I recently watched a documentary entitled Thorium Remix which described how not all nuclear power, nor nuclear reactors, are created equally. Specifically, it talked about how thermal reactors utilizing thorium-rich liquid fuels would be greatly beneficial to us, by not only creating useful isotopes as a by-product, but by being able to run on, use up, and render safe, our current stockpiles of nuclear waste. It really challenged my position that we should completely abandon nuclear power in favour of a move toward the big 5 alternate sources: geothermal, wind, solar, tidal and wave. Here’s why:
Nuclear reactors are very powerful, with nuclear isotopes having an energy density many orders of magnitude higher than hydrocarbons. We can get A LOT of power from a little bit of fuel, and in the case of Thorium, the supply of fuel is, for all intents and purposes, limitless. Going on the assumption that everything in the documentary is factual and verifiable, we could achieve energy abundance and mitigate a lot of the current problems associated with nuclear reactors. Also, unlike the 5 alternate sources I mentioned, it wouldn’t be location-driven, or limited to use during certain times of the day.
That said, nuclear power does tend to favour centralization which, philosophically I have some trouble with. I think the future of energy (as well as food production and manufacturing) is localization; sources of energy should empower communities and make them independent, rather than make them beholden to a centralized authority. This is the beauty of the 5 technologies I mentioned: they do require space, but because of the difficulties (and redundancy) associated with transporting lots of small amounts of energy to a centralized hub only to redistribute it out to where demand is, we would likely see communities dissociating themselves from centralized hubs altogether.
If you think about it, this is a more natural, robust state of affairs which mimics systems in nature. After all, all the predators in the wild, don’t go to the same central hub to hunt,; things are spread out favoring an equilibrium and dispersion. Localization of energy goes hand in hand with energy diversity, which would make across-the-board power failures implausible, if not impossible. This is truly the way forward with the ultimate end in my view being energy independence at the individual level, with each person producing the energy they need through advanced means.
All that said, in a world of complete energy independence, where might we find use for thorium fission (or even as-yet undiscovered high-energy-yield processes)? Well, aside from the useful isotopes it creates, large-scale power generation would still be useful for public works projects, construction and other things which would suck up more juice than a given population’s cumulative individual energy production.
And this is where I think the mosaic aspect comes into play: there is no one source of energy that will solve all of our problems: some will be better at the personal level, others at the community level, and others still at the regional level of for large-scale projects. We need to stop pretending that one is superior for all applications and instead let the situation determine the technology we use.