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Prices really are information you know

Summary:
We insisted just recently, with reference to childcare, that prices are information. This is also true when talking about new nuclear power designs:China is due to fire up an experimental nuclear reactor this month that could revolutionise the atomic energy industry. The reactor is fuelled by thorium, a weakly radioactive element, instead of uranium.One of us predicted that this was on the way some 8 years back. Merely by observing prices:The most cheering thing I've heard recently on this subject is that the price of thorium is now positive. That might not mean much without explanation, so here goes: There's thorium in all sorts of minerals from which we already extract interesting metals. The tantalite and columbite that we make our capacitors from for example: there's enough in the

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We insisted just recently, with reference to childcare, that prices are information. This is also true when talking about new nuclear power designs:

China is due to fire up an experimental nuclear reactor this month that could revolutionise the atomic energy industry. The reactor is fuelled by thorium, a weakly radioactive element, instead of uranium.

One of us predicted that this was on the way some 8 years back. Merely by observing prices:

The most cheering thing I've heard recently on this subject is that the price of thorium is now positive. That might not mean much without explanation, so here goes: There's thorium in all sorts of minerals from which we already extract interesting metals. The tantalite and columbite that we make our capacitors from for example: there's enough in the wastes from their processing that old factories that used to do this are now Super Fund sites in the US.

Vast sums of money being spent carting off the lightly radioactive wastes into secure storage (actually, just to piles by uranium mills). And if you actually happen to have any thorium around, as I do, getting rid of it is a very expensive proposition.

The usual solution to this sort of problem is that you refine whatever it is up to a useful commercial purity then sell it. But there's almost no one out there still using thorium: thus the price of thorium, given the disposal costs, is actually negative. Until just recently, that is.

Lynas, which has built a new rare earths refinery in Malaysia, will have thorium as a byproduct (there's always Th in your rare earth ores). They've announced that they're getting offers to actually buy it from them: the price has turned positive.

Now, OK, that's possibly only a matter of interest to metals geeks like myself: but what it actually means is that someone, somewhere, is being serious about starting up test runs of thorium reactors. It's the only possible use for the material these days in any quantity.

If someone's buying then someone is at least considering filling up a test reactor. My best guess is that this is the Indian research programme: although it could, possibly, be the Russian one and there are rumours of a Chinese as well.

That’s not a bad prediction even if possibly a little waffley as to precisely who is going to be doing it. But all done simply by observing the fact that someone is, newly, willing to pay for thorium.

Prices are information, prices are therefore something we should pay attention to.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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