SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (MacSci)

A riveting look at how an alternative source of energy is revoluntionising nuclear power, promising a safe and clean future for millions, and why thorium was sidelined at the height of the Cold WarIn this groundbreaking account of an energy revolution in the making, award-winning science writer Richard Martin introduces us to thorium, a radioactive element and alternative nuclear fuel that is far safer, cleaner, and more abundant than uranium.At the dawn of the Atomic Age, thorium and uranium seemed to be in close competition as the fuel of the future. Uranium, with its ability to undergo fission and produce explosive material for atomic weapons, won out over its more pacific sister element, relegating thorium to the dustbin of science.Now, as we grapple with the perils of nuclear energy and rogue atomic weapons, and mankind confronts the specter of global climate change, thorium is re-emerging as the overlooked energy source as a small group of activists and outsiders is working, with the help of Silicon Valley investors, to build a thorium-power industry.In the first book mainstream book to tackle these issues, Superfuel is a story of rediscovery of a long lost technology that has the power to transform the world’s future, and the story of the pacifists, who were sidelined in favour of atomic weapon hawks, but who can wean us off our fossil-fuel addiction and avert the risk of nuclear meltdown for ever.

Community Review 

  • The story of thorium as a planetary energy source is almost too incredible to be believed. To think that for almost seventy years we have known about a source of energy that would last longer than the Sun will shine and we haven’t exploited it? One has to wonder why.
    In this book Rick Martin does a marvelous job telling the amazing and true story of the almost forgotten power of element 90: thorium. During the Manhattan Project thorium was passed over for consideration because it wasn’t practical for nuclear weapons, but after the war researchers discovered how thorium and its fissile derivative uranium-233 would be the best fuel for clean and safe nuclear reactors–they just didn’t know exactly what form those reactors would take. Then in the 1950s and 1960s at Oak Ridge National Lab, Dr. Alvin Weinberg and his team figured out the right way–a revolutionary new kind of reactor that used liquid fluoride salts rather than solid ceramic pellets as a nuclear fuel. No one could believe that such a machine could work, but Weinberg’s team actually built and operated two of them very successfully.
    But the atomic energy establishment in the United States and around the world wanted a plutonium fast breeder reactor–a reactor totally different in every way from Weinberg’s safe fluoride-salt reactor–and they convinced Nixon to make it national policy, which he did in 1971. Then they used that position of strength to cancel all of the research at Oak Ridge in thorium and fluoride salts and they got Weinberg fired as director. Without their leader and their political support, the Oak Ridge team dissolved and disbanded and the notion of a safe, clean, efficient thorium reactor was lost.
    Nuclear engineering students don’t learn about it today. It’s not taught in their schools. You can get an MS or PhD in nuclear engineering and never hear anything about Weinberg’s work. I speak from first-hand experience!
    Read this book and you’ll learn the incredible true story of how energy security and energy independence for the whole world is feasible, possible, and affordable through the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)!
  • Not quite finished but will be before the semester is over. Unlike other assigned reading, this story is addictive; unlike other nonfiction, I am dreading when I actually DO finish it. Only John Perkins can engage me with nonfiction like this
    Thorium ain’t our grandfather’s nuclear, tech that is over 70 years old. LFTR thorium reactions are slowed & manageable. But have no (destructive) military application.
    Plenty of data & factoids in here for us nerds but in a down-to-earth format that leaves one thinking, “Why *Don’t* we use LFTR nuclear?!”
    Well. I want to explain, but can’t rob you of this story. But in case you aren’t sold yet, nuclear is obv a four-letter word, so to speak. Thorium’s older brothers already ruined it. But that’s Ok, more voters are turning 18 everyday & as shown in Nevada, we’re reclaiming the future, despite old paradigm Fear!
    Thorium truly Is an alternative energy method that can save us <answers inside>
  • I’m a nuclear fusion aficionado but wanted to see what the nonbelievers were banking on. My suspicions were concerned, there is a large contingent of people that believe nuclear fusion to be perpetually 30 years away. While thorium would certainly provide us with clean energy for hundreds of years following the exhaustion of fossil fuels, the human race will need to master nuclear fusion or have it be the end.
    To criticize the authors arguements, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Nuclear fission with uranium is simpler and was mastered first. It makes more sense that mankind went with the simpler alternative even though we knew thorium might be cleaner on paper. Going with simplicity for our power generating plants coupled with the need for weapons grade fissile material was a compromise with the strengths and drawbacks of thorium. The author of the book doesn’t seem to grasp that as uranium based fission won out the world could establish academic institutions, companies, government labs, an entire infrastructure established around nuclear fission. This mastery of uranium based nuclear fission and the institutions begotten in the effort will pave the way for further investigation into the development of molten salt thorium reactors going into the middle of the 21st century. We know plenty about uranium, these learnings can be applied to a technology that the author factually states is not without problems. There were some issues when the government was investigation thorium in the 50s and 60s.
    The kicker for me in reading this book was shrugging off nuclear fusion as being nigh impossible. The fact is thorium will just be buying us time to master nuclear fusion because without it our civilization is on the brink of extinction anyways. It is interesting that the author explains the private sector and foreign governments approach to thorium. It’s certainly not encouraging.
    Overall the book isn’t written that well. I was looking for an overall synthesis on the state of thorium and while I got that, the thorium field has not done enough to be written about in a style that the author embodies in this book. We don’t know enough about thorium and in the end, going with and continuing to operate standard uranium fission reactors is not a bad idea!

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