I jumped on a lengthy opinion editorial in the Daily Camera by William DeOreo, “City should consider the nuclear option,” that printed Sunday, Feb. 26. I jumped on it because I have been an anti-nuclear activist for 40 years — primarily against the development and use of nuclear weapons and for the thorough cleanup of nuclear waste. It was a knee-jerk response to the word “nuclear.”
However, the editorial spelled out the startling advantages of molten salt reactors (MSRs) over other nuclear reactors and over coal-generated energy. Mr. DeOreo’s compelling arguments suggest a form of energy that is clean, safe and abundant, that would easily generate twice the energy Boulder needs and the excess could be sold for “over $104 million per year.” The MSR uses thorium as fuel and just has to be jump-started with plutonium or uranium, which involves reprocessing.
Skeptical about such good news, I turned to Arjun Makhijani’s book “Carbon-free, Nuclear-free: Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy.” Dr. Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
In a radio debate on NPR’s “Science Friday” on May 4, 2012, with Richard Martin, author of the book “SuperFuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source for the Future,” Makhijani pointed out that “the Thorium-232/Uranium- 233 nuclear fuel chain shares many similarities with the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 nuclear fuel chains, including the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the risk that reactors could unleash radioactivity particularly from intentional terrorist attacks or acts of warfare.”
He went on to describe “the unsolved (unsolvable?!) radioactive waste problem, the astronomical expense of RDD (research, development, and demonstration) for thorium reactors, and the environmental ruination downwind and downstream (as well as up the food chain and down the generations) from reprocessing facilities.”
Martin challenged Makhijani: “So we’re talking about two different risks here: the risks associated with an innovative form of nuclear power based on a very abundant and safe material versus the risk of a 3 degree Celsius, let’s say, rise in global temperatures over the next 50 years, within, you know, my son’s lifetime.”
Makhijani responded by saying that his favorite molten salt reactor is free. “It’s in the sky, 93 million miles away. You can store its energy in molten salt. It is being done today. You can generate electricity for 24 hours a day.”
All things considered, I’ll go with a nuclear-free world.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.