George Monbiot bites Thorium bait

George Monbiot in his new role as an apologist for the twice-bailed-out-of-insolvency British Nuclear Power industry, has now taken the Thorium bait, quite probably the most well-funded piece of astroturfing propaganda in existence :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/09/coalition-greatest-threat-to-environment

“This ‘greenest government ever’ is the greatest threat yet to our environment : The coalition is preparing to bin Britain’s climate change targets. After all, ministers have corporate sponsors to take care of : George Monbiot, guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 May 2011”

“…we should start considering other options for decarbonising the electricity supply: especially new nuclear technologies such as thorium, integral fast reactors or travelling wave reactors…”

“New”, George, “new” ? The only thing that’s “new” is the desperate rush to try Thorium power out, now that there are doubts about “classic” nuclear reactor design. Here’s what James Birkin has to say over at the Claverton forum, where they have real energy experts discussing Thorium reactors :-



https://groups.google.com/group/energy-discussion-group/browse_thread/thread/f0276e258b119a2c/47ac145d221a16fe?hl=en&lnk=gst&q=thorium# (Expand all)
From: James Birkin
Date: Sun, 8 May 2011
Subject: RE: FW: Thorium – the idea is growing!

…the technology is sufficiently advanced that one was built forty years ago.

People are embarking on building one (or have announced a target of 2015) in the last few days…



And as for whether Thorium nuclear power reactors are worth pursuing, well, take a look at a proper study, also mentioned in the Claverton Energy Research Group thread :-



From: Dave Elliott, Open University
Date: Sun, 08 May 2011
Subject: Re: Thorium – the idea is growing!

I’ve been following this debate and still find it odd that, while it’s said that we really need to hear from the experts, the evidence provided by the leading experts in the UK, the National Nuclear Labs, was treated as somehow suspect – presumably because they didn’t back Thorium.

http://www.nnl.co.uk/positionpapers

It is sadly easy to become convinced that something is the answer and then to see all counter views as evidence that the answer is not being treated seriously. I hope that’s not this is not the case in this instance.

Personally I found their analysis quite convincing, but then I’m not a nuclear enthusiast, a position reinforced by my belief that there are so many renewable energy alternatives, all of which seem to be easier and less risky to explore, with many of them being marginalised by the continued, and it seems to me, increasingly desperate, focus on nuclear. If China want to try it, fine. But I suspect they will find that it’s a dodgy long shot. As with fusion, I think we should focus our limited UK resources on more immediately productive ideas [instead].

Dave E



George Monbiot, why not start talking to people besides Mark Lynas and his set; people with engineering expertise, to inform your opinion on nuclear power ?

34 thoughts on “George Monbiot bites Thorium bait”

  1. Let’s get logical and rational about Thorium reactors, and look at a few timescales. To me, all of the following are necessary steps.

    1: design a new commercial-scale Thorium reactor

    2: jump through regulatory approval hoops

    3: build prototype

    4: run prototype for one full lifecycle

    5: decommission

    6: inspect carefully in order to detect any design problems which need fixing before the next iteration

    7: Incorporate experience into new design

    8: jump through regulatory hoops

    9: build first production reactor

    If you assign reasonable timescales to each of those steps, you’ll quickly conclude that Thorium will have negligible impact this century.

    Of course, the pressure to cut corners will be huge, hence the full-lifescycle test period of 40-60 years will be foolishly condensed down to a few years.

    Even so, the Chinese are talking about 20 years to get first prototype up and running and another 20 years before production reactors are ready. We could do so much in the next 40 years if we weren’t diverting our energies down this path.

  2. Well, well, well, what a great story. Hope you enjoyed it really as discribed. When I have been travelling, there were something always going against my plans. Right now visiting Portugal and lately will make a great post on my blog, well my friends sent me to Lisbon and even paid to see the my report, lol=)

  3. Studies show that Coal and Oil kill 400,000 people each and every year (google it!). Nuclear has killed less than that during the entire nuclear age.

    I’m pro solar and pro green energy. But when I look at the facts, nuclear isn’t as bad as other alternatives. But it could be much, much better.

    40 years of nuclear hae taught us a lot. We can build a mucg safer thorium reactor that has much, much less waste. It will be safer than coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium-based nuclear.

    Oppose it, and you vote for the status quo.

  4. Thorium is well-funded propaganda? Where is this funding? I’m a big thorium enthusiast and I haven’t seen a cent!

    On the other hand, thorium is a threat to the nuclear establishment, who does have some funding… and the coal industry, which is subsidized, funded and widely deployed.

