Warmongers Have Ruined Nuclear Power For Two Generations

Nuclear power is a sad story. It holds a promise of being cheap, clean, abundant, and safe. Yet, political ambition for conquest and domination have ruined the entire concept and made it politically toxic for at least two generations ahead.

There are two elements that we know how to use as fuel for nuclear power: uranium and thorium. Each fuel has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

The fission process of uranium is incomplete, meaning that its waste products are highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, thorium fissions almost completely, meaning that all radioactivity is harnessed into energy. The waste is therefore not long-term radioactive, and the small rest of radioactivity that there still is (200 times less than with uranium waste) becomes harmless in a human lifetime, not in 100,000 years.

The uranium fission is supercritical, meaning that if left unchecked, it will quickly spiral out of control with Fukushima-grade consequences. Therefore, it must be given complete and constant attention. In contrast, the thorium fission process is subcritical, meaning that it needs a constant nudge (external neutron flow) to stay going. Therefore, a thorium reactor cannot melt down. This should not be read in a Marketing tone-of-voice, as in “we have redundant patented safety”, but in a Physicist tone of voice, as in “would violate the laws of physics”; “just like a bottle of water in the Sahara sun can’t spontaneously turn into ice”. A thorium reactor is walk-away safe.

Uranium requires enrichment as it is mined, as only 0.7% of the mineral is usable for nuclear power. In contrast, 100% of mined thorium is directly usable as nuclear fuel, right out of the ground.

The net energy output of thorium fuel is about 300 times higher than uranium fuel, kilo by kilo of fuel, due to the fission process being complete and not just burning a few percent of the material. (As a side effect, as already mentioned, this also leads to the waste not being radioactive.)

Uranium is a rare mineral, and it must be further enriched before being fuelworthy. In contrast, thorium is quite plentiful — it is about as common as ordinary lead in the earth’s crust.

So why, then, why were billions and billions of taxpayer money funneled into development of uranium-fueled nuclear plants?

I have a theory. It is only a theory, and I have no documents that would prove it, but I can’t think of any other reason that makes sense. Recall how the waste of a thorium reactor is not long-term radioactive? There’s a strong reason, right there.

Thorium reactors don’t have weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct.

The warmongers have destroyed the potential of clean, abundant, safe, and cheap energy for certainly the next 50 years, making thorium politically toxic to the extent that any mention of nuclear-type power will be associated with the dangerous, poisonous and risky process that produces raw material for thermonuclear weapons.

(So what does this have to do with information policy? A lot. Information policy includes accountability of elected leaders, transparency of government, and quality legislation. What has happened with nuclear power is, simply put, a gross mismanagement of government. Decisions were made to not build the best power plant, but the most nuclear weapons.)

UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Apparently, my educated guess above was met with a “duh!” in some circles, apparently being a well known fact, and the first decisionmaker responsible for choosing to fund development of uranium reactors over thorium reactors for that exact reason — that uranium reactors generate plutonium — was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Thanks to Lars Ivar Igesund.

UPDATE 2: As pointed out in the comments, it is theoretically possible to design a bad thorium reactor and a better uranium reactor (using molten salt type reactors) as well. In this article, I discuss the already-designed types of reactors for these two fuels, so when I write the uranium fission process, what I technically mean is …as it looks in the reactor we have built for it. Perhaps a nitpicking point, but it was rightly pointed out in the comments as a factual omission.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot.

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  1. Henrik

    Interesting hypothesis, however I would want to know more about the possible side effect, or drawback of Thorium before I come to any conclusion myself. Given that I haven’t read about either in any more detailed form I wont have an opinion about it either.
    My direct instinct though is that there probably is some kind of disadvantage to Thorium, and is possibly semantics or word fighting about which is the better one to use.

