Guest Post by David Archibald
There is a rich tradition of rational weathermen taking an interest in the potential of thorium-based nuclear power.
Witness this video made by John Coleman:
The irrational have also taken an interest in thorium’s potential. A warmer journalist by the name of Richard Martin has written a book entitled “Super Fuel” published on 8th May, 2012. Like all warmers, his grip on reality is a bit weak. One example of this is on page 55 where he states “the container ship Altona, bound for China and carrying a load of 770,000 tons of uranium concentrate.” The biggest ship on the planet carries some 500,000 tonnes and the world yellowcake market is about 80,000 tonnes per annum. Perhaps he meant 770,000 lbs instead of tons, but nobody else in the editing and publishing chain picked up the mistake either.
A second howler is on page 195 which states “After the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, there was a brief run on supplies of iodine-131. An isotope of iodine produced in specialised reactors, iodine-131 is used to prevent thyroid cancer from radiation exposure.” What he meant was that there was panic buying of potassium iodide which is used to prevent thyroid cancer from iodine-131. For those interested in buying potassium iodide before the next nuclear scare instead of after it, the motherlode is Nasco in Wisconsin who will sell you half kilo of granules for $57.25. That’s enough to treat 360 people.
There is also the warmers’ naïve world view on display. For example, on page 238 he predicts that “Enhanced energy security, and the economic power and diplomatic prestige that come with it, allow India to reach a lasting détente with its perennial foe, Pakistan.” Haste is also evident – on page 132, Alvin Weinberg is referred to as “Weinberger”.
But I wouldn’t be mentioning the book at all if it wasn’t also useful and interesting. A large part of it is taken with recounting the history of two of the main protagonists of the early years of the nuclear age: Alvin Weinberg and Hyman Rickover. Weinberg was the earliest promoter of the molten salter reactor burning thorium. The coup de grace to the thorium programme was delivered by Milton Shaw when he was director of the reactor research and development at the Atomic Energy Commission. The world has been side-tracked on the dead end of uranium-burning light water reactors ever since. While not in the same league of storytelling as “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes, “Super Fuel” gets the reader up to speed on thorium’s history quickly and relatively painlessly.