Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

“Thunderous” New Nuclear Energy Technology


 Thor God of Thunder


 The current technology used to generate electric power from nuclear fission is a product of the Cold War.  The nuclear reactors are derived directly from technology developed to power American nuclear submarines, by generating steam through nuclear fission, based on Uranium 235.  This technology may be acceptable for nuclear subs, but after Japan’s disastrous mishap in Fukushima, it needs to be re-evaluated for civilian power stations.

   There is an alternative.  Kirk Sorensen, of Teledyne, and many top physicists,  predominantly Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubbia (CERN), note that one ton of thorium can generate as much nuclear energy as 200 tons of uranium.  But research on thorium reacts was halted in the 1950’s, when uranium reactors were built.

     How would a thorium reactor work?  Basically, if you use a small linear accelerator to bombard mined thorium (there is only one isotope, unlike uranium, which has several),  with slow neutrons, Thorium 232 absorbs the neutrons and becomes Uranium 233.  This fission reaction, which releases energy, creates heat that generates steam and turns turbines to make electric power.  And the process can be designed so that the byproducts cannot be used to produce nuclear bombs.  Moreover, the waste products deteriorate in a few hundred years, unlike thousands of years for plutonium waste.  And the process can be halted instantly, in the event of trouble, unlike the uranium process, which requires cooling rods and cooling water (which tsunamis can disable).  Just turn off the neutron-generating accelerator, and presto, the process halts.  In the event of a disaster, the process stops itself in milli-seconds. 

     This is not theoretical.  Pilot plants have been built in the U.S. and Russia, and China is currently engaged in large-scale research on thorium-based nuclear energy.

    Thorium gets its name from the Greek God Thor, the god of thunder.   A crash project to develop thorium nuclear technology could greatly help global warming, and alleviate the damage fossil fuels cause by generating carbon dioxide.   It could be literally a thunderous development.