Friday, February 13, 2015

The thorium bill that Orrin wrote

By chance, I found a bill written by my senator, Orrin Hatch. For once, I have found something that I agree with him on. It's a simple bill really, with one primary directive to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: write the chapter of regulations pertaining to the use of thorium fuel cycle power plants. Here's the official summary:
Thorium Energy Security Act of 2010 - Amends the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to direct the Secretary of Energy to establish, and provide funds to, an office for the regulation of thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and an office of thorium-based fuel cycle research within the Department of Energy.
Directs the NRC Chairman to: (1) establish standards for the manufacture, testing, use, and management of spent thorium-based nuclear fuel; and (2) promulgate regulations for facilities and materials used in thorium-based fuel cycle nuclear power generation.
Directs the Secretary to implement demonstration projects for thorium-based nuclear power generation.
Directs the Secretary to report to Congress recommendations for: (1) strengthening international partnerships to advance nuclear nonproliferation through the design and deployment of thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation; and (2) providing incentives to nuclear reactor operators to use proliferation-resistant, low-waste thorium fuels in lieu of other fuels.
Hmm. Someone has noticed that compared to electronics innovation, we're still stuck in the 1950s when it comes to nuclear power. Imagine being stuck with vacuum tubes for computing. Most of us would not have computers like we have today. But the NRC, through their regulation, or lack thereof, has ensured that we don't have modern molten salt reactors today. Instead, they want us all to be afraid of the same reactors we've been using since the 1960s.

Even the AP1000, the latest generation of reactors from Westinghouse is still based on the dangerous and inefficient light water reactors built in the 1950s. Guess what? The guy who invented the light water reactor, Alvin Weinberg, had been telling every administration from Kennedy to Nixon, that we should be using thorium molten salt reactors for civilian energy generation, not the uranium light water reactors. But energy producers, more focused on profits from inefficiency, went with the light water reactor for all the extra money needed for mining, refinement and support. Hey, they make fuel for bombs, too. That's cool, right?

Now that we have both the house and the senate controlled by Republicans, we have a great opportunity for bipartisanship action with President Obama. Both parties can work with the president to get the regulations for thorium written so that thorium can finally be licensed as fuel for a reactor in the United States. Yes, that's right. We aren't using thorium as a fuel because the NRC has refused to write regulations for such use, meanwhile the rest of the world is passing us by. That's real cute, guys.

So what do you say, Mr. Hatch? Will you reintroduce the Thorium Energy Security Act of 2010 as the Thorium Energy Security Act of 2015? Will your colleagues be brave enough to vote for it against entrenched carbon energy interests like the Koch Bros? Will you be willing to inform everyone in Congress, with your bill on the floor, that one ton of thorium can replace 31 billion barrels of oil or 5 billion tons of coal? How about that for a peace dividend, Orrin? Are you interested?

Inquiring minds want to know.
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