thorium is diluted to such an extent that it produces less radiation than the locally grown bananas. Lynas is still obligated to ship these products out of Malaysia even though its been proven safe.

    Most of the World still knows little about Thorium and its benefits. ie there will be no melt downs if the reactor loses its water (not like Fukashima)

    So at 40 cents my money is on Lynas as its in an industrial estate and BASF, Siemens and the Japanese are in talks or involved with the REE production or the buying of it for their own products. PLUS Lynas has built a second plant to accommodate the the ramp up.
    PLUS Lynas owns other heavy rare earth mines in Australia and thats where the big money is and thats where the demand is as even China is low on heavies.

    Good luck all

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    • An excellent examination of the history and potential of thorium is Super Fuel, by Richard Martin. Reasonably priced at Amazon.

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    • This is a good example of the type of “unknowables” that can crop up in an investment in new technology resulting in costly delays that suppress normal expectations for a stock.
      I have had Lynas in my portfolio several times over quite a few years and finally gave up on it which is contrary to my usual stance. I HATE “dead money” and would rather move on to something less controversial until problems are resolved. May take another look at LYNAS if and when they show they have overcome the headwinds they have been facing.

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  12. The thing that most distinguishes this Oxford Club article as fluff is that they are promoting Thorium, in the garb of a formerly hot Rare Earth stock, while the Uranium miners are precisely – I mean *precisely* at their nadir and poised to be every smart contrarian investor’s dream today. July-Aug-Sep of 2013 will in hindsight be seen (2-3 years from now) as the a stupendous buying opportunity in a few select uranium miners. I’ve been studying this looking for the entry point for the last 36 months and went all in this summer. The smart money is losing it’s composure trying to quietly scale in to the leading names – such that in recent weeks we have seen under the redar future production mid-tier stocks like Energy Fuels getting bid up on five times their usual volume (Read Peter Epstein’s reviews on EFRFF). Anyway the point here is that The Oxford club start looking a bit like brainless magpies, chasing after the nearest shiny bauble to catch their eye – Thorium, with something like a ten to fifteen year lead time before it makes any headway against Uranium in the nuclear sector – touting Molycorp right in the very summer when Energy Fuels, UEC and UEX are poised to start new 1000% runs. All respect to the Oxford Club’s many bright analysts, but I for one am highly allergic to publications which require me to read ten pages of burbling coy marketing while they fall flat on their faces mis-identifying the true diamond investment today which is Thorium’s cousin uranium. I give the Oxford Club an F for this “marketing piece”. Egregiously wordy (as always) and more to the point, missing the boat while chattering about something sitting right next to it in the energy markets. Always a pleasure to read Stock Gumshoe however.

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    • Thanks for your insight.

      Teh other thing abou this piece of fluff, is that most of it is just worng or extreamly misleading. LIke the part about less waste. DEpending on how you measure teh waste, the Thorium cycle produces less or much more waste. And it requires Remote handling to reprocess it.

      Thorium does not fission. You have to expose it to Uranium or Plutonium to create some nuclear reactions that give you after a couple of steps, U233. And that is what is fissionalble. You also produce a bunch of other things which become probelms.

      And Kirk Sorensen, who’s name is bandied about freely as the “expert”, is about the only person outside of India, that still believes in Thorium as a near term solution. Near term in the case means during my life time. (India uses Thorium, but for different reasons that don’t really apply for a reurgence (or intial surge) of Torium power in the USA)

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      • To say Kirk Sorenson is a lone voice believing in thorium reactor feasability is not correct at all. There are a number of scientists very excited about it if you look for books or even you -tube presentations. Also China is very hot on the prospects, and will soon be way ahead of us.

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  13. EFRFF was seeing 6 million shares traded in the US and Canada last week while it’s typical volume is 400K. So, who is out there who understands something actionable about nuclear energy, that the Oxford Club’s many highly trained analysts are gazing at so obtusely today while they gush about Thorium? Private investors – who simply read around a bit, that’s who. Among analysts (former hedge fund – now independent) Peter Epstein is running circles around the Oxford Club in this sector. Less fluff, more meat and potatoes.

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