HAMBURG – Roughly 60 years ago, the discovery of nuclear power promised the ultimate solution to the world’s energy problems. Today, this promise remains unfulfilled. Development of nuclear technology has stagnated, with nuclear power plants still using technology developed a half-century ago.amp#160;
Nuclear energy is produced in the decay processes of heavy elements, like Uranium or Thorium. The nuclei of their atoms usually decay into two smaller nuclei and a couple of neutrons, releasing many million times more energy than any chemical process ever could. Heavy elements contain so much energy because they stored a fraction of the energy released in the supernova explosion that created our Earth and the solar system around five billion years ago.amp#160;
Today’s power plants use as a fuel a special kind of Uranium, U-235, which is burned in a chain process whereby the neutrons from one nuclear decay induce the next decay. Neither Uranium-238, which is roughly 100 times more abundant than U-235, nor Thorium, which is even more accessible, is used to produce energy on a large scale.
Indeed, in principle, every heavy element, even lead, is a potential source of nuclear energy. Everybody who has studied nuclear decay processes has been struck by the myriad possible ways in which energy can be produced.