The Thorium Dream: An Investigation of the New Nuclear Power

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Motherboard's Alex Pasternack dug into the hard support for a particular kind of nuclear power using the element thorium. Thorium reactors, conceptually, are a brilliant solution to our energy dilemma: they would be impervious to meltdowns, could be built faster and smaller than traditional nuclear plants, and cannot be used to produce radioactive material for nuclear weapons. Sound good? Well, it should. Wired had a great feature on thorium in 2009 that you should read if you're interested in the topic and Pasternack's documentary is a worthy advancement of the story.

I'm in it for a few seconds, mostly laying down some history and context about the nuclear debate in this country. Back in the middle of the 20th century, there were dozens of proposed reactor designs. Out of those, a couple of reactors became the standard, mostly based on the early success of the Navy's nuclear program. In retrospect, it may be that we locked in the wrong nuclear technologies for the wrong reasons (military applications, early success in the Navy, a desire for fast commercialization), leaving too many of the benefits of carbon-free nuclear power on the table.

The thorium documentary above walks you through some of that and introduces you to the key figures of the small but intense group of thorium advocates who are trying to mainstream their issue.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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