Daily Archives: November 27, 2011

Wherein I Travel to the Fringe…

In my wandering across the InterWebs this holiday weekend, I encountered something pretty fascinating. It’s a short documentary film about a little-known power-generating technology fueled by a substance called thorium, as well as the enthusiasts who are hoping to make this stuff the energy source of the future. I’ve run across references to thorium reactors before, but it seems like they’ve always been in the context of science fiction — if I recall correctly, that comic book I mentioned last week, The Micronauts, featured thorium-powered spaceships — or else they were coming out of the same dank, yeasty-smelling lairs where people assert that the government is suppressing cars that run on water and there was more to the Philadelphia Experiment than just a 1980s B-movie starring Michael ParĂ©. However, unlike all the other paranoid-fringe, pseudo-scientific technobabble I’ve heard over the years — and for some strange reason, I’ve heard quite a bit of it — thorium reactors apparently are for real. Or at least they could be, given the proper funding and interest. And if the proponents of this technology are correct, thorium could solve just about every energy-related problem this planet has got, from safety to fuel supply to environmental concerns. Thorium itself is plentiful, even ubiquitous, and even though it’s radioactive and produces a form of nuclear energy, it’s not especially dangerous. It’s also difficult to create bombs with it. The promise of thorium is near-limitless power that would carry us far into the future with little in the way of harmful waste material or proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Or so thorium fans claim. It’s hard for me to completely buy into their utopian visions, given that I’ve been hearing cheap and abundant solar power is right around the corner since I was a kid in the ’70s. And of course every Utahn of a certain age remembers the hype surrounding cold fusion, and how quickly it turned into a punchline. You know the cliche: if it seems too good to be true…

And yet it seems to this admittedly ill-informed layperson that thorium power is something the United States ought to at least be investigating. Other countries are pursuing it as we speak, and there was an experimental reactor built on U.S. soil back in the ’60s. (The documentary implies that the test program was killed by the Nixon administration because Tricky Dick had personal problems with Alvin Weinberg, the scientist in charge. Honestly, I think future historians are going to someday trace every single thread of America’s decline back to that paranoid, small-minded, corrupt, twitchy little weasel of a man.) Even if you don’t believe in peak oil and global climate change, I don’t see any good reason not to explore a potentially better form of energy than what we’re using now. Aside from the fact that we don’t fund basic research in this country anymore, not unless there’s a guaranteed return on investment. In more rational times, we would have justified it as a patriotic thing, like the Space Race, in which the goal is to put America back in the forefront of emerging technology and big engineering goals that would benefit all mankind… and wouldn’t that be grand?

Anyhow, here’s the doc. Give it a look. It’s just under 30 minutes, and like I said, I found it to be fascinating and fairly convincing, even if some of the people interviewed seem to have the same social maladjustments I sometimes encounter in a certain class of nerdy sci-fi fandom. But then, I suppose that’s to be expected given the subject matter, isn’t it? Also, watch out for the wild-eyed environmentalist doing the “Fukishima scream” at about 17 minutes in; I think the subject loses a little credibility for including her, but that’s just me…

If you have any trouble with the embedded video, you can watch it at the source. Thorium power… hey, lots of other science fiction seems to be coming true these days, so maybe…

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