Sunday, 20 March 2011

Thorium: the fuel of the future... maybe

The Telegraph reports that China is pushing forward with the development of thorium-fueled nuclear power. This is very interesting, as thorium has the potential to provide cheap and relatively safe energy. It would, amongst other things, mark something of a turning point for China, which has been developing by copying the West, but with this, they would be pioneering a technology that has largely been deglected, due in part to vested interests in the established nuclear industry. When, and if we ever, learn the true state of affairs regarding the Japanese nuclear disaster, thorium may look even more attractive.


Angry Exile said...

Thorium should have been a no brainer. I can't help feeling we'd have been happily blogging on computers powered by and in rooms lit by thorium based fission reactors for most or all of my life had it not been for the bloody Cold War. One of the attractive things about the thorium fuel cycle is apparently that it'd be very hard to use it for weapons production, but of course in the 1960s the powers that be would have thought that was one of the unattractive things about it.

Yeah, it can keep the lights on and there's thousands of years of the stuff about, but who cares about that when you can't get a bomb out of it? If we can't blow shit up we're not interested. Now see that reactor over there, the one making all the plutonium, that's what we'll be building.

Okay, I exaggerate, but the point is that the LFTR was tested successfully in the 60s and then abandoned, and and the only other reason I can think of is that they probably felt the uranium cycle was better understood. Maybe there was an element of the established nuclear orthodoxy as well, I don't know. But the long and the short of it is that what's now an advantage was likely a major drawback 40 years ago.

Trooper Thompson said...

Your comment reminds me of something I've read about that key tie-in to the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and the vested interests around 'conventional' nuclear power.

I believe it's another example of the general good being tossed aside in favour of a very small sectional interest.

Angry Exile said...

Yes, and it's one reason (not the only one) I have a certain amount of sympathy with the anarchist argument that states can't even be trusted in defence matters. Here we have what would have been a straightforward commercial decision - fission power via the uranium fuel cycle or via the thorium fuel cycle - being skewed by uranium interests both in government and out. But mainly in. If there had been a free market would we have thorium power now? Speculation of course, but I think probably we would have.