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Thorium

It seems that, as of lately thorium is steadily increasing in popularity, as an alternative to traditional nuclear fuels. Here's Mr. Kirk Sorensen in a TED video advocating the use of thorium. Thorium even has a nice, green website, among other resources expounding on how awesome it is.

The general picture projected by thorium advocates is that it is very much like a silver bullet for the energy crisis. This sounds wonderful, but also too good to be true. If it's as good as they say, how come thorium reactors are not common ? Surely it has disadvantages as well ?

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    @Mihai it'll be interesting to see the impact thorium will have in the future of nuclear power, especially given things like the backyard reactor, possible for 2013? – Monkey Tuesday Jun 21 '11 at 22:29
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    @Monkey Tuesday most definitely; as described in the article you linked, the backyard reactor is unlikely to succeed - esp. after Fukushima. A lot of people don't want reactors in their country, much less in their backyards. This idea reminds me of the Russian floating reactors, which according to a group of Russian scientists, cannot be guaranteed to be safe from terrorist attacks. This would probably apply to the backyard reactors as well. However, thorium eliminates these concerns, so it would be very interesting indeed. – Mihai Rotaru Jun 22 '11 at 9:38
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    "Can thorium end the energy crisis" Even a Dyson Sphere won't end the "energy crisis", which is just shorthand for "People want more energy, more cheaply than we now get it. "how come thorium reactors are not common" Because they're expensive, untried, and no one wants to invest nearly a billion dollars in such a venture because the risk of failure is greater than with conventional nuclear technology. "Surely it has disadvantages as well" Yes, primarily its low energy output, and there's still the problem with waste. "Is it a silver bullet" type questions are not skeptical. – Adam Davis Jul 5 '11 at 23:17
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    @Adam: high cost is, of course, to be expected for new or untried technologies - but the potential of a high ROI is usually enough to "get the ball rolling". About the energy output - Mr. Sorensen claims that thorium can be 200 times more efficient than current uranium reactors. Maybe you could elaborate on your points in an answer ? – Mihai Rotaru Jul 6 '11 at 10:38
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    @Mihai I don't believe this is a good question for this site. How can anyone possibly answer whether a new technology is or isn't a "silver bullet" for a problem when 1) the problem isn't really a problem and 2) the technology is still being researched. – Adam Davis Jul 6 '11 at 14:38
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Can thorium end the energy crisis?

No, it cannot.

The current "energy crisis" is basically the high price of crude oil, on the demand side driven mainly by the transportation sector. And it's not going to change soon:

The transportation sector accounts for the largest increment in total liquids demand, making up nearly 80 percent of the world increase.

Source: http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/ieo/liquid_fuels.html

There is no "energy crisis" in case of electric energy. In fact, in case of electricity supply grows faster, than demand.

There are no plans for nuclear powered cars. For electric ones there is already a surplus of electricity, thus having more efficient nuclear power doesn't change much in that equation. It has many other advantages, but that's beyond scope of this question.

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    Actually, I suspect the real crisis lies in the fact that while you can just cavalierly erect new coal-powered reactors to deal with electricity demand, it's not such a great idea from a pollution standpoint (in many different aspects, including the wholesale production of particulate uranium into the air). – Ernie Jul 26 '11 at 21:31
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    do reference why you think there's a surplus of electricity. Whatever data I see suggests otherwise, that we're headed for major blackouts due to the closing of coal fired plants without replacements (due to "environmental" regulations and that even with the current output a major increase of electric car use would lead to the grid becoming overstressed (of course this will be different per country or even region) – jwenting Aug 4 '11 at 8:43
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    Thorium (presumably) creates energy. Cars consume energy. Different forms of energy can be converted into each other... leading to far more opportunities (and problems) than this answer covers. – NPSF3000 Jul 19 '15 at 2:53
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    @vartec "Having more (cheaper) electricity in the grid does not solve transportation problem." How do you know? What impact would it have on competitiveness of Rail? Would Hydrogen become more common? Would 3D printing (and other local manufacturing) reduce need for transport? Would biofuels be produced more cheaply? Arguing that cheap electricity can't change transportation... well is kinda like arguing oil can't change your horse's fuel needs. – NPSF3000 Jul 20 '15 at 21:37
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    @vartec where did I say the grid is an issue? "Batteries are the issue" - so, how would a massive supply of cheap/free clean energy change batteries? " it's failed, as we do have cars running on oil" We also have cars running on batteries, biofuel, hydrogen, solar panels etc. You keep thinking about direct impact, but seem to be ignoring indirect impacts. "but we will not have cars running on thorium" Citation needed. – NPSF3000 Jul 20 '15 at 22:53

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