Victor Stenger and I are identical twins

In Orlando last week, I was on a panel to talk about what the objectives of secularism ought to be, and it was eerie: Vic Stenger and I talked about almost exactly the same things, except he came at it from a physicist’s perspective, talking about energy and nuclear power, while I came at it from a biologist’s perspective, talking about diversity and preservation of habitats…but we were both all science-driven and promoting the necessity of secular reasoning to recognize important problems and develop rational solutions.

Now Vic has put his talk on the FluffPo (unfortunate venue, but a good talk).

I’d put mine here, but I’m using it as the foundation for a talk I’ll be giving at the University of Utah on 7 April. So you’ll just have to wait.


  1. says

    Stenger shouldn’t get so much wrong about thorium reactors. They might very well be worth developing, but they’re not the panacea that the pro-thorium people make them out to be. You can’t build bombs with thorium, true, but you can with U-233, which is what thorium reactors breed–various reasons, especially radioactivity, make the thorium cycle not a very promising one for nuclear proliferation, but it’s not at all true that present-day light-water reactors exist because uranium and plutonium can make bombs.

    Light-water reactors have been pushed precisely because they’re fairly poor at making plutonium that’s usable without a great deal of know-how and technology.

    Hyping thorium isn’t the way to make it credible. There are enough advantages that they should receive consideration without the hype and nonsense about why uranium is used today.

    Glen Davidson

  2. wbenson says

    Did you see that the Cornwall Alliance for The Stewardship of Creation, the climate change denying evangelical organization cited by Stenger, has at least one dead person on its board of advisers. (i.e., “Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy (deceased), Senior Minister, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida”). In life the guy was known for his anti-evolution antics. Seems like they would have the decency to let him retire.

  3. Shaun says

    I a student member of SHIFT here at the University of Utah and I cannot express how excited I am to have you come here and speak and finally get the chance to meet you in person. I’m looking forward to it!

  4. Konradius says

    The huffpo is not an unfortunate place to post this talk in, just as church is not a bad place to explain atheism.
    It’s there where it can do the most good, because the place attracts so many people with a different viewpoint.

  5. shaundenney says

    wbenson @14 – “Cornwall Alliance for The Stewardship of Creation”

    You had me worried there for a moment – I thought you’d found a nest of arsewits in my backyard. Fortunately we seem to be fairly free of that sort of monkey business here in Cornwall, where it’s mostly ancient Methodists and middle-aged new-agers.

  6. llewelly says

    oh, sure, I live in Utah for 35 years, and you return to speak a few months AFTER I move away …

  7. ikesolem says

    Thorium reactors are overhyped – you’re still creating the suite of fissioned radioactive elements, and if the reactor loses cooling it will still overheat. Furthermore, the costs are ridiculously high:

    Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.’


    Those who support renewables say they will have come so far in cost and efficiency terms by the time the technology is perfected and upscaled that thorium reactors will already be uneconomic.

    Stenger may be right about the problems of religion, but that doesn’t mean his views on how to get off fossil fuels permanently are all that accurate – nor are those of Carlo Rubbia, head of CERN, who is also a thorium promoter. Expertise in high-energy particle physics doesn’t make you an expert in energy engineering, sorry.

    When you hear nuclear advocates talking about ‘cheap, limitless nuclear power’ you should think twice – they’ve been saying that for over sixty years now, and look at the results – Three Mile, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and a waste disposal fee in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

    There is a superb source of long-term energy powered by nuclear fusion available to us, however. Look up in the sky – it’s called the Sun. That’s what the biosphere has relied on for the past 3.5 billion years – we should follow suit.

  8. says

    Ah, so I finally know what I’m (hopefully) going to come listen to you talk about. Now if I just knew around what time of day.

    @Glen Where’s a good place to look at the pros and cons of thorium reactors without it being spun too hard to either side?

    @ikesolem One accident per 20 years actually seems kind of low. How’s the cleanup cost compare to coal related accidents over a similar timeframe?
    Also this got me thinking of things like recycling programs where the costs are initially high but over time they get better. Would the inefficiencies of thorium reactors remain so firmly in that range after we had experience in operating them?

  9. says

    A pro-thorium site that I think is fairly sober, although not unbiased, is here:

    It’s not the article that I learned the most from, which was in American Scientist maybe a year or two ago. This one looks reasonably good, though.

    Economics of thorium have not been pinned down well, but, seriously, can anyone really tell us that liquid thorium reactors would be 10X at this point? I don’t think the data exist. The link says it might be 10 percent less to 10 percent more, although that is from a person optimistic about thorium reactors. At least, I can’t believe an order of magnitude higher is based on any meaningful data. Any thorium cycle will be complicated, and will almost certainly include enriched uranium, probably at a fairly high level, so it’s not going to be cheap, but liquid thorium has operating and safety advantages that might offset costs vis-a-vis conventional plants.

    As hype goes, I doubt anything has been hyped like renewables. There’s enough promise there that we ought to be trying for cheap photovoltaics, especially, but no sound reason has ever been given for why they’re going to be reasonably priced–especially for baseload power–any time soon. Nonetheless, the blithe and empty promise of cheap renewables is repeated year after year, without the slightest degree of honest accounting by most spouting that tripe.

    Glen Davidson

  10. Sili says

    Another problem with thorium, as I vaguely recall it, is that unlike uranium ore, thorium compounds don’t tend to aggregate. So while there may be more thorium in the crust, it’s nowhere near as easy to get at as uraniumoxide.

    Presumably breeder technology with uranium feed, would be the way to go, but I’m just a poor chemist.