The US is on the verge of becoming ever-more a petrol state. I doubt very much that there will be a nuclear energy breakthrough in the US. But in other places that are less beholden to profits from hydrocarbon fuel, there’s more significant incentive for them to innovate / expand. It’s particularly different from Sputnik because there will be no national competition here. Unless the US is going to start competitively exporting nuclear energy… (obviously unlikely).
First, regulators are essentially ineffectual – if you’re referring to the EPA or any other bodies in charge of regulating energy in the US. You hear a lot of complaints about the EPA being too overbearing from some groups, but, they have little power to influence anything, no less compel any sort of shift in broad US national policy.
As far as what the people care about? I think in general they just want something that works. I think most people only care so much. And right now the loudest voice and most comprehensible message is coming from the oil and gas industry – lots of commercials. Unless, perhaps, you’re already very attached to an environmental or progressive energy community. On the whole, though, I think the US is ‘concerned’ about climate change as well as energy security. “Energy Independence” is something appealing and sounds nice, but, at present, most people just want low gas prices. There’s a larger battle of getting people to become “energy literate” and understand more than “foreign oil is bad”; energy development, all kinds of energy development, has consequences, etc etc. But I think as time goes by, people are more willing to make changes. And I think people (there are even polls that say this), are more openly critical of hydrocarbon industries now than in the past. But is there a critical mass as far as “public will” goes? No, not yet. And this may take something like a sputnik — or a Fukushima in terms of Japan or Germany.
And as far as who and what has the power to change? I think there would need to be a clear instance of either ‘necessity to survive’ (look at Japan’s situation).. which is unlikely in the US because of it’s abundance of hydrocarbon resources… Or, an example of how a new nuclear-filled world will be better, and just as economically feasible as the current situation. It has to be easier, better, for a reason, for something tangible and compelling. I don’t actually know if that’s possible, because that problem seems particularly not something the US is prone to dealing with — being proactive. And in general, it’s sort of a human problem, in terms of being proactive about the future. Most people will sort of default to what has worked in the past, and because those most benefiting from the current situation don’t have a reason to change, there won’t be a lot of top-down pressure to change.
The most leverage the general public has is, of course, their dollar votes — intentionally choosing to by those things that will lead to a different energy situation. But the US is particularly not unified on most matters – especially matters concerning energy. It is, unfortunately, a very difficult climate for the US right now, and I think that is a long term problem. So unfortunately, Thorium will have to deal with ‘the sins of others’ before it can even get a chance to shine or prove it’s worth. That said, the sooner an example (anywhere in the world) is made, and shown it’s usefulness, it may be more readily adopted. If people were really concerned about energy security and ‘independence’, they really would try to develop any and all possible means of energy.
There is a small growth, even in the conservative parties, to do this – so I think a focal point for “Thorium Activism” would be wise to focus on re-formatting the context of energy security — showing how nuclear is better for the US than coal or oil or gas, etc. That would probably include a realistic analysis of understanding the vast consequences of hydrocarbon use, and why nuclear (or any other alternative) would be better. If it can be proven, and then marketed well, it has a chance. But it will not succeed simply on it’s ‘merits’, alone, unfortunately.
PS: I think the biggest obstacle to implementation is that there is emphasis on maintaining the status quo – the money in exploration, development, refining, and processing hydrocarbon fuels creates a great deal of inertia. It is partially “the science”, sure, but the US is not interested in being progressive in terms of its energy use. The natural gas boom will likely further be an obstacle for development. The challenge isn’t about simply whether or not Thorium can provide all the energy we need – it is also about the politics surrounding energy, and the economic factors compelling people to not want a nuclear revolution. I don’t say this in discouragement, I say it because I think those are the actual factors influencing the situation.
Jesse Parent is a researcher, analyst, and editor focusing on energy & resources, technology, and global affairs. For more of Jesse’s thoughts throughout the week and to see what news he’s following, you are invited to join the conversation via Twitter and Facebook. Visit Jesse Parent [INFLUENCE] to view Case Studies, Commentary and more.
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- Is a nuclear powered car in our future? (reviews.cnet.com)
- China and the USA partner molten salt thorium reactor and India plans a Thorium Reactor (nextbigfuture.com)
- Kirk Sorensen: A Detailed Exploration Of Thorium’s Potential As An Energy Source (zerohedge.com)
- Solve the energy AND rare earth crisis: Join the Thorium Bank (smartplanet.com)
- Two books on sustainable nuclear energy (bravenewclimate.com)
- Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactor Research in Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (nextbigfuture.com)
- Motherboard TV: The Thorium Dream (motherboard.vice.com)
- Does the world need nuclear power to solve the climate crisis? (guardian.co.uk)
- Ohio group: Tenth Amendment key to energy independence (tenthamendmentcenter.com)
- *** Science Friday has pro and con on Thorium as Nuclear fuel (dakotatoday.typepad.com)