I’ve written about the need and potential of thorium-based nuclear power:
It’s always seemed to me that nuclear power would have to be part of the solution of the global warming problem: even if the planet’s population were to remain constant, and even if planet-wide energy use were to remain steady, we would still have to dramatically cut CO2 per capita emissions. The problem with nuclear power–or more accurately, uranium-based nuclear power–is the waste product. Not only is radioactive waste produced, but the byproducts of the reaction can be used to build nuclear weapons.
At The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:
There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.
Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday – produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.
Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. “It’s the Big One,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.
“Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels,” he said.
Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.
Evans-Pritchard then asks:
The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?
This actually seems a little optimistic; I think it will be harder to do this than Evans-Pritchard claims, as the devil is always in the details. But, in the face of global warming, we don’t really have a choice.