So you've been hearing a little bit about this "thorium" thing, but haven't yet wrapped your head around it and how it promises a new era of safe, meltdown proof nuclear power that leaves little waste?
Don't worry, because seventh grader Katie Hudek has made a series of YouTube videos explaining it all. You can watch the first one below. It's less than six minutes long. If you don't have six minutes, skip to 3:45 where Katie explains thorium's advantages over conventional uranium fuel.
Katie, who was 12-years-old when she produced the series, extols the advantages of putting liquid thorium fuel into a reactor known as a LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). LFTRs and other types of molten salt reactors (MSRs) are different from today's nuclear plants, which run on solid uranium fuel. A summary of the advantages according to Katie; LFTRS:
- Can't meltdown because the liquid fuel drains safely into a tank in the event of a problem
- Operate an normal pressure rather than at the potentially dangerous high pressure of conventional reactors
- Don't require a cooling system that can fail, as happened at Fukushima
- Have a far greater fuel efficiency than standard reactors
- Leave only small amounts of radioactive waste
- Do not have hydrogen gas that can cause an explosion, as happened at Fukushima
The U.S. built a molten salt reactor in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, under the tutelage of Alvin Weinberg, who was also a pioneer of uranium civilian nuclear power and who came to favor safer molten salt designs. President Nixon abandoned MSRs and settled on uranium reactors that produce plutonium waste - desirable in the Cold War.
Katie is full of insights about nuclear power, a potential key to a low carbon energy future. She notes how nuclear fuel has a far greater energy density than any other fuel source. Translation: a gram of thorium (or uranium) packs an enormously greater energy wallop than does a gram of coal or anything else, and a nuclear power plant takes up less space than a field of wind turbines.
The ultimate advantage of that depends, though, on the complicated machine that you build to tap and harness the nuclear power.
Make that machine a LFTR, and you have the future of energy, says Katie, who herself with her clowning informative style could possibly represent another future - that of the next science television host. Or maybe she's the future Alvin Weinberg.
Katie's thorium video:
Photo is a screen grab from the YouTube video.
Note: Katie will be a special guest speaker at the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference in Chicago, May 30, 31.
Some of our earlier thorium lessons:
- Turning Japan's nuclear past into its future
- New York Times recognizes thorium and other alternative nuclear power
- And the DOE energy innovation award goes to … a new type of nuclear power
- Top scientists recommend alternative nuclear for UK
- How Greenland will prop up the world economy
- Nuclear heat is on in Norway
- Son of China’s ex-President: Thorium will help shape country’s energy future
- Norway ringing in thorium New Year, with Westinghouse at the party
- Solve the energy AND rare earth crisis: Join the Thorium Bank
- Westinghouse enters U.S.-China nuclear collaboration
- The Thorium Lord
- The new face of safe nuclear
- A meltdown-proof nuclear reactor may alleviate fears
For an archive of more SmartPlanet stories on thorium and other nuclear alternatives, click here