Unfortunately, coal is one of the world’s most heavily exploited energy resources, but if the author is to be believed, the consequences of using coal are not being addressed and the “law of unintended consequences” applies – Big Time.
Coal currently supplies nearly half of US electricity and a great deal of the world’s energy. It is generally understood that burning coal creates pollutants including greenhouse gases, but the nuclear aspect of coal burning is what the author discusses at greatest length.
Coal burns inefficiently and in addition to valuable minerals and metals such as silver, iron and copper burning coal leaves behind a great deal of nuclear materials. Those nuclear materials could be used to produce many times the energy taken from the coal. These wastes are currently unregulated and potentially dangerous because they are being emitted into the atmosphere. Worse, they can be gathered at any coal plant in the world and used for creating weapons. Since no one seems to pay much attention to coal waste heaps the task is ridiculously easy.
“Both the benefits and hazards of coal combustion are more far-reaching than are generally recognized. Technologies exist to remove, store, and generate energy from the radioactive isotopes released to the environment by coal combustion. When considering the nuclear consequences of coal combustion, policymakers should look at the data and recognize that the amount of uranium-235 alone dispersed by coal combustion is the equivalent of dozens of nuclear reactor fuel loadings. They should also recognize that the nuclear fuel potential of the fertile isotopes of thorium-232 and uranium-238, which can be converted in reactors to fissionable elements by breeding, yields a virtually unlimited source of nuclear energy that is frequently overlooked as a natural resource.”
If not the “Magic Bullet” Thorium will do until the MB turns up. Thorium reactors are proven safe – they have been built and tested and are far safer than even current generation nuclear plants. Those are quite safe as it is. France generates approximately 70% of its electricity from uranium power plants, without incident so far. Moreover, thorium can solve several other serious problems. Recycling the world’s coal residue will provide a long list of important resources including aluminum and copper. It will take dangerous nuclear material out of the environment and use it to generate energy. It will also help out a stop to nuclear proliferation by using the nuclear isotopes to create energy.
There are other suggestions floating around to use thorium to help make the US energy independent almost immediately.
Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker has one:
There is a syntax problem here. Evidently the thorium in a ton of coal produces 13 times the energy generated from burning the coal. That seems to be more or less in line with the Oak Ridge figures which show that the thorium is far more energy productive than the coal. The intriguing part to me is converting the coal, of which there apparently is a 1,500 year supply, into engine fuel.
In other words, thorium can be used to help us get to a world of cheaper, cleaner more abundant fuel. Why aren’t we using it more?
Part of the answer is in a featured quote from an earlier post:
Since thorium has almost no weapon potential it was unattractive to the US and the Soviet Union even for civilian reactors and peaceful uses. They preferred uranium because even if they were doing weapons work in the basement of a civilian nuclear power plant they could claim they were exploring peaceful uses of energy and it would be hard to prove otherwise. Something like the Iranians are doing today.
The Link from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory website:
More about Oak Ridge: