So fusion, you say, is like the wayward little brother of fission – full of promise for a clean energy future but just needs a little help and guidance from the government to get on his feet. We should all help our little brothers right? Let me tell you about my little brother. He’ll show up to the party late and talk a big game but, then drink too much and promptly pass out in the shower with the water running. Once people get the water damage bills they’re reluctant to invite him back. I don’t know about you, but my little brother is an idiot – and fusion power is the idiot little brother of fission. It promises the world and talks a big game but then utterly fails to deliver, passing out in a shower of research dollars too drunk to make it to work in the morning. I’m not saying that it will never work but effectively you’re trying to contain a tiny sun and, from a thermodynamic perspective, the more energy you demand from it the less it wants to work. If the objective is a carbon-free alternative energy future I want a solution that doesn’t involve my great-grandchildren becoming physicists.
If you’re serious, and I mean really serious, about solving the primary energy/carbon problem then there is only one winner and it isn’t fusion, wind, wave, solar, hydro, or geothermal. Sorry Hippies, it’s good ol’ baby killin’ fission that fixes Mother Earth. Wait! I see you readying your empty bottles of patchouli, so before you throw them up here or drench me in bong-water let me walk that back just a little. The atomic fission I’m referring to isn’t baby killing or actually related in any way to the fission which gave us Megadeth, i.e. the kind most of us know and love. It’s special. Different. So radical that Nixon killed it. Why? Because he couldn’t turn it into a weapon, man.
Just ask Alvin Weinberg about Thorium-232 and the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. Except you can’t because he’s dead. The Atomic Energy Commission killed him, probably with Nixon’s help. And then they got Clinton to hide the body. What, my hat? You can’t read it in the back? Its mesh backed and has “Miller High Life” embroidered on the front, and no, a tin-foil lining would be inelegant so stop interrupting. Nixon did actually kill the program, the AEC fired Weinberg to shut him up, and Clinton buried everything when he terminated all funding for advanced nuclear research in this country.
Let’s do a thought experiment. I want you to imagine an America where the cost of energy is decoupled from the global price of oil. Imagine that the gas you pump into your car is so pure that it doesn’t need a catalytic converter. Imagine that same gasoline is made from seawater and is therefore carbon neutral. Imagine carbon neutral plastics, lubricants, sealants, solvents, fertilizers, oils and generally the materials which make up the modern world. Imagine a machine that could pull all the carbon we’ve put in the air back in the ground. What does that world look like? That was the dream Alvin Weinberg had about Thorium-232 when he designed the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment – The Thorium Dream. Now do you want on this ride?
I’m mainlining straight truth and Kirk Sorenson is my Kid Charlemagne. He found Weinberg’s body decaying in some cellar at Oak Ridge National Lab and has been spreading the gospel to anybody who’ll listen. Right now that’s the Chinese and Indian governments and they’re throwing billions at Thorium Molten Salt Reactors because they actually work. America invented this technology and, for reasons to maddening to dive into in a short article, abandoned then effectively forgot it ever existed. America is a land of dreamers, thinkers, builders, and doers – aren’t we? Surely someone around here with money and vision would want to reap the benefits of our previous research. I mean, we worked out the bulk of this stuff on the taxpayer dime back in the 60’s, so, naturally, the Chinese and Indians are asking our labs for help. We’re just giving it all away on the gamble they’ll share their breakthroughs with us. We can step up our game or we can stumble drunkenly into a future defined by other countries where people are willing to take risks and dream big.