…what if there was a type of nuclear power that:
- Was radioactive for a few hundred years, not millennia
- Could not meltdown
- Could not be used to make weapons-grade materials
- Burns up existing high-level radioactive waste and weapons material?
There is. Or may be, if the current research versions of Thorium reactors pan out. I still don’t think nuclear is the way to go, and I still think that conservation should be the number one priority, but if this technology could be made to work, I could get behind it as a temporary measure.
The problem always comes, of course, when vested interests get their hooks into the government and arrange subsidies and favourable regulations for their industry, thus eliminating both competition and more efficient ways of doing things. And this type of nuclear power would be no different unless we make our governments much more transparent and accountable – and unless we prioritise sustainable power generation.
Keep in mind that there are no perfectly clean electricity generation options. Dams destroy habitat and use enormous amounts of concrete – with the corresponding vast amounts of CO2 that are released during its manufacture. Solar panels use all kinds of exotic and toxic materials and chemicals to make. Wind turbines are made of metal that must be mined and smelted.
Even direct solar, or passive, requires glass, and it is not adequate in our climate. Active combined with passive solar can do the trick, but again this requires mined and manufactured materials like copper and glass.
The most attractive feature of these new types of reactors is that they degrade current highly radioactive and extremely long-lived wastes into much less radioactive and relatively short-lived wastes. If we get stuck for energy because of governments that have dithered too long, and if it looks like nuclear is going to be pushed down our throats, let’s at least make it Thorium.
For a very thorough article and easy-to-comprehend article, check out Cosmos Magazine.
Originally posted Sun, Mar 30, 2008 to Environmental Graffiti.
UPDATE Dec. 16, 2009: India has announced it is going with thorium reactors for its own use, and will also be exporting the reactors. India has approximately 25% of the world’s thorium. It should be noted that thorium reactors are currently in the prototype stage, and have not yet been commercialised.