Thorium Could Wean World Off Oil In 5 Years

Submitted by: CrakrJak 7 years ago in Science
http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-08/thorium-reactors-could-wean-world-oil-just-five-years

Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia, former director of CERN, Has patented a new process to make nuclear power safe and small.
There are 68 comments:
Male 1,164
When I start my country, this is what I`ll use.
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Male 12,365
CSP also makes for rather pretty power stations.



That`s an unaltered photo of a CSP station in Seville. Straight up, that`s how it looks when it`s running, beams of light and all.
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Male 12,365
Harking back to renewables, Rubbia`s in that too.

He`s done some work with concentrated solar power, which works very well in very sunny areas with a lot of space. It`s cheap, low tech and easy to make. It`s basically just mirrors focusing sunlight on a tank of liquid, which creates steam, which drives a turbine. Same ideas as current power stations, just a different means of creating the steam. On paper, you could power most of the world that way - huge CSP plants in deserts, HVDC lines to transmit the electricity over thousands of miles without much loss. All of Europe and Africa could be powered from the deserts in north Africa, for example - you`d lose 10% going all the way to Norway.

It`s small at the moment, but it scales very easily. There`s a 1GW plant awaiting approval in California - that`s a serious power station.
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Male 12,365
[quote]Then it will happen. On the other hand the fact that it has not happened already suggests that it is more expensive or that the technical specs are not a fully worked out as some might be suggesting.[/quote]

The latter. It works in theory and experiments confirm it, but there`s a long way between that and a working power station. Rubbia has the brains for it, but development takes time and money. Stacks of money - properly equipped labs for nuclear experiments don`t come cheap. That brings politics into it.

As it stands, India will be the first country to have these. It won`t be cheap to buy them from India - they`ll rightly see it as a good source of the income they badly need for development.
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Male 17,511
dang007: It`s new, There are very few neutron particle accelerators right now. Prototypes will have to be made and tested, But the technology already exists. Unfortunately such funding is politically based, So it takes time. But with enough letters written to congressmen and enough proliferation and education about the idea those obstacles can be overcome.
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Male 663
>>>Thorium is currently expensive only because it`s very rarely wanted. If it was mined (as opposed to being thrown away as an inconvenience when mining for other stuff) it would be very cheap. <<<


Then it will happen. On the other hand the fact that it has not happened already suggests that it is more expensive or that the technical specs are not a fully worked out as some might be suggesting.


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Male 12,365
Cost is not the biggest issue in this case, though. It usually is, but not in this case. Thorium is currently expensive only because it`s very rarely wanted. If it was mined (as opposed to being thrown away as an inconvenience when mining for other stuff) it would be very cheap.

The running costs of one of these reactors would be a tiny fraction of the running costs of a comparable oil, coal or current nuclear power station. Partly because the fuel is cheaper, partly because you need so much less of it, partly because it produces far less waste to process and partly because the power station itself would be smaller, simpler and therefore cheaper.
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Male 663
The biggest issue is cost. To switch to a more expensive fuel, everyone in the world needs to switch at around the same time otherwise those that switched early will be economically crippled. This is why transition to alternative fuels is slow, they are all MORE expensive than oil. The issue is NOT lack of supply, we know NOW how to make liquid fuels from biosources and if needed could get switched in a few years, but it costs more than oil and if we did it and no other country did we would be at a significant economic disadvantage. We know NOW how to produce electricity from wind, water, solar, and nuclear sources, but they cost more than coal and natural gas. (Some hydroelectric is on par.)
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Male 17,511
Angilion: It`s still a lot less likely. In fact, The only country to make a U 233 bomb was the US. After they tested it, They never made anymore.
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Male 12,365
Well, that got cut off suprisingly early:

A great deal of detail - see section 6.2.1.3 U-233
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Male 12,365
Do you know how long it would take to make enough U-233 for a bomb this way? It is going to be possible in some amount of time.

