Thorium - a Rare (Earth) Energy Opportunity

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Thorium - a Rare (Earth) Energy Opportunity

As we've quantified in prior issues, the most cost-effective and scalable solution for curbing greenhouse gases by 2025 is clearly nuclear fission. However, large-scale nuclear reactors based on uranium and plutonium fuel still have their own serious issues. Perhaps the biggest is the need for complex cooling systems; this factor contributed to both the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 and the recent catastrophes at Japan's Fukushima plant following the earthquake and tsunami.

These so-called pressurized-water reactors have been dramatically improved over the past 60 years, but they are still essentially "atomic pressure cookers" that rely on super-heated water for cooling. Interrupt that process for any reason — as in a tsunami that floods the plant, shorting out the electric motors that pump the cooling water — and things can go bad very quickly.

On top of these operational issues, nuclear energy poses other challenges — such as the need to store radioactive waste securely for hundreds of thousands of years, and the risk that nuclear energy programs will enable dictators and terrorists to covertly develop nuclear weapons. For all of these reasons, many U.S. policymakers have written off nuclear energy despite its potential benefits, including low cost and low pollution.

But it's critical to understand that the problems lie not so much with nuclear power itself, but with the types of reactor technology that we've used to commercialize it in the past. Fortunately, there's a better alternative.

Most of the world's Thorium is contained in deposits of a mineral called Monazite. Large deposits of this mineral have been identified in the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The process for extracting Thorium fuel from Monazite and purifying it for use in reactors is both simple and efficient.

Most of the world's Thorium is contained in deposits of a mineral called Monazite...

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