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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It's become clear to me that my long-standing reservations about nuclear power were out of date and misplaced.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.
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on 10 October 2015
Growing up in the 1950's was to be surrounded by stories about a future in which every home had its own nuclear reactor: small, quiet, clean, inexhaustible: a far cry from the intermittency of noisy wind or water turbines and glittery solar panels feeding banks of lead-acid batteries, and not involving huge engineering of forests or shoreline.

The thorium power system has the potential to fulfil the visions of my childhood: the fuel is abundant and the LFTR reactor technology with which it is associated uses the fuel very efficiently. Any rational person has to ask why it's not the front runner in our decarbonising energy supply. I expected this book to provide a balanced overview of the technology, to explain why only visionary countries like India and China are engaging in research towards using thorium, and to provide strong suggestions of what needs to be done.

What I got for my ten pounds was basically the story of the people who have over the years been involved in thorium-232 as an energy source. this is of course very much the idiom of modern science writing, an attempt to make science and technology seem more human. But compared with, for example, David Mackay's "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air" it's lightweight. Well written, yes, but short of the substance to construct an industry changing case.

Make no mistake, promoting thorium technology as an important decarboniser in the USA and Europe is a hard struggle against two vested interests. The opponents of any nuclear power are in one corner, though these days the number is shrinking as even the big environmental organisations see the enormity of the gaps in future energy provision solely from renewables, and the adverse environmental consequences of this path. More important is the existing uranium based nuclear power industry, strongly bolstered by the connections with weapons. It is this second story which needs muck-raking exposure, the influence and manipulation entailed in keeping uranium going. And thorium badly needs strong political and industrial champions.
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on 11 July 2012
In June 2012, I was present up at Cambridge University's Engineering Dept to hear thorium evangelist Rick Martin talking about his new book, Super Fuel, subtitled Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future.

For those of you not familiar with the buzz about thorium, it's an alternative to using uranium as a fuel for nuclear reactors. It's abundant, it's much easier to manage and the waste and proliferation issues are greatly reduced (though not eliminated). I could go on, but you'd do better to look at the book.

What's just as interesting to me is that thorium has evangelists, of which Martin is certainly one. Evangelists like Apple used to have evangelists? Yes, not so very different. But why would anyone evangelise nuclear power? Well, just as Apple was once a David pitching itself against Microsoft's Goliath, so thorium is very much a minnow when pitched against mainstream nuclear power. It's not just the fuel, it's how you use it and the buzz is all around liquid fluoride thorium reactors, known in thorium circles as Lifters, which don't need pressurising and have in-built passive protection against meltdowns.

This is not new technology. A Lifter was built and run for a while at the Oak Ridge Labs in the USA in the 1970s by Alvin Weinberg, the godfather of the thorium brigade. It worked fine but it got closed down because the USA decided that uranium reactors suited them better (at least in part because they could be used to produce enriched uranium for bombs). Since then very little has happened until very recently; the Chinese are now building a couple of lifters, and India is also starting to use thorium though as a solid fuel, not a liquid.

In the West, it's mostly down to the evangelists, notably Kirk Sorensen in the USA - you can watch his TED talk, it's only 10 minutes and, boy, does he sound like Steve Jobs. Rick Martin seems to be his John the Baptist, not as technical but just as keen. Sorenson's and Martin's enthusiasm is infectious because, due to them, we know have our very own British evangelist, Bryony Worthington, who just happens to have a seat in the House of Lords. Worthington started out as an anti-nuclear campaigner at Friends of the Earth but re-assessed her views after coming into contact with Kirk Sorensen and finding out about thorium. There is also a Weinberg Foundation dedicated to spreading the thorium message.

I'm afraid I'm a sucker for all this. I don't know enough about nuclear physics to judge whether thorium is quite as wonderful as the evangelists make out, but there is such a buzz about it that it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities, especially as I feel so bleak about so many of the other options facing us. Hell, thorium even has its own skeptic, Arjun Makhjani, who makes nit-picking points about why it might not be such a great idea. Somehow, having a tame skeptic makes it all the more believable.

Martin made the telling point that nuclear R&D pretty much ground to a halt after Weinberg was sacked from his job by Nixon in 1973. Then, after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979,R&D just froze up. Nuclear power went right out of fashion and no young grad student worth their salt ever considered dedicating their life to nuclear research. Renewables were just so much more fashionable. But now it's changed. Martin said the current situation reminds him of Silicon Valley c 1980 when there was IBM, who were everything in computing, and all these little start-ups with very different visions of what might happen.

