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Rhodes Scholar alumnus A.J. Shaka ’80 says Fission reaction



ccording to A.J. Shaka ’80, we can solve the world’s energy crisis using an element as abundant as tin to produce zero-carbon power plants that generate safe, reliable and affordable electricity. Shaka presented his argument to an intrigued audience at an

Oct. 25 physics colloquium on campus. Unlike solar and wind solutions, which Shaka dubbed “lite green”

because of their inconsistency, expense and inability to produce sufficient power, liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR) offer a sustainable, powerful “deep green” option, he said. “Based upon the world’s current rate of energy consumption,

there is enough thorium in Idaho to power us for 5,000 years without one iota of conservation,” Shaka said. In an LFTR, thorium fluoride is dissolved in a molten salt. The

thorium absorbs neutrons and transforms into Uranium-233, which then fissions and produces heat and more neutrons. Not only does it produce the best fission fuel, but it also uses no weapons-grade materials, will not explode and poses little to no radiation risk. The process was actually discovered decades ago and a reactor

built in the United States. However, it was decommissioned in 1969 when it was determined weapons could not be developed from it.

“Which is exactly why we should resurrect it now, because we have lots

of bombs and no power,” Shaka said. “Thorium is everywhere and not very radioactive at all—in fact thorium is used in lantern mantels—and you can’t make a bomb out of it. Plus, it’s already been mined and is sitting above ground.” A ton of thorium will power a 1GW plant for a year and 500 plants would

power the entire United States, he said. And, because thorium is dense, a ton of it is only a half-meter sphere. As for waste, its fission products decay in about 30 years instead of thousands. As for size, its reactor is absolutely compact. “The thorium reactor is tiny. It’s one meter across by two meters

tall,” Shaka said. “So we’re talking about burying these things 10 meters underground in the desert and generating power till the cows come home.” HMC’s first Rhodes Scholar, Shaka now serves as a chemistry professor

at U.C. Irvine, where he and his research group work on improving NMR techniques and applying them to high field solution experiments from small molecules to very large proteins.

FALL/WINTER 2011 Har vey Mudd College


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