Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The nuke that might have been

World War II stimulated the discovery of nuclear energy.  The Cold War gave us more nuclear weapons than we could ever use.  It also gave a direction to the design of nuclear power plants that has been problematic ever since.  Where would we be if we hadn't been swayed by the likes of Admiral Rickover?
The liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee during the late 1960s, ran successfully for five years before being axed by the Nixon administration. The reason for its cancellation: it produced too little plutonium for making nuclear weapons. Today, that would be seen as a distinct advantage. Without the Cold War, the thorium reactor might well have been the power plant of choice for utilities everywhere.

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