There seems to be a global trend against atomic energy, even though coal is much, much more dangerous in the long run. Germany, for example, has announced giving up all of its nuclear energy until 2022, in what has been called by many a rash and uncalculated move. However, on the other hand, other people are going for a different, more sane approach.
Kirk Sorensen believes safe nuclear power can contribute significantly to the world’s energy future – provided that reactors run on liquid thorium fuel instead of solid uranium, like it is done today. Showing the courage and determination behind his claims, he launched his own company, called Flibe Energy, which aims to start the first thorium reactors in 5 to 8 years.
Sorensen claims he also wants to revefine the general opinion on nuclear energy, showing how relatively clean and cost effective it is, contrary to the popular belief, which fears nuclear waste and nuclear power accidents. This mission is extremely tougher after the incidents which took place at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
“In the 40s and 50s they had an expansive definition of what nuclear power was – it wasn’t just solid fuel uranium reactors,” said Sorensen, who is Flibe’s president. “But that’s what it has come to mean now.”
What is ironic is that Thorium lost the battle against Uranium because it doesn’t have any lethal waste produts, like Uranium has Plutonium for example; thus, the waste couldn’t be used for military purposes, which was a clear goal during the Cold War years. Today, other countries, especially China and India are pursuing Thorium reactors.
Although in some cases Thorium does produce Plutonium as a waste product itself, the waste is less hazardous than other mixes of plutonium waste and there is much less of it. Also, Thorium based fuels are much more effective than Uranium, so the same amount of energy could be produced with less fuel.
“The hotter you can get, the more efficiently you can turn heat into electricity,” said Sorensen. “Typical reactors today, they only get about one third conversion efficiency. We can get about half.” He also claims that in his design, thorium “isobreeds”, meaning it creates as much fissile fuel as it burns up.
Of course, perhaps the most powerful enemy he will have to face is the nuclear supply chain which is heavily vested in solid uranium 235. But this seems like a very healthy move, and one we should definitely keep an eye out in the following years.
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