Could This Energy Source Save The Planet?
Starting with the control of fire, some 350,000 years ago, economies have always been and continue to be predicated on the type of energy technology in use at the time. The majority of today’s economy is still dependent on the original carbon combustion technology (fire) that launched the evolution of both human culture and human biology. If we cannot end our reliance on carbon energy sources, then catastrophic climate change leading to the devolution of human culture becomes a real possibility. That may sound like hyperbole, but it is not.
The newer technologies, such as solar, wind, and electric vehicles, are decades away from replacing the fossil fuel economy. In fact, electric vehicle technology is INCREASING the release of atmospheric carbon dioxide since, instead of burning hydrocarbons directly, the technology increases the need to generate more electricity which increases the combustion of carbon; 67% of electricity generation comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). Every time one form of energy is converted to a different form, energy is lost in the process, and in the case of electricity, even more is lost due to resistance during transmission and again during the charging process. It can be argued that electric vehicles have a bigger carbon footprint than they would if they burned the fossil fuel directly, instead of first putting it through power plants.
For these reasons, we are suggesting that nuclear energy has to be the bridging technology that allows us to reduce our hydrocarbon use over the next thirty to fifty years, while the new renewable energy sources mature. In particular, the utilization of thorium as fuel in both existing and future reactors is a change that can be started almost immediately while we develop molten salt reactors for commercial use.
In this paper, we intend to outline the history of thorium energy research, and suggest that a major effort, both scientific and economic, be made to implement thorium energy technology. This is not simply an economic issue (although it certainly is that). There are serious and real implications for human well being on a global scale. If we think that the migrant situation from Africa and the Middle East is problematic now, imagine if climate change turns these two regions into deserts, or Bangladesh is rendered uninhabitable by permanent flooding. Action has to be taken immediately and thorium technology may be the fastest, cleanest way to go.
The Problem with Nuclear Energy
Three serious reactor accidents have damaged the public’s perception and acceptance of nuclear technology: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the latest, Fukushima. As unfortunate and dangerous as these situations are, if we look past our negativity and probability biases, we would realize that there is a tendency to attribute a greater significance and increased probability to recent and dramatic events, such as airliner crashes or nuclear accidents, than to other types of mishaps that are, in fact, much more probable AND dangerous — like highway accidents or wide-spread air pollution. The damage that resulted from all three nuclear accidents combined would not even fill the error bars of the measured economic, health, and climatic effects of global air pollution that has resulted from burning hydrocarbons for energy.
Technology can make nuclear power safer, although nothing can ever be completely safe, and the nuclear waste that is generated, while being potentially dangerous for protracted periods of time, has the immediate advantage of being localized and extremely compact. That compares favorably against combustion waste, which is both massive in quantity, and extremely wide-spread. It is irrational to be vaporizing our garbage into the atmosphere where it facilitates the warming of the biosphere, and damages the health of all air-breathing life.
Nuclear waste is dangerous and long-lasting, but it is small in magnitude and can be safely contained in-situ while longer-term storage solutions are developed.
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