by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry / via theweek.com / March 5, 2014 / 294176-nuclear-energyEnergy is arguably the single most important strategic issue of our time. It literally powers everything we do. The world economy see-saws to the gyrations of oil prices. Most of our geopolitical squabbles are about energy in one way or another. And, of course, above all hovers the “threatening Armageddon of global climate change”. [emphasis added]

But when it comes to energy, you probably don’t know who, or what, to trust. Clean energy! No, wait, that doesn’t work! (And what does that mean, exactly?) Shale gas! No, wait, you will pollute everything.

There’s a band of hipsters within the community of people who think hard about energy who think this is a bunch of hoo-ha. We already have a perfectly useful and clean energy source, they say: nuclear power. In terms of its capacity, nuclear power could provide almost all of our energy needs. In terms of carbon emissions, nuclear power is totally clean. Outside of a handful of countries whose names you probably already know, proliferation isn’t an issue. Of course, there’s the issue of safety. But nuclear power is safe, advocates say. Chernobyl happened because of the insanity of communism, and Fukushima because you probably shouldn’t build reactors on the path of tsunamis, not because of anything inherent to nuclear power. The solution to nuclear waste, they say, is more R&D, so that waste can be recycled. Look at France! It draws almost all of its energy from nuclear power, with no serious incident to note in the past 50 years, and the power is cheap, plentiful, and clean.

Within the energy analysis community, nuclear advocates are one hipster subset. But as always when we’re talking about hipsters, there’s a subset within the subset. And these energy hipsters are pushing a nuclear technology that has all the advantages of traditional nuclear and none of the drawbacks. Its name is thorium.

Thorium is an element, like uranium and plutonium, which you can use as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium is abundant. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium reactors could have “passive” safety. Traditional nuclear reactors sometimes have the annoying tendency of sometimes exploding and showering the area around them with radioactive waste. This is because plutonium and uranium reactors, when shut down, cannot cool off on their own. They need “active” systems to cool them down. If these systems fail, the reactor starts going into meltdown. Thorium, being a lighter element, doesn’t have that problem. If you have an emergency in a thorium reactor, you shut it off, and it cools down on its own. It can’t melt down. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium produces minimal amounts of waste, and even the little waste it does produce is potentially recyclable. And finally, unlike uranium and plutonium, with thorium you can make a reactor, but you can’t make a bomb.

And there you have the problem.

Thorium advocates point out that almost from the beginning, nuclear research has been sponsored by governments — or, more accurately, military-industrial complexes. The nuclear age started in World War II and the Cold War, when researching nuclear technology meant researching military technology. Peaceful nuclear technology was a happy dividend, but it was never the focus. The list of countries with nuclear power industries is also the list of nuclear warhead superpowers (even South Africa’s peaceful nuclear industry is an offshoot of its Apartheid-era nuclear weapons program). And so those who hold the purse strings of nuclear research relegated thorium to the dustbin of history. Not because of any global conspiracy, mind you, but just because they acted rationally given their priorities at the time. And then inertia takes over. Anybody who’s anybody in the nuke-industrial sector has spent their entire career working on uranium and plutonium, which is a bird in the hand, and so they dismiss thorium as a pipe dream.

Is it? I’m no scientist, but what I’ve read suggests thorium energy is very much conceivable. And if it works, it really would be the technology that solves all our energy problems.

Am I saying it will do that? No. Am I saying we should be talking a heck of a lot longer — and louder — about it? Absolutely yes.

SOURCE: The Week

AUTHOR: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is an entrepreneur and writer based in Paris. His writing has appeared at Forbes, The Atlantic, Commentary Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Federalist, Quartz and other places.

Did you like this? Share it:
By Broc West| 14 Comments | Editorials, Featured

14 comments

  1. It’s almost laughable, if it wasn’t so bizarre on a site about Fukushima, to hear nuclear power described as a “a perfectly useful and clean energy source”, and to be told the damage is ” not because of anything inherent to nuclear power”. Even the article mentions “the annoying tendency of sometimes exploding and showering the area around them with radioactive waste”. You would think this was satire, but sadly, it isn’t – this is the thinking that brought us to this.

  2. This is a little better than uranium, but thorium is still “naming your poison.” It is still radioactive when it is spent. The reactor must be decomissioned at the end, and the ground will be polluted. Also, it creates more heat.
    Solar and wind can power the US easily right now. Zero radioactivity. No extra heat, just converts what is here. Renewable.
    Vested interests in carbon based power prevent renewables.
    All renewables need are funding, tax incentives, and a greater capacity power grid.
    The problem is political.
    The solution has existed for some time – just needs the green light.

  3. Thanks PEG, but I’m left wondering what Thorium is. More back round on Thorium would have been appropriate.

    Every nuclear power plant on earth should be shut down asap. I’m willing to spend many hours a day without power to accomplish that end.

    • Background on Thorium… It’s a heavy element, a metal, pretty much a single isotope in nature, Thorium-232. It does actually have a half-life, but it’s so long it might as well be considered a stable element. It’s two squares to the left of uranium in the periodic table.

      Usage in reactors depends on transmuting thorium-232 into uranium-233, by capturing a neutron and beta-decaying twice. U-233 is an efficient reactor fuel that produces enough neutrons in fission to maintain criticality (needed for power production) and also supply some spare neutrons to make more U-233 from Th-232.

