THORIUM: A Tipping Point in History
– IMPACT REPORT –
Thorium has somehow survived its early demise…
Now it stands poised to fuel a limitless Future if we can change the course of history !
The nuclear debate continues to put forward large scale alternatives to fossil-fueled Society, but has never included a much better option, when it comes to managing the waste and risks. This tragedy is essentially the result of politics, not science, since there likely isn’t a more misunderstood and overlooked element on the Periodic Table than Thorium.
Despite its enormous potential to safely power both the developing world and our modern societies through the self-regulating energy production of the little known “Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor” (LFTR). This long-mothballed reactor design is gaining great new attention in other parts of the world because it produces only small amounts radioactive waste (which fully decay in a few hundred years, rather than many thousands), offers no realistic potential for easy weaponization, and in fact enables the destruction of weapons grade materials. Thorium astoundingly still remains an elemental mystery to most people to this very day however. Mainly because it’s early and successful development in the U.S. was nixxed in favor of the Uranium-based weapons programs in the 50’s and 60’s.
Where does History stop, and the Future begin?
While we continue to poison our world with fossil-fuel derived energy while awaiting the development of truly sustainable (and enormous) baseload power requirements via renewable options, this ecological paradox begs us to question why! Apparently, this tragic situation still exists primarily because since the “Atomic Age” the Public has been collectively coerced by the historical circumstances around nuclear power, our fears of unknown “nuke” threats, and our general ignorance that surrounds the deep complexities and risks of nuclear energy production. These powerful factors in forming public opinion have certainly also been advantaged to serve the agendas of special interest groups, and possibly even the powerfully subtle PR machines of fossil fuel interests – in order to blindly associate ANY atomic power with the risks of weaponization, and toxic nuclear waste.
Yet Thorium has been typecast in the same rigid roles that are filled by the prevalent Uranium-based designs. Like most of the other great advances in in science and technology, Thorium’s fate also rested in the hands of those who directed funding for military, political, and national defense objectives. So it was all-too susceptible to the the various tipping points in history where nuclear deterence was far more critical to survival than nuclear energy.
As we begin to re-examine lost opportunities from the Past, and re-ignite them as options for a brighter Future, perhaps you’re wondering Why…
Why take a risk on a nuclear renaissance?
Are you curious about how the entire course of human history has been altered by pursuing Uranium-based nuclear energy?
How Thorium could still in fact serve to change the Future course of that history?
In 1964, Eugene Weinberg and his team built a working version of the molten-salt reactor (MSR) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) which operated until 1975, and which suspended the byproducts of thorium in a molten salt bath that allowed the reaction to be self-regulating (ie. the hotter it got the slower it reacted), and which didn’t require costly and dangerous pressurization chambers to contain coolants and gases. Weinberg spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to instill thorium at the heart of the nation’s atomic energy programs. Obviously and unfortunately he failed in the face of prevailing interests. Uranium reactors had already been well established according to the work of Enrico Fermi and others, and Hyman Rickover, the head of the US nuclear program, needed the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make atomic bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out entirely in 1973.
1973 proved to be “the most pivotal year in energy history,” according to the US Energy Information Administration. It was that year when the Arab states cut off oil supplies to the West, setting in motion the first national ‘Energy Crisis’ and subsequently all the petroleum-fueled conflicts that still threaten the world to this very day. That same year, the US nuclear industry signed contracts to build a record 41 nuclear plants, which would all use uranium. Weinberg was fired by the Nixon Administration from ORNL in 1973 after 18 years as the lab’s director because he continued to advocate increased nuclear safety and Molten Salt Reactors (MSR’s) against the Republican Party’s selected Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR). Thus, 1973 was effectively the year that thorium R&D faded away to relative obscurity.
“Before it was born, thorium was killed by the sins of uranium.”
– Ben Buchwalter
Weinberg’s firing effectively halted development of the MSR, as its technology was virtually unknown by other nuclear labs and specialists, and to this day most nuclear physicists receive very little if any exposure to MSR concepts and principals while being trained. The Oak Ridges Lab (ORNL) had also done the majority of research on thorium as a nuclear fuel, therefore its potential use as a nuclear fuel was also greatly diminished. In fact if it weren’t for strong backing by ORNL’s ORSORT (Oak Ridge School Of Reactor Technology) sponsor, Admiral Rickover, along with his nuclear core designer Dr. Alvin Radkowsky who successfully operated the USA’s first Thorium fueled commercial power plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania using a Light Water Breeder Reactor (LWBR), thorium as a reactor fuel might have vanished entirely.
In this case military interests have actually served to preserve at least the roots of Thorium based energy via their use of LWBR technology to destroy plutonium in proliferation resistant reactors in Russia with the U.S. Department of Energy’s program funding for Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, and through technical assistance from Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Thorium Power, Inc. So in an ironic twist of fate, the need to destroy weapons grade plutonium, has created an opportunity for Thorium based reactors to still exist today, albeit as a little-known nuclear non-proliferation program.
As such Thorium has survived its military and political death, and continued to exist on the fringes of Nuclear Science long enough to meet the challenges of a post-ColdWar world that is now facing the dangers of Ecological disaster. Relying on its core strengths as a clean, proliferation resistant nuclear fuel, Thorium is offering a way to burn off our existing stockpiles of nuclear energy and weapons waste, while promising a magical silver-bullet to solve the social ills and ecological nightmares that have resulted from an entire species becoming addicted to cheap and abundant fossil fuels.
You can also consider the surprisingly suppressed benefits of Thorium via this highly comprehensive video montage at :
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