Is Thorium The Answer To Our Energy Crisis?

It could power the planet for thousands of years, the reactors would never blow up and the waste is relatively clean. So is thorium the nuclear fuel of the future? Helen Brown reports

It’s a word that’s been generating a steady, background hum in the scientific community for decades now. And the glow of hope emanating from the word “thorium” is now burning brighter than ever. Is this element really the nuclear fuel of the future? Is it really – as some are claiming – cleaner, greener and safer than its scarcer cousin uranium? One thing’s for sure: there are massive reserves of thorium throughout the world, and if the power that represents could be harnessed, it could keep us in energy-saving light bulbs for thousands of years to come. So why aren’t governments investing in the technology needed to make that potential a reality?

Over the past year, Professor Egil Lillestol of the Institute of Physics and Technology at the University of Bergen, has been attempting to convince the world that nuclear reactors fuelled by thorium could be the answer to the world’s energy problems. If we accept that we need alternatives to the CO2-belching fossil fuels, then, Lillestol says: “We all have to do whatever we can to reduce the consumption of energy and to develop solar and wind energy. These are, currently, the only two sources that can give us substantial amounts of renewable energy, but unfortunately far from enough.”

Lillestol believes that nuclear power is the only solution. But nuclear power has a bad reputation. The public remembers the disasters all too well, from the Sellafield fire of 1957 to Chernobyl’s meltdown in 1986. We are frightened, too, by the prospect of waste from spent fuel rods that remain lethally radioactive for many thousands of years. If that’s not nasty enough, some nuclear waste can also be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. The processing of plutonium for re-use as fuel for reactors is difficult and consequently much of the waste is left to build in weapons-grade stockpiles that could pose a serious security threat were some to fall into the wrong hands.

But according to some, including Lillestol, thorium – a silvery white metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder – could solve all these problems. As Lillestol points out, thorium is “three times more abundant than uranium in the earth’s crust, and produces 250 times more energy per unit of weight than uranium in the present reactors”. Unlike a uranium reactor, a thorium power station would produce no plutonium. Consequently, the waste produced from burning thorium in a reactor would not be such a security risk if it fell into the wrong hands, and the spent fuel rods are dramatically less radioactive than conventional nuclear waste. Dr Paul Norman of the University of Birmingham’s Physics department talks in terms of “hundreds of years of radioactivity as opposed to thousands”.

Furthermore, thorium requires an accelerator-driven system (or ADS) reactor, and these have significant differences from reactors commonly used for uranium. When a uranium-235 atom splits, it releases a wave of high-energy neutrons which can then collide with other U-235 atoms, releasing more neutrons. This is the chain reaction responsible for the explosive power of an atom bomb, and when out of control, it is also the force that can drive a disastrous meltown in a reactor’s core.

But in an ADS reactor, that chain reaction cannot get out of control. “The technology for building such a reactor became ripe some 10 years ago. It uses an external beam of protons to kick-start the reactions,” says Lillestol. The thorium does not then continue the reaction on its own – it needs the external beam of protons to keep it running. To stop the reaction, and close down a power station, all that would be needed to be done would be to pull the plug on that external beam of protons.

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Target takes on Che-Mart

In a controversial marketing move, French retailer Target has announced a new line of Che-inspired products including calendars and CD cases. From Investors Business Daily…

chetarget.jpg Target, the retailer that distinguished itself last year by banning Salvation Army bell-ringers, has topped itself this yuletide by selling Che Guevara CD cases for a little tyrant-chic right under your tree.

The big box retailer has jumped onto the Guevara bandwagon….

And, in a related story…

chemart.gifSure to feel the competitive pressures, on-line marketer Che-Mart (a wholly-owned subsidiary of The People’s Cube) has pre-emptively announced a “Say No to the holidays this Christmas” campaign that is designed to appeal not only to Che-men, but Che-Women and Che-Kids as well. “We believe our design-your-own Che T-shirts will be a big mover this season,” said Che-Mart spokesman Che Cure Booty, who added, “and at Che-Mart, it’s sweatshop guaranteed.”

Other popular products include the bumper sticker.

“I’d rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than driving with Ted Kennedy.”

h/t Sarah D.

current editorials at The Cube, RT Doubles down, Nelson plays Gatorball in Syria, Bugs n Gas Gal has the 10 Worst URLs

RightTruth on Warcrimes Trial , 100th Macaca, Darrell on Missing Persons in SC, Layla on Kerry’s damage control

FBI is worried about blind sheik-mushiloon isn’t

Listen to Angel on the Levin show

Yup. Our good friend Angel (Woman Honor Thyself) was on the air with the great one last night.

She did great!.  You can listen by clicking here, and scroll down to the player icon.

Congrats Amiga.

Johnson “critical”

johnsonapfoto.jpgIt now appears that Senator Tim Johnson did have a stroke. His condition is described as critical after undergoing brain surgery at GWU Hospital. Mrs. Barbara Johnson said, “The Johnson family is encouraged and optimistic. They are grateful for the prayers and good wishes of friends, supporters and South Dakotans. They are especially grateful for the work of the doctors and all medical personnel and GWU hospital.”

Staffers and reporters noticed a change in his speech pattern, and slurring of words during a Wednesday conference call.

“It transpired very fast,” said Johnson spokesman Julianne Fisher, adding the senator’s staff was shaken by the incident.

But, she said of the hospital, “we keep reminding ourselves, this is where they take Dick Cheney.”

Governor Mike Rounds said his prayers were with Johnson and his family. “We are hopeful of good news for our friend and colleague,” he said.

—–

“It transpired very fast .”

My thoughts are with the Johnson family.

read more at CNN.com

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