If you keep the energy of the neutrons to below ~6MeV, which is trivially easy to do, you eliminate the main cause of the production of U-232, resulting in almost pure U-233. If you do it right, you get U-233 with U-232 contamination as low as 5 ppm U-232 and that can be worked with. You`re not going to want to pick it up, but you can work with it using simple (i.e. cheap) precautions. That`s assuming you can`t find people willing to risk their lives for whatever the cause is, which is a rather bad assumption.

Overview

A gr
Male 17,511
Angilion: The thin layer of the Uranium 233 on the surface of the Thorium wouldn`t be enough to make a bomb with. It takes 60% more Uranium 233 to make a bomb than Uranium 238. That is just not an efficient way to make a bomb.

Also, The Thorium fuel cycle recycles the lower Actinides and produces Uranium 232 which can not be chemically separated from Uranium 233 and has several decay products which emit high energy gamma radiation. That gamma radiation kills electronics and thus makes it unusable in a bomb. From there, The waste Uranium 232 decays after 69 years into Lead and is no more radioactive that coal ash.

That`s a far shorter and more manageable half-life than the Uranium-Plutonium cycle we use today.
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Male 12,365
[quote]ethanol made from hemp plants would do it today[/quote]

No, it wouldn`t. Not even close. You`re talking about growing enough plants to make enough alcohol to replace all oil for fuel use and all other forms of fuel for electricity generation.

That`s *all* vehicles and *all* power stations.

It`s not possible, not even if you are willing to destroy entire ecosystems by monocropping for fuel generation (which is already happening, by the way). Your plans would kill many millions, maybe billions, of people directly by starvation because you`re growing fuel crops everywhere instead of food and potentially kill almost everyone by destroying ecosystems to such an extent that most animals die and it all goes pear shaped.

And even then, it still wouldn`t be enough.

Hemp isn`t even particularly suited to alcohol production.

Hemp advocates like you are harming hemp advocacy, not helping it.
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Male 12,365
CrakrJak:

I was aware of the potential benefits of Rubbia`s work several years ago when it first made the mainstream media. They are obvious to anyone who`s read up about it. You don`t need to tell me them again.

What uncritical advocates of his work do need to do is address the glaring security issue of having relatively cheap kit that can be stuck in an ordinary building and which converts an extremely common material (Thorium) into a stable material that can be used to make nuclear bombs (Uranium-233).
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Female 3,001
for real? awesome :D
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Male 59
ethanol made from hemp plants would do it today
but who cares if hemp can make paint plastic clothes anything made with wood its illegal and would only take out big business altogether letting us little people live in peace ...hmmm
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Male 450
We still use telegraphs?
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Male 758
Old news.
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Male 12
"Thorium could wean the world off oil in 5 years"

Oil is used for more than just power generation. It is used in fertilisers/pesticides, which is the only thing maintaining our current population size. It is also used to make plastics and other synthetic materials.

Still, sounds like a great advance!
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Male 17,511
Angilion: What is so cool about Rubbia`s energy amplifier is that is economically profitable, It won`t need large government tax breaks or subsidies. Including the initial investments of making the reactor, Buying the Thorium, Upkeep and Payroll; The cost per kilowatt hour of electricity will still be lower than natural gas and coal power. The technology already exists, Only prototypes need be made and tested. After that, They could be made in factories (like locomotives are), Shipped to installation sites, And setup.
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Male 12,365
[quote]That means there`s a s**tload of it[/quote]

I`ve been looking for more precise numbers. There aren`t any, because it`s so common nobody has bothered. They chuck the stuff away at the moment - it`s just in the way. Couple of millions tons is a bottom end estimate, and that`s without really looking for it. At a push, you can get loads more from the sea.

So yeah, a pooload. Maybe we`d run out by 3000AD, oh noes!

[quote]Lastly, if anyone could find some more links and official studies to support this article I would like to know. Otherwise I`ll just assume that it has no "official" scientific evidence for it. (however it does sound very interesting and promising)[/quote]

I plowed through a document a while back detailing how it works, but that was offline and years ago. Most of it went over my head anyway - it was for scientists.

Rubbia won the Nobel prize for physics, so he certainly has the credentials.
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Male 17,511
slayer50515: CERN document on the Rubbia Energy Amplifier.
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Male 89
Could you expect any less from the element named after Thor?
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Male 987
"Furthermore, nuclear fuel is a finite quantity, much like fossil fuels are. It might be good as a stepping stone from oil to solar power, but it`s just that. "
You didn`t even read half the article. Please GTFO.

A. "...a fistful of thorium could light up London for a week."
B. "Thorium... is so abundant that it`s almost an annoyance.

That means there`s a s**tload of it and that it takes very little of the thorium to generate a lot of power. It may be a "stepping stone" but it sure is a pretty drating good one.

I`m also be interested in what emissions are caused by the reaction. (other than the U-233)

Lastly, if anyone could find some more links and official studies to support this article I would like to know. Otherwise I`ll just assume that it has no "official" scientific evidence for it. (however it does sound very interesting and promising)
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Male 12,365
[quote]Yeah, I`d be concerned about that U-233 "by-product". We have a dickens of a time trying to figure out what to do with our current nuclear waste product.[/quote]

The U-233 produced isn`t the by-product. It`s the stuff that`s actually used for fuel in the reactors.

Much of the current nuclear waste product could be used as fuel in these reactors, so you deal with that problem too.

[quote]Furthermore, nuclear fuel is a finite quantity, much like fossil fuels are.[/quote]

Yes, but there`s so much of it that it doesn`t matter. A thousand years is more than long enough to develop something better. Economic fusion, maybe. Or something no-one has even dreamed of yet.

[quote]It might be good as a stepping stone from oil to solar power, but it`s just that.[/quote]

No, it isn`t. If it works and the security issue isn`t an issue, it`s a very long-term solution.
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Male 12,365
[quote]Ummmmmm.
What happened to renewable resources? Would they put that on hold? What happens when the thorium runs out?[/quote]

Humans would have something better long before then. If you used Thorium as the only source for the entire world, it would still take thousands of years to use it up.

You could fit a year`s supply for the entire world in your living room and there`s millions of tons of the stuff.

The lack of renewability isn`t an issue in this case.
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Male 527
Yeah, I`d be concerned about that U-233 "by-product". We have a dickens of a time trying to figure out what to do with our current nuclear waste product. Furthermore, nuclear fuel is a finite quantity, much like fossil fuels are. It might be good as a stepping stone from oil to solar power, but it`s just that.
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Male 212
Ummmmmm.
What happened to renewable resources? Would they put that on hold? What happens when the thorium runs out?
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Male 25,416
LOLZ FOR DEAD LINK NOW!
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Male 2,441
Sadly it won`t happen...at least not in a five year period. Although some more research into this would be an interesting idea.
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Male 12,365
munchlets...as in having the munchies?

Hemp would be a very useful crop, which is why businesses using other products in the various areas in which hemp would be better grouped together to have it outlawed.

What it can`t do it produce magic potions that can run a diesel engine 128 times as efficiently as diesel. That`s just plain silly. You made it up, probably while stoned.
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Male 12,365
"Big Oil" is the contempory equivalent of "the Red Menace" of the height of the cold war. People are going way over the top about the degree of threat it represents. Alternatives fail because they either don`t work at all (almost all the "suppressed by Big Oil" free energy devices you can find online) or because they`re more expensive or only useful in some locations, or both (the serious suggestions).

The only example I have found in which I think an alternative energy source was suppressed by more powerful people with money in competition was Salter`s wave power, which was binned in suspicious circumstances in favour of nuclear power, not oil.
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Male 12,365
[quote]Uhm no, It doesn`t decay into bomb fuel. The whole Thorium fuel cycle is `subcritical`, It uses a cyclotron to provide the neutrons necessary to keep the reaction going. Once the cyclotron is turned off the whole reaction stops. The half-life, Of the fissile material, Is to short make a bomb with. [/quote]

The half-life of Thorium-233 is too short to make a bomb with it (~20 minutes) but it decays into Protactinium-233 (~4 weeks) and then into Uranium-233 and that has a half-life of ~160,000 years. It`s also possible to use U-233 to make a bomb and in fact it has been done (USA military, for testing).

