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Adopting Thorium Energy

Essay Topic:

When it comes to nuclear power most people would think about uranium. Our current state of nuclear power harnesses power through nuclear fission. The heat generated from this process boils water which drives massive steam turbines to create electricity.

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While this sounds like a fairly simple process the dangers it presents are massive. Reactor core meltdowns and the waste products are serious dangers the environment. There is an alternative element that can be used in place of uranium which is more efficient, abundant, and most importantly…safer.

That element is thorium. Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element. It is named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. When used in a system for generating electricity its waste materials are 10 – 1000 times less long lived than uranium. This provides profound benefits over uranium when it comes to storing waste products. Thorium provides a greater energy yield than uranium; 5,000 tons of thorium is equivalent to about 61,000 tons of uranium. Those amounts are what’s needed to provide energy to the entire planet.

At this point you’re probably wondering why we’re not using it if it’s safer and more powerful. Thorium has had a complicated history. Not because of any potential dangers it may have presented, but the potential dangers it didn’t possess. Uranium based nuclear power plants serve another purpose. Their waste products aid in the creation of weapons. Thorium’s waste products are not as easily weaponized. During the cold war governments were hesitant about funding a fledgling source of energy.

Instead they opted to continue to invest and expand the infrastructure of the established uranium based nuclear plants. The last government funded thorium reactor was shut down in 1973 and thorium research nearly died along with it. In short; the benefits of weapons were chosen over having a safer and more energy independent future. The very nature of thorium allows for a facility orders of magnitude safer than the uranium nuclear power plants. When a nuclear power malfunctions or is damaged there is possibility of it exploding and releasing radioactive aterials into the atmosphere. The three worst nuclear power plant disasters occurred in 1979 with Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania; 1986 with Chernobyl; and in 2011 with the disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Chernobyl is estimated to remain uninhabitable for approximately 20,000 years while Fukushima is expected to remain so for 20 years or more. Entire cities abandoned do to the inherent danger of uranium based nuclear energy. Thorium has a sort of built-in fail-safe in that it requires extremely high temperatures to operate.

This is alone makes for one its safest qualities. Without going into too much detail; if a thorium power plant were to lose power the devices heating its reactor tank would stop working. This would decrease the operating temperatures of thorium and its reactions would cease. The thorium would then be drained into a collection tank through the force of gravity. Unlike uranium power plants; thorium has no need to use water as a coolant. In an emergency a thorium power plant can shut itself down without any human intervention.

Only recently has thorium once again become a serious contender for replacing uranium. As countries move to dismantle their nuclear arsenals thorium moves closer to the forefront of an energy independent future. Not all countries are as forward thinking as others though. China is currently the most forward thinking when it comes to thorium and has already outlined plans to have a new thorium reactor by the end of the decade. Estimates show that China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for 20,000 years.

That amount of potential and safe energy is unheard of. The United States alone sits on a reserve of about 440,000 tons of thorium in storage. Remember that 5,000 tons could power the entire planet for a year. The total estimated thorium content on Earth is around 120 trillion tons. So much energy waiting to be harnessed. The United States has let politics get in the way of what truly matters for far too long. The main hurdle to building new thorium plants is that new regulations would have to be established first.

Those who make their fortunes off the established nuclear power plants no doubt lobby politicians to prevent thorium from becoming the leading source of energy. America will hurt itself if it allows other countries to gain too much of a head start in thorium energy research. Though thorium is not without its hurdles; its potential cannot be denied or ignored any longer. It’s extremely energy dense. There will never be a shortage of it. It’s incredibly safe. The waste products are less long lived and cannot be made into weapons. Like the Norse god it was named after thorium is set to take the world by storm.