A reminder: Thorium energy
Thorium reactors would do far more to cut emissions (if that’s what you’re so concerned about) than any kind of carbon tax. It’s decades old proven technology and what’s really interesting is that it barely receives a mention from either side in the public “debate” we’re having.
YouTube “thorium” for more comprehensive videos.
Perhaps when PM Gillard mentions China as a beacon of environmentalism she’s conveniently omitting the steps China has taken towards implementing Thorium technology.
Thorium is one of the five abundant, long-lived, naturally-occurring radioactive elements in the Earth’s crust. The others are potassium, radon, radium, and uranium. There are several other naturally-occurring radioactive elements but they are rare and/or have short half-lifes.
But don’t worry. Thorium reactors won’t cause a zombie apocalypse.
However, thorium is much different than uranium when used as a nuclear fuel. It is not fissile; meaning it cannot go “critical” and generate a nuclear chain reaction. It must undergo neutron bombardment to produce a radionuclide that can sustain a nuclear reaction.
There are other significant advantages to the use of thorium in nuclear reactors. The raw material, thorium, is much more abundant than uranium and emits only low-level alpha particles. It has one isotope and therefore, does not require an enrichment cycle to be used as fuel. It is many times more energy efficient than uranium.
A thorium reactor produces no plutonium that can be made into atomic weapons and less longer-lived radionuclides than a uranium-based reactor. Because there is no chain reaction, there is no chance of a meltdown. Nuclear waste from past operations that contain fissile uranium and plutonium can be used as start-up fuel.
Then there’s this from The Guardian’s eco page. It explains that Thorium reactors are safe, cheap, and produce the abundant energy that renewables simply can’t.
We worry about the environmental effects of mining and processing uranium. But thorium is far more abundant than uranium and is being mined already in the search for rare-earth minerals for renewable energy generators. Thus we don’t need new mining for LFTRs—actually much less—and we can use thorium highly efficiently.
Despite the many potential benefits, as things stand, generating energy from thorium remains unproven although R&D projects are being pursued in France, China and India.
The argument against?
China, Russia, France and the US are also pursuing the technology, while India’s department of atomic energy and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are jointly funding five UK research programmes into it.
There is a significant sticking point to the promotion of thorium as the ‘great green hope’ of clean energy production: it remains unproven on a commercial scale. While it has been around since the 1950s (and an experimental 10MW LFTR did run for five years during the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, though using uranium and plutonium as fuel) it is still a next generation nuclear technology – theoretical.
As opposed to renewables where it already has been proven they don’t cut the mustard when it comes to powering our cities.