Is life au des in biology?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I lament the state of fission energy

Reading these two articles makes me lament the state of fission energy: and

The first one (originally published by Associated Press) reveals that nuclear waste can be reliably contained, but the Nuclear Regulatory Comission has loosened safety standards to allow nuclear power plants to stay open. That's not to say that cheaper techniques for the containment of nuclear waste cannot be innovated, but scientists have known how to reliably contain nuclear waste for a long time. So what's the problem? Sometimes its that some one forgets to close a valve - that kind of incident can be solved with greater automation and monitoring. Sometimes its that pipes are buried underground and cannot be checked for leaks - so put them where they can be inspected. Sometimes its just that parts aren't inspected enough - so inspect them more; I don't believe they're impossible to repair.

And then there is the problem of meltdowns and the second article. Thorium is a fissile material scientists have known is a viable source of nuclear power since the 1950's. Scientists have also known since the 1950's that thorium reactors produce much less nuclear waste and cannot melt down; thorium reactors cannot melt down because the reaction requires continuous bombardment by a particle beam to keep it going - the particle beam needs a continuous investment of energy, so the reaction will stop as soon as the particle beam is de-activated. Despite these stunning advantages of thorium as a nuclear fuel, it has received little funding because it is not practical for the development of weapons.

Wikipedia says that thorium is estimated to be three to four times as abundant as uranium. It also says that the deepest mine is almost 5km deep, the Earth's crust is 30-50km thick and 60% silicon dioxide, and the Earth's mantle is 2890km thick and 21% silicon. Silicon is the most needed material for the construction of solar panels and silicon certainly isn't the only resource down there. Dig deep enough, and there are mind-boggling amounts of all metals.

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