Thorium may just be the most beneficial source of nuclear power you have never heard of. It may also be the victim of our “friends” at the Department of Energy – and a cautionary warning about the agendas of Big Brother.
But I am ahead of myself.
Here is a simple primer on thorium:
Thorium as a nuclear fuel
Thorium, as well as uranium and plutonium, can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. A thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle including much greater abundance on Earth, superior physical and nuclear properties of the fuel, enhanced proliferation resistance, and reduced nuclear waste production. Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), has worked on developing the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors. Rubbia states that a ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. One of the early pioneers of the technology was U.S. physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who helped develop a working nuclear plant using liquid fuel in the 1960s.
Some countries are now investing in research to build thorium-based nuclear reactors. In May 2010, researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Israel and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, received a three-year Energy Independence Partnership Grant to collaborate on the development of a self-sustainable fuel cycle for light water reactors. According to the Israeli nuclear engineer, Eugene Shwageraus, their goal is a self-sustaining reactor, “meaning one that will produce and consume about the same amounts of fuel,” which is not possible with uranium. He states, “the better choice is thorium, whose nuclear properties offer considerable flexibility in the reactor core design.” Some experts believe that the energy stored in the earth’s thorium reserves is greater than what is available from all other fossil and nuclear fuels combined.
And here is a plan, posted on WattsUpWithThat for thorium based energy independence by 2020:
Hold on a minute, you are saying I have only given you a wikipedia citation and a post on a prominent climate change sceptic site. True enough, but there is a little more: This is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (from 2007):
And here is the quote you have been waiting for:
“It makes a lot of sense in my view,” says Thomas Cochran, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Washington. He says that congressional action is needed to overcome resistance within the DOE to exploring thorium.”
OK, so four years ago, more or less, both Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid(D-Nevada) and his colleague and political opponent Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) were onboard with thorium along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an enviro group if ever I heard of one yet they were/are being stalled by the Department of Energy? The DOE. The same DOE created (wasn’t it during the Carter Administration??) to solve our energy problem.
In other words, a potentially “game-changing” source of nukie fuel that is almost (at least some folks think so) manna from heaven is stalled by the very watchdog agency created to remove our dependence on foreign oil… Oi!
If you want to do a little more reading, Karl Denninger has some more choice words, delivered in his own curmudgeonly style:
Denninger adds this snippet:
Each ton of coal we burn up contains 13 times as much energy as that liberated by combustion of the carbon in said Thorium. We could thus receive the same electrical energy we gain by burning the coal through extracting the Thorium and using the nuclear energy to produce power. With the rest of the energy, the other 12/13ths, we could then extract hydrogen from seawater (which we have lots of) and convert the remaining coal to either diesel fuel or gasoline. To put a not-fine-point on this, we throw away more than 100 billion gallons of gasoline (after conversion losses) in thorium tailings alone. That is damn close to all of our existing gasoline consumption – with ZERO oil being drilled. (PS: Those are conservative estimates – mathematically, it’s 200 billion gallons!)
I don’t know if Denninger is right or not. I am not a techie. But he isn’t the only one pushing this idea. I think I am going to get on the phone and ask some questions of my elected reps. Perhaps you should too….
This is something the Republicans could run with successfully….
PS: California is not considered a coal state because we don’t have enough for current technologies to use effectively. But looking at the map below (from Wikipedia) it occurs to me that we may have enough coal for thorium production as we would presumably need to produce far less coal to develop useful amounts of thorium. Another question I don’t have the answer to.