Friday, October 16, 2009
Nukes for hippies.
There are a lot of ways humans have degraded the environment. Some people worry that we may have already screwed the pooch, that our actions have already triggered the eventual cause of our doom. I don't deny that's possible, but it's not a certainty, so let's assume we actually survive.
We need clean energy. The era of fossil fuels will eventually be over. Whether actual shortages of petroleum happen in my lifetime or the lifetime of the next generation or the one after that, it is just a handful of decades away. Wind and solar and tides are good options, but they aren't enough.
My friend Ken Rose told me about the hope a lot of people have for thorium based reactors. Thorium is much more plentiful than uranium, and more importantly, the waste materials created by a thorium plant have half lives measured in decades instead of millennia. Even better, thorium based reactors can use some of the waste products from other nuclear reactors as fissile material.
It's like a cleaner car that runs on waste products. Nukes for hippies.
Currently, India and the United Arab Emirates are in the forefront of the technology, but the U.S. ran an experiment back in the 1960's that proved thorium reactors are practical. Last year, Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid introduced a bill to approve federal funding for a thorium project, but the bill didn't make the senate floor. They have promised to re-introduce the bill this year.
People are afraid of nukes. The fear is not unfounded. Accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl can still happen. But they really are rare and the real problem, long term waste storage, effectively vanishes with thorium based reactors. The question now is will people overcome their fears and take advantage of a positive technology.
Just as it was in the 1930's, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.