Alternative Energy—Then and Now

In 1994, when Atlantis Rising Magazine first launched, it had been about five years since the sensational announcement by University of Utah scientists Drs. Martin Flieschman and Stanley Pons of their discovery of ‘cold fusion’ (now termed ‘LENR’ for Low Energy Nuclear Reactions), which was immediately presumed to be a method of inducing nuclear fusion in a tabletop device and to opening, perhaps, the floodgates of free—or at least cheap—energy. In the early days of this publication, we devoted a lot of space to the ensuing controversies. Mainstream science, we suspected, was not giving the researchers a fair shake.

In 1999 the late Dr. Eugene Mallove of M.I.T. documented the furor in his book Fire from Ice. By then it was clear that the prevailing scientific order had virtually lynched Pons and Flieschman. To carry on his fight, Gene also created Infinite Energy, a magazine covering many aspects of the quest for alternative energy, including LENR. IE is still publishing. Over the years LENR has proven, despite its turbulent beginnings, to be authentic science, generating numerous promising technologies. Eventually, and for several years, Gene would write a regular column for AR, The New Heretic, on alternative energy. Tragically, in May of 2004, Gene was murdered, apparently by a burglar. Today, his legacy lives on but, sadly, the challenges he wrote about remain far from solution.

Earth’s staggering future energy requirements must be met by something—something, hopefully, cheap, abundant, and not a threat to the environment. Some continue to believe that LENR will provide some of the answer. In the meantime, rumors of hydrogen power and even zero-point energy persist. Some preach the virtues of wind and solar energy, though it is hard to imagine that such sources could ever provide for more than a tiny

fraction of our planet’s awesome energy appetite. The recent skyrocketing production of natural gas, although a fossil fuel, at least is helping to reduce the carbon footprint for America’s energy grid and apparently giving a little more time to come up with a truly sustainable answer. Many continue to believe that ultimately our primary energy source will have to be nuclear—‘hot fusion’ perhaps, rather than ‘fission.’ It has, after all, no carbon emissions. Then there is what some, like former NASA engineer, Kirk Sorensen, see as the truly miraculous energy technology of our time, with a very realistic promise of cheap abundant energy and none of the toxic waste or danger of our familiar nuclear fission technologies. Sorensen is leading the cheers for a different form of nuclear power, thorium.

Given its terrifying history—Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukeshima, etc.—nuclear of any kind often evokes, understandably, a visceral hostility, but thorium, it turns out, is not your grandfather’s nuclear power, even though the original science on it was done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1950s and 60s. It showed a lot of promise even then. Indeed thorium pioneer, Dr. Alvin Weinberg, who had worked on the Manhattan project once calculated that there is enough thorium in the crust of the earth to power human civilization for billions of years. In the 1950s, however, the U.S. was preparing to build nuclear submarines and decided that uranium and plutonium, both of which had bomb-making potential, were the best development path to follow. Most of the familiar problems of nuclear energy since are a direct result of that choice. The thorium option was left behind, and, eventually, president Nixon would shut down the research altogether. A half-century later, many suspect that we may have made the wrong choice.

Today, thorium appears to fit neatly with another technology developed in the Cold War, “the molten-salt reactor,” which theoretically could produce massive amounts of usable energy with far greater efficiency than any power technology in existence, while generating a tiny fraction of the waste and danger of conventional commercial reactors. Thorium as a power source, would, it seems, be abundant, cheap, and safe.

While there are certainly many tricky—and expensive—engineering challenges yet to overcome, you will certainly hear a lot more about thorium, whether the U.S. decides to develop it or not. Today the thorium molten salt reactor technology is being actively pursued by both India and China, and they both must rely on the same original American research at Oak Ridge as the rest of us.

 

By J. Douglas Kenyon