Mining News

Thorium's potential to supply energy explored in Asia

Posted by Alana Wilson on 4/14/2014 2:45:46 PM

By Alana Wilson

The Economist magazine features a fascinating article on thorium and its potential as an energy source. India is one of the countries noted to be actively researching thorium.

India has abundant thorium reserves, and the country’s nuclear-power programme, which is intended, eventually, to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity (up from 3% at the moment), plans to use these for fuel. This will take time. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research already runs a small research reactor in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai plans to follow this up with a thorium-powered heavy-water reactor that will, it hopes, be ready early next decade.

India is not alone however, with China also investing in research on thorium. Like India, China is also noted to be driven to this research by energy demands.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences claims the country now has “the world’s largest national effort on thorium”, employing a team of 430 scientists and engineers, a number planned to rise to 750 by 2015.

The article highlights a few of the advantages of thorium as a fuel source. These include:

  • It is difficult, though not impossible, to turn into a bomb
  • It is three to four times as abundant as uranium
  • Thorium itself is not fissile
  • Liquid-fluoride thorium reactors can work at atmospheric pressure
  • It’s relatively easy to prepare
  • It produces less hazardous waste and its radioactivity falls to safe levels within centuries

The article suggests that the challenges in turning thorium into weapons may also explain why earlier research on thorium was abandoned by the USA. Although the US tested one or two bombs in Nevada in the 1950’s, their research on thorium was suspended in the 1970’s as such bombs were found to be temperamental and susceptible to premature detonation.

The difficulties in creating bombs from thorium may now aid its resurgence as developing nations seek out new energy sources and, according to the author, thorium provides a ‘clean-slate’ for future nuclear power. The full article is worth reading.

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