So yes, it does decay into bomb fuel.

The concern isn`t stealing bomb fuel from one of these proposed small reactors. There wouldn`t be enough at any one time.

The concern is someone obtaining one of the reactors and using it to manufacture U-233 for making a bomb.
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Male 2,402
Aint gonna happen. Just like any alternative fuels. The Big Drug er... Oil Cartels won`t let it.
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Male 10,855
Great, now if we can just downsize the NRC.
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Male 12,365
[quote]Man I have a poo ton of this stuff on my bank in WoW! I`m gonna be rich![/quote]

Even if you had a "poo ton" of actual thorium, you wouldn`t be that rich. It`s common enough to currently be classified as a waste product in mining. It`s cheap.
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Male 1,931
Oil companies switching to another fuel source? BWAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA
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Male 17,511
munchlets: I think you`ve been using the hemp for your own private `space travel` dude.
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Male 698
i agree
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Male 432
shut up, stoner.
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Male 13
This is so stupid!
USE the Thorium for space travel
and GROW HEMP for Vehicle Fuel like cars and such

Hemp can grow out of the ground with barely any problems, if every farmer had a patch of male and female cannabis, used for fuel, it would produce more than this thorium crap and it would be safer and cheaper, also hemp bio-diesel runs per oz`s not gallons - so instead of 20 MPG it would be like 20 Miles Per Fluid OZ.
that`s absolutely nothing, a capri-sun has more juice than that, and i can drink like a whole box
lol

dumb greedy oil industry, suppressing our FREEDOM!!!
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Male 1,547
@rainbowfarts
The people who have a stake in oil are the same people who have a stake in nuclear. Energy companies produce energy, if a more cost-effective technique is available, they will start using that as well.
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Male 17,511
NoArms5534: Uhm no, It doesn`t decay into bomb fuel. The whole Thorium fuel cycle is `subcritical`, It uses a cyclotron to provide the neutrons necessary to keep the reaction going. Once the cyclotron is turned off the whole reaction stops. The half-life, Of the fissile material, Is to short make a bomb with.
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Male 56
Man I have a poo ton of this stuff on my bank in WoW! I`m gonna be rich!
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Male 15,510
As long it doesnt pollute as much as the current energy sources
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Male 5,094
Thorium 232 has a half life of 14 billion years. That means that it`s not very radioactive, but it will be radioactive for a loooooong time.

@fiizok: Most of its radiation is alpha-decay which is easily stopped by your skin, which means that it`s only dangerous if it gets inside your body, such as being ingested or inhaled.
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Male 196
...aaaand the byproduct from the reaction decays into bomb fuel. Not a good plan.
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Male 17,511
I`m glad IAB decided to post this one, After reading a little more on Rubbia`s Thorium Cycle, I couldn`t find fault with it. This would not only solve the whole fossil fuel system, The cyclotrons could be made small enough to fit in or near current substations and that in turn would protect from large scale blackouts. Long high wire transmission lines would mostly disappear.
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Male 5,194
>>They`re going to fire a proton beam at Iron Maiden?! They better run to the hills!

Feh. Eddie can handle it. He`s been through worse.
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Male 620
"I wonder how many years used Thorium remains lethally radioactive?"

The radioactive material from the thorium reactor contains vastly less long-lived radioactive material than that from conventional reactors.

The radioactive material that comes from a thorium reactor is VERY nasty for a very short period of time, measured in days, not years.

Besides, its not waste, its fuel.
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Male 591
I wonder how many years used Thorium remains lethally radioactive?
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Male 491
Until big oil buys it up and put a hit out on him.
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Male 6,693
More Power !
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Male 10,338
Well the lack of nuclear in America, is the result of the EPA restricting the number of reactors we can have.

If it isn`t solar, or wind, we can`t build it. We can`t even build and freaking dams for hydro!
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Male 575
"Known as an accelerator-driven system, it would use a particle accelerator to produce a proton beam and aim it at lump of heavy metal, producing excess neutrons"

They`re going to fire a proton beam at Iron Maiden?! They better run to the hills!
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Female 798
The big question is: will the people with a stake in the oil business let this wean the world off of oil?
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Male 620
tl;dr less emo response -

Vote nuclear power. Educate yourself, demand your representative does the same.


