The ongoing nuclear situation in Japan has refocused the world's attention on the safety of nuclear power. 14% of the planet's energy is generated by 442 nuclear reactors located throughout the world, many are aging, in geologically active areas or were poorly constructed in the first place.
Current estimates are that there is about 80 years worth of uranium in the earth's crust at current usage rates. And, as one might expect, there is a large vested interest in the nuclear power industry with a truck load of money and an army of lobbyist. There isn't a dime's worth of difference between the coal and oil industries and the nuclear power industry.
The real problem remains that our current power needs and those of emerging economies like India and China along with our population growth will swamp our abilities to produce energy without serious environmental impact – fracking [injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals, many of them toxic, into the earth at high pressures to break up rock formations and release natural gas trapped inside,] mountain top removal, oil shale and tar sands extraction [Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil] and more hazardous deep ocean drilling.
There is, however, a technology currently being developed in China, research on which the US abandon over sixty years ago, and that is the Thorium Nuclear Reactor
China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball
...thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord
“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert. “If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.
Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.
US physicists in the late 1940s explored thorium fuel for power. It has a higher neutron yield than uranium, a better fission rating, longer fuel cycles, and does not require the extra cost of isotope separation.
The plans were shelved because thorium does not produce plutonium for bombs. As a happy bonus, it [thorium] can burn up plutonium and toxic waste from old reactors, reducing radio-toxicity and acting as an eco-cleaner.
Now I'm not one that looks for magic bullets to save our species from being among the toll of the planet's 6th mass extinction, which many scientist believe has already begin. However, it would seem prudent to throw a few bucks into the research and development of what could be at least one magic bullet against the impersonal grim reaper of evolution.
It's time that the oil, coal and nuclear lobby STFU. We need to explore all possible energy generation options rather than listen to the vested interest of a hand full of ultra-wealthy pigs who will still be counting their money when the shit hits the fan.