      ————–

      The risk associated with being without electricity is far greater than the risk associated with running nuclear reactors. Your preference is to chose the higher-risk option.

  4. Thorium? Safe? You may want to take a look at this article.
    http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/?p=3101

    • You may want to look at the comments refuting it. The article is trash. There are a few real objections to thorium reactors, particularly when presented as panaceas, but that muddy puddle of alarmism finds none of them.

  5. Dear reader, The cheapest Kwh is the kilo watt hour one does not use.
    RT.com’s Technology Update Episode 67 about “one of the largest international scientific collaborations ever, which hopes to create a star on Earth and produce unlimited clean power” i.e. ITER . The tech is here but when will it deliver the watts?
    Still, i think logic says green renewable solar, wind and tidal wave energy developement is the safest for the people and planet earth and the future generations and cycler lungs. Guess there is more money in nuclear energy. And what energy is prefered on planet mars?

    • The most expensive kWh is the one you don’t have when you really need it.

  6. Ludicrous! Nuclear has PROVEN to be outrageously expensive. Look at the one they’ve been building in Finland: horribly over-budget, horribly behind schedule. Since the contract had a fixed price, it may never be completed. To my knowledge, EVERY nuclear plant built has been over-budget and behind-schedule.

    France? I’ve read it’s closing plants and not building new ones. The cost of de-commissioning them is horrendous.

    Nuclear power came from Pandora’s Box and unfortunately it can’t be put back in.

  7. Alternative Energy…Wind, Solar, Wave and Water…that must be our focus…Nuclear, Oil, Gas and Coal is where we must decrease usage…The real problem is the greed of the corporations, and the corruption of our governments…that is why there are these disasters….Mother Nature is very forgiving until you get to Nukes…and corrupt politicians…

  8. FFS: Thorium produces Tritium…. citations too numerous to bother…. AHHHHhh. No one in their right mind would want Tritium (or any other nuclear by-product) in our environment. And don’t believe any of this “don’t worry about Tritium, it only has a half life of 12.5 years…. that means 125 years (and worse)…. not to mention any of the “new” isotopes that occur during the “degradation”. Tritium (THO) actively disperses in air and water… once in (any) water it BONDS with H2O, then is freely absorbed via the skin and it CANNOT be filtered before or after. It is HIGHLY TOXIC.

    The desperation to keep this whole “nuclear power myth” alive is malfeasance at it’s worst. NPPs are, and always have been, a smoke-screen for the weapons industry…. follow the money!

  9. A thorium reactor requires a conventional fission reaction to get it started; therefore a terrestrial thorium reactor has all the negatives of conventional terrestrial fission reactors. All of them, plus whatever downsides are unique to thorium. This is kind of irrefutable, which is why thorium shills do not like to discuss details.

    Mining and materials transport are harmful regardless of whether you’re mining and moving Uranium or Thorium. In countries with extremely large reserves of thorium and few other energy sources (specifically, India) this is almost certainly not a valid concern, but it would be in the USA and many other countries.

    Finally, nobody’s ever built a viable power-producing thorium plant. It’s all been research reactors, and they’ve all had problems. Thorium technology’s roughly at the same “wishful thinking” stage as LENR or Bussard fusion (either of which would be far cleaner and potentially much safer). If you’re American, betting on thorium is foolish. Let the Indians and Chinese develop it, in the unlikely event that it’s a commercially viable means of generating power. We need to work on what visionaries like Tesla, Edison and Einstein saw as our future – drawing power directly from the potentials of our planetary system. If solar, tide, wind and geothermal are simply too kludgy and indirect for your tastes, help find a better way! Don’t waste your time on thorium shilling.

  10. Fucashima only points out the obvious problem with nuclear energy-it’s poison the like of which there is no other. Even shooting it into the sun won’t work because of the possibility, never zero, that the rocket would explode within the atmosphere, hastining our demise. There can be no doubt that humankind is not proficient with nuclear energy in ANY form, and this industry must end immediately, regardless of negative effects on japan. There exists a carefully studied and laid out plan for humanity that could, with worldwide agreement, end all reliance on all other forms of earth-bound energy, leaving as exhaust only pure drinkable water and heat that can be used to increase the efficiency of this process. We all know what it is-hydrogen, the most abundant and accessible element on the planet in the form of ocean water and easily extractable and compressed. Hydrogen is but an energy carrier, since it is impossible to “store” moving electrons. Batteries do not store electricity. Hydrogen could not really be said to “store” electricity, since the electrical energy required to split hydrogen from it’s oxygen atom in the water molecule through electrolysis will always be more energy than the electricity given off by hydrogen as it recombines with oxygen
    Thus, compressed hydrogen for use in fuel cells is an “energy carrier” whose energy “price” is paid for up-front. Please see “Free Energy Now, the Ultimate Human Right” at the blog http://www.johnpnts.wordpress.com for a more humane, more human world that has learned to live with each other and nature, our mother, for continued survival and ultimate happiness.
    John Pontious

  11. Our Cousin Plants and Animals
    February 27, 2014
    As we walk through the woods of the earth, and see our cousin animals and plants, and watch them die from the poison that we spew, from the room that we make, by our superior dismissal of nature, our unkind ways, what do we have to say?www.johnpnts.wordpress.com Come find a way…

    10 Species You Can Kiss Goodbye
    http://www.livescience.com
    Creatures on the verge of disappearing unless something drastic is done.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*