I just read a great article by Kirk Sorensen on the Energy From Thorium site about his presentation that he gave on October 10th at ThEC2011 (Thorium Energy Conference 2011). It is something not yet been fully addressed on Thorium Australia’s FAQ page because I hadn’t come across such a good summary yet.
I’d encourage people to read the full article, although Kirk did provide a quick summary of his observations about why thorium nuclear power didn’t prevail in the 1970’s prototyping and commercialisation of nuclear power technologies:
The USAEC saw plutonium as a “sure bet” in a breeder reactor, but thorium was more uncertain (but proven in the end at Shippingport). They invested early and heavily in the liquid-metal fast-breeder reactor (LMFBR) despite failures and meltdowns. Industry got involved with $200M in investment In June 1971, Nixon announced that the fast breeder was US policy, and he saw it as a strategy for energy independence. Weinberg was fired and the MSRP was cancelled. Ford cancelled fuel processing and Carter extended the policy. Without fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the plutonium fast-breeder was non-viable. No one in DC revisited the decision to cancel the MSR program. The team disbanded and dispersed; the knowledge was lost; and MSR technology was wrongly considered a failure for many years.
In Kirk’s presentation, he includes a link to a YouTube video, also shown below. When playing, skip to the 8:40 mark, and you’ll see President Nixon in 1971 announce:
… the United States is going to go forward in building a breeder reactor. Now don’t ask me what a breeder reactor is, ask Dr Slazenger, but don’t tell him not to tell ya, because, unless you’re one of those PhD’s you won’t understand it either, but what I do know is this. That here we have the potentiality of a whole new breakthrough….