You are here

Winning the Dinosaur Stakes

Thorium as a replacement for Uranium and fossil fuels?

I think even the most ardent advocates of Thorium would have to grant that Thorium is neither clean or safe. It is only comparatively so when talking of other nuclear fuels. I bet that these groupies of the nuclear industry would not let their kids near Thorium waste for 500 years.

I understand that its reputation as 'clean' derives partly from the fact that a Thorium reactor can use waste from conventional reactors and its advocates say that it can thus be used to convert waste which will be lethal for thousands of years into stuff that is only deadly for 500 years. It is seen as a 'cleaner' technology rather than a 'clean' one. And it is seen as a clean-up technology rather than a 'clean' one. It probably will be a serious consideration for the nuclear club when that party sees an end to cheap Uranium and the increasing cost of Uranium wastes. Could we call that Peak Uranium? At that time look for full development of this partly developed Thorium technology.

In any case Thorium has other disadvantages which puts it in perspective. It will run out like oil, coal and uranium and thus it is not one of the long term solutions to the energy needs of our society. What we need to concentrate on now is solving the sustainability problem which Thorium doesn't even address.

Can you see the sun and the wind running out in the next billion years?

Thorium will not plough a remote paddock or make a remote road unless it can be adapted to small power plants capable of running a tractor which is the big job that oil and even coal can do and have done for us in the past so it is not a replacement for oil. There is hardly any justification for great enthusiasm? Unless we can develop a small boiling water unit powered by Thorium to run a steam engine then Thorium is not going to replace coal and oil in agriculture and transport.

The Dinosaur Stakes

Thorium doesn't even get us into the Dinosaur stakes. The Dinosaur stakes is a long distance handicap race where other species and groups compete with the Dinosaurs in longevity on this planet and in energy sustainability. Our species has been give a handicap in this race by the stewards and that handicap derives from us having bigger and more complex brains than the Dinosaurs. We have also made it more difficult for ourselves by earning demerit points through the cheating we have engaged in so far.

The Dinosaurs eventually didn't make it to the end of the course except that they did send their proxies (the birds and mammals like us) on in their place. The Dinosaurs may have dipped out because they had an energy problem based on their negligence in developing external insulation. Look at the animals that survive above water in Antarctic and arctic conditions and you will see external insulation layers in the form of fat, feathers and fur. The Dinosaurs that died out didn't have these and only the ones that did develop these seemed to have been the ones to send descendants on into present day species. Many species of Dinosaur may not have been able to make it through a temporary crisis caused by the big asteroid that struck the earth in Mexico. That asteroid caused lots of dust to blanket the earth for years causing an asteroid winter and throwing each Dinosaur into its personal energy crisis. No food or little food, no insulation and no energy.

But Dinosaurs, even though they didn't make it did very well compared to us and are well ahead so far in the Dinosaur stakes. They were around for 145 million years and we have only been around for about 1 million years.

They were completely sustainable in terms of energy. They didn't have an energy shortage except at the very end and they did not pollute their planet with their wastes. All their wastes were part of the biocycle of the planet and they did not overload any part of the system with their wastes which is more than we can boast.

We have a long way to go to catch up with the Dinosaurs and we have already run into problems. We have been living profligately on borrowed sunlight in the form of oil and coal and we have not developed an alternative for when these finite forms of energy run out. Before we began to rely on coal and oil we used the sustainable form of stored sunlight readily available in the form of wood but at the start of the industrial revolution it became very apparent that we would consume all the trees if we didn't find an alternative quickly. Rather than develop a sustainable form of stored sunlight we started living on borrowed time by copping out and just digging up stored sunlight that other species had stored (coal and oil). The rules say that you can use solar energy or stored solar energy but in order to use stored solar energy you must have stored the energy yourself. You can not come along and simply appropriate the energy stored by others.

In the Dinosaur stakes that is considered cheating.

To simply take up Thorium is simply going to damage our reputation more and to consolidate our image as cheats.

What we have to do is to seriously try to stand on our own two feet and develop our own forms of stored solar energy that we can use to help us make it through the next 144 million years.

We want to win this race don't we?

Of course we do so lets get serious and forget this talk of Thorium for the present. There is serious work to be done. When we have done the work that has to be done we can then come back and look at these finite energy sources like oil coal, tar sands, and the dangerous ones like Uranium and Thorium, etc. When we have developed a plentiful supply of solar energy and stored solar energy then we will be free to intelligently opt for non renewables in special circumstances. Then we can use them responsibly without threatening our environment and where it is appropriate to use a valuable finite energy source. In such a climate oil will be looked on as being a valuable and wonderful natural mineral product and will be used gratefully and sparingly.

Originally Posted to the Running On Empty Oz (roeoz) mailing list at groups.yahoo.com/group/roeoz

Comments

Hi James, and all,

If there's money in it then it will be used. Man has shown no interest in protecting our future when the day to day wants (greeds actually) present. Should I make money today and forget about the future? Of course I should is the answer of governments, corporations and conveniently placed individuals.

Waste of course will always be disposed of safely and securely and no one would ever be tempted to use this source of energy other than wisely. Believe that if you want. The facts are the exacty opposite of course. Man will misuse anything at times and have done so from the dawn of time.

We have enough madmen in control of their "buttons" already don't we? Bush for one, as leader of the only country to use such power in war to date.

Nuclear power has suddenly become the "light" for John Howard to shine on his Green credentials for what reason? There's money in it of course. Particularly if it is processed here in Australia. What could be more obvious for the next error in choice for energy?

Speaking of dinosaurs, did anyone see the item recently on the melting of the permafrost in Siberia? That report stated that the melting will expose massive numbers of mammoth carcases and the resultant release of methane gas is going to be a huge boost to global warming. Perhaps they will get their revenge on us humans simply by lying where they died.

And of course, James, dinosaurs still abound in the corridoors of power don't they? If only their end would be as sudden and complete as the real dinosaurs.