Thorium: Powering Tomorrow’s Business

Written and Edited by Anonymous

In light of this past year’s events, it is safe to say that the public’s opinion on nuclear power reliability and safety has declined; according to a CNN poll one in five Americans say the existing plant’s in our country are not safe and the numbers drop more for plants located in earthquake zones or near oceans[1]. But with the image of Japan still lingering in our minds we are blind to the fact that there is a “new” and safe source of nuclear energy.

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that is quite common throughout the world, and it is the backbone of this safe, cleaner, more powerful, and efficient nuclear technology. US physicists actually explored the use of thorium fuel for power in the late 1940s. But the plans for actually using it as fuel were scrapped because it did not produce plutonium for bombs. But as an added bonus it can burn up plutonium and toxic waste from old reactors, which in turn can reduce radio-toxicity and act as a sort of eco cleaner[2].  But no matter the fuel source it is still a nuclear reaction, which means there are concerns of a “meltdown”, right? Actually, this is one of the largest benefits of using this technology, there is an amazing safety feature built into the rectors. If a reactor starts to overheat a  “little plug melts and the [thorium based molten] salts drain into a pain”, in other words; there is a fail safe that requires no computers, or the “sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami [in Japan], the reactor saves itself”2.   Sure, this all does sound great, but there is one tiny little problem…it is an expensive investment.

Dr. Robert Cywinski from Huddersfield University is in the process of developing an “accelerator driven sub-critical reactor for thorium”. This sub-critical reactor is a nuclear fission reactor that produces fission with out achieving criticality. Instead of a sustaining chain reaction, a sub critical reactor uses additional neutrons from an outside source[3]. Essentially, this kind of reaction needs a stimulus in order for the process to continue, it is not self-sustaining.  But in order for the first working planet to be produced the project needs about $464 million of public investment and about $2.3 billion of commercial investment.  Unfortunately for the UK (and even the rest of the world) wallets are closing up and investments are being put else where.

We also have to consider the stakeholders who do not want to see this technology start to pick up steam. Natural gas and oil companies who would loose significant business and investment if a technology such as thorium started to pick up, and multi-billion dollar corporations such as these oil and gas companies are not about to let that happen so easily. As for current nuclear power companies, it seems their opinion on implementing this technology could go one of a couple of ways.  On one hand they could be happy about this energy source because in the long run it will be cheaper for they will not have to dispose of nuclear waste and not have as many safety features because of the fact thorium is a much more stable material. On the other hand, this is going to be costly to implement and energy companies would probably the return on investment (ROI) that they currently do from using uranium reactors for quite some time. The amount of money initially required to implement these new reactors would be tremendous, hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the current uncertainty in the U.S. and global markets, firms are simply not willing to invest this amount of capital into a technology that is not fully developed, or cost effective even in the long run. Yet, at the current usage rate, the earth’s crust only holds about 80 more years of uranium, so before we know it, there will need to be an alternative to uranium powered nuclear energy.

Thorium provides an interesting alternative and could have a significant impact on the standard of living. In the long run if energy costs were to decrease, then operating costs for companies would decrease, costs on utilities bills for households would also be impacted, and the standard of living will rise. The International Atomic Energy Agency said the world currently has 442 nuclear reactors, which generate 372 gigawatts of power and providing 14% of global electricity. “Nuclear power must double over twenty years just to keep pace with the rise of China and India”2, if money starts getting cut back from future reactors they shift the strain onto gas, oil, and coal. Sure there is solar power, but that will no way fill the gap. The fuel of the future, whatever it may be is definitely something that is still being figured out. But sometimes the answer for the future lies in the past…


 **Due to technical difficulties we recently had to switch domains and transfer all of our website content.  Please keep in mind that while we have been publishing articles for two years, the published dates shown may not reflect the initial publish date.


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