To hear proponents talk about Thorium reactors, you would think that Thorium is the energy panacea for which we have been searching. This readily found element can be used to create nuclear reactors that are walk-away safe, with waste that has a much shorter half life and should be easier to dispose of. Current, nuclear reactors need multiple redundant systems and can blow up as we’ve seen with Fukishima. Thorium reactors won’t blow up and don’t need the multiple redundant systems. If they are so great why are we still using Uranium reactors?
According to The Thorium Dream by Motherboard TV, it is because two major nuclear powerhouses want it that way. The other reason mentioned was that the current reactors, using 60 year old technology, are what we are comfortable with and what we know works. The fact that there have been major disasters like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, most recently, Fukishima have shown that that doesn’t make them safe and the results are devastating when they fail.
Enter Thorium as the miracle that will save us as fossil fuel supplies dry up and current Uranium reactors are viewed as too dangerous. Rather than using solid fuel rods like light water reactors(LWR) do, Thorium reactors use a liquid Thorium salt mixture. It doesn’t require redundant safety mechanisms in part because it doesn’t blow up. Unlike Uranium, you can’t make bombs out of Thorium.
Richard Martin talked about Thorium on The Leonard Lapate Show. According to Martin, the amount of Thorium needed to produce electricity is significantly less than needed in a Uranium reactor. A liquid Thorium-Fluoride salt reactor is actually a breeder reactor where it creates more fuel as it producing electricity. These types of reactors would require less maintenance and could run longer on the same fuel producing less nuclear waste. Should something happen to the reactor it would not blow up. At the bottom of the reactor is a and salt plug that would melt draining the radioactive fuel into a lead lined safety chamber. In other words we are talking about a type of nuclear reactor that is much safer than Uranium reactors, with less waste, and less maintenance.
A Thorium reactor was brought on line in the 1960’s but was shut down after 6 years primarily because market forces decided to continue focusing on Uranium reactors. Watch The Thorium Dream to get a better picture on why. While the United States may have taken a pass on these safer types of reactors, other countries like India and China are funding Thorium research and will probably have Thorium reactors before we will.
Unlike fossil fuels, Thorium doesn’t produce any carbon byproducts which makes it cleaner even than natural gas. It is readily available so one country or area of the world, think OPEC, can’t manipulate the cost. It would not require such risky methods as fracking or trying to extract oil from shale using pollution producing methods.
All in all it looks as if Thorium reactors would actually help solve a number of our energy problems. While renewable energy is continuing to grow, it is growing so slowly that we still use coal fired plants for much of our electricity. Thorium nuclear reactors would produce cleaner electricity. We would have cheaper electricity and could power our lives (including cars) using only a golf ball size of Thorium.
The Thorium Dream will become reality. Too bad it won’t happen here first.