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Green Atomic Power

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As I’ve written before, you don’t need to be a climate change convert to believe that nuclear power represents a very attractive alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In this lengthy piece in Cosmos magazine, Tim Dean examines the possibility of nuclear reactors based on thorium rather than uranium. Regardless of your position on climate change, and Dean certainly makes it a key point in his article, the essential reality is that “fossil fuels won’t last forever. Current predictions are that we may reach the point of peak production for oil and natural gas within the next decade – after which production levels will continually decline worldwide.”

Even if these predictions are much too cynical with respect to the fossil fuels left, the bottom line is that these are finite, nonrenewable resources. Dean talks about the conditions needed for an alternative energy source besides coal, which is the source of vast amounts of the world’s power: “It should offer abundant power. It also needs to be clean, safe and renewable as well as consistent. And ultimately, it needs to be economical.”

Again, as I’ve said before, “If the purpose of petroleum fuels is to pave the way for their own obsolescence, it’s becoming clearer day by day that this means the embrace of nuclear power.” You don’t have to agree with all of Dean’s analysis, I don’t think, to be intrigued by the possibility of thorium reactors.

Among the advantages of thorium as opposed to uranium: “Thorium is not fissile, so no matter how much thorium you pack together, it will not start splitting atoms and blow up. This is because it cannot undergo nuclear fission by itself and it cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction once one starts. It’s a wannabe atom splitter incapable of taking the grand title.”

There are some complications, mostly drawing from the fact that thorium cannot self-sustain. As Dean writes, “The main stumbling block until now has been how to provide thorium fuel with enough neutrons to keep the reaction going, and do so in an efficient and economical way.” Dean goes on to describe two recent innovations that have the potential of addressing this stumbling block.

“Can atomic power be green?” asks Dean. Another way of asking the question is whether folks like Greenpeace will embrace nuclear power if the primary fuel is thorium rather than uranium.

Update: Deroy Murdock passes along wonderment regarding the question “why environmentalists reject alternatives to fossil fuels if they agree with Sir David King, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s science adviser, that global warming is ‘the greatest threat facing mankind’ and is ‘worse than terrorism.'”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • Alan WIlliams

    Doesn’t melt down, Doesn’t end up as weapons grade material and in fact, wrap plutonium or uranium in Thorium and you make the weapons grade material into a safe product.
    Question is, why don’t people know about this?

  • If you’d like to learn more about thorium reactors, check out my blog or read the paper WASH-1097, which is available on the site.

  • William

    I suspect the reason thorium reactors have not been developed (nor all that well-known), if because you can’t make weapons out of them.

    Through much of the 50s and 60s, one of the atttractions of having a nuclear energy program was being able to make bombs. Now we have the Iarns and North Koreas, suddenly uranium and plutonium-based nuclear power doesn’t look so hot.

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