Letter to the Editor

This letter sent this past November to Der Spiegel is worth a look…

Jess Smee / Der Spiegel / Brandstwiete 19, D-20457 / Hamburg, Germany

November 11, 2010

Dear Herr Smee,
The online edition of der Spiegel dated November 8 reported that over the previous weekend, masses of anti-nuclear German protestors impeded a train carrying casks of radioactive waste from a nuclear processing site in France to a storage site near the village of Gorleben in northern Germany. Such protests have occurred since the shipments started 15 years ago. However, the protests this year have been bigger and more violent, reflecting anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent decision to extend the life spans of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years.

What do the protestors want? Quite simply, they want an end to nuclear power in Germany. But what will replace it?  Switching to Renewables will not cover Germany’s energy requirements by 2020, according to die Welt, cited in your article. You quote die Welt: “Therefore the coal power stations will have to produce more of our power. More and more power stations have been built in Germany since the decision to phase out nuclear. These power stations have a disastrous impact on the climate.”

What about the “disastrous impact” of coal mining itself on the workers? According to Time Magazine, in 2009 there were 34 mining fatalities in the US. That same year, there were 2631 mining fatalities in China, down from 6995 in 2002. We haven’t mentioned the hundreds of thousands of early deaths caused by respiratory illnesses resulting directly from air polluting coal-fired plants.
You have to ask yourself:  are more coal-fired plants the best that Germany’s Green Party can come up with?

If you could wave a magic wand and create the ideal source of electric power, not only for Germany but also for China and the rest of the world, what would it look like? Well, I can answer that question for you.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the ideal power source, first and foremost, would completely replace coal forever as a source of electric power around the world. Think about that for a minute. Millions of tons of soot and CO2 eliminated from the environment, along with thousands of deaths among workers and the population in general caused by coal mining and by that pollution. This ideal power source may even obviate the need for any cap and trade laws.

The ideal source of electric power I am referring to is Thorium.  And the best way to utilize this energy source is in the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), which was known in the U.S. – some 40 to 60 years ago –as the Molten Salt Reactor, or MSR. Eliminating coal is only the first of many benefits from MSR, so please hear me out:

  1. Thorium is readily available in many parts of the world so there cannot be a monopoly. It is more abundant that uranium – over four times more – and it is considerably more concentrated in the rich deposits where it is found.  Known reserves will last for many, many thousands of years.  And unlike uranium, Thorium does not need any enrichment or other expensive or intensive processes to be usable for power.
  2. Because the MSR consumes virtually all of its fuel, it produces a mere fraction of the radioactive waste being produced by today’s plants.  And the waste it does produce becomes harmless in just hundreds (rather than hundreds of thousands) of years.  That should interest the protestors in Germany.
  3. The MSR will burn virtually any nuclear fuel and can, in fact, safely and productively dispose of highly enriched nuclear weapons material, even burning Spent Nuclear Fuel.  SNF is the current political target causing so much controversy regarding waste storage, transportation and disposal.  Do you think German protestors would like knowing the MSR can consume old reactor waste?
  4. The MSR is inherently safe because it operates near atmospheric pressure and uses no water that could flash explosively to steam.  Hence there is no need for huge and expensive containment buildings to protect against explosions.
  5. By its very nature, the MSR will shut itself down automatically if something goes wrong, even if all electricity is lost and the operating staff for whatever reason is unavailable.  Thus the risk of another Three Mile Island or Chernobyl is basically nil.
  6. The capital costs of the MSR are significantly less than those of present power plants. In fact, with modular manufacture, small- to medium-size MSRs can be:

• Built on an assembly line

• Loaded onto flatbed trucks

• Installed anywhere the trucks can go (think of building Boeing’s A340 passenger plane).

  1. Molten Salt Reactor technology, nevertheless, is not new, nor unproven –Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory proved over a half a century ago that MSR technology is reliable and safe.
  2. Finally and most importantly, although the intermediate that forms from Thorium within an MSR makes the best nuclear fuel, making nuclear weapons with material bred from Thorium is extremely difficult if not impossible:

• Countries intent on nuclear armament will always choose one of the two established paths to bombs:   U-235 and/or Pu-239.  Either of these well-worn paths is much less expensive and considerably  less hazardous than attempting Thorium-bred weapons material.

With Thorium, we have at our disposal a source of energy orders of magnitude superior to anything presently in existence or likely to be developed in the short term and perhaps ever.

We must only muster the courage to grasp it.  I hope you will help.

With kindest personal regards,

Robert Orr Jr.
1101 Natchez Road
Franklin TN 37069

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