The claim is dramatic: An alternative nuclear fuel that could offer a safer and more abundant alternative to the uranium that powers conventional reactors. That is what supporters have to say about thorium, a mildly radioactive element that occurs naturally, with reserves in Australia, the United States, Turkey, India, Brazil and Venezuela. Scientists promoting thorium as an alternative nuclear fuel believe it is a safer, more economical way of generating nuclear power than uranium. A new report out in the UK, however, begs to differ.
The government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) looks at the potential of thorium and says that while thorium remains on its radar screen as a topic of interest, its benefits are often overstated. Thorium claims have ranged from better safety to better efficiency to lower costs.
The report calls for the government to keep its eyes on the future of thorium nonetheless. “It may therefore be judicious for the UK to maintain a low level of engagement in thorium fuel cycle research and development by involvement in international collaborative research activities.”
Thorium’s supporters have said that it does not yield weapons-grade waste the way uranium does. Its waste lasts for only a few hundred years, not the tens of thousands associated with uranium. (More specifically, they say the radioactivity of the resulting waste drops to safe levels after a few hundred years, whereas tens of thousands of years are required for current nuclear waste to cool off.) Via UK stays cautious over thorium as nuclear fuel.