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Why Thorium nuclear reactors are just not what they’re cracked up to be

There’s a good reason (or many good reasons) why wind turbines and solar panels are in place all over the world, but there isn’t a single commercial thorium reactor in operation. It’s not because every government in the world is suppressing thorium. It’s most likely because thorium simply isn’t what its proponents say it is.

Why Thorium Nuclear Isn’t Featured on CleanTechnica Update: I have published a new post on this matter (thorium) that includes two rebuttals to the below reposted paper.

I had a reader email me recently asking why we don’t feature thorium nuclear technology on CleanTechnica. To many good-intentioned folks, thorium is an energy panacea that seems perfect. People I respect have asked me the same thing in the past year or so. But thorium is far from perfect. In fact, it’s pretty darn lame, as I think you will see below (if you read this with an open mind).

Now, before I get into the details of why thorium is anything but awesome, I want to say a few things about the culture that surrounds the “thorium will solve all our problems!” idea. Thorium enthusiasts are often willing to make claims like, “if it weren’t for the government, we would have switched to thorium nuclear energy decades ago.” Or, “thorium nuclear will solve all our problems, but it’s been suppressed by big government for decades.”

I have to admit that I’ve gotten into far too many discussions with conspiracy theorists in the past several years (mostly regarding the topic of global warming). Two things I’ve learned are that 1) they think nearly everything wrong in the world is due to governmental conspiracy; 2) you cannot expect to have a logical conversation with them — presenting facts does not matter at all…….

There’s a good reason (or many good reasons) why wind turbines and solar panels are in place all over the world, but there isn’t a single commercial thorium reactor in operation. It’s not because every government in the world is suppressing thorium. It’s most likely because thorium simply isn’t what its proponents say it is.

Now, many or most of the commenters and bloggers who are into thorium come into the discussion in a very conspiratorial way, from my experience, which immediately throws up a yellow flag (note: not a red flag, but a yellow one). As I said, I’ve spent way too much time unsuccessfully trying to bring science and logic into discussions with conspiracy theorists……

While hearing a handful of nice things about thorium in what sounds like technical or scientific language might get some people excited, it really shouldn’t. Unless you have a ton of time on your hands to very scientifically study the matter (not read blogs about the topic), you should probably defer to independent experts who have studied the matter, and have carefully studied the claims of the thorium fan club.

You might also consider that some governments (i.e. India) have been trying to get thorium off the ground for decades, with apparently no success, and many others have researched it (including world-leading countries such as Germany, Japan, the UK, Russia, and the US). Do you really think that every government that looks into the matter doesn’t want cheap, safe energy?

Now, that’s all just a preface, but here’s a nice, concise (3-page) rebuttal to the biggest claims regarding thorium (in particular, claims regarding safety, waste, technological advantage, and cost), from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility (full repost of the PDF that is linked in the title):

Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power

By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd
A Fact Sheet Produced by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility…..

February 24, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I glad you can see that the Molten Salt Reactor can’t work. But what would the world be like if the US put a patent on Little Boy and Fat Man? In this fraction of world, the first are the losses; remember you are talking the commercial world. It is lame because there will be not big winners for the first builders and lots of big losers if proved fundamental? The MSR can’t work until Governmental Research proved it is fundamental (Can it generate heat for generation profitably?). Then the question, can the Thorium Breeder work?

    Comment by paofpa | February 24, 2014 | Reply

  2. Great listing ===> Thorium Nuclear Information Resources


    Japan to drop troubled fast breeder reactor from energy plan- Nikkei Asian Review


    ===> Light Water Designs of SMR’s: Facts & Analysis


    I strongly believe that in the USA at least, when the Gov’t.’s R&D money runs out, so will the push for SMR’s by those wanting to cash in on doing the SMR R&D. General Atomic in San Diego is one of the key players since they have the ear of the Gov’t./DoD/DoE/CIA and also many other Big Donors to the GOP, because SMR tends to all blur the line between small nuclear reactors and small nuclear “other” research, which is being touted as peaceful R&D, instead of as new weapon R&D.

    ========= /

    Seen This article about Westinghouse saying N☢ to SMR’s?

    I guess Westinghouse (one of the best in the business) has finally seen the light… Solar that is…

    Westinghouse backs out of Small Modular Reactor market

    Comment by CaptD | February 24, 2014 | Reply

  3. I believe that during the next 20-30 years we will witness many advances in Solar (of all flavors) which will continue to make nuclear (and even new nuclear) not worth the investment!

    Previously posted comment here:

    Thorium is Borium

    I see this article as just another attempt to encourage yet more nuclear industry R&D under the guise of helping solve the problems in the Middle East, and add to that the “pie in the sky” use of Thorium which has never panned out in the real world…

    Lets let some other Countries waste Billions on Nuclear R&D and then many years from now (if ever) something does pan out, we can do what our competitors have been doing for decades, license their technology; meanwhile the USA should be racing Germany, while creating great jobs, by going renewable ASAP.

    The USA cannot afford to squander its limited resources,when instead we should be modeling the way by installing Solar (of all flavors) ASAP and creating jobs while we are at it!

    Solar (of all flavors):

    … Is faster to install,

    … Costs less to install

    … Is ready for 24/7 power

    … Requires no decommissioning costs lasting decades

    … And has no Nuclear RISK…

    Comment by CaptD | February 24, 2014 | Reply

  4. Consider your sources. The IER in particular is highly suspect, being a creature of the Koch Brothers and ALEC.

    Comment by Greg Price | September 11, 2016 | Reply

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