Richard Martin is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Wired, Time, Fortune and The Atlantic. His well researched book takes you on a journey of discovery and is a lesson in not only understanding the culture of nuclear energy and politics but also the zeitgeist of our times.
The story reveals the little known truths that has had such an impact on our economy and our general well being as a planet. I have discussed this other places but the idea that such a promising path that Thorium Molten Salt Reactors had and how they would have had very positive results but became completely abandoned is well presented in his ten chapters.
Martin’s journey begins like a good opening scene in a documentary as he goes on an excursion to Clinch River reactor site where a multi billion dollar nuclear plant was started and abandoned.
He dedicates a chapter called “The Lost Book of Thorium Power.” About a book and subsequent papers that Kirk Sorensen discovered as a NASA research employee and how it transformed his outlook and vision. The book was titled “Fluid Fuel Reactors.” The book was enough to convince Kirk Sorensen to dig into the forgotten archives on the writings and reports about the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor experiments. from the 1950′s right up until the 1970′s. The reports were never published collectively and never became part of any college cirriculum. It is no small point that Kirk at his own expense scanned and digitized the papers and made them public. Sorensen’s passion has brought about a major growth in an expanding group of advocates and followers.
The two opposites Rickover and Weinberg are also discussed in a chapter that explains how the more aggressive and self serving personality of Rickover forced Thorium into the background.
It is to Martin’s credit that he presents two chapters that spell out the role Thorium had in the history of nuclear research and how politics and personal power of certain individuals affected the birth and death of nuclear growth. “The Birth of Nuclear Power” is the 5th chapter followed by “The End of Nuclear Power.” It may seem melodramatic to suggest that ending the experiments and testing of Thorium in liquid salt reactors somehow ended the chances for growth in the industry but Martin makes that plausible.
A chapter is spent on Asia as a major force that will likely succeed in creating Thorium reactors first before the west. He contrasts the way the two countries India and China have a different vision and a different track record in getting things done. He suggests China will lead the way. India’s reactors are solid fuel reactors and they have a track record for lower standards.
The last three chapters focus on the innovators, the obstacles and the strategies needed. Martin has done his homework and reveals the fact that FLIBE started by Kirk Sorensen can potentially bypass the NRC by aligning with the military who don’t require regulatory approval. South Africa may also prove to be a market and the idea that a water shortage may be prevented is also a reason to move forward considering the desalinization becomes an easy to execute spin off.
The common thread that paints a dismal picture of America’s state of affairs is that innovation will not likely happen where the Thorium Molten Salt Reactors started. The last chapter lends itself to a possible sequel. A book on solutions and analysis of why things have slowed so much in America needs to be written.
I recommend this book to everyone but will warn you that some of the writing includes a lot of technical explanation. This book does not attempt to teach you nuclear physics but for those who have some background they will be glad he tackles the technical issues.
So read SUPERFUEL and you will discover why so many place their hopes and dreams in this miraculous 90th element Thorium.