Target: The next United States Secretary of Energy
Goal: Increase funding toward the development of a ‘green’ nuclear alternative
The United States needs to increase efforts towards energy independence. Clean, affordable, alternative energies are needed to counter global warming and environmental damage, and yet still meet exponentially rising demands. While the search for sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel continues, a long-ignored nuclear technology known as a liquid fluoride thorium reactor, or LFTR (pronounced “lifter”) is seeing a revival.
The very mention of the word “nuclear” causes many to recoil, and for good reason. Nuclear power results in the proliferation of ingredients necessary for nuclear bombs, creates hazardous waste that must be sequestered from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years, and has been the cause of disasters of incredible magnitude.
But what if there were a way to produce nuclear energy safely, cheaply, without proliferation concerns, and with less waste, from a material that is so abundant and energy efficient that it is not unreasonable to say that we will simply not run out?
Thorium is four times more abundant than uranium and two hundred times more efficient. 6600 tons of thorium would provide the energy equivalent to 5 billion tons of coal, 31 billion barrels of oil, 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and 65,000 tons of uranium. A single grain silo filled with thorium could provide for the energy needs of North America for an entire year. The secret lies in the fact that 99% of thorium-derived fuel is used up in the reactor. In today’s nuclear reactors, around half of 1% of uranium is consumed.
LFTRs are much safer than today’s typical water-cooled reactors. They can’t melt down; the thorium is already in a liquid state. They are not based on water-cooling, and don’t operate under heavy pressure, which is the primary cause of explosions in the event of a power failure, as was seen at Fukushima Daiichi. The safety mechanism for a LFTR is passive. If power is lost, a frozen plug melts and the fuel flows out of the reactor into a designated reservoir, using only the power of gravity. The nuclear reactions stop and the liquid cools. No meltdown, no explosion.
LFTRs also produce approximately 3% of the waste of a typical reactor, much of which will have valuable applications in other fields, like molybdenum-99, commonly used in medical diagnostics, and plutonium-238, which powers deep-space satellites (not to be confused with plutonium-239 which is used for bombs). LFTR waste is much more manageable in terms of volume and radioactivity, resulting in drastically reduced amounts of time required for the waste to be isolated from the environment. Plus, LFTRs can consume existing nuclear waste as a fuel source.
And LFTR technology has a whole host of other benefits. It is cleaner and cheaper than burning coal, it is resistant to proliferation, and it has many practical uses for heat produced in the process.
This technology isn’t new. It was tested extensively in the ’50s and ’60s and dropped by the Nixon administration in favor of uranium-burning reactors that would yield plutonium suitable for weaponization. Now, with nuclear disarmament agreements and dismantling stockpiles, it is time to turn again to this cleaner, efficient alternative. Urge the next Secretary of Energy to make energy independence a reality.
Dear Secretary of Energy,
We are at a crucial point in history, as the search for clean, sustainable, affordable, alternative fuel intensifies. Dependence on fossil fuels in a world of dwindling reserves and increased struggle for resources will result in our downfall. While we explore the options of solar and wind, we need to consider reviving a well-researched program: the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).
LFTR technology is more energy efficient, results in less waste, and produces valuable byproducts for many different fields of application. With our current thorium reserves, we could power an advanced society for many thousands of years. Already India and China have LFTR programs in place, and in order to achieve energy independence, the U.S. needs to do the same. Please increase funding toward the development of LFTR technology and put us on the path to clean energy.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Crash575 via Wikimedia Commons