There is no technology to produce cars that can be filled with thorium once every 100 years

Freepik/@ digitalpen

Original article (in Croatian) was published on 18/10/2022

A thorium-powered car can run for a hundred years without refuelling, and the auto industry is hiding it, claims an article on Facebook.

On September 30, the web portal published a text (archived here) titled “A car which you can fuel with 8 grams of thorium, can drive for 100 years without refuelling”. The text features a “recycled” 10-year-old story about the “revolutionary” fuel, due to which we will no longer have to go to gas stations.

A link to the text with the status “of course, it is not the goal to put this into production” was published on the Facebook profile “Black drivers” on September 30, and since then, it has collected 822 shares, 566 comments and more than 4,1 thousand other reactions. According to CrowdTangle, posts featuring a link to the same article on Facebook collected 835 shares, 811 comments and more than 5,000 other reactions.

In 2009, Cadillac made a thorium-powered concept car

“If you had a thorium-powered car, you would never have to refuel. In fact, the mechanical parts would fail long before the next refuelling. The chances are quite high that your children will drive it”, states the beginning of the text.

The modern theory or story, more precisely a fairy tale or myth, about a car with thorium as a propellant, goes back to 2009 when the American car manufacturer Cadillac created a concept car – Cadillac World Thorium Concept. It was just a concept car that never became a reality, nor was it actually driven on any road, powered by thorium.

The author of the concept, Loren Kulesus, wrote in the description that for the 100th anniversary of Cadillac, he designed a car that would last for the next hundred years with the same energy source. “This vehicle is designed to last 100 years without recharging. Excess electricity generated from its thorium reactor can be fed back into the grid, supply the neighbourhood, or be used to charge other electrical devices that use batteries”, explains a description of the concept car that Cadillac never produced.

“The news” is more than ten years old

Two years later, in 2011, the story about Cadillac’s thorium-powered car concept was followed by the news from the Australian web portal Drive about the concept of the American company Laser Power Systems, which further ignited the imagination about the real possibility of the existence of a vehicle that will lead to the closing of all gas stations because the installed propellant will run the car for the next 100 years.

In the text of, at no point does it state that the “news” they published in September is more than ten years old. In the text found on the aforementioned Australian web portal Drive, the subtitle states that “American companies claim that in two years they will have a prototype of a nuclear-powered vehicle on the road”. That deadline passed in 2013, nine years ago, and to this day, that company has not produced such a vehicle.

On the front page of the website of the American company Laser Power Systems, whose director boasted in 2011 about the creation of a system that can use thorium as a propellant, nothing can be found about their “success” that made it to the pages of many world media. Instead, the news about Jeep cars keeps emerging.

Just typing the word “thorium” brings up several general news about the alleged “fuel of the future” and only one related to the “thorium car”. However, it doesn’t say anything about the system allegedly developed by that company, which brought them “world fame”. There are only two photos of the aforementioned Cadillac published, and the sentence “the value of thorium is not in itself but in the technology that “unlocks” it”.

It is hard to believe that a company that developed such a revolutionary concept of a nuclear car and that it works and has experienced some concrete applications in reality, would not write about it and advertise it on its website, so it can be concluded that that company has never even developed anything that would contribute to the development of a car that does not need a gas station.

What is thorium, and what are its properties?

Faktograf asked professor dr. sc. Davor Grgic, head of the Nuclear Engineering course at the Faculty of Electronics and Computer Science in Zagreb, to clarify what thorium is and what is the possibility of thorium-powered cars. In the introduction, he explained that “thorium-232 is an element very similar to uranium-238 and is somewhat more abundant in nature than uranium”, and then the difference between thorium and uranium and their application in nuclear technology.

“Uranium has the fissile isotope U-235, but Th-232 does not. The reactor can be made with U-235 (or weapons). Thorium has no such equivalent but can be used in breeder reactors to produce U-233, similar to how U-238 is bred to produce Pu-239. In both cases, spent fuel processing is required. Both uranium and thorium are initially alpha-radioactive, but Th-232 is somewhat less so. Likewise, the fission products produced by the fission of U-233 are somewhat more favourable than those of U-235 (a more favourable distribution of isotopes and shorter and medium-lived isotopes)”, wrote prof. Grgic in his response.

“Today’s lasers do not have enough energy to influence the development and initiation of the nuclear fission reaction”

“Laser Power Systems has created a concept whose engine runs on thorium. Because it was radioactive, the team used very small pieces to create a laser beam that heats the water and produces steam. This steam is converted into energy with the help of a turbine”, the text of the web portal states.

We asked prof. Grgic how realistic the concept of Laser Power Systems is, with a special explanation of the sentence that “the team used tiny pieces to create a laser beam that heats water and produces steam, and that steam is converted into energy with the help of a turbine”.

“There are no details in the article. Uranium and thorium are basically nuclear fuels. This means nuclear reactions, and today’s lasers do not have enough energy to affect the development and initiation of a nuclear fission reaction. By heating to very high temperatures, they can create conditions for fusion, but that doesn’t make sense in the case of thorium”, Grgic answered.

“One tablet cannot create a nuclear reaction”

“One gram of thorium produces more energy than 28,000 litres of conventional fuel, while an amount of 8 grams would be enough to power a car for 100 years”, the article states.

The problematic accuracy of that sentence, prof. Grgic explained in this way: “When the oxidation reaction of fissile fuel takes place, you get a couple of eV (electronvolt) per reaction. When a nuclear fission reaction occurs you get a million times more. That’s why we say that the energy density of nuclear fuel is much higher than that of fossil fuel, so it is much less needed. The only problem is that in order to create the conditions for nuclear reactions, we currently need an entire reactor, say with 50 tons of nuclear fuel and not just one tablet. A spent fuel tablet can be a source of energy but in a thermionic generator”.

Existing technology does not allow the production of thorium-powered cars

“Charles Stevens, CEO of Laser Power Systems, however, announced that thorium-powered cars will not be hitting the streets anytime soon. He says that the auto industry is not interested in the project, it is focused on classic technology that still brings money”, the text claims.

It is not true that the thorium-powered car will not soon appear on the streets because the car industry is not interested in the project since existing technology brings them money, but because it is not yet possible, and it is questionable whether it will ever be possible to make a car that would use thorium as a fuel.

We also asked prof. Grgic how the scientific community views the possibility of using thorium for energy production. “The thing is similar to the technology of internal combustion engines on gasoline and diesel. The two technologies differ in nuances and each has advantages and disadvantages. Thorium devices mean the introduction of a new technology that must be economically viable. This makes sense if uranium reserves are depleted because there is much more thorium. We should not forget that a thorium reactor inevitably means the processing of spent fuel. Its breeding reactors can be with thermal neutrons, and in the case of uranium with fast neutrons”, Grgic answered.

One piece of foil does not suppress radioactivity

“As far as radioactivity is concerned, Stevens has no problem. One piece of aluminium foil is enough to suppress its effects”, states the text on

According to the answer of prof. Grgic, the accuracy of this statement is questionable. “Aluminum foil can stop alpha radiation, which is the natural radiation of Th-232 and U-238 and low energy beta. This means Th-232 in its natural form. If spent fuel, whether based on uranium or thorium, is used, then it is not enough because high-energy betas and gammas are present. To keep it short – it is questionable”, prof. Grgic answered.

To conclude,, in its news about a thorium-powered car that would not have to be refuelled for a hundred years, nowhere stated that the story is more than ten years old. The company that in 2011 announced the production of a prototype of such a car within two years, has not produced it yet. Experts warn that, at the moment, there is no technology to produce such a car.