Super Fuel by Richard Martin (book review).

July 31, 2013 | By | Reply More

When I reviewed ‘God And The Atom’ by Victor J. Stenger, he pointed out Richard Martin’s book ‘Super Fuel’ as an important book pointing out thorium as a safer alternative to uranium as the radioactive fuel in nuclear power plants. The nice lady publicist at Macmillan came up with a copy noting it was released in 2012 on both sides of the pond. Reading it, I tend to agree with Stenger. This is a very important book if you have concerns about future energy resources.


The use of uranium and indeed, plutonium, as radioactive power source came about largely because of the atomic bombs in World War Two and all other countries followed suit and downgraded over radioactive sources as fuel. Oddly, thorium is a close neighbour of uranium but with greater possibilities. There’s more of it available with an even longer half-life of 14 billion years, practically the life of the cosmos, which means less waste. One of these waste products, the isotope Uranium-232 has a half-life of less than 70 years and not transportable because it would kill the thieves so unlikely to be stolen. They also make better breeder reactors because they make as much fuel as they burn. You can’t use thorium to make atomic bombs because it doesn’t achieve that kind of nuclear fission which would make it the safer option in certain Middle East countries.

In fact, I could see it as being a great export for the atomic savvy countries except. There is an except in all of this. The USA hasn’t show much if any initiative in all of this. Their current nuclear scientists are in their 70s and there is a big gap between them and the ones coming up, like scientist Kirk Sorensen discovered and is one of the key advocates for this change. If anything, the USA and UK are falling behind in exploring thorium as Brazil, Czech Republic and, especially, India and China have already started exploring such possibilities.

Author Richard Martin gives a history of the discovery of radioactive elements, significantly with Marie Curie and Ernest Rutherford. Did you know that Rutherford associate Frederick Soddy defined the concept of the isotope and both together discovered that the breakdown of radioactive elements was the first demonstration of transmutation?

After World War Two, the chief requirement for nuclear reactors came from the US Navy with Admiral Hyman Rickover ordering up the designs for the submarine Nautilus and a certain aircraft carrier called Enterprise. However, he opted for uranium rather than thorium as proposed by nuclear director Alvin Weinberg and research in that area was shunted aside simply because it was not seen as ‘the direction of the future’. Along the way, there was also the space programme and such with financial resources directed elsewhere. When a thorium reactor was created, Weinberg and his team at Oak Ridge were congratulated and then closed down with the scientists assigned elsewhere. It isn’t like a thorium reactor has never been built.

Richard Martin gives detail of all the nuclear reactors work in a way that even the most novice should be able to understand. Where he points out the effects of uranium’s breaking down into other elements and the means to prevent them damaging the reactor will give you insight into the chemistry into all that was involved. Although saying it’s not rocket science is a bit of a misnomer, the principles of generating heat for turbines and keeping the nuclear core from over-heating and what to do about the waste elements is truly revealing. When it’s compared to thorium reactors, which do actually use some uranium in their blend so existing material used in decommissioned missiles isn’t wasted, it comes over as a very clean fuel source. Considering that coal-based power generators generate more radioactivity than any nuclear reactor you have to wonder why there isn’t more investment. In his conclusions, Martin points out that despite the evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon thinks thorium is untested because it has never been done before. It’s enough to make you buy this book and push it under your senator’s nose and tell them to read what they are missing. I mean, if you people across the pond don’t then the USA will be a third world state in less than a century. If the USA goes thorium, then it will be easier for other countries, my own UK included, to follow suit. Saying that, in the House Of Lords over here, Baroness Bryony Washington is making waves on the subject even if it hasn’t drawn much press attention,

There are so many bonuses going for thorium. You can build smaller reactors which also means availability for countries who don’t have massive resources and a whole industry for any enterprising country. All it can do is generate energy, thorium based materials are lousy bomb material so would make for a safer world. As an added bonus, mining for thorium which is widely available also means gathering the rare earth elements that are used in your computer and mobile phone software which China, the current main supplier, is cutting back selling to the rest of the world. I should point out that American mining for said rare earth elements was cut back as being uneconomical against China, something that really needs to be re-thought now.

For Science Fiction writers, I think it would have a significant effect if when using nuclear power that it was described as being based off thorium because it would the effect of making a top-down thought that we see this as the future of nuclear power.

For all of you out there, I’ll say again, this is an important book. It fits all the criteria of safe ecological fuel that actually makes the future safer. We all need fuel and it’s actually not even revolutionary, just not put into practice. If you want to safeguard what your children will use then action has to be taken now. When you think of the number of nuclear reactors being kept going past their sell-by-date, kick up some fuss in the press about thorium and kick the politicians to get into gear on the subject.

GF Willmetts

July 2013

(pub: Macmillan. 262 page indexed hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK), $27.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-230-11647-4)

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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