Environment

A Silver Bullet?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSep 9, 2011 7:58 PM

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I can't remember the last time I stood in a room full of people concerned about climate change that was so full of optimism.

That would be the launch party of a new foundation devoted to promoting the advancement of thorium. Why would we want that?

The idea is to create a new generation of nuclear reactors based on the element thorium, as opposed to the uranium used to produce nuclear power today. Thorium, its advocates claim, is beneficial not only because it's far more abundant and widely distributed in the Earth's crust than uranium; in addition, liquid-fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) could theoretically be much smaller, much cheaper and much safer than conventional nuclear reactors. The waste they produce would remain dangerous for a far shorter period and, crucially, couldn't be used to create nuclear weapons. As a bonus, these fourth-generation nuclear plants could even burn up the dangerous plutonium stored in existing nuclear waste stockpiles, using it as a fuel.

So, with prospects for a global climate treaty all but dead (for the foreseeable future), which has a better chance of succeeding first: a thorium breakthrough or a true scale-up of renewables that can meet our voracious energy needs?

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