I am quoted in the current featured article in the online edition of The Week, about thorium nuclear power:
Why are fans so excited about it?
Thorium-fueled reactors are supposed to be much safer than uranium-powered ones, use far less material (1 metric ton of thorium gets as much bang as 200 metric tons of uranium, or 3.5 million metric tons of coal), produce waste that is toxic for a shorter period of time (300 years vs. uranium’s tens of thousands of years), and is hard to weaponize. In fact, thorium can even feed off of toxic plutonium waste to produce energy. And because the biggest cost in nuclear power is safety, and thorium reactors can’t melt down, argues Michael Anissimov in Accelerating Future, they will eventually be much cheaper, too.
Thorium addresses the biggest safety concerns: proliferation and meltdown, which would make the plants much less attractive as terrorist targets as well.
Here’s a quote from a NASA paper, “High Efficiency Nuclear Power Plants Using Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor Technology”:
As a result fission fragment waste products are reduced by a commensurate amount, and their radioactivity would decay to background levels in less than 300 years, as contrasted to over 10,000 years for currently used reactors, thus obviating the need for long term storage, such as at Yucca Mountain. The thermal spectrum LFTR concept is inherently safe, with a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, thus making a “core meltdown” due to loss of coolant impossible. Since the fuel is a pumped liquid solution of LiF-BeF2-UF4, refueling can be accomplished without reactor shutdown. The fissile fuel can also be made “proliferation resistant” by permitting it to be contaminated (denatured) with small amounts of U232 to increase its dose rate which would greatly reduce its unshielded exposure time and greatly increase detectability.
With Thorium ores, such as Monazite, being four times more abundant in the earth’s crust than uranium ores, over 60 percent of the worlds resources are located in the following democratically governed countries: Australia (18 percent), United States (16 percent), India (13 percent), Brazil (9 percent), and Norway (5 percent). Thus future global energy demands could be met by these Thorium sources for over several tens of millennia.
China and India are investing heavily in thorium. USA is not, because Americans are irrationally afraid of the word “nuclear”. Great job, America.