There's been a few mentions about Thorium on WSO, and I'm sure some of you are much more knowledgable about this so please excuse my ignorance. If you haven't heard about it, Thorium is a metal that can be used instead of Uranium as a fuel for nuclear power. What makes Thorium different is that it appears to have almost every advantage over conventional resources; it's green, safe, doesn't produce hazardous wastes, and produces enough energy for the world to last hundreds of years!
The first time I had ever heard about Thorium was from a friend who worked at Suncor as an electrical engineer. He proudly spoke about how Thorium's "the next big thing" in revolutionizing our energy industry. I quietly scoffed at his rosy predictions, explained my cynical views, and reminded myself that I was a capitalist, not an idealist. Didn't Wall Street 2 go something like this? Anyways, his demeanor sparked my curiosity and I soon began to delve more into the subject and to my surprise, found little to object:
- Thorium is 4X more abundant than Uranium 2% weight of Thorium produced the same amount of energy as the same weight as Uranium.
- Thorium is safer than Uranium because the reactors avoids meltdowns and operates at lower pressure
- Nuclear power does not have a carbon footprint
- Thorium does not produce byproducts that can be used as weapons
- *Sidebit* The moon has plenty of Thorium, which can be used as a fuel source for colonization! Take notes Newt.
So if Thorium is so great, why aren't we using it yet? Some of the challenges include (quoted from whatisnuclear.com):
- Less experience with Thorium Technological hurdle
- Difficult to prepare Operates at 550 degrees, and also chemically inert
- Irradiated Thorium is more dangerously radioactive in the short term.
- Thorium doesn't work as well as U-Pu in a fast reactor. (see link for what this means)
- Financial and political hurdles
In the 1960s, Thorium was competing against Uranium, but ultimately lost out because Uranium reactors was more certain, created jobs quicker, and Uranium's byproduct produced Plutonium for the build up of nuclear weapons. India, China and Russia are now currently pushing hard for Thorium, given their growing middle class and abundance of the metal. India expects their first reactors to begin its operations by 2020, and nuclear power to account for 25%, from 3% today, of its energy consumption by 2050. Normally, I'm cynical about most technologies, but I don't know enough about nuclear technology to make a convincing prediction. I'm definitely hopeful though, as Thorium could possibly be the silver bullet in tackling poverty and our economic woes. I'm still learning about this, so if there's something I'm critically misunderstanding about Thorium, please let me know.
What do you think? Do you think Thorium will win out? Why or why not? If it does, how do you think it will affect society and our conventional energy industries ie. petroleum, coal, nat. gas., alt energy, etc.? What would you long or short?