Thorium reactors and nuclear fusion

Mike Childs

24 March 2011

A number of people have contacted us about our Safer Energy Petition to ask us whether we oppose forms of nuclear energy other than the uranium powered nuclear fission reactors used in Japan and the UK. They've asked for our views on nuclear fusion (which occurs naturally in all stars including the Sun) and thorium powered nuclear reactors.

Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of nuclear power. David Mackay, pro-nuclear Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Energy and Climate Changehas said in his book 'Sustainable Energy without the hot air' that "Fusion power is speculative and experimental. I think it is reckless to assume that the fusion problem will be cracked.". We agree with David. As a technology we are not against research into it but in our view it shouldn't be high-up on the list of research priorities.

Strong advocates of developing a new type of nuclear reactor powered by thorium rather than uranium suggest these would have a number of advantages. They say that the waste produced would only be dangerous for hundreds of years rather than the thousands of years as with uranium reactors. They say they would not bring the same threats of nuclear proliferation, nor the risk of uncontrolled melt-down and that thorium is more abundant than uranium.

China has announcedresearch into this area. India has been carrying out research for some time and the UK is joining-in on this. And Stephen Chufrom the USA administration has said the Americans are looking at it too. It does look as though this technology may have some potential at some point in the future.

However we also need to recognise that to avoid dangerous climate change and reduce our dependency on oil - which is running out - we must move fast, especially over the next 20 years. Thorium nuclear reactors aren't going to be ready in time. We need to prioritise rolling out tried and tested renewable energy technologies and investing heavily in saving energy to reduce energy demand. A lot of research by independent experts - and the Government itself - suggests that we can provide all the energy we need in the future without having to use any nuclear power at all.

But it's always handy to have something in the back pocket in case it is needed in the future. This is why it is useful to have research into new technologies such as creating transport fuels from solar energysuper cheap thin-film solar power and even thorium nuclear reactors.

But please can we get on with the job of rolling out the green energy and energy saving measures that we already know now will work.

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