    1. Stefan

      Wired (the magazine) had a huge article about it, http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/

    2. ForFreedom

      Great article Rick! Unfortunately those who you call “green” are very much complicit in this (even when some, very few, are coming to their senses). Also, disadvantage of thorium you ask? There is one HUGE disadvantage – energy companies can’t ask exorbitant fees for electricity! A disadvantage for the energy monopolies that is … people would benefit from very cheap electricity, but then … people can not design and build such a reactor.

      1. Scary Devil Monastery

        Not really true – energy companies would be the first to strike out for building thorium reactors if it were a politically feasible alternative. Basic rule number one is that energy requirements will always rise to meet demand. I.e. cheaper energy simply means you need to sell more of it.

        Although this means higher-amp grids and more maintenance that expansion would be driven simply by the fact that the first energy company to field a cheaper source of electricity would be able to undercut any competition in one go, owning the market until the competitors caught up.

        Of course in the current political climate it’s quite impossible to build reactors of any kind in many countries and you’d need a very brave pioneer to sit down and spend the effort to build the necessary documentation in order to make a commercial thorium reactor a legitimate undertaking.

        On top of basically creating the necessary support structure for a reactor like that from scratch. Easier and cheaper today to simply use the tools, parts, and manufacturing plans bought out from when governments initially commissioned the currently used plutonium boilers.

  2. Troed

    “Beyond Engineering” (Pool) is a great book on how to run a successful company for today’s decentralized workforce while at the same time using the Nuclear industry and its history as a background. Highly recommended if it’s not already in your to-read or have-read for your new book :)

    Btw, the reason the “waste” from Uranium reactors is radioactive for thousands of years is that it’s still 95% fuel, and can be used as such in a breeder reactor. There’s also a negative correlation between level fo radioactivity and the life time of the radioactive material, i.e, if it’s highly radioactive it’s only for a short amount of time. The “long lived” radioactive material the watermelons like to bring up isn’t any more radioactive than your average mountain cottage.

    I agree about moving to Thorium though, which China and India are doing.

  3. Anon

    I read about this a while ago, kinda surprising to see it here, but as far as I know, the thorium will still be radioactive afterwards, but only 100 years instead of 200000 years of uranium.
    We could sure use setting up a experimental one(or two) here, but the power companies that’d take care of it is sure as hell gonna shut it down regularly to pull electricity prices up, just like they did last winter with the current ones.

    Germany’s attempt at a thorium reactor got shut down due to a public outrage at a radioactive release into the air, which was caused by something around 3 different safety systems being bypassed by a incompetent worker.

  4. anony

    Thorium reactors have problems too: Tough it cannot *melt* down, if the reactor vessel gets damaged (e.g. by an earth quake, terror attack or malfunction) water and air can enter, which will *burn down* the reactor – with consequences just like Tschernobyl or Fukushima. There is no such thing as an inherently safe technology, especially when dealing with such amounts of energy.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Hmm. Halfway correct, in my understanding.

      Yes, vessels can be breached with enough application of force. But recall that thorium fuel is not inherently radioactive; it is made radioactive as part of the burn process.

      So a complete leak of all the fuel reserves in a thorium-reactor complex may be toxic, since thorium is a heavy metal, but it is not radioactive. Huge difference from a Fukushima-type event.

  5. Zacqary Adam Green

    Oh, that’s easy. It’s not “nuclear power”. It’s “thorium power”! Technically, it is nuclear power, but we don’t have to call it that.

    1. Pelpet

      I believe this is the right approach. A large part of Politics is establish a picture and about something. And once a picture is established, it is very difficult to change.

      Nuclear power picture (for many): dangerous, expensive, radioactivity, nuclear weapons, uranium mines.

      However, almost nobody has a picture about thorium power. If a positive picture about thorium power can be established, the door will be open.

      The main argument against thorium will be that “thorium power is just nuclear power”, but that can probably be countered with arguments like “no, nuclear power means dangerous reactors. thorium is physically safe and without large-scale risk. solar power is also nuclear power, but that is not an argument against solar power”.

