The Thorium Energy Alliance had its first annual conference in Washington earlier this week, so The New York Times decided to take a look at the potential of Thorium as a fuel for nuclear energy plants.
Rajendran Raja, a physicist at Fermilab — the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois — said by telephone that the benefit of adding thorium to the fuel mix would be to create much more fuel using existing abundant resources and to reduce waste.
That sounds promising.
This could be done by building a high-intensity proton accelerator with the capacity to produce fast neutrons that could convert nuclear waste, thorium-232 and uranium-238 into fuel, he said.
In case you thought there wasn’t a but:
But to accomplish this, a proton accelerator would need to be 10 times more power-intense than anything that has been produced to date.
And as you can imagine, such an accelerator would need considerable amounts of electricity itself to do the job. The article goes on to say that Fermilab is trying to overcome the issue, but has not quite got there yet.
The Indians are doing without the accelerator:
India has been making advances in the field of thorium-based fuels, working to design and develop a prototype for an atomic reactor using thorium and low-enriched uranium.
Which, if we understand the history of thorium energy is the “traditional” way of leveraging the element. We had hoped the article would be more hopeful itself, but not so much:
[John Boldeman, an Australian specialist in nuclear science and engineering] acknowledged that creating any thorium systems would be a long process that could take decades before finding success.
We suspect countries like Australia and India – which sit on piles of Thorium – as well as Fermilab will find ways to get those decades down to years. Too promising to do otherwise.
See here for much more about thorium – potentials and pitfalls - from the World Nuclear Association. And pay a visit to Kirk Sorenson’s terrific blog about Thorium – and here you thought we were niche.
This is Jons Jakob Berzelius, who identified Thorium as an element in 1828. Why not call it Berzelium? Here’s the thing: Berzelius is Swedish. Hmmm! Thorium, Thorium. Where did he get that name?