Energy: Where do we go from here?

What is our future climate  likely to be? The ‘experts’ are divided. Some claim that global warming is the dominant trend for the future, while others claim the opposite. They both produce graphs to substantiate their different points of view. But there is one thing certain and that is: we are seriously polluting our planet. This is likely to have severe repercussions on our well-being and on our future generations.

Whether we have global warming or global cooling, we are going to need lots of clean energy to deal with circumstances as they arrive. This is because, if it goes cold, we will need electric heating of houses and workplaces, not to mention heat for the growing of food, and even heat for waste disposal. And on the other hand, supposing it becomes very hot, we will need electricity to keep cool, purify domestic water, and for many other uses.

The demand for clean energy rules out burning coal because whatever improvements they make to the combustion process and carbon sequestration, it still produces lots of unpleasant by-products during operations; burning oil for power generation also pollutes. Certainly, gas fired turbine machinery produces a lot less pollution but, in a competitive world crisis, gas prices are liable to rise to exorbitant levels.

But Sri Lanka is blessed with Thorium, an untapped and totally indigenous fuel – no need to import the stuff, we have it in acres-full. Not only that, the use of Thorium to produce electric energy will bring high quality jobs, too - and in the hundreds!

It requires the separation of Thorium sands from other associated mineral sands. This is not an insurmountable task – others have done it; the Chinese are doing it.
 Thorium power units operate at normal air pressure, so there is absolutely no possibility of explosions, but they are quite hot, however, operating at around 600 o C. This requires the use of special stainless steel known as Hastalloy-N (with patented copywrite to the Czech Republic – remember! - research pays well!) for pipework, vessels and container. The good news is that the size of the machine is scaleable – ranging in sizes from small to large.  It can be assembled like cars on an assembly line each a complete modular unit, ready to be charged with suitable chemicals and go! Therefore, it is expected that modular units will be for sale. Sri Lanka can buy these or, fabricate our own to a local design.

Understanding the process first, is necessary but it is not beyond the capacity of anyone with “O” levels. The nuclear processes involved are that, once triggered with a neutron, the sequence commences: the progression of Thorium to Protactinium to Uranium 233 which then is the material that heats up. This heat is used to drive small but powerful electrical turbines and generators. This is a continuous process that can run for years. However, to get long life and cleanliness that is claimed certain contaminants need to be continually removed. Without this continuous kidney-like chemical cleaning activity, it will produce unacceptable long duration decay waste products. This requires knowledge of the chemical processing of the Fluoride Salts to remove impurities. These are normal chemical engineering processes, used everywhere.

Because there is no pressure inside the main vessel, there is no risk of explosions. Supposing electric power to the machine fails, or it overheats somehow,  the contents of the vessel will automatically drain to a second container below  the installation, which causes the heat-generating reactions to cease.

On this basis it is claimed to be walk-away safe. (High- pressure Uranium reactors are exactly the opposite – they must always be kept working at maximum pressure, but never going over the limit.  A balancing trick that requires constant vigilance.)

It is considered that the world will need the thorium type of machine, sooner or later and they can be located where the power is needed – no need for long transmission lines disfiguring the face of Lanka, also at high cost.

Because energy from Thorium is a new technology, it is suggested that work starts without delay. True to form, disasters do not give fore-warning of their impending arrival. Letters to the editor are the only forewarning you get before the next cataclysm is here, upon us all.

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