A close view of a thorium crystal
A close view of a thorium crystal

PARIS - Mankind currently uses three basic types of energy: fossil energy (coal, gas and oil), "sustainable" energy (wind-powered, solar, geothermal, hydraulic) and nuclear energy.

None of the above passes the test of being clean, abundant, cheap and secure all at the same time. Whatever solution that would comprise all of these elements would be considered our modern society’s philosopher’s stone!

As a matter of fact, in the 1960s, American physicist Alvin Martin Weinberg, managed to create a molten salt nuclear reactor capable of withholding temperatures of several hundred degrees Celsius under ambient pressure -- a discovery that ruled out the risks of explosions.

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Alvin Martin Weinberg in 1967 - Photo: ornl.gov

These fourth-generation reactors use thorium as fuel. This component is as common on our planet as lead. Just like Swiss physicist Jean-Christophe de Mestral observed in his recent opus “L’Atome vert” (“The Green Atom”), if used inside a molten salt reactor, the thorium waste will disintegrate 1000 times faster than uranium. Its efficiency is remarkable: one kilogram of thorium can produce the same energy as 200 kilos of uranium.

If this technology has been an option since the 1960s, why haven’t we exploited it yet? At that time, uranium-based nuclear energy was the fuel-of-choice for military reasons. Research on thorium-based reactors was no good for Cold War armies and therefore received no funding.

But today, thorium is back on the table. China and India have invested massively in it to develop their next-generation nuclear devices. NASA is also looking into it as a cheap option to create energy on the Moon or Mars. If researchers find encouraging results, they may turn the nuclear industry upside-down, for we could indeed end up with an energy that is clean, abundant, cheap and safe.

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Society

Germany's Legendary Clubbing Culture Crashes Museum Space

The exhibition “Electro” in Düsseldorf is an unlikely tribute to a joyful and uninhibited club culture, with curators forced to contend with limits of a museum setting ... and another COVID lockdown.

A woman with a "Techno" tattoo in front of the famous Berghain

Boris Pofalla

DÜSSELDORF — The last party at the Berghain nightclub in Berlin lasted from Saturday evening until Monday morning. On the first weekend of December, some clubbers lined up for nine hours outside the former power plant – and still didn’t make it past the doormen. A friend said that dancing in the most famous techno club in the world on its last evening was like landing a spot in the last lifeboat to leave the sinking Titanic on 14 April 1912.

It is surely a coincidence that the first comprehensive exhibition charting the 100-year history of electronic music in Germany opened in the same week that nightclubs across the country were forced to close. It wasn’t planned that way, but it’s like opening an exhibition about the cultural history of alcohol the day after the introduction of prohibition.

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