Nuclear reactors running on thorium are widely held to be inherently safer than the awful pressurized-water reactors we have today. So why don’t we have thorium reactors? A new TV documentary also available online answers the question quite well. The documentary in French and German (but available with English subtitles) aired in October on the Franco-German TV station Arte. The film clearly calls for tremendous investments in thorium nuclear, with a prototype reactor costing “a billion euros.” Proponents of the idea quoted in the film put this amount into perspective: Goldman Sachs paid 16 billion dollars in bonuses in 2010 alone. The documentary thus is an ad for thorium and cleverly begins with one in order to appear more objective; a comic strip version of the late nuclear expert Alvin Weinberg tells viewers he is sick of ads and asks whether we are ready to take a deep dive into the technology. So why don’t we have such reactors? The reason given in the film is the one we also give in our book, Energy Democracy, in telling the history of nuclear in Germany. Basically, the first nuclear reactors were actually built to produce material for nuclear weapons. The nuclear power plants we have today were derived from this design. In fact, the one that blew up in Chernobyl was technically a military reactor repurposed for power production. Once this reactor type had become the utility favorite, other competing designs were discouraged. Utilities and the government did not want potentially safer reactors to succeed, lest the public demand the immediate shutdown of the reactors already built, which have the worst possible design of all the options originally on the table. Even if they work as touted, thorium reactors would still produce some nuclear waste – and frankly, it’s not completely certain they would be inherently safe if there were an accident. Finding that out would cost billions. By the time we figured that out, the falling cost of solar + wind + storage would, no doubt, make thorium uninteresting. And we already know for certain that renewables are inherently safe.
Clean Technica 26th Nov 2016 read more »