|July 13, 2009|
Nuclear's Little-Known Next Step
It inevitably comes down to scale.
At least, that's the first issue that comes to mind when my carbon-conscious readers vent their frustrations to me. Believe me, if we were in a position to switch our entire energy consumption to renewable sources, I'd be the first in line to cheer a fossil-free future.
However, we both know that isn't the case. Please don't get me wrong, dear reader� I'm not trying to dishearten my green enthusiasts.
But let's look at the reality of the situation and break down how the U.S. uses its energy:
According to data from the EIA, we're still relying on fossil fuels for approximately 84% of our energy consumption.
As you can see from their chart on the left, both nuclear and renewable energy consumption hardly make a dent in the overall picture.
If you're interested in seeing the EIA numbers for yourself, you can find them here.
Be honest, did you really expect to see anything different? The 13 million barrels of oil we import every day aren't helping matters very much.
Now, the fact is we should be developing every source of energy we can get our hands on. When the cheap oil wells run dry (many, including myself, believe they already have), the world will be forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
But again, I believe the basic problem comes down to scale. That problem is only exacerbated considering there will be an extra 4-5 billion people on the planet by 2050. Depending on which source I look at, the world's population in 2050 will rise to 10 or even 12 billion people.
Nuclear Revival: One Solution
Today, nuclear energy remains one of the few sources able to provide us with energy on such a massive scale.
Several weeks ago, my Energy and Capital readers saw the potential uranium has. The amount of electricity that can be generated from uranium compared to oil or coal was staggering.
But as you're probably aware, nuclear energy has a rather large stigma attached to it. What's the first thing that comes to your mind regarding nuclear energy? Is it the disaster at Chernobyl? Or even the threat of global war, with mushroom clouds billowing into the sky?
Like it or not, people will have to overcome those stigmas eventually because developing nuclear energy (along with every other renewable source) will need to be done.
Then again, there is an alternative. . .
A Thorium Fueled Future
While the Chinese are attempting such stunts as mining the moon for lucrative energy sources, other countries are developing thorium as an alternative nuclear fuel. India, for example, is looking to thorium to help meet their burgeoning energy demands.
Thorium is a naturally occurring metal that not only has the potential to operate much more cleanly than uranium-based power plants, but is also more abundant. There's nearly 4-5 times more thorium than uranium.
The real kicker is that thorium addresses all of those negative associations that uranium and plutonium have given nuclear energy.
For starters, thorium is not a fissile material like uranium or plutonium, so it can't be made into an atomic bomb. Furthermore, thorium doesn't have the same long-term nuclear waste issues uranium does, yet thorium can produce up to 90 times more energy fueling a reactor than its counterparts. (Some have speculated that it's even greater than that, too!)
Naturally, there's a catch.
So far, nobody has been able to produce a large, commercial-scale thorium-fueled reactor. And I wouldn't jump on the thorium bandwagon just yet, either. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way, one of which is that we might be decades away from thorium making an impact.
However, that doesn't have to stop investors.
Investing in Thorium
Although some people just roll their eyes at a decade-long investment, the rewards could outweigh the wait.
And of the few companies out there developing thorium technology, only one comes to mind. Thorium Power (OTC: THPW) is currently trying to break the lock on thorium development.
Now, clearly, nuclear energy is not a panacea to our impending energy crisis. But once people begin shedding their fears, nuclear power will certainly play a part in the future. And once nuclear energy takes off, the next step will lead down a thorium path.
Until next time,