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There’s a milder, less menacing side to nuclear energy that most people don’t know about: thorium. Discovered in 1828 by a Swedish chemist – and named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder – thorium is a plentiful, slightly radioactive element that scientists think may address some of the concerns linked with more traditional nuclear power generation.
Thorium reactors seemingly solve many of the big issues associated with conventional nuclear power generation: They don’t melt down; the waste they create is not weapons grade; and it’s far less radioactive, breaking down in hundreds rather than tens of thousands of years. These reactors can also burn current nuclear waste and old nuclear weapon stockpiles — and do so more cheaply than power plants that are fuelled by coal or natural gas.
Excitement about thorium’s prospects is growing. The Weinberg Foundation, named after a pioneering thorium researcher from the 1950s and 60s, has just been formed in the U.K. to promote thorium as a solution to many of the world’s energy problems. Cadillac has conceived a theoretical nuclear-powered car based on a scaled down thorium reactor. And China and India are both launching government energy research projects focused on implementing thorium technologies. A word of warning, though: Just please don’t try this at home!
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