  6. Anon Miner

    Thank you for thorium Rick, i think that you just gave me a major piece of the puzzle on why Marcus Wallenberg recently became the board chairman of LKAB. Somehow i did know that it had to do with politics way beyond swedish party-politics and was about Swedens place in the world geopoliticaly. Thorium and rare earth metals..

  7. Ninja (@icanhazsake)

    Rick, even Fukushima could have been avoided if everything was done accordingly. Or haven’t you seen the safety issues the facility had before the quake and tsunami?

    But the fact remains that nuclear power has been demonized. I’d go further than you and add that the lack of care with security caused accidents that instilled fear into the common Joe/Jane (Chernobyl was also caused by a combo of poor maintenance, old facility and technology that was widely known for the safety problems, Fukushima was also a problem of correct safety measures being ignored). What if it happens near home? And thus a viable source of energy loses ground.

    Even Uranium. It can be radioactive for sure but it is a mid term solution while we put our resources (financial) in better energy sources. Thorium. Why not fusion? I don’t have knowledge on this area but I’m sure there are tons of possibilities.

    But then there’s the mindless Green zombies that keep worrying about the environment without being reasonable. Which is better: turn Germany into a huge weather-vane field deeply impacting the local bird diversity and destroying the landscape or make compact facilities that generates twice the power using 1% of the space?

    Actually, the greenhouse hype is the worst thing that ever happened to the environment. IT simply blocked ppl minds to other much worse and urgent problems. Rick, have a chat with some geologist and you’ll see that maybe global warming is actually just part of a natural cycle, after all all the organic matter that is bound within the petrol was once free in the environment. Why not fight to prevent the emission of actual harmful gases? Why not focus in the oceanic garbage pollution? But I digress (even though they might be good stuff for debate on the Pirate Party.

  8. Rick Falkvinge

    Damn, there were many spelling errors in this post… embarrassing. And of course, you don’t see them right off the bat…

  9. Jack

    I agree with the overall conclusion of this article but you’ve got some factual errors in it that detract from your point,

    “The fission process of uranium is incomplete, meaning that its waste products are highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, thorium fissions completely, meaning that all radioactivity is harnessed into energy. The waste is therefore not radioactive.”

    That’s not at all true. The fission products from thorium are very similar to the fission products from uranium. It sounds like you’ve heard about LFTR and are talking about the online reprocessing that’s inherent to that design. The processed waste from a LFTR is much less radioactive than non-processed waste from a traditional reactor but that has nothing to do with thorium. A molten salt reactor can use thorium, uranium, plutonium or any mixture of those three.

    Your discussion about subcritical vs supercritical fission is flawed as well. It’s entirely possible to build a uranium reactor in such a way that it requires an external neutron source to maintain the chain reaction so that’s not any inherent advantage of thorium. The most practical and efficient use of thorium is in a molten salt reactor (LFTR) that breeds the thorium into U-233 and then uses that uranium to produce power and neutrons to breed new fuel.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      You’re right, of course. When I write “uranium fission process”, that implied “in the reactors we have designed”, but it is by no means a physical constraint.

      Added an update to clarify this.

  10. Viktor

    Was there nuclear power before the Manhattan project? I assumed nuclear power was initially a by-product of nuclear bomb-production.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      It is debatable which is a byproduct of which, but yes, they have walked hand in hand.

      This is also my key point.

      1. Tobias Brox

        The first reactors was built as part of the Manhattan project, to assist research into nuclear weapons and to create materials for bombs. Power generation was a by-product.

        In the first years after WWII and during most of the cold war, most of the reactors was dual-purpose.

        I suppose that even today most of the reactors constructed are dual-purpose, even if very few would dare saying that aloud.

    2. Colin

      According to Wikipedia, the first nuclear reactor, then called an atomic pile was built by Enrico Fermi in Chicago as part of the Manhattan Project. It consisted of uranium pellets separated by a graphite moderator. While it had control rods, there was no radiation shielding or cooling system. It was built in an abandoned underground raquets court.

