Is Thorium a Viable Alternative to Uranium for Safe Nuclear power?
Well, first of all the advantages of Thorium are that it is far less dangerous and produces less volume and less dangerous waste, not that it is completely safe nor that it doesn’t produce dangerous waste. Anyone who believe’s that Thorium reactors are completely safe and have manageable levels of waste, have been reading too much Nuclear Power Industry propaganda.
Thorium reactors are theoretically not capable of melting down, but if there was an explosion, for instance a terrorist act, or an earthquake, there would still be the danger of the release of radioactive materials into the environment. No one is saying Thorium reactors can’t have accidents; only that they can’t ‘meltdown’. A meltdown is the most serious kind of accident you can have at a nuclear plant, but not the only kind.
And there is still the issue of waste storage.
When it is possible, with an equivalent level of investment spent in renewables, to have solar and wind power provide baseload electricity supply instead of nuclear, then why screw around with nuclear fission at all? The argument of those against Nuclear Energy is that there is always an unacceptable risk of dirty radioactive materials escaping into the environment (given that any accident costs tens of millions or even billions to clean up and future generations have to bear the cost).
With regard to fusion, if ITER proves successful once it is operational, then we could have commercial fusion generators in 30 years time or so, perhaps sooner. However fusion development is massively expensive ($10 billion for ITER alone – and it’s still basically just a really big experiment) and is not going to provide usable power anytime soon.
Realistically, renewables are the best way to go, but the energy industry don’t want to know about it because they can’t buy an exclusive royalty to tap the sun or wind. They prefer to tap out the earth’s resources, no matter how dirty or dangerous it becomes, until those resources are depleted.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER (Fusion Reactor)
Some references: (main disadvantages relate to the dangers in handling and processing spent fuel which emits more gamma radiation. An accident involving this material could be conceivably disastrous depending on location. However keep in mind I am not saying Thorium isn’t better than conventional fuels: it’s much better IF they can get the technology right. But it is still a very dirty and potentially very dangerous way of producing power:
“Further there are some disadvantages of thorium – when compared with uranium – that were
recognized from the beginning, but now appeared to be almost forgotten: thorium is more
radioactive than uranium, making its handling in fabrication stage more beset with dangers. In
addition there are potential difficulties in the back-end of the fuel cycle. The plutonium-238 content
would be three to four times higher than with conventional uranium fuels. This highly radioactive
isotope causes a much higher residual heat and therefore the time for spent fuel storage in water is
much longer. To put it mildly, the technical problems regarding the reprocessing of spent fuel is not
solved for this reason.”