Top Stories of 2013: MetalMiner on Boeing's Dreamliner, Thorium Reactors

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2013 has been an interesting year, and we’ve covered a lot of ground – in addition to our core metals market coverage in steel, stainless, non-ferrous, rare earths and other sectors, we try to voice our expertise and opinion on OEM supply chains and controversial trends.

Sometimes they are one and the same, as our top two stories of 2013 attest.

1. Where Boeing Went Wrong With Its 787 Dreamliner

As Lisa Reisman, MetalMiner editor, commented within the story:

“Many will criticize the outsourcing process and ask whether the nature of the relationships ought to change, but to me, the issue appears more fundamental – Boeing has a product development process that has failed to deliver a problem-free safe plane, outsourced or not. Fix the product development process and you fix the company.” 

The story bred some good comments:

  • “From a procurement perspective, this is a company that for 14 years has been slowly, methodically reinventing the way complex extended supply chains are monitored and managed. While far from perfect, I can’t think of a company that has done a better job putting in place the systems and processes to monitor and managing each node in the supply chain. For example, Boeing buys mountains of titanium and aluminum to ensure that raw materials are never the reason a part is late. How many aircraft manufactures can say the same? This was a blip, undoubtedly an expensive and embarrassing one, but a blip nonetheless.”
  • “The aircraft manufacturers have tried to emulate the success of Toyota using a tiered sourcing strategy. The difference is building an aircraft that contains millions of parts is different to manufacturing an automobile…YES, product development is an issue, but the larger overarching issue is the complexity added to the supply chain from outsourcing. There is no visibility of the supply chain, cultural differences, quality issues and loss of long term intellectual property as a result. They have not effectively managed the risk management associated with additional complexity.”

2. Is Thorium the Fuel of the Future?

Stuart Burns wrote:

“In the US, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee built a thorium reactor in the 1960s. Apparently the Nixon Administration shelved it because the Pentagon needed plutonium produced as a by-product from uranium reactors to build nuclear bombs. The imperatives of the Cold War prevailed.

And that has not been the only hurdle blocking Western development of thorium as a fuel source; entrenched interests in the form of the established nuclear industry have lobbied against development funds for thorium reactors. A decade ago, a parallel project by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) was apparently denied funds from Brussels after France’s nuclear industry killed proposals for research support. 

So what’s all the fuss about? Why are the Chinese pouring so much money into thorium power generation research and what are they hoping to achieve?”

Turns out the fuss is that people are very fervently for, or opposed, to thorium as a fuel source and the viability of thorium reactors. (The actual No. 2 best-read post of 2013 is Part Two of this series, titled “Cons of Thorium Reactors Shouldn’t Stop Future Development,” which spurred comments such as these:

  • “I am terrifically happy to see this topic being covered in a trade magazine site. People whom I’ve told about thorium reactors look at me like I am talking about magic wands and fairy dust. When a new technology starts getting covered in industry rags, well, folks it is real.”
  • “We have millions of tons of Uranium-238 sitting around in government warehouses, leftover from separation processing. We have trillions of tons in mines. U-238 is massively abundant and if we used it (in a breeder reactor) we have enough in stock, in warehouses, to power the world for 1000 years. U-235 is the only type of Uranium that is in short supply. These kinds of mistakes are what make the Thorium “advocacy” movement so unbelievable.”

Expect more controversial coverage in 2014!

~MetalMiner Editors

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