Carbon, the atom and slavery

8 min readJun 4, 2019

Some years ago, I found this video concerning the activist Helen Caldicott, a woman completely consumed with the goal of turning off every single nuclear power plant and destroying every nuclear bomb. It was two hours well spent. The video easily debunked numerous claims that Caldicott has made about nuclear power and shows that she has little visible grasp on the facts.

But there were a couple of other things presented in that video that really caught my eye. First is this statistic: the light water uranium reactors we run today consume only 6% of the fuel. Then what is left of the fuel becomes “waste” and that has to be stored someplace where the radiation is shielded for better than 200,000 years. That means that 94% of the fuel is wasted after many months of mining, enrichment, and processing.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a story my dad once told me, as a mockery of the old Communist China. He told a story of a man who visited China to see their jobs program. They were still figuring out what to have people do, so some of them were using shovels to carry dirt from one pile to another and back again. The visitor suggested that “if you want to create jobs that way, give them spoons instead of shovels.”

That is how I see the nuclear industry. It is as if almost by choice, the nuclear industry has picked the most plausibly inefficient way to build and run power plants and there is an entire industry built up around this inefficiency. Much of that is subsidized by you and me, through tax dollars, and most of us have no say in it.

Here is the other thing that caught my eye, well, my ear:

“Every time mankind learned to access a new source of energy, it has led to profound societal implications. Human beings have had slaves for thousands and thousands of years, and when we learned how to make carbon our slave instead of other human beings, we started to learn how to be civilized people. Thorium has a million times the energy density of the carbon-hydrogen bond. What could that mean for human civilization? Because we’re not going to run out of this stuff. We will never run out. It is simply too common.”

That’s what Kirk Sorensen says in the same video, and that same clip can be found in many videos where he is featured. Sorensen was working at NASA when he discovered literature about a working thorium nuclear reactor. After years of research, he founded Flibe, a company dedicated to commercializing thorium as a…