ENVIRO NOTES: Safe, renewable energy should be a priority

Many nuclear reactors are generating power safely, but opposition to nuclear-power generation remains strong, writes Dr. Roy Strang.

Despite the fact that, around the world, many nuclear reactors are generating power safely – France alone has at least 60 in operation, generating 75 per cent of that country’s electricity requirement – opposition to nuclear power generation remains strong and widespread.

Opponents point to the Chernobyl, Three Islands and, more recently, the Fukushima accidents as ominous warnings of inherent risks, along with the problem of safe disposal of radioactive waste materials. Looming over all this lies the threat of nuclear weaponry.

The ever-increasing world demand for energy challenges politicians, engineers and scientists to ‘keep the home (fires) lights burning.’ Current data shows a 10 per cent growth in world energy consumption between 1990 and 2008. One estimate forecasts the energy demand in 2040 will be 30 per cent greater than in 2010; another estimate is that requirement in 2035 will be at least 50 per cent higher than in 2008. The precise numbers are debatable, but the trend is clearly upwards.

How can the steadily increasing demand be met?

No matter how successful exploratory drilling for new wells may be, one day, some day all the accessible fossil fuel will be used up – though that day may well still be far off. In any case, burning those fuels is in disfavour because of the resultant atmospheric pollution. Renewable and non-polluting energy sources are being developed, but it’s questionable if they can ever replace fossil fuels. Wind farms are falling out of favour since they require back-up systems for times when winds don’t blow, and they’re harmful to avifauna; solar power, by definition, needs sunlight; the technology for tidal or wave power, still a work in progress, is applicable only along coastlines; fracking is highly suspect. That leaves us geothermal power, still in its infancy, and leads back to more nuclear generators with all their problems.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to uranium. It is thorium. Not only is thorium more abundant than uranium, it is less radioactive, and thorium-fuelled reactors burn more hotly than those using uranium fuel, so that almost all of the fue – about 99 per cent – is consumed and little residue is left over. Importantly, thorium is difficult to use in production of weaponry.

Given all these advantages, why isn’t thorium used widely instead of uranium? Since there are no fissile isotopes in thorium, fissile material such as 233 or 235 Uranium or plutonium must be added to ensure the desired reaction can be achieved.

According to an M.I.T. report from 2011, there is need for further research to develop the economic practicality “of extraction of its latent energy in a cost-effective manner.” The report goes on, “though there is little in the way of barriers to a thorium fuel cycle, with current or near-term reactor design there is also little incentive for any significant market penetration.”

Is this absence of impetus to achieve significant market penetration due to industrial or government inertia? It’s indeed a sad commentary on governments around the world if a major impediment to developing thorium nuclear technology is that it does not lend itself easily to weapons production. Work is in progress in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States, but India is the leader in promoting and developing thorium as an acceptable source of energy.

Perhaps this is only the introduction to an intriguing story.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Peace Portal Alliance Church, at the corner of King George Boulevard and 152 Street, is the extreme-weather shelter for South Surrey for the upcoming season. It is to have 14 mats available nightly for those experiencing homelessness, regardless of weather conditions. (Tracy Holmes photo)
14 beds planned for South Surrey extreme-weather shelter

Webinar tonight to field questions, share info on Peace Portal Alliance Church refuge

White Rock Whalers president Ronnie Paterson (inset photo) is hopeful the team and City of White Rock will be able to find a solution that will allow the Whalers and their PJHL opponents to use the dressing rooms at Centennial Arena. (Jody Harris photo)
Whalers waiting to hear on dressing-room availability as PJHL home-opener looms

White Rock team owner ‘confident’ hurdles can be overcome in talks with city

Fraser Health declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at Delta Hospital on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Grace Kennedy photo)
Outbreak over at Delta Hospital

In all, 45 cases of COVID-19 were identified and seven patients died during the outbreak

The Sunshine Band Club video posted to Youtube.
VIDEO: Surrey youth band shines light on ‘COVID blues,’ raises money for hospital

Virtual concert from Sunshine Band Club, established last March

Not everybody lined up to vote on Saturday. In Surrey, 68,396 mail-in ballots still need to be counted for the final election tally. (Black Press Media)
North Surrey voters steer left, South Surrey voters steer right

Once again, it’s NDP orange in the city’s north end, Liberal red in the south

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Graphic on promo material for Best Buy Canada’s Tech Wonderland event.
Drive-through ‘Tech Wonderland’ coming to PNE site a few weeks before Christmas

Best Buy Canada-backed ‘holiday’ event to raise money for charity

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of seven-year-old in Langley was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (B.C. government photo)
Unnamed school in Fraser Health region closed due to COVID-19

Closure announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry during daily briefing

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

Most Read