The Congressional Switchboard is 202-225-3121. Toll-free: 866-220-0044 or 800-833-6354

The postal address for any member of Congress:

Representative (Name)
U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC 20515
or
Senator (Name)
U.S. Senate, Washington DC 20510
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Male 620
I like how everyone likes to blame the lack of nuclear on big oil and some red tape.

Yes, im talking to YOU. Get off your ass and educate yourself. Quit being a whiney turd/bigot...

"yeah i want more reactors... just not in my back yard!" is the primary reason we dont have better, safer, stronger, more secure and a higher quantity of reactors with less (next to no) waste sitting in caskets at tons of unsecure facilitys.

Put that poo in yucca mountain until the people get their collective heads out of their asses far enough to realise you can reprocess and `burn` the `waste` as fuel.
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Male 2,669
And it`s tasty, too!
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Male 12,365
[quote]eh, as said below, the oil companies have too many political ties for this to get anywhere, if anything theyll start questioning how safe it is or this or that or whatnot and leave it stuck in buerocratic hell forever.[/quote]

Security would be the issue, rather than safety.

Someone with enough knowledge could modify one to convert thorium in a form of uranium that could be used to make a bomb.

Given that you could easily hide one of these things in a cave or under a building and that thorium is very easy to get hold of, that`s a problem.
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Male 12,365
[quote]yeah, and Solar Power will save the day and Ethinol will get rid of our oil dependance....


Next miracle cure, please.[/quote]

There`s a big difference.

Solar power only really works in certain areas (hot deserts, basically) and would require massive infrastructure investment to move the electricity to other areas, on top of the expense of building vast power stations.

Ethanol from plants screws the ecosystem, and requires stupid amounts of space taken away from growing food, on top of the infrastructure problems above.

In short, neither work well on a global scale even on paper.

None of those problems apply to Rubbia`s thorium cycle amplification reactor doodads. You can build lots of small ones and wire them into the already existing grid. The infrastructure is already there, they work anywhere and they don`t take up much space.
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Male 2,160
eh, as said below, the oil companies have too many political ties for this to get anywhere, if anything theyll start questioning how safe it is or this or that or whatnot and leave it stuck in buerocratic hell forever.
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Male 12,365
[quote]Interesting, and totally awesome, but it`s not going to happen. Big Oil won`t let it. And politicians are in Big Oil`s pocket.[/quote]

So why is it already being funded for commercial development?

This Big Oil malarky is going too far. The oil companies are not God. There are limits to their influence. Even if politicians did oppose a clean, abundant, cheap, long-lasting power source because oil companies paid them too, you`d just have new politicians within an election or two.

Thorium is *cheap*. This process is simple on paper and simple means cheap. Cheap and cheap means cheap electricity. People will vote for that.
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Male 39,953
yeah, and Solar Power will save the day and Ethinol will get rid of our oil dependance....


Next miracle cure, please.
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Male 695
Until now I thought Thorium was a fictional mineral from WoW :P
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Male 2,034
Interesting, and totally awesome, but it`s not going to happen. Big Oil won`t let it. And politicians are in Big Oil`s pocket.
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Male 12,365
I heard about this several years ago. Fine on paper, not here yet. Looks good for the mid to long term future though, as long as we can muddle through until it`s actually working.

For those who can`t be bothered to click:

Thorium is relatively common compared with Uranium, so it could be used for all electricity generation for the foreseeable future. Uranium would run out in far too short a period of time.

The Thorium cycle process Rubbia has been working on generates very little radioactive waste.

It isn`t self-sustaining, so it can`t melt down or blow up. If anything goes wrong, it just stops.

In short, it`s as near perfect as fission can get.
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Male 17,511
Link: Thorium Could Wean World Off Oil In 5 Years [Rate Link] - Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia, former director of CERN, Has patented a new process to make nuclear power safe and small.
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