(via SciShow) Of all the problems the world is facing in the Information Age, the energy problem is one of the biggest -- and, it seems, one of the most insoluble. We have a tendency (whether as a culture, in America, or just as a species) to assume that resource problems are based on fixed proportion.
With energy, the proportions we imagine are cleanliness, quantity, and safety. We imagine that we need fossil fuels because we need huge quantities of energy, and they're a bit safer than nuclear, but aren't clean. Nuclear is too scary, and feels too unsafe. And this mental comparison leads most people to assume that because clean energy is, by definition, very clean, and almost always also very safe, it must not be able to produce anywhere near enough power.
Fortunately the world doesn't work that way, and as a species so far we've been lucky to discover over and over again that there are easy ways to totally break the system and get way more quality out of the available resources.
For energy, this game-breaking fuel is Thorium.
According to Hank Green on SciShow, Thorium is about as common as dirt. Miners literally throw the stuff out because it just gets in the way when they mine other stuff.
Thorium is more efficient and safer than uranium power, and the coolant involved isn't pressurized -- so the stuff that happened in Chernobyl, and more recently, Fukushima, must isn't possible.
It is radioactive, but it's not the same kind -- Thorium produces alpha waves, which are way safer than Uranium's gamma rays. Thorium's waste is also radioactive for a much shorter period of time -- just a few hundred years. So, compared to Uranium waste, which will probably still be a problem when humans aren't around to explain it, Thorium waste could plausibly be totally safe within the life span of the civilization that created it.
It's also super-hard to make weapons out of it, and can use up and eliminate plutonium waste as part of its running process. Win.
China is already leading on developing Thorium reactors. India is also looking into it.
If "an endless, too-cheap-to-meter source of clean, benign, what-could-possibly-go-wrong energy" sounds too good to be true, says nuclear analyst Norm Rubin, it's because it is.
But that article, which points out that it's been edited from a previous version, has very little in the way of criticism of Thorium. The only complaints pointed out are that (a.) it would be expensive to retrofit existing reactors, and (b.) engineers these days aren't generally trained in the technology for thorium.
But, come on. Nuclear reactors and coal are going to keep costing us, they're not free once you've made them, and the climate change costs are going to keep going up the longer we go without creating a carbon-neutral energy source -- which Thorium is.
Besides, we're suffering a job crisis. Get a bunch of the unemployed engineers to take a crash course, hire contractors to build the reactors, start new domestic mining operations -- these all sound like solutions to me, not new problems.
According to Kirk Sorensen's TED talk on Thorium, we could make fuels using these reactors by taking CO2 out of the air. So, that's carbon-neutral carbon-based fuel.
The complaints apart from the cost seem mostly to be the same as the advantages cited by thorium advocates -- there's still nuclear waste, just a lot less, it's still radioactive, just nowhere near as dangerously so.