One potential way forward is Thorium. A quick breakdown of the salient points:
- Weapons-grade fissionable
material (uranium233) is harder to
retrieve safely and clandestinely
from the thorium reactor than
plutonium is from the uranium
- Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times
less long-lived radioactive waste than uranium or plutonium reactors.
- Thorium comes out of the ground as a
100% pure, usable
isotope, which does not require
enrichment, whereas natural uranium
contains only 0.7% fissionable U235.
- Because thorium does not sustain
chain reaction, fission
stops by default if we stop priming
it, and a runaway chain reaction
accident is improbable.
Another arcticle on Thorium is available here that highlights its efficiency as a fuel.
The energy differential from this
efficiency has been demonstrated to be
anywhere from 60% to 200% greater. It
should also be noted that because
thorium fuel does not require
enrichment, whereas uranium fuel does,
much less raw material is required.
In order to produce one year’s worth
of fuel for an average reactor (the US
average reactor capacity is 1,000
Megawatts of electricity (MW),
approximately 550,000 pounds of
natural uranium is required.
Seven-eighths of this material has the
235-uranium extracted out of it,
leaving unusable depleted uranium
waste behind. Because thorium does
not require enrichment, only
one-eighth, or 69,000 pounds of raw
material is required for the same
energy output. However, there is not
even an equivalent energy output
because of thorium’s enhanced neutron
economy and enhanced fissionability
characteristics. Therefore, this
69,000 pounds, a full one-eighth of
the material required for standard
fuel will generate 60% to 200% more
A quote to highlight how little use it would be to a terrorist (My emphasis):
The waste profile of the thorium fuel
cycle is a vast improvement. The vast
majority of the waste is the
233-uranium isotope. 233U can be
reprocessed to be used as fuel in a
closed thorium fuel cycle, however the
technology for this is not yet
available. In the meantime, 233U
cannot be used to make bomb material
because of its natural properties.
Specifically, it is because 233U
contains 232uranium isotopic content,
whose decay products give off
significant gamma rays, that would fry
the electronics in any conceivable
bomb mechanism not to mention being
fatal for any human being within
several meters, making transport of
weapons impossible. Moreover, these
gamma rays would be immediately
detectable by the most basic satellite
surveillance. Bomb fabrication from
233U, though technically possible, is
so impractical that it is considered
impossible. Minor actinide waste in
the thorium fuel cycle is reduced by
as much as 99.99% in some models.
Generally any modern nuclear reactors should be much safer than any of the reactors that have been involved in accidents as those reactors were using 40 year old technology and we have come a long way since then (even so the majority of funding these days appears to be biased towards "green sources" that are not nuclear). That being said the safety record of nuclear power reactors is not exactly bad with estimates of casualties caused by accidents such as chernobyl greatly overestimated.
I would very much like to see what a Thorium reactor packed with the latest technology could do, I think a lot of people may be very surprised by its level of safety and efficiency.
*(I should mention that the saftery record link to http://www.world-nuclear.org is likely to be biased towards a pro-nuclear stance)