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Behind Closed Doors, Day 1: Going Big with Meltdown-Proof Nuclear

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Graeme Stemp-Morlock
9 am-6 pm. June 6, 2011
Energy 2030 Working Sessions

I’m sitting here amongst scientific giants and the eco-leaders of tomorrow, in search of the inside track on absolutely all the renewable, low carbon, game-changing energy innovations we can pack into three days.

Right out of the gate, the Waterloo, Ontario-based Equinox Summit established the audacious tone of looking to fast-track several monster energy generation technologies that are presently many more decades away from coming into widespread use (as it should be, when trying to solve problems as big as world energy and climate change.) 

The first one to grab significant attention was a new type of nuclear power, with reactors running off of fuel assemblies based not on plutonium, but on the element thorium. 

(Check out my previous WGSI blog about Thorium to get the whole scoop on its many benefits.)

Could this have prevented Fukushima??

With recent events in Japan in-mind, delegates really focused on safety and this nascent reactor type’s ability to recycle highly dangerous nuclear waste products. 
And while it can produce energy from nuclear waste, one delegate did remind the summit that thorium reactors don’t eliminate the waste, they just reduce its decay time from tens of thousands of years to hundreds of years. (Still, not a bad improvement…)

But, how to pay for a project of this magnitude…? 

The gloves start to come off…a little…

There were suggestions that a multinational collaborative would be needed to bankroll the pilot projects since private financing groups are shy of nuclear projects that almost always come in orders of magnitude over budget…and late. 

This caused one delegate to suggest an unofficial scientific rule: "the more people it takes to develop, the less money it will make."

You can also imagine that there was significant concern about whether thorium reactors would actually play a critical role fighting climate change in the next 20 years. 

So will it actually happen?

Given politicians’ fear of nuclear, the nuclear industry's love of uranium, and the miles of regulatory red tape some delegates questioned whether we would be much beyond a demonstration project in twenty years time. 

Nonetheless, a bold, detailed roadmap was laid out that could accelerate the development of thorium reactors to the point where you might see hundreds of gigawatts of energy produced worldwide in the next twenty plus years. 

Will we actually see this get off the ground by 2030? I'll let you know tomorrow if the conversations reveal whether or not this is realistic.


Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock

Graeme Stemp-Morlock is a freelance science writer based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Graeme has the opportunity to sit in on all the Equinox Summit: Energy 2030 working sessions. His writing has been published in Popular Science, National Geographic News, Reader’s Digest Canada Online, Environmental Health Perspectives, and Green Living Online.