This tacitly acknowledges that thorium lifters are not the only nuclear game changers in town and that there are other vision of where we could go with nuclear slowly gathering momentum, notably the travelling wave reactors which are being backed by Bill Gates. There are other designs too - known generically as 4th Generation Reactors. And let's not ignore the 10 billion being spent on the experimental Iter fusion reactor in France.

After decades in a semi-moribund state, nuclear research has once again come alive, promising solutions to many of the age-old issues that have dogged the industry. But to date it's only thorium and its lifters that seems to get evangelists excited. It's hard to know quite why this is but I feel that in large part it's because of the back story of how the initial research was shelved and forgotten and how it's been unearthed by an unlikely, non-establishment hero. There is a touch of the fairy tale here, a touch of magic. Nuclear power badly needed re-branding and Kirk Sorensen may just be the man to do it. Martin's book is a great, easy to read explanation of the thorium story.
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on 5 July 2014
The book is kind of broad, history, physics, chemistry, politics, economics etc. Claiming these liquid reactors are the future is can only be done with proper consideration of the alternative energy sources that might arise, and there are plenty that can compete. So did I learn that thorium is a useful element? Yes sure, but can I argue with a straight face that it can compete properly? Not really.
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on 20 September 2015
Just about to finish this book,
First thing, it's a good read and very well written covering quite a technical field he explains some quite complex systems in a way the lay person can understand.

Also his history lesson is telling but he doesn't labour the points in a negative way, it really was a different world back in the 50's and 60's. The Military Industrial complex was really taking hold and this drove nuclear power.

The politics shown are all too real and you get to understand how huge interests can kill a new technology, wether the USA can be changed to take a lead in this new technology remains to be seen.

Read the book, there is an alternative,but who will benefit? I have no idea.
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on 2 November 2013
If you care about global warming and sustainability read this book.

This is the captivating story of radioactivity and nuclear power (from nuclear bombs to electric power generation) since WWII's Manhattan Project to the present day. It describes how and why the modern world ended up with the potentially dangerous (accidents like Chernobyl or terrorism) uranium based nuclear power generation, and advocates the development of the MUCH safer thorium fission process by western governments. Thorium fission provides the 100 year bridge between a fossil fuel economy and a nuclear fusion one (a Star Trek utopia...?) - forget wind turbines, solar power, wave power, biofuels etc. these don't have the umphf for present day energy consumption let alone the future.

The first two sections give an introduction to radioactivity science/engineering and the political/historical story. The last section although interesting is biased towards a USA political movement, but thorium fission is relevant to the whole world.
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on 30 December 2013
I first heard of nuclear reactors based on thorium some years ago and having worked for a company called Atomic Power Construction in the late 1960's on helical boilers I was was immediately interested and wanting to learn more was prompted to buy this book by a reference in a work of fiction I was reading. I have now read it and will probably do more reading on the subject in the future. From what I have understood from the book I am surprised that we have not yet started to build the first power stations of this type bearing in mind the advantage of the relatively short half life of the waste products.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the subject and a possible better way ahead in generating energy.
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on 5 July 2012
Having just read Super Fuel by Richard Martin I can now understand how nuclear technology ignored the logical choice of radioactive elements, Thorium, after WWII and developed Uranium as the primary choice for electrical energy generation. The book SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (MacSci) details a very convincing case for developing Thorium Molten Sodium Reactors as soon as possible to fill the gaps in energy generation world-wide. This will provide a green, safe energy source using an abundant fuel which will also solve the problem of present Uranium waste disposal.
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on 29 May 2012
I found it highly rewarding to read this book right through, even though I was already convinced of the uniqe case for thorium energy. Richard Martin has used his experience as a journalist to produce a thorough, balanced and international review that is at once entertaining, realistic yet encouraging; it's a landmark, and should win awards. Thorium technology was investigated last century, but unfortunately the arms race meant that direct uranium technology, with its hazards and diseconomies, predominated. Now, only nuclear energy can supply what we need to avoid global warming becoming catastrophic, and only thorium can deliver it cleanly and quickly enough.
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on 6 August 2014
Very informative read with the way the chapters are presented there is some dupllcated facts ,this however does keep the main facts clear as one reads through .So yes if you want some sobering facts then read!
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