Why Thorium Nuclear Power Is Inevitable

Patrick Cox of Breakthrough Technology Alert wrote about the nuclear renaissance just a few months back, before the Japanese tsunami brought such negative attention to nuclear:

Today, we’re experiencing what has been termed the “Nuclear Renaissance.” There are two aspects to this. One is domestic. The other is international, but related to the first because U.S. politics affects the ability of American companies to export nuclear technologies and products…

There is no energy shortage. The world abounds with easily accessible nuclear fuels. What we have is a shortage of common sense. If not for the anti-nuclear movement, we would be several generations ahead in the technology. Energy would be abundant and far cheaper.

“The nuclear renaissance is dead,” writes Agora Financial managing editor Chris Mayer in his Capital & Crisis newsletter.

“Long live the nuclear renaissance!” insists your Whiskey editor.

“…Eventually…” he sheepishly adds, “and just not with uranium…”

Or as Patrick Cox Patrick Cox recently put it:

The biggest long-term impact from the tsunami, beyond the incredible personal losses experienced by so many Japanese, will probably be on the nuclear power debate. In the short term, we’ll see opposition to nuclear grow. In the long term, however, I think it is going to be very good for thorium nuclear power.

Sadly things are not going nuclear’s way just now. Like a man photographed walking out of a brothel, nuclear will require some fast-talking to save its reputation.

Chris Mayer counters Patrick’s optimism:

No one can say what the effects of the Japan disaster will have on the nuclear industry. It’s too early. But we can guess. My guess is that the nuclear industry has just been dealt another major setback akin to Three Mile Island. Japan alone makes up 11% of the world’s demand for uranium. I suspect it will use less in the future.

I suspect many of the plants in Europe, both planned and existing, are in jeopardy. I think some of the reactors on the drawing board will die on the drawing board. The whole process of developing nuclear energy will slow. The industry will feel the chill from Japan for years. That’s my guess.

The facts won’t matter. Look at what happened in the Gulf after BP’s oil spill. All drilling ceased. It didn’t matter what your safety record was. And even now, drilling permits are incredibly difficult to come by.

Of course Chris likely has the right of it for now. The near-term outlook for uranium stocks may indeed be very dim (but Chris has a wealth of other investing options set to make more gains).

But nuclear itself remains the most promising source of clean, abundant (read: “cheap”) energy. We’re going to have to use it if we want to be able to afford to keep the lights, the air conditioning, heating, laborsaving appliances and computers on.

The nuclear you knew and love — the one based on uranium — may be down and out…but there’s another nuclear on its way. And it looks to be unstoppable. If you’re wondering what how this new nuclear will be different, Patrick Cox has the answer:

The answer is the clearly superior fuel, thorium.

Thorium is far more abundant than usable uranium. Thorium reactors produce far less waste products that are much less hazardous…Thorium nuclear power generation is inevitable. The problems demonstrated with Japanese water reactors will, I believe, hasten the transition.

The biggest problem with nuclear energy isn’t safety, according to a recent Washington Post article; it’s the cost.

“Concerns about safety lead to extensive regulatory approval processes and add uncertainty to plant developers’ calculations — both of which boost the price of financing new nuclear plants.”

Far be it from us to bash costly and ultimately useless regulation. Let’s instead look at the bright side…

“It’s not clear how much these construction costs would fall if safety fears subsided and the financing became cheaper — and after the Fukushima catastrophe, we’re unlikely to find out.”

It seems the article writer has little appreciation for the demand for cheap energy or for thorium’s ability to eliminate the dangers inherent in uranium use.

A lot of people will change their tune about nuclear when they see just how expensive other energy sources can get…and when they realize how needless their fear of nuclear really is, especially when it comes to thorium power.

Gary Gibson
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

March 23, 2011