    Jo, be careful what you wish for. You might just get the energy poor worlds you desire. Covered in weak, intermittent generators like solar and wind, backed up by inefficient gas turbines and buffered by lead-acid batteries, driving a weaker and weaker economy as the price of gas skyrockets and the cost of electricity increases along with the expense of producing it.

  5. You bash Thorium as an energy source by saying it won’t be ready soon enough – where is your long term planning? Isn’t the lack of long-term planning what got us into this environmental predicament to begin with? If you just want to look at the short term, we have more than enough fossil fuels for the next fifty years, so why worry about it? WRONG. Thorium and the LFTR are just the best examples of what is needed for the long term (next millenium) energy security with environmental responsibility: nuclear power. Your logic and rhetoric are utter failures.

  6. Phil: If we needed a 40-60 year timeframe to implement a new nuclear reactor design, we would just now be rolling out the very first production reactors, we’d be emitting an extra 2 gigatons CO2 per year, and an extra million people would have died from coal emissions in the U.S. alone.

  7. I am slightly miffed you quote Dave Eliott on the NNL. You know perfectly well the NNL did not study molten slat reactors – something I pointed out on the same blog. Leaving aside the rest – That was a rubbish point Jo!

  8. 20 years for a molten salt reactor? Maybe but not necessarily so. Keep in mind they designed and built the first nuclear submarine in 4 years. In the 1940’s. To build a prototype would not need to be a 1000 megawatt size. That is the beauty of the LFTR concept. It does not have to be capital intensive. You can use the salt coolant in other types of power such as solar or even coal.

  9. Of course all things are hypothetically possible for those who believe. But I question this intense preoccupation with the Thorium Fuel Cycle because I would assert that even if the problems with the technology can be ironed out, I do not think it can be rolled out fast enough and wide enough to be of any significant use. There may or may not be a fleet of Thorium reactors in 25 to 40 years’ time, but it will most likely be small. I would hazard the same for Carbon Capture and Storage plant. What about the rest of the economy ? What’s going to supply the low carbon energy for that ?

  10. The NNL lead scientist Prof. Howarth deals specifically with the LFTR here and pours cold water on it:
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-baD9i6ZaAGw/Tl4CF-nyC_I/AAAAAAAAADY/gJldwyc5WEU/s1600/Professor+Paul+Howarth+Letter1.jpg

    A pro-nuclear engineer let slip to me a while ago the real attiude of the nuke industry to Thorium. They see it as hedging their bets in case fusion proves to be harder than they thought and they don’t get commercial grade fusion plants up and running by the 2050’s. If that occurs, then that’s when Thorium (or LFTR’s) will figure. In other words, to them its a blue sky idea to sort out a future energy crisis, not the one facing us right now. This is why you see a vast gulf of a difference between pro-Thorium bloggers and the nuclear industry establishment.

  11. No mention of liquid fueled reactors by NNL, so its intellectually dishonest to bring it up when everyone is speaking about LFTRs (such intellectual dishonesty is typical of anti-nuke fanatics crowd).

    Prof. Howarth did not “pour cold water” on LFTR, seems like we are not reading the same letter. He said it will require significant work to develop it (as with any ractor, but compared to potential benefits – essentially what fusion wanted to be – its still negligible), and that they dont deal with LFTRs currently because the government does not demand it.

  12. Ah….did you actually read the link? he specifically mentioned LFTR’s and as politely as possible let you know that nobody is doing much in the way of serious research on the topic because they’ve got bigger fish to fry right now.

    But its typical of you LFTR fanatics to conduct such intellectual dishonesty and see the world thro rose tinted glasses…or is that Thorum tinted ones!

  13. And just to head off the obvious reply…

    why is it that governments are not demanding LFTR’s? Why is it, as Prof. Howarth spelt out that the MSR receive only one observer and no signatories in the 2009 Gen IV report? All the other major Gen IV reactors recieved signatories (and ultimately substantial funding from both industry and governments). Is it perhaps because these nuclear experts know something that the LFTR fans (who by and large are not nuclear energy experts) don’t know.

    Also, a colleague of mine who is pro-nuclear (I’m trying to persuade him otherwise!) pointed out to me that the NNL does (briefly! and not by name) mention MSR’s when they discuss the benefits of a Thorium reactor with a complete breeding cycle…then point out its decades away at least!

