Every few months, a reporter hits upon nuclear fusion - or a fraud involving nuclear fusion – and that may set up a brief uptick in attention paid to fusion and it enthusiasts. Another nuclear energy topic that springs forward every now and again is thorium and its potential as a complementary or replacement fuel source for uranium. No question it has such potential.
This story in the Telegraph (U.K.) aims to make the case, but sways a bit under a heavy yoke of grievance and conspiracy:
After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.
You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.
Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. "They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.
Love to see that French report. I think the French actually had a response similar to the British:
The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.
And will run very comfortably on uranium, I should add. Thorium is (probably) much more plentiful than uranium, but uranium won’t be exhausted for at least a couple of generations and likely more. Thorium will wait for its day in its usual silvery way.
Which I know is a little too glib. Thorium’s strengths are not to be doubted, but the British have it about right – the uranium fuel cycle is well understood, the thorium fuel cycle less so and switching one to the other implies large cost. So does pursuing thorium and uranium-fueled plants simultaneously.
That may keep much of the progress on thorium lab-bound or on the hunt for opportunity. Read the article for a good bit of hard core advocacy – including a call for President Barack Obama to host a new Manhattan Project around thorium – and visit Lightbridge, renamed last year from Thorium Power and a good source of information. Another don’t miss: Kirk Sorensen’s Energy from Thorium blog, which is anything but glib about Kirk’s favorite element.
Squeakers have been the rule this primary season and no election has been “squeakerier” than the one between Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski and challenger Joe Miller up in Alaska. It was too close to call after last Tuesday, but Murkowski has now conceded.
If you follow Congress, you develop an appreciation for lawmakers who learn the subject matter of their committees and legislate intelligently – Murkowski fit that profile. She has been very friendly to nuclear energy, which, considering there are no commercial plants out her way, speaks to the seriousness with which she takes her position as ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
That’s not a start at a political obituary because Murkowski is a consequential public figure and will doubtless continue in some form of public service. Beyond that, appreciation and support are two different things – I’m neutral as to who represents Alaska in the Senate – that’s for Alaskans to decide.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski.