From its inception,human use of nuclear energy in all forms has frightened large numbers of people, many of whom have less of an idea about how it works than I do.
Admittedly, physics is not my field and it is beyond argument that the very idea of splitting and fusing atoms confuses and agitates people. Part of the issue is that the forces involved are unseen and on the atomic scale. It is interesting that another powerful, unseen force called electricity has moved from the regions of awe, fear and magic into everyday life in a way radiation has not. It is a further paradox that people take x-rays routinely, yet run for the iodide when some radiation is released 7,000 miles away (give or take a mile or two).
People plug into electicity constantly and really don’t understand it any better than they understand nuclear power. For a number of reasons, including the destructive power of atomic weapons, people are unwilling to accept peaceful uses of atoms.
The military of a number of nations have much of the blame. We and they have built ever more destructive weapons while touting the uses of peaceful energy. Uranium and plutonium based plants have been preferred because the civilian use can mask military uses. Iran is the perfect current example. Iran is using domestic peaceful nuclear development to cover for developing weapons.
Which brings us, roundabout, to thorium and Japan.
Looking at Japan we see it took an earthquake of unimaginable proportions and a tsunami of equal magnitude to bring on the crisis faced in Japan. Yet, at this writing, there still seems to be good hope that meltdowns and deaths can be averted. In other words, the technology is sound and highly advanced. The deaths are from quake and tsunami, yet the fear is from a largely (so far) unrealized potential of a meltdown.
Thorium based plants should not pose anywhere near the risk uranium based reactors do. Why? Thorium is passively cooled. If the sequence is broken, the plant cools by itself. Uranium? You have to actively cool uranium and plutonium. If the sequence is broken, they heat up and may reach meltdown.
But since thorium has no military use, it has been tested, developed, proven very safe and then quietly abandoned. I am told there is zero possibility of a meltdown and the ability to rid ourselves of dangerous byproducts of other energy production.
Karl Denninger, another proponent of nuclear power who prefers thorium, has an analysis which you can read here:
Here is a quote:
“I would prefer liquid-salt thorium reactors for a number of reasons, with the largest advantages coming from higher overall thermal efficiency, passive safety and the enormous amount of available fertile fuel for the units. We literally have over 1,000 years of proved and known fuel for this cycle in the United States. But at the same time we must exploit conventional nuclear power and both deal with the reprocessing /and storage issues that are raised. Reprocessing dramatically shrinks permanent storage requirements yet we refuse to do so as a sop to those who fear proliferation. Yet the fact of the matter is that any nation that has light-water power reactors has not only the ability but the inevitability of plutonium production – and it can be diverted to non-peaceful use. We cannot avoid these facts and as such our own refusal to deal with both reprocessing and permanent storage is also dishonest, amounting to back-door attempts to kill the industry.”
We need nuclear energy. We need it badly. We can follow India and China in the shift toward the safer, proven technology of thorium use. We need to do so. The glass is half-full, not half empty. Japan suffered an devastating natural disaster and the damage to those plants was extensive. But the fact is that meltdowns are not inevitable and can be prevented. The world can profit from this horror and emerge with a safer nuclear power industry that provides cheap and clean power to benefit the world.