Thorium: the first thing I’ve felt optimistic about in months…

Over-population, peak oil, ecological destruction, resource depletion, economics and political tyranny are common topics on this blog.  I know, what a rosy little bunch of themes!  So rosy in fact, that friend of mine recently said to me, “You know, if I ever get too happy or optimistic, I just read your blog.  It’s like a total downer, man.” I’m not sure I should take that as a compliment or not.  Er…probably not.

Yes, I do have a penchant for downer kinds of topics.  I mean that’s what cynics do, right? The burst your bubble. Perhaps within the soul of every cynical skeptic, however,  beats the heart of a disillusioned optimist.  That’s true of me anyway. Even at my most frustrated, angry and cynical best (or worst, depending on your point of view), I still believe in safeguarding and encouraging all that is good, true and beautiful in this world. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of even living?

I hope for a more just, content, and peaceful world. That hope is the spark that keeps me working, raising my kids, and learning something new everyday.

Well, on to my topic today.

I’ve put in a bit of time in studying our energy problems the past few months.  I’ve looked at all the facts.  As usual, the facts are somewhat depressing.  Stubborn things facts are.

Here’s my summary statement:  If we don’t find something other than fossil fuels to run this planet, we’re screwed.

Why might you ask?

  • Our current infrastructure was built by and for oil. What happens when it’s not cheap and plentiful anymore?  Have you really stopped to think about that?  In addition to being out of gas, we’ll also have to deal with “infrastructure momentum”.  That’s not going to be easy. For example, how well do you think the suburbs of Phoenix are going to work without cheap gas and cars? This sort of scenario could be upon us sooner than you think. Our infrastructure won’t work so well. A lot of our cities and town are going to feel like heroin addicts with no fix in sight.
  • Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) are wrecking the planet. I’ve read a lot about the whole global warming issue. It’s been tough. There a lot of political mumbo-jumbo and propaganda surrounding the issue. Bottom line, however, is that there’s a shit-load of CO2 getting pumped into our atmosphere and every day there’s less forest left to absorb it. The facts show that greenhouse gases are a likely contributing cause to global warming. Yes, the sun is doing most of it, but human activity is exacerbating the problem.
  • Coal is dirty. Oil is dirty.  They pollute our air. This is not healthy for us or the ecosystem.
  • The planet cannot support 9 billion people (2050 estimate) without oil. Without the energy from fossil fuels a lot of people are going to suffer.  This is not some Malthusian delusion of mine.  Oil is used in planting, harvesting, and transport of almost all foodstuffs,  not to mention its use in fertilizer and insecticides. I’m not necessarily a big fan of industrial agriculture, but it is feeding a lot of people. Nevertheless, it can run without oil.
  • As far as peak oil is concerned, I think we’re probably past peak already. Despite this, no one really has a plan for what to do when less oil is available with each passing year. As they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. (Epic fail alert, epic fail alert, epic fail alert.)
  • We fight too much over the stuff. A lot of wars are fought for oil. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which ones.  Countries that are dependent on oil will fight over it as supplies dwindle.

LiFTeRs (short for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor), in concert with other renewable energy sources, could help us avoid a big, nasty crash as I’ve outline above.  This is one of the technologies that could really help. It gives me reason for optimism anyway.

I’m all for a controlled decent down the far side of Hubbert’s curve. Aren’t you?

Here’s a good introduction to Thorium as a fuel:

Here’s a shorter version for those of you with shorter attention spans:

A few helpful links, too:

The Thorium Energy Alliance

Thorium: via Wikipedia

Here’s a little historical tidbit. They built and tested thorium reactors at Oakridge National Laboratory as part of the Manhattan Project. Although the thorium reactors were safer and less expensive than the “fast-breeder” reactors at the time,  they fell to the wayside because they yielded far less plutonium.  Because Uncle Sam and the MIC needed a lot of plutonium for A-bombs, the Thorium reactor idea never really caught on.  Bummer, that might have saved us a lot of trouble.

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