19 October 2010: Promoting nuclear without increasing weapons proliferation

Yesterday, I spoke at a conference in London on thorium nuclear energy and molten salt reactors. Generally, my view is that nuclear is a necessary, low-carbon bridge technology, but that, to keep costs down, the same designs should be used, as the French have done, rather than each new reactor being an ‘innovation’, which is the UK approach.

However, thorium could be a valid exception to this. Thorium is very widespread – much more so than uranium, but this, on its own, isn’t a good reason for developing thorium reactors, as there’s almost certainly enough uranium to last 50 or 60 years. The main attractions of thorium reactors are that they could be a way to spread nuclear without spreading weapons proliferation, as they require much less weapons-grade material and can be more easily monitored. They also produce less nuclear waste than uranium reactors. In addition, once operating they can burn up existing weapons-grade material and existing nuclear waste. However, the economics are unknown and they certainly won’t be cheap.

The best speaker was Kirk Sorensen, who runs a website called Energy from Thorium. He and others are hopeful that Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s nuclear future, which is considering both nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, will come out in favour of thorium. I’m not aware of any significant discussion of this in the UK.


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