Upon our return from the trip to Sellafield we were pretty exhausted but glad that we had made the trip. The next day, Wednesday, September 14, we met with Baroness Worthington in the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) and she introduced us to Tom Burke, who was a former director of the Friends of the Earth and who is now Environmental Policy Adviser to Rio Tinto, the $81 billion international mining company.
We knew that Tom had a history of campaigning against nuclear power but we were excited to share the potential of thorium and the liquid-fluoride reactor with him. At the same time, we knew he had written articles like “The Future Will Not Be Nuclear“.
We met on the patio outside the cafeteria that the members of the House of Lords use, looking out over the Thames River, the same patio area where we had enjoyed lunch with the Baroness and Lord Grantchester a few days earlier.
Tom seemed to be a bit of a dour fellow, but was very familiar with the state of play in the UK with regards to nuclear energy. He expressed his opinion that Areva and EDF were going to use the British government’s initiative to replace their gas-cooled reactors as the way to get the EPR (Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor) off the ground in the UK.
We’d been invited to dinner at Oxford that night with Paul Madden, but on our way out the door we talked with Lord Jenkin who had been learning more about thorium from Baroness Worthington and seemed enthusiastic.
We took the train from Paddington Station to Oxford and arrived at Queens’ College as the sun was setting. I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter and Hogwarts Castle as we were let through the front door by the groundskeeper and taken through the patio to dinner at the high table.
The dinner at Queens’ College has a history going back centuries, and Paul Madden, as provost of the college, leads the procession. We enjoyed several courses of delicious food and scintillating conversation from some of the world’s most brilliant minds in a wide diversity of subjects. After dinner, like very civilized people, we repaired to the library for drinks and conversation, that proceeded until rather late in the night. As the size of the group dwindled to only Paul Madden, Jasper Sky, and I, we became more focused on our conversations about thorium and its role to play in the world’s energy generation.
Paul is an expert in using analytical tools to deduce the properties of fluoride salt mixtures. This is an exceptionally important skill to have if you are trying to ascertain the properties for a mixture that would be very expensive to fabricate, such as mixtures that might have plutonium or other transuranics in them. We shared with Paul and Jasper our frustrations around the meeting at Sellafield, and Paul was shocked to learn that they had put forth a position paper that was so dismissive on the potential of thorium without giving sufficient consideration of liquid-fueled reactors.
I very much wanted to stay, but the last train from Oxford to Paddington was shortly past eleven, so we had to bid farewell to our brothers in the good fight. But the memory of enjoying dinner and conversation at Oxford will be one we cherish for many years.