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Compulsory reading for long-term opponents of nuclear power
on 30 April 2014
I've been opposed to nuclear power for many years (since the 1970s). My opposition was due to:
• the risk of catastrophic incidents at production sites,
• the scope for nuclear fuels to be enriched by maverick states or terrorists wanting to create nuclear weapons, and
• the need to store ever increasing quantities of highly toxic nuclear waste for centuries to come.
Recently someone asked if I'd heard of thorium and, as I hadn't, I decided to check it and started by reading this well-written and very readable book by Richard Martin.
Thorium is a radioactive element which is apparently far more abundant than uranium, lends itself to sustainable nuclear power generation, is very difficult to enrich for destructive purposes, is intrinsically safe (in Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors), and can actually use stockpiled nuclear waste as a nuclear fuel, producing far smaller quantities of less toxic waste in the process. It is also a waste product in the mining of rare earth metals.
It's become clear to me that my long-standing reservations about nuclear power were out of date and misplaced. My ideological preconceptions regarding the threats and risks of old nuclear technology had closed my mind to considering the opportunities and benefits of new nuclear technology. I would urge all long-term opponents of nuclear power to revisit the subject by reading this book and, if time permits, Nuclear 2.0 by Mark Lynas and Thorium Energy Cheaper than Coal by Robert Hargraves.
I'm now convinced that new nuclear technology has a crucial role to play in dealing with climate change. In fact, I can't see how any strategy to address climate change will stand any chance of success without it. "Old nuclear" has rightly been talked down for a long time, but "new nuclear" is something very different and needs talking up. It isn't the current nuclear model updated, it's a different model altogether - different reactors with different fuels. A safer, cleaner, sustainable model capable of generating home-produced power at a fraction of the cost by burning fossil fuels - as I understand it, so cheaply that the huge capital costs can be recovered by the investors whilst still significantly reducing energy costs for the consumer. I also understand that, with thorium, the nuclear generating process can produce hydrogen - a far more practical fuel for motor vehicles than electricity. Cheaper power, energy security, reduced carbon emissions, sustainability, safer reactors, less toxic waste, no risk of enrichment - plus a fuel source for motor transport. It ticks all the boxes.