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New York Times recognizes thorium and other alternative nuclear power

Posting in Energy

Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Nuclear power can help keep it that way. Especially safer, superior alternative nuclear.

As I've been saying here on SmartPlanet for two years, there are better and safer ways to harness the power of atoms than how the nuclear industry has conventionally gone about it for five decades.

It must be true - because now the paper of record says so!

In an informative general overview of alternative nuclear power, the New York Times' Justin Gillis draws attention to three companies that in their own different way promise to deliver nuclear power that is safer, more efficient, more cost effective, less weapons-prone and that leaves less waste than conventional reactors. Some of the alternatives can use nuclear waste as fuel.

Regular readers of my blog will recognize each of Gillis' example: Lockheed Martin's fusion power project; Flibe Energy's thorium-fueled molten salt reactor; and TerraPower's "fast reactor", backed by Terra's chairman, the one and only Bill Gates.

Gillis has chosen three fine, exemplary companies that are working hard to deliver superior nuclear technologies and help nuclear play a big role in providing low carbon energy that the world will need to help stave off the disastrous climate changing consequences of burning CO2 emitting fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

He could have chosen many others.

There are several startups trying to crack the fusion nut, for instance - Lawrenceville Plasma Physics and its "aneutronic" approach that creates electricity without requiring a turbine is among them. On the thorium and molten salt trail, startups Transatomic Power, Cambridge, Mass.,  and Terrestrial Energy of Ottawa are ones to watch, not to mention the impressive work underway in China. Gates' fast reactor is one of several that could one day soon burn waste as fuel - billionaire Richard Branson is behind the idea, General Atomics has compelling technology, and China and Russia are going for it, among others.

I could go on. Check the links below for more.

I subscribe to the notion that nuclear should be a major part of a sustainable energy future, and that it should co-exist with renewables like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and others. But in many cases, only nuclear can provide the sort of steady "baseload" power that intermittent wind and solar cannot. It can also serve as an effective low-carbon heat source to high temperature industrial process that today run on huge helpings of fossil fuels.

And it can do so in a manner superior in all facets - operational, cost, efficiency, waste, safety, etc - to the conventional uranium-fueled water cooled behemoths that the industry settled on building a long time ago, for many of the wrong reasons.

Over its "cradle to grave" lifetime, it even emits less CO2 than other environmentally friendly options like photovoltaics, hydroelectric and biomass. And nuclear requires less land than do wind turbines. In fact nuclear trounces all other energy sources on an energy-per-gram comparison. Build better machines - reactors - to tap that energy, and you have a carbon light future. There's a growing movement of smart people that recognize that.

Welcome aboard, New York Times. Or Justin Gillis anyway.

Note: The original version of this story included a faulty link to the NYT story. Corrected at around 6:35 a.m. Pacific time, March 19. Sorry for any inconvenience. -- MH

Image from NASA via Wikimedia.

Want more on alternative nuclear? There's plenty of it on SmartPlanet. A sampler:

Want more? Click here

— By on March 17, 2013, 11:14 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure