Toward risk-free nuclear with Thorium ?


The French magazine Science & Vie [Fr] published this month a lengthy series of articles on thorium-based nuclear, and how it could solve the various issues encountered with uranium-based energy generation.

Much more safer, without the need to be enriched, Thorium is also four times more abundant than Uranium. Molten salt reactors could also recycle the waste of current reactors.

In today’s post we will have a look at the various other advantages of this still not commercially developped technology.

Indeed, several websites – like The Guardian and TreeHugger – have dedicated recently articles to this potential energy source.

GreenTech Media offers the most comprehensive. Here are some extracts :

Thorium is a heavy element that is far more abundant than uranium. It is up to 200 times more energy-dense than uranium — and it’s also cheap. Thorium is a major waste product of rare-earth metal mining, and aside from nuclear fuel, it has few commercial uses.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s work with molten salt reactors began in the 1960s. Small test reactors ran successfully for a decade. In 1976, however, the program was shut down.

Theories as to why abound: political issues with the Nixon administration; Honeywell and GE pushing to stick with the uranium light water reactor designs they’d already invested in; and even the fact that the thorium cycle couldn’t be used to produce enriched uranium plutonium by-products.

Brooklyn-based Motherboard recently released a documentary covering the history of the thorium reactor.  (Nota : The Thorium Dream )

Thanks in part to the Fukushima disaster and the public’s increased interest in lessening fossil fuel use, thorium has received new interest in recent years. China, India, Japan, France, Russia and the U.S. are all currently developing thorium-based reactors, with various degrees of commitment.

India is already well into its thorium fuel development. The country’s three-stage nuclear power plan laid out in the ’50s was designed specifically to take advantage of India’s vast thorium reserves. India has taken a more conventional route, utilizing uranium-catalyzed pressurized heavy water reactors that use thorium compounds as breeder fuel to produce more uranium.

The articles goes on. Please make sure to read the full version.

 

The Guardian’s article focuses on how much more safer Thorium based energy generation would be and how it wouldn’t generate any waste.

Please also have a look at what I was saying about Thorium in my overview of future fission nuclear technologies.

Will we see Thorium based reactors in a near future ? Will it compete with current reactors or replace them ? In any case, this is one technology we will have to keep an eye on.

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