“Producing a workable thorium reactor would be a massive breakthrough in energy generation. Using thorium – a naturally occurring moderately radioactive element named after the Norse god of thunder – as a source of atomic power is not new technology. Promising early research was carried out in the US in the 1950s and 60s and then abandoned in favour of using uranium.
The pro-thorium lobby maintains this was at least partly because national nuclear power programmes in the US and elsewhere were developed with a military purpose in mind: namely access to a source of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Unlike uranium, thorium-fuelled reactors do not result in a proliferation of weapons-grade plutonium. Also, under certain circumstances, the waste from thorium reactors is less dangerous and remains radioactive for hundreds rather than thousands of years.
That is a considerable plus for governments now worried about how to deal with nuclear waste and concerned about the possibility of rogue governments or terrorists getting their hands on plutonium. Also, with the world’s supply of uranium rapidly depleting, attention has refocused on thorium, which is three to four times more abundant and 200 times more energy dense..
“Given India’s abundant supply of thorium it makes sense for her to develop thorium reactors,” said Labour peer Baroness Worthington who is patron of the Weinberg Foundation, which promotes thorium-fuelled nuclear power.
She added: “However, many of the advantages of thorium fuel are best realised with totally new reactor designs such as the molten salt reactor developed Alvin Weinberg in the 60s. I hope India will also commit to exploring this option.”
India has the world’s largest thorium deposits and with a world hungry for low-carbon energy, it has its eyes on a potentially lucrative export market for the technology. For more than three decades, India’s nuclear research programme had been subject to international sanctions since its controversial 1974 nuclear tests. But after losing its pariah status three years ago as a result of the Indo-US nuclear deal, India is keen to export indigenous nuclear technology developed in research centres such as the BARC.”