So you've been hearing a little bit about this "thorium" thing, but haven't yet wrapped your head around it and how it promises a new era of safe, meltdown proof nuclear power that leaves little waste?
Don't worry, because seventh grader Katie Hudek has made a series of YouTube videos explaining it all. You can watch the first one below. It's less than six minutes long. If you don't have six minutes, skip to 3:45 where Katie explains thorium's advantages over conventional uranium fuel.
Katie, who was 12-years-old when she produced the series, extols the advantages of putting liquid thorium fuel into a reactor known as a LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). LFTRs and other types of molten salt reactors (MSRs) are different from today's nuclear plants, which run on solid uranium fuel. A summary of the advantages according to Katie; LFTRS:
Can't meltdown because the liquid fuel drains safely into a tank in the event of a problem
Operate an normal pressure rather than at the potentially dangerous high pressure of conventional reactors
Don't require a cooling system that can fail, as happened at Fukushima
Have a far greater fuel efficiency than standard reactors
Leave only small amounts of radioactive waste
Do not have hydrogen gas that can cause an explosion, as happened at Fukushima
The U.S. built a molten salt reactor in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, under the tutelage of Alvin Weinberg, who was also a pioneer of uranium civilian nuclear power and who came to favor safer molten salt designs. President Nixon abandoned MSRs and settled on uranium reactors that produce plutonium waste - desirable in the Cold War.
Katie is full of insights about nuclear power, a potential key to a low carbon energy future. She notes how nuclear fuel has a far greater energy density than any other fuel source. Translation: a gram of thorium (or uranium) packs an enormously greater energy wallop than does a gram of coal or anything else, and a nuclear power plant takes up less space than a field of wind turbines.
The ultimate advantage of that depends, though, on the complicated machine that you build to tap and harness the nuclear power.
Make that machine a LFTR, and you have the future of energy, says Katie, who herself with her clowning informative style could possibly represent another future - that of the next science television host. Or maybe she's the future Alvin Weinberg.