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Thinking About Thorium

Part 8. Climate and Energy Series “Solar and wind are growing quickly,” Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker wrote recently in The Boston Globe, “but still provide about 1% of electricity production, and cannot scale up fast enough to provide what the world needs.” Overall, renewable energy sources still account for less than a quarter of global energy use.

Renewables, it seems, will get us some of the way toward our carbon-reduction goals. But will they get us all the way? So we talk about transitional options – particularly natural gas – that will reduce our use of oil and coal while we figure out what to do next.

But as one of you asked, “Transition to what?”

In the meantime, the use of fossil fuels keeps rising. Coal has killed far more people – from those who mine it to those who breathe it – than any other energy source. Yet it remains the fastest growing of them all.

Like me, you may never have heard of thorium. It’s a chemical element, atomic number 90, one of only three radioactive elements (bismuth, uranium) to occur naturally in large quantities. As Richard Martin describes in Superfuel, thorium lost out to uranium in America’s nuclear-development history because it can’t be made into a bomb. During the Cold War, that was a deal breaker. It looks pretty good now.

“Thorium is no panacea,” writes Martin in a book insisting it is precisely that, “but of all the energy sources on Earth, it is the most abundant, most readily available, cleanest, and safest.”

Does nuclear have a role in a clean energy future?

An Environmental Advocate and a Farmer Respond

Readers Respond