      1. Colin

        Sorry, should have said it first achieved a self sustaining chain reaction on 2nd December 1942

  11. Rick Falkvinge

    UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Apparently, my educated guess above was met with a “duh!” in some circles, apparently being a well known fact, and the decisionmaker responsible for choosing to fund development of uranium reactors over thorium reactors for that exact reason — that uranium reactors generate plutonium — was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Thanks to Lars Ivar Igesund.

  12. Rasmus Wiman

    One of the major security features of MSR:s is that they run at atmospheric pressure, which means that if the reactor housing is breached, the fuel will pour out, not fly out with the superheated water in a huge explosion. Also, a breach will probably cool the reactor down so the liquid salt will solidify, which may even lead to the reactor re-sealing itself.

  13. Magnus

    Rick: What do you think about the political implication if society would transition from fossil fuel to nuclear (and assuming other sources of energy would lag behind in production capacity)?

    Nuclear is inherently a very centralized technology. There would be monopoly or at best oligopoly, by state or companies, on the majority of energy production. Perhaps then making your own energy (for exemple wind or solar) would be made illegal under influence of the nuclear lobby. We would have energy pirates putting up pirate stations where people can get free (as in both beer and freedom perhaps) energy. The lobby would push for laws to turn of your electricity if you were caught using pirate energy three times.

    What do you think?

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      This is a separate, and very serious, problem.

      Thinking for two minutes about this, society’s most direly needed functions should ideally be distributed, in order to get resilience against corruption and accidents alike. I think this is your entire point. I know for myself that I’d love to be entirely self-sufficient wrt energy, heat, and water.

      On the other hand, I wasn’t really rooting for nuclear power in this post. I was just bitching over the fact that it is politically dead was because of a decision made to construct the best nuclear weapons, not the best power station.

      1. Lars Ivar Igesund

        This isn’t necessarily that much of an issue.

        One of the promises of the LFTR (MSR using Thorium), is that small (down to 100MW, maybe even lower) reactors will be possible for serial production. This means that they will be relatively cheap and relatively small, and together with the safety notion, they will make their way out to the districts.

        Whereas the huge nuclear plants of the past is a centralizing technology, the future Thorium reactors will be a decentralizing technology.

        And for what its worth, you should be rooting for this type of nuclear power 😉

        1. TheBug

          Nuclear power plants don’t scale down very well. Besides the fact that a larger block produces power more efficiently, you need security for a nuclear power plant to prevent sabotage or theft of radioactive material.

          The small size nuclear power plant is economically not valid.

    2. WysiWyg

      How is this all that much different from how it at least was 10-20 years ago?

      Before these “windtraps” was put up everywhere, you only had a handful of major players.

  14. Rene Malmgren

    Rick, det räcker inte med din gissning. Läs gärna NyTekniks artikel om den svenska atombomben. Där står det svart på vitt. Det är också så att anledningne varför motståndet till kärnkraft kommer från vänsterhåll i Sverige, det är knappast så i andra delar av världen, är för att Ryssarna infilterrade och spred propaganda i vänsterleden för att just ta bort västs möjlighet att tillverka vapenplutonium. Självklart var det så att USA svarade med att sprida motsvarande propagande fast från andra hållet vilket snappades upp av… Högerpartierna. Det är bla därför som NATO vänliga FP också är det parti i Sveriges riksdag som driver kärnkraftsfrågan hårdast.

  15. Uzza

    It’s great to see someone that’s politically active talking about thorium!
    It should be heavily noted though that thorium in itself is not an immediate solution. It is how you use it that’s important.
    Using thorium as a direct replacement for current uranium fuel pellets does no good at all, except drastically reducing the production of plutonium.
    There are no safety benefits of using thorium in current reactors over uranium.

    The full potential of thorium is only reached through using a Molten Salt Reactor, where the thorium is dissolved in a liquid Lithium-Fluoride and Beryllium-Fluoride salt mixture, commonly abbreviated FLiBe.
    The FLiBe acts both as fuel carrier and as coolant for the core, and provides very high heat capacity, and allows for the reactor to run at much higher temperature than water cooled reactors, 7-800C, compared to ~300 for water cooled reactors, allowing us to use gas turbines instead for increased energy conversion efficiency.

