It’s possible to generate nuclear power from thorium but not nuclear weapons. This route was never followed as the object was always to make nuclear weapons. Research is being done in India where they have their own thorium.
Natural uranium consists of U234, U235 and U238, depending on the number of neutrons in the nucleus of the atoms. U235 is the fissile material needed, less than 1% of the natural uranium. Getting it out is one of the major difficulties, only about half of the available U235 is recoverable using present technology. The other 99.5% remains stashed away and not much use unless you wanted something extremely dense – 50% denser than lead but extremely toxic. Also, the remote possibility that somebody might think of a way of recovering the U235 residue. This is depleted uranium, an unwanted embarrassment hence cheap. At least one million tons of it is in store worldwide. But then a use was found. Ideal for the manufacture of armour-piercing projectiles. These were widely used in the Gulf wars. The projectiles burn their way through normal tank armour and ignites fuel and ammunition within. The crew is incinerated. The fine uranium oxide powder produced is widely dispersed, lasts forever and has resulted in thousands of birth defects in Iraq and Kuwait. Gulf war combat veterans have reported many adverse symptoms. Governments are in denial about all this in order to refute any legal/pension claims. For health considerations, see here.
Shortly after the opening of Calder Hall power station we all treated to a “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet” moment. It was explained that just round the corner was the fusion reactor. This works by fusing hydrogen atoms into helium, the same reaction that powers the sun and stars. This on the basis of the recent development of the hydrogen bomb.
Hydrogen is the commonest material on Earth so no problems there. No radioactive materials required and no radioactive waste except when it came to de-commissioning. Also in the event of any mishap, the process would stop instantly unlike fission reactors
The only problems being, after sixty years, little progress has been made in spite of the billions poured into various worldwide projects. So, another dead end from the nuclear power point of view though much esoteric information has been gleaned (source).
Rolls Royce Small Modular Reactor.
Rolls Royce has for long been the UK manufacturer of nuclear power plants for submarines. As there is only limited call for the technology they have come up with the idea that “mini” reactors could be spread about the country providing both domestic heat and electricity (combined Heat and Power or “Cogeneration”.) They could be factory mass-produced and the complex bits delivered in one piece by truck. Lovers of nuclear power have seized upon this scheme as the answer to all our problems. They imagine a thing the size of a telephone kiosk at the end of every road running unattended (source). This is far from the truth, each site would need ten acres of ground and would have to be in a totally secure location .
Converting heat to either mechanical power and/or electricity is massively inefficient. Combined heat and power systems seek to make use of heat otherwise wasted. All combined heat and power generators have a problem, that is that the amount of heat and electricity generated are closely linked. This means surplus heat would need to be dumped in Summer. How would this be done? No simple solutions.
Then there would be the problem of linking the thing into our existing services. Highways and gardens would need to be dug up to install heating water pipes. Would the heat be metered? Where would domestic hot water come from? How would they be linked into our existing electricity system? Where would the trained operators come from? What about reserve capacity?
We have yet no safe method of disposing of the nuclear waste.
Whereas little CO2 is emitted during the operation of nuclear reactors, massive amounts are generated during construction.
As nuclear reactors proliferate, so does the chance of a nuclear accident or terrorist incident.
At the moment uranium is cheap. But it still comes from dodgy foreign places plus, as with fossil fuels, there is only a finite supply. It will become more expensive as demand increases.
No matter how careful we are, radioactive materials continue to find their way into the environment.
Nuclear materials have to be transported around the country.
But hey… What’s not to like?