Are thorium nuclear reactors a safer alternative?

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As the global climate change crisis mounts and the global population has surpassed 7 billion, the search for plentiful, environmentally-friendly energy has taken on new urgency.

Many point to nuclear power as a savior, but there are more than enough reasons for others to remain wary: disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima loom large in the history of the technology. Germany has pledged to abandon nuclear energy completely by 2022; many in France want their nuclear-dependent nation to follow suit. With the aging power plant at Indian Point just 25 miles from New York City, safety concerns cannot -- and should not -- be brushed aside.

But the world's 442 nuclear reactors provide 16 percent of its electricity, and while alternative energy sources like solar and hydro power are growing, they will not be able to fill that gap in the foreseeable future. But what if nuclear energy was freed from fears of catastrophic chain reactions? If there was no threat of uranium becoming a deadly weapon in the wrong hands? Champions of thorium argue that that's no pipe dream.