    Another great feature of the salt mixture is that it has a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, meaning that as it heats up, it expands and reactivity drops, consequently lowering the output of the reactor. The reverse happens as it cools.
    The effect of this is that the reactor can not overheat. And since the fuel is based around liquids, meltown doesn’t even exist as a state for it.
    Another benefit is that it allows it to perform load following, which is impossible to do in current reactors, and consequently we depend on fossil fuels to do it.

    I should also note that it’s not true that the waste from using thorium is not radioactive. All fission results in fission products that are radioactive. The difference is that the plutonium current reactors produce, Pu-239, have a half-life of ~27000 years, which is the sole reason the waste is so problematic.
    A thorium MSR does not produce Pu-239, and the waste consists solely of fission products, where the only real problematic elements are Cesium 137 and Strontium 90. The good thing is that these are gone after 300 years, and by that time the combined radioactivity of all remaining fission products is no higher than coal ash.
    The amount of waste is also radically different. Just as you said, a thorium MSR extracts all of the energy in thorium, producing 205 times less waste than a current uranium reactor.
    That means that if all generators today would be thorium MSR, the combined waste amount would be equal to less three current generation nuclear reactors. I think we can find somewhere safe to store that small amount of waste for 300 years. Not to mention that we can actually build containers that can provably hold that long.

    I suggest everyone read up on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, which is currently the best thorium based Molten Salt Reactor design.


    It’s also good to read up about the Molten Salt Reactor concept.


  16. WysiWyg

    Actually, temperatures can fall below freezing in Sahara. Just thought you should know. 😉

    1. Colin

      Water can freeze in the Sahara at night as Earth radiates heat into space. But Rick specified that the water was left out IN THE SUN in the Sahara. Under those conditions, it won’t freeze;)

  17. Peter Andersson

    Är det verkligen så smart att kasta sig in i ytterligare en samhällsfråga? Har du för lite att göra inom det informationspolitiska fältet helt plötsligt?

  18. Colin

    Many thanks for bringing the Thorium Reactor to a non technical audience, just a few days after I read about the Travelling Wave Reactor, which can be fuelled with existing nuclear waste, and not leave a residue of plutonium for our descendants.
    I’ve often wondered how much oil industry money has gone into briefing and lobbying against that ‘frightful’ nuclear power. Many millions I guess.

  19. PiratGurra

    Måste instämma i Peters kritik här. Kan ju vara en korrekt observation, vad vet jag.. Men den passar väl inte riktigt in i info-policy-kontexten ( ska jag säga som skriver irrelevanta kommentarer ibland… )

  20. Uno Hansson

    Av vad jag kommer ihåg av den svenska debatten efter Hiroshimabomben så diskuterades det enbart kärnvapen under ganska lång tid. Talet om kärnkraft kom nog ganska lång tid därefter som extra bonusmotivation för att även Sverige borde skaffa kärnvapen. Det var nog inte precis någon brist på elkraft på 40-talet, och i så fall ansågs det väl bara att bygga ut vattenkraften ytterligare. Allt enligt min bild av de allmänna åsikterna och skriverierna på den tiden.

  21. Bonk!

    Rick har inte oväntat minst lika dålig koll på kärnkraft som han har på upphovsrätt. Var kommer detta sluta? Ska han snart ge sig in på invandringspolitik och ha lika mycket faktafel där också?

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      And once again you prove not only your own ignorance but your inability to generate relevant commentary, Bonk!.

      First of all Rick is backed up in this thread alone by a number of nuclear physicists. Secondly, Thorium reactors and nuclear power in general has been debated extensively by the greatest minds in the field.

      Since Rick is merely summarizing their findings what you are really saying is that the greatest nuclear engineers and physicists on earth know nothing of nuclear power.

