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Young Liberal president Vincent St. Pierre
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Young Liberals push thorium energy

How a student might change Canada’s energy policy

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At the next Liberal Party policy convention in February, a proposal that originated with University of Calgary students might lead Canada to
develop thorium as a future energy source.

“The idea came from Alberta Young Liberals,” said the president of the U of C Liberals, Vincent St. Pierre. “We said, ‘let’s make a new resolution for the policy conference and let’s try to engage Canada in a greater debate about our energy future.’ ”

Thorium is a slightly radioactive chemical element, which can breed fissile uranium-233. This material can then be used as fuel in a specially designed nuclear reactor.

Advocates for thorium say it is safer than uranium ones, difficult to weaponize and could be a substitute for fossil fuels. It is also argued that thorium reactors can be easily shut down, minimizing the threat of meltdowns.

Waste from thorium reactors has 400–500 years of radioactivity instead of thousands of years from uranium.

Before switching to plutonium, Canada invested in thorium research for decades.

If the policy is passed — and the Liberals form government next federal election — the Young Liberals hope the government will direct Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to study the utility of thorium-fuelled reactors and invest in building them.

St. Pierre described the long process to bring the proposal to the convention.

“We had to pass it first [with] the Young Liberals at the U of C and Alberta. Then we had to pass it again at the Alberta convention,” St. Pierre said. “Now that it’s passed, it’s going to Montreal where, if voted yes, it goes on the books for policy to be written into the platform for 2015.”

But U of C physics professor Jason Donev said current thorium reactors are not yet commercially viable.

“There is often, especially on the Internet, talk about thorium reactors, which is a bit of a misnomer,” Donev said.

He added that thorium reactors could potentially become a viable energy source that could help prevent climate change.

“The only way to produce vast amounts of electricity to meet the needs of society without producing carbon dioxide is by using nuclear fuels,” Donev said. “Whether that’s thorium, uranium or plutonium.”

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