Nuclear Friday: Thorium and Daisies

Today The Board will continue on the subject of global warming. One of the most obvious ways of mitigating the effects of climate change is to stop putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by replacing carbon based energy sources with sources that produce zero carbon emissions. It is fortunate that solar and wind technologies have recently become cost-competitive with more conventional power plants, because from my perspective down here on a storm-ravaged coast, it’s time to panic. 

But there’s another technology, which at least on paper, holds a lot of promise. Nuclear reactors emit no carbon into the atmosphere and are capable of generating huge amounts of power. There are well known examples of serious reactor malfunctions, and problems with waste disposal. There are also less well-known dangers with nuclear materials processing before the fuel ever gets to the reactor. But these dangers could be addressed with proper investment and political will. It’s not a matter of can we mitigate climate change with increased reliance on nuclear power but a matter of should we do so. At this point I would have to say no. The investment cost per unit of power generated  by a renewed nuclear power program is far higher than alternatives like solar and wind. As I said, it’s time to panic. We need the quickest, lowest-cost solutions, and we need them now. 

But what if there were an almost entirely new nuclear power technology, one that had very few of the disadvantages of uranium based nuclear power? It turns out there may be just such a rabbit to pull out of the hat just in time to save the day; the Thorium Cycle Reactor.

I’ll let Martyn Poliakoff, the Knight of Nottingham, explain the nuclear reaction:

So here are the advantages of the thorium reactor mentioned in this video.

1.Thorium is more abundant than Uranium.

2.Thorium reactors don’t make products that could be used in nuclear weapons.

3. Thorium requires less processing to turn into reactor fuel. Uranium and Plutonium fuel processing is dangerous. Just ask residents of Rocky Flats and Hanford. Or maybe folks living near Mayak. Oh, wait, no one lives near Mayak any more.

4. The Thorium cycle won’t start on its own, but it can be initiated by random isotopes in existing nuclear waste. It renders the waste less dangerous in the process.

But is it safe? This evangelist for Thorium reactors makes a pretty good case in five minutes:

Advantages introduced in this video:

1. The reactor turns much more of its available power into usable power.

2. The reactor consumes much more of its fuel and generates less waste.

3. Cheap zero-carbon power to fuel carbon capture from the atmosphere to make synthetic fuels that would be at least carbon neutral. I must add that this tech could also be used for carbon sequestration.

I’m not completely sold on the Thorium cycle reactor. But if we don’t go into panic mode against global warming now, we might see thorium powered atmosphere harvesting plants in 50 to 100 years. And the idea of harvesting carbon from the atmosphere to create fuel has become much more plausible. Oak Ridge has recently discovered an efficient method to make ethanol from air.

And keep in mind that the Thorium Cycle reactor is not an entirely new technology. Oak Ridge ran one back in the sixties.

I think in the short run wind, solar, and increased efficiency are the best ways to mitigate global warming. These options are cheap and can be implemented now. I happen to think these solutions have a negative cost as they would generate employment and consumption which would fuel investment and business creation that would offset the cost. Still, I think it’s time to get a Thorium reactor up and running in case we need to make more of them.

Nukes in the News. LBJ’s Daisy Girl Speaks: 

Monique Corzilius Luiz, the child actress in the greatest political ad of all time has recently resurfaced to make a pro-Clinton ad. You can read more here.

Clinton has indirectly endorsed first use under policies dating back to JFK. Trump seems less inclined to first use, but probably doesn’t even understand nuclear policy that well. Who knows? And that’s the point of the ad. What I do know is that the Iran nuclear deal would fall apart under a Trump administration. Obama’s Iran deal, negotiated in part by Hillary Clinton, was the only non-profileration effort that that ever worked. Bill Clinton and W Bush couldn’t stop North Korea or Pakistan, and Nixon, Ford, and Carter failed against the joint South Africa/Israel program.

And if Iran gets back on track for nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will soon follow.


3 thoughts on “Nuclear Friday: Thorium and Daisies

  1. OMG, I mentioned daisies. I should have linked to this video. If you remember the 90’s you will either click to watch and enjoy the ecstasy of nostalgia, or recoil on horror:

    If you don’t remember the 90’s, click at your own risk.


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