    The position of LFTR fans is that Nuclear Engineers don’t understand the LFTR or Thorium cycle and if they could just be introduced to it, they’d all decide it was a great idea. From what I’m told by the old timers in the industry it’s the other way around – they know exactly what A LFTR entails, or a Thorium cycle and that’s precisely why they recommend sticking with Uranium for the time being!

    They see the long term value of doing research in these areas, but would prefer, as far as Thorium is concerned, to focus on existing HTGR technology as this is proven technology, which is much closer to commerical deployment. While I’d question whether any Thorium reactor is ever going to be “commerically” operated, I’d certainly agree that the HTGR (or VHTR) is the best shot they have at it.

  14. Kevin Meyerson keeps linking to this post as evidence when claiming the folks supporting thorium are astroturfing.

    So the value-add I see here, the reason Kevin’s links don’t lead directly to George Monbiot’s piece must be Jo’s commentary:

    “George Monbiot in his new role as an apologist for the twice-bailed-out-of-insolvency British Nuclear Power industry”

    …so George Monbiot is astoturfing? Who’s astorturfing? Where? Where they at?

    I’m a thorium advocate, up until now I’ve been doing this on my own dime. Soon I’ll be doing this on my own dime, and with the help of 550+ supporters. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gordonmcdowell/thorium-remix-2012-feature-film-to-propagate-hard

    I’ve never bothered to respond to Kevin directly to point this out, because I see other folks (who I also know are not paid supporters) also being similarly, repeatedly, called astroturfers by Kevin. Despite them pointing out that, NO THEY ARE NOT. He seems to feed off all the pointless noise like – some – sort – of – TROLL.

    http://kevinmeyerson.com/

    Maybe, instead of debating the viability of Th-MSR here, this thread would be a great place to put some EVIDENCE of astroturfing!

    It should not be hard to detail “the most well-funded piece of astroturfing propaganda in existence” so we can all understand where you’re coming from.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnm0f6Zwhd0
    …I’m not asking for anything so crystal clear. You don’t have to convince ME. I just want to know why YOU think there’s astroturf support.

    Since Kevin keeps citing this URL.

    And since the only MEAT in this post is in the linked-to piece written by George Monbiot himself. I do NOT see HIM mentioning any new employers or conflicts of interest in his article.

    I know Kevin has watched somewhere between 5 minutes and 10 minutes of THORIUM REMIX 2011.

    Jo, I have no idea if you watched it yourself.

    It is my belief, if you watched it in full, you’d at least appreciate WHERE people who support LFTR/Th-MSR/Thorium are coming from.

    And why we don’t need to be paid to share our enthusiasm for the subject.

  15. Gordon,

    I’ve heard of this Kevin Meyerson guy but I think you’re developing a serious case of paranoia…then again standard symptoms of any religion/cult include:

    – Paranoia (tick)
    – Distrust of official sources of information (tick)
    – Extreme hostility to critics…or heretics to give them their proper term (tick)
    – Lengthy and time consuming indoctrinating proceedure (making people buy and read a load of books on Dianetics, watch 2hr you-tube video’s on LFTR’s…tick!)
    – Promise of a massive pay-off at some easily defered future date (tick)
    – Hero worship of key figures within the movement (Kirk or Wienberg), elevation of those who are dead to the level of martyr’s for “the cause” (tick)

    As for George Monbiot, he has gone off the reservation a bit. Personally, I think he’s just misguided, and misinformed rather than anything else. Then again, he is a journalist, not an engineer. If he knew a little bit about engineering (or nuclear physics!) perhaps he won’t be so keen on LFTR’s, as those whom I know who are nuclear engineers are if anything more hostile to the idea that me!

  16. @Gordon McDowell

    > “…so George Monbiot is astoturfing?”

    The post does not say that. It says thorium is “quite probably the most well-funded piece of astroturfing propaganda in existence” and George Monbiot fell for it, although he has since gone quiet on his thorium dream.

    I tend to believe Monbiot is well-intentioned, but he has become completely irrational on the nuclear and energy issue, and is clearly listening to the wrong people. People like techno-fantasist, Mark Lynas who believes the solution to all the world’s problems is more ‘futuristic’ technology that allows more consumption for (he imagines) less money – nukes and GMO agricutlure in particular.

    I think Monbiot has committed himself so strongly to his nuclear cheerleading that he cannot now admit he got it badly wrong, despite the mountain of evidence – especially cost – that proves him wrong.

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