I used to be a militant socialist, environmentalist, a big believer in the idea of the Archaic Revival and anti nuclear. The power of deductive reasoning granted to me by the Trivium Method enlightened me that socialism, especially my particularly vicious flavor of it, was a bad idea. I still think I am an environmentalist, but I think the issue is far more complicated and involved than I was told. The Archaic Revival was revealed to me as just another aspect of a centuries old control mechanism. Nuclear technology though, that was a somewhat more complicated issue for me to get a handle on until recently.
When it happened The Fukushima disaster seemed to me to be the final nail in the coffin of nuclear fission power generation. Through a series of admittedly unlikely events TEPCO managed to make uninhabitable a fairly large part of a relatively small country. Pressurized water nuclear fission reactors seemed like a collection of disasters waiting to happen. Even if they didn’t go bang they were still finicky, complicated and expensive contraptions.
My interest in nuclear tech was not limited to power generation. I have an ongoing fascination with nuclear weaponry. In my occasional perusing of writings and videos of nuclear weapons I would hear occasional reference to Thorium reactors. I started hearing references to Thorium reactors in the strangest places. In ads on podcasts, in space exploration, even on PBS. My curiosity was piqued, I watched a few YouTube videos. Joined a Thorium Facebook group and incorporated a few references to Thorium reactors in one of my stories. The Eutopian civilization in my two novels is powered by a combination of Thorium reactors, solar power, advanced hydrogen and methane fuel cells. With a few early generation fusion reactors thrown in for good measure.
Then I watched this.
And the effect was like this.
If you don’t have the time for this video, look at this one, please. If you have ever trusted me on anything, trust me on this. It will be worth your ten minutes.
Any attempt to abbreviate such a 6.5 hour long video on such complicated and fascinating scientific concepts is pretty much impossible. Let’s give it a go though. LFT Reactors are a concept that go back, almost to the dawn of the nuclear age, they are a concept that was sketched out on the ragged edge of nuclear science in a few different forms until a working prototype was built at ORNL. This reactor had some issues, as prototypes of any device are known to have. But it proved the concept and with a few modifications the concept could be refined into the best design of nuclear reactor for the purpose of power generation with currently available technology. A reactor that was not only inherently safer than Pressurized Water Reactors, but also produced much less waste. The waste that was generated was much easier to deal with and used a much more commonly available fuel than highly enriched uranium.
Then the 1970s happened. This may sound bizarre but I believe that the 1970s were a deeply damaging decade for our poor little planet. It’s hard to imagine just how many screwed up things happened in those ten short years that murdered most of the boundless optimism and potential that defined the 1950s and 1960s. I could explain this theory, but I think my explanation would be too big to publish in a single article. I’m thinking it would require a very thick book which no one would ever read. In short though what I think did the most damage in the 70s was the placing of limits on human potential. We went to the moon, and never went back. The OPEC Oil Crisis choked off energy supplies, and having dingbats coasting on past glories like Nixon, Ford and Carter in charge in the US and Brezhnev in the USSR didn’t help anything. The 1970s imposed a mindset all over the globe that for the foreseeable future that we were all stuck on this planet so we had better get to work either increasing the efficency of existing technologies as opposed to developing new ones. Or slaughtering the crap out of people to get the population under control and secure what fragile and threadbare resources are still left on this planet.
Anyway, the Oak Ridge molten salt reactor was shut down due to a reshuffling of priorities. The evidence I have seen suggests that there was no diabolical conspiracy here to rob civilization of a true disruptive technology. For lack of a better way of saying it what happened here was a combination of laziness, monies being directed to more politically palatable projects and people in the existing nuclear industry being uncomfortable with such a radically different form of nuclear technology.
Later on of course we had the emergence of the environmental movement, with their militant no nuclear power mantra which has quite effectively torpedoed further development or refinement of nuclear fission technologies.
In Mr Mcdowell’s documentary one of the points made is that people would have a radically different view of cars if we were all limited to one specific type of car, an outdated piece of crap. A green soviet era contraption that can’t go over 45 mph and explodes if you look at it funny. As opposed to the automobile options we in the western world have today. To me this gets to the implicit promises of freedom and tyranny. Freedom promises diversity, instability and solutions to problems that could be beyond your wildest dreams. Solutions to problems that you didn’t even think were problems. Tyranny promises uniformity, stability and obvious, time-worn solutions to everyone’s problems.
Instability can be incredibly scary, uniformity can be comforting and I don’t really feel the need to say anything about the current environment of autistic shrieking on the subject of diversity. LFTR reactors lie at a curious intersection of politics and economics. On the one hand LFTR advocates have much in common with those in the Liberty Mission. These reactors simply can’t be built in the United States under the current regulatory structure. On the other hand building these reactors is going to be expensive. Theoretically they will be much cheaper than updated solid fuel pressurized light water fission reactors. They will still be so expensive that only governments and the largest (read government puppet) corporations will be able to finance them. If we lived in the universe of the Probability Broach some enterprising group of individuals would have probably cobbled one of these things together in 1923. But we don’t live in that world.
Which brings me to the point of this article. I want you to think. I want you to think about all the things we could have right now, no the things we should have if we put our minds and effort to it. I would really like you to think about the potential, the seeming impossibilities that would become real and the freedoms we could enjoy as a civilization if we had stable, nearly limitless, pollution free power.