Club Reviews: SuperFuel

Monday, June 25, 2012

SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future by Richard Martin. Palgrave Macmillan. 272 Pages.

Super Fuel provides the reader with an understanding of the future as it pertains to the need to develop Thorium based energy. The author does tend to labor in the many aspects of nuclear physics which can be off-putting. Super Fuel provides a window into the future of sustainable fuels. R.W. Groce, Miami

It’s about time somebody opened a  discussion of energy from a commercial view beyond just cap-and-trade(the scientific, security and economic concerns all have to come together as affordable).  This book does a good job of it on the nuclear power choices.   Given the realistic options for green energy in a questionable economy, we must address all we have to work with.  Any substitution for green house producing gas sources like coal, must include nuclear power in some form or other.   But there are huge  problems to solve when it comes to finding alternatives to coal energy production.  This book gives us some background on the  Thorium fueled electronic energy source, (the so called next generation of nuclear) touted and praised as the future of Nuclear Energy production.
This interesting book should get credit for taking on the challenge and doing a respectable job of filling in the history of commercial nuclear power that was derived from the success of the U.S. Navy in harnessing power for ships.  It carries the ball further by hypothesizing the future of Thorium powered nuclear reactors, in light of the Japanese Fukushima flood/meltdown, and disasters of Chernobyl and Three Mile island, that curtailed the building of any new nuclear plants since approved since 1973.
Unfortunately it does not convincingly cover all the criticisms : the politics behind the suppression of new nuclear reactors, or the promotion of this energy source to allies.  It convincingly maintains that time is right for a next generation version of this clean source, and that the security problems can be controlled.  But the question of the Thorium process’ radioactive products  are the biggest concern; as well as the question of producing more fuel (it requires Uranium isotopes) that might be ripe for theft, for construction of a bomb by enemies, and possible destructive consequences if the byproducts fall into the terrorist hands.
I won’t discuss the chemical processes where this discussion gets high tech fast, or the downsides of this innovative approach to making smaller safer nuclear power.  But it is great to draw attention to these issues. This book is quite technically based and this should be left to the academic and professional community to evaluate the scientific accuracy of the authors statements. But the history of development is interesting. Credit author Martin for satisfying the curious as to how we’ll address the future of our aging (vintage 1973) reactors with the LFTRs (Liquid fueled thorium reactors). They apparently work and might be a reasonable investment in a clean energy continuum, but only if this does not undermine the present industry.
The reader gets the impression that this is not a hype book; but an attempt to prove that the technology must  be successfully demonstrated, and then justify the considerable investments if the market forces are to be allowed to address our energy crisis.  There is still a great deal of oil influence and improvements to be accomplished in making alternatives affordable.   It’ll take all types of technology besides solar photovoltaic and natural wind, geothermal and tidal harnessing.   This book sends a message to the would-be energy backer: we’d better get our science perfect.  It’s not just about our finances.  With some estimates as high as 65% of the population against nuclear power;  the everyday business person must  improve his/her technical knowledge to share facts with the average citizen and bring our consciousness  to the knowledge levels of countries we compete with for energy and economic benefits, before we vote this out.  Then we can evaluate  the promises and claims to make real progress.One disturbing fact in the launch of this book however is that energy conservation groups, including the reputable Union of Concerned Scientists, who in their latest newsletter are refuting the claims of safety and improvements by LFTRs over conventional fission reactors now operating.  Investors will have to solve a few of the salt water processes problems like a threats of byproduct disposal, and control of the converting processes if the industry will be able to run this source as a successful investment. Run with it but be sure the case is clear for both pro and cons.
In summary this is an interesting addition to the non-petroleum energy literature, and worthy of consideration for people interested in green investments.  Read this book and see what you think. Jim Swaner, Miami Shores

Super Fuel is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time.  It is well written and well documented, relying on extensive research on the subject of nuclear and thorium power.  It delves into the history of nuclear and thorium power and how politics has allowed a more dangerous technology to be adopted when a less dangerous technology (Thorium) was already available.  It explores why the US is stuck in an inertia to change even when better alternatives to traditional nuclear technology exists and how the US is persisting in hanging on to old ways because that is the way it has always been done.  It shows how the lack of long-term planning by our government will leave us behind, while more progressive Asian  nations will move ahead of us in yet another industry.  This book should be required reading for the US Congress. Darlene Johnson, Coconut Grove

What I found to be the recurring issues of Thorium energy were described as "complacency" of the industry itself and "inability"of political leadership to reform it. Comparisons to the auto industry were made but the battle for energy solutions faces is much stronger and complex to resolve.  Many great minds of the past have wrestled with the topic.  I believe anything is possible but time is not on our side - It's not the two minute warning but were in the fourth quarter.  Peter Kihn, Sterling Heights, MI

Super Fuel attempts to promote thorium,a cheap,safe, abundant, and readily available energy source from the past that has been overlooked  but is beginning to be put into use in the rising super powers of China and India.
The author's presentation is interesting but very technical and therefore difficult to understand as well as uninspiring. It reads more like a text book than a promotion for a new clean energy source.
Perhaps if it had been written more clearly, more people would be inspired and interested in the push for thorium.
More information about the mining of thorium and its benefits and use, either real or possible would be helpful.
Perhaps I was searching for something with a more exciting and clear presentation that could explain the availability and possible uses in layman's language that would be easy to understand rather than the scientific presentation. What a disappointment! Margot Byrnes, Miami

"Super Fuel" gives a good historical recount of how uranium based technology won out over thorium for use in nuclear power.  The book does seem to be somewhat one sided.  The author writes many things as though they were facts, but they seem to be more opinion or speculation.  The use of thorium is seen as a safer and cleaner energy source, although there are dangers to thorium the same as there are with uranium.  The author also doesn't cover the fact that if someone did want to build a thorium power plant in the United States, it would take decades to get approval to do so.  It seems like we would be better off building windmills or solar power plants with that amount of time and resources to complete such a project.

The book did give some insightful views of why one technology won out over another.  Not so much that one technology is better than another, but that the politics around the two technologies is what made one technology win. Frank Donn, Miam

Energy is on everyone's mind for this century.  It was amazing to read this book and learn that a possible energy source in the Nuclear family that was much better then Uranium was cancelled because it did not lend itself to military use.  However this material, Thorium seems to be a very good material to be used to produce electrical power for public use and appears to be much safer than what is now used in Nuclear Reactors for electrical power production, Uranium.

It is hope that our political readers will read this book and make a commitment to pursue this power source for the good of mankind.  Also if the United States does this they could be looked upon more so as a leader and begin another another energy revolution just like the discovery of energy started the Industrial Revolution.  It does seem that other countries are pursuing development of this electrical energy source — Thorium.  Let us hope that we can stay ahead of them in development of this green energy source. Gordon Ettie, Miami


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