But what if there were a nuclear fuel that only produces 10% as much waste as uranium, and if that waste only lasted in a poisonous state for about 200 years? And if the technology associated with that fuel was less prone to meltdown? These features of thorium-fuelled nuclear technology might be enough to make me come off the fence in favour of thorium reactors in Alberta and Saskatchewan, both in order to reduce greenhouse gases in the tar sands and in order to meet our long-term energy needs. Two hundred years is a waste management problem on a human scale, and we should not be afraid of it.
The construction of these two reactors could also make Canada a leader in this technology--which really isn't that new or experimental; it has just languished because of the ways in which military priorities have skewed research and development. Ironically, India (whom we got started in uranium technology with CANDU reactor sales in the 1970s) is now pulling ahead of us in thorium technology.
Canada has about 100,000 tonnes of economically available thorium-- not as much as India, Australia, the U.S. or Brazil, but more than enough to support two reactors. We need not be hostage to a foreign supplier.
Using thorium in existing reactors has been likened to using bio-fuel in a Hummer. But when the reactors are built from scratch as thorium reactors, they are highly efficient. If Canada were quicker out of the blocks, we could be a world leader in this green technology. That is in addition to the other benefits touted by supporters of conventional nuclear power, including the following arguments gleaned from Yahoo!:
"1. All the nuclear waste from all the reactors in the USA operating since the 1950s would fit on a football field.
2. If we had used breeder reactors and reprocessed the fuel -- it would have reduced the waste in #1 above by 70%! But Jimmy Carter and a compliant Congress passed a law forbidding reprocessing in the 1980s.
3. By altering the isotopes-- which is what happens in a breeder reactor -- we can reduce the half life to hundreds of years rather than thousands of years.
4. Nuclear waste is a SOLID-- encased in glass or other durable material and placed in a bore-hole reaching down 40,000 ft into a subduction zone-- its gone for millions of years. Yes we can drill that deep.
Nuclear power has ZERO CO2-- and by the way the first nuclear reactor at Penn State is still operating safely (after more than 50 years)."
With thorium power, we would not have to get bogged down in arguments about how fool-proof breeder reactors are (point #2) or how easy or safe deep waste burial is (point#4). The quantity and quality of thorium waste present clearly manageable risks.