Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thorium: the other white meat

The advent of $100 oil has put many new energy scenarios in play, including a resurgent nuclear industry. One problem with nuclear power is its role in allowing would-be world powers like Iran and Syria to divert the raw materials and by-products of conventional reactors, fissile uranium, into weapons grade plutonium.

But there is another nuclear fuel out there that hasn't gotten a public hearing: thorium.
Ten Essential Facts about Thorium
1. Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal, and it has been considered as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium.
2. Unlike uranium, thorium is non-proliferative: The key advantage of the thorium fuel cycle is that it does NOT produce plutonium and is non-proliferative for that reason.
3. The energy contained in one kilogram of thorium equals that of four thousand tons of coal.
4. The energy stored in the earth's thorium reserves is thought to be greater than that available from all other conventional (fossil) and nuclear fuels combined.
5. Thorium is cheaper and more abundant than uranium (approx three times more abundant in the Earth's crust than all forms of uranium combined).
6. The thorium fuel cycle produces less radioactive waste than uranium (1,000 to 10,000 times less than in conventional reactors).
7. Unlike natural uranium where only the 0.7% sliver of isotope 235 is fissionable, thorium is fully used in the fuel cycle.
8. Unlike uranium, thorium can burn plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors with additional energy output.
9. Unlike uranium, thorium is not suitable for the production of weapons-grade materials.
10. Global reserves of thorium (India, Australia, Norway and the U.S. possess the largest reserves) could cover the world’s energy needs for thousands of years.
Reference Note: Information compiled from the IAEA, World Nuclear Association and scientific journals.

More info here.

The only question now is if the Green movement's global warming hysteria is powerful enough to overcome its fear of nuclear power. Thorium is more abundant, cheaper and cleaner than uranium, can't be use for nuclear weapons production and doesn't produce greenhouse gases. So what's to stop the Thorium Express?

Update: Playing with the numbers, I get:
US has 400,000 tons of thorium reserves.
1 kg of thorium is the energy equivalent of 4,000 tons of coal.
So the US thorium reserves is the equivalent of 1.2 trillion tons of coal. Current US coal reserves, which are the worlds largest, are 273 billion tons. Our thorium reserves are worth roughly five times our coal reserves.

Worldwide there are 2.5 million tons of thorium reserves and 900 billion tons of coal reserves. Worldwide thorium reserves equals 6.6 trillion tons of coal, or about 7.4 times the world coal reserves.

Source of thorium stats:

Update 2: Here's a blog dedicated to the future of thorium based nuclear energy:


Blogger David said...

Sounds too good to be true.

So, what's the catch?

February 25, 2008 6:48 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Yes. Why was uranium used instead of thorium to start with? An accident of the origin of nuclear power in weapons research?

February 25, 2008 7:35 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Well, looking at the blog it seems that the reaction is a lot more complicated. The thorium is used in a kind of breeder reactor to produce U-233 which is your actual fissile material.

February 25, 2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Duck said...


I believe that is the case, that plus what Joe said. Now that the nuclear power industry has standardized on reactor designs for uranium, that design has a de-facto monopoly position due to the "qwerty" effect. Just getting a new powerplant approved takes a huge investment in money and time.

India is actually running powerplants on thorium, mainly due to their inability to get their hands on uranium due to nuclear proliferation concerns.

February 28, 2008 5:29 AM  

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