Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Next Generation Nuclear: safe, clean, can't be weaponized?

The idea of using Thorium instead of Uranium to generate nuclear energy is pretty exciting if it proves to be economical (Wired):

Named for the Norse god of thunder, thorium is a lustrous silvery-white metal. It’s only slightly radioactive; you could carry a lump of it in your pocket without harm. [...] It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.
To get a sense of the economics, a (theoretical) Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor could produce 1 GW for an annual cost of $10,000 compared to 50-60M for uranium because of the scarcity of the material. It produces less waste, and what waste it does leave behind can't be weaponized. And to get a sense of the abundance of this stuff: "If the US reactor fleet could be converted to LFTRs overnight, existing thorium reserves would power the US for a thousand years."

Predictably, it's a technology that seems to be getting a lot more interest in places like Russia and China. That would be a remarkable scenario... if China were to find energy independence in the next few decades with just the new technologies coming on stream - be they in alternatives, nuclear or even production and discovery of a massive abundance of natural gas as is being anticipated. More on Thorium here (

No comments: