Nuclear energy has been around for a long time. All the back to Einstein’s formula E = mc^2, the potential in harnessing the energy by a small change in mass has been known. Apart from being the foundation of nuclear bombs, as well as massive environmental disasters such as Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi in Japan last year, nuclear power has provided people and industries with stable energy.
While we are waiting for nuclear fusion, other ways to harness nuclear energy are moving forward. thorium is the name of a silvery metal named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor. It is said to be a clean, green and abundant nuclear fuel that offers a whole new level of safety compared to uranium.
Thorium is energy dense. This much thorium would supply the energy required to run your entire life.
A nuclear power plant that derives its power from thorium has certain advantages when it comes to safety.
The first one being that there is not a chain reaction itself. While a conventional nuclear plant that uses uranium can potentially get out of hand because fission of uranium releases its own neutrons, thorium requires a continues bombardment of neutrons for fission to take place.
It dramatically reduces the amount of waste that comes out of the reactor and does not produce any materials that can be usable for weapons. Thorium is also supposedly about one thousand times less radioactive than uranium.
The thorium energy is harnessed with a molten-salt reactor, a liquid fuel idea that that can be sourced back to US physicists in the 60’s, promising a system much less prone to disaster.
These reactors do not require the massive amounts of pressure that a water-based uranium reactor would. This also adds to the safety profile.
However, thorium does indeed have its own problems we need to solve.
Thorium reactors require a whole new fuel technology, which has problems in developing the way you split the fuel from the waste in the reactor and how to actually store the fuel.
Then there’s the whole political/economical side of it. When one is developing a new energy technology, usually incentives and political backing is absolutely necessary. Thorium is getting an increased amount of publicity lately, but not nearly as much as it deserves.
Thorium is three times more abundant than uranium. The reserves could provide us with stable energy for many years into the future. Nuclear energy fueled by thorium is under testing in Russia, China and India. It will be interesting to follow this technology in the next coming years.
Read more about nuclear energy, as well as other energy sources, at EnergyInformative.org.