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"It is not difficult to conceive of an entire planet powered by thorium," wrote Kirk Sorensen on his blog Energy From Thorium in 2006. Some would contest this bold claim, but given the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, the energy source Sorensen advocates has been thrust into the spotlight.

Sorenson and others propose building reactors that use a naturally occurring element called thorium as the main starting material, instead of uranium or plutonium. Though the technology is far from fully developed and very different to conventional plants based on solid uranium and plutonium fuel, advocates say it would be immune to the problems that have plagued the Fukushima reactors and should produce less radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

"It has some really compelling safety advantages," says Sorensen, who is now chief nuclear technologist at the firm Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Alabama.

He is not alone in his passion for thorium, which is globally much more abundant than uranium-235, the fuel used in conventional uranium reactors.

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Category: Science