Nuclear power and Thorium

I've long been a fan of nuclear power.  It deserves a significant place in the future of America's energy policy.  Any overall energy portfolio that we pursue should rely on a variety of sources, including geothermal, solar, wind, hydroelectric, waste-to-energy, clean coal, and nuclear.

Our infrastucture needs an overhaul in design, to support the large scale power generation design of today, and the home or neighborhood power generation technologies of tomorrow. 

A diverse portfolio of electric strategies is essential to the environment, national security, disaster preparedness/recovery, and economic leadership in the coming decades.

Traditional nuclear power scares a lot of people.  While no one has died in the US as a result of any nuclear power plant problems, there are concerns over waste and the remote possibility of a major failure.  On balance, the benefits of nuclear power do outweigh the risks, and new nuclear technologies make nuclear an even better option.

Wired has a fascinating article about a new (actually old) type of nuclear power plant that relies on Thorium instead of Uranium to produce power.  They explain that the reason plants use Uranium today is that when designs were being created in the 50s and 60s, the plutonium waste was considered a benefit.  The material could be recycled into nuclear weapons.  Thorium doesn't allow for that possibility and was there for over looked.

There are a number of advantages to the material cited in the article:

After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.


Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.


It's a fascinating article and if you are a fan of nuclear power, or a foe of its current incarnation, check it out.  As we look for new energy solutions, this could be one avenue we would be foolish to ignore.

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