      I shouldn’t have been surprised, however. It’s very much in line with your previous commentary in quality.

  22. […] transparency, accountability and evidence-based policymaking, I believe in solar, water, wind, and Thorium power; not so much in traditional nuclear uranium power. (Biofuel is an abomination — taking food […]

  23. […] transparency, accountability and evidence-based policymaking, I believe in solar, water, wind, and thorium power; not so much in traditional nuclear uranium power. (Biofuel is an abomination — taking food from […]

  24. Soylent

    “In contrast, the thorium fission process is subcritical, meaning that it needs a constant nudge (external neutron flow) to stay going. Therefore, a thorium reactor cannot melt down.”

    Non sequitur. Decay heat is what melts reactors down, not criticality.

    After you shut your reactor down it is still generating decay heat. If you stop cooling the core it melts. Accelerator driven designs are a solution in search of a problem.

    It is not a constant balancing act to keep the power level constant; if you withdraw the control rods a little bit it doesn’t just run out of control unless you insert them again, it slowly reaches a new, higher power level and stays there. We don’t license reactors with positive void coefficients or temperature coefficients of reactivity in the west.

    Molten salt, thorium fueled reactors are not a bad idea; but there’s no reason to include an accelerator anywhere in the design.

  25. Soylent

    “Thorium reactors don’t have weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct.”

    Neither do uranium-fueled power reactors. Plutonium quality in spent fuel from power reactors is terrible and could in principle be used for weapons of very unreliable yield and poor shelf-life given great technical expertice. Such weapons have never been built.

    Weapons grade plutonium is >90% Pu-239. Other isotopes are problematic. They generate more decay heat, which is not good if you’re going to insulate it behind a thick layer of high-explosives and is not a good idea if you want your plutonium pits to have a long shelf-life(instead of having to re-manufacture/anneal out the defects cased by self-irradiation and helium bubbles).

    Other plutonium isotopes reduce the fissile content of the plutonium. Having a higher critical mass means more explosives to drive the implosion, means larger initiation mechanism, means bigger weapon, means larger heavier warhead, means a larger rocket. Not a show-stopper, but undesirable.

    Other plutonium isotopes have much higher spontaneous fission rates, which gives a hole bunch of background neutrons. The reaction should be started with a burst of neutrons at the most optimal time as the pit is compressed; but it could instead be started too early by stray neutrons. A weapon based on poor quality plutonium has a very unreliable yield unless tritium boosted(even that’s not a panacea).

    It is very telling that no nuclear weapons programme has ever used reactor grade PU for their weapons. They’ve all used either research reactors to irradiate uranium briefly or centrifuges or dedicated plutonium producers.

  26. Richard

    Worth pointing out that the Gen IV reactor designs (eg “Integral Fast Reactor”, see Wikipedia) solve both the long-lived waste and the passive-safety problems.

    Also, Fukishima wasn’t a nuclear disaster, except according to certain sensationalist press articles: I think it actually rates as a minor success, given how well it stood up to the Tsunami. More people (4) have died in the UK wind-power industry over the last 10 years than Fukushima (0). [I’m not counting the 2 deaths at Fukushima caused by the earthquake itself; tragic though these were, they aren’t “nuclear” related]

  27. Neferius

    Hmm… I seem to recall a Discovery Channel documentary on the history of nuclear power which broadcast years prior to the Fukushima disaster which quoted various “experts” belittling the possibility of using other heavy elements for nuclear fusion, all the while hailing the discovery of the formula for calculating Uranium’s critical-mass as the greatest scientific breakthrough of all time.


    Thorium is radioactive. Thorium is excellent as weapon to use together depleted Uranium. STO the nazist “no-nwo” hoax about “green thorium”. The reason is here: Investigation of the Magistracy in Sardinia, reveals thorium contamination in the bodies of the victims of depleted uranium. Document from the Italian Parliament = https://plus.google.com/u/0/105895038917398222098/posts/LJHicjedFd9