Thor Energy, a small nuclear energy company based in Norway, has begun testing the potential of thorium as a replacement for uranium in nuclear reactors. Enthusiasts in the nuclear industry have been promoting thorium as a safer, more efficient alternative to uranium, but many industry traditionalists have downplayed these claims.
At the end of April, Thor Energy began to use thorium at the IFE Halden Research Reactor in Østfold county, Norway.
The test reactor at the Halden nuclear power plant.(Thor Energy)
Last week the World Nuclear News (WNN), a part of the World Nuclear Association, wrote an article on the tests by Thor Energy, supporting thorium as a fuel source that “promises higher operating safety margins due to higher thermal conductivity and melting point, and produces no new plutonium as it operates.”
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One of the largest draws of a reactor powered by thorium, is that it doesn’t produce plutonium which can be used for nuclear weapons, and the waste has a far shorter half-life, meaning that it decays to a harmless state in far less time. Thorium is also an ideal fuel for alternative reactors to the traditional salt water reactor, such as the molten salt reactor, which uses a liquid form of the fuel that cannot suffer a meltdown.
Rather than using a pure thorium fuel, Thor Energy has included a 10% mix of “finely blended plutonium oxide as a ‘fissile driver’.” This thorium MOX (mixed oxide) will enable nuclear reactors to consume plutonium waste from traditional uranium reactions, therefore reducing the huge stockpiles of nuclear waste that are stored around the world.
The thorium MOX fuel rods at the Halden reactor. (smartplanet)
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WNN wrote that “Thor Energy pointed out that thorium-plutonium fuels therefore provide a new option for reducing civil and military plutonium stocks.”
CEO Oystein Asphjell said the tests heralded "the beginning of a new era - not only for our company and our partners, but as an important evolutionary step in the nuclear power industry."
After five years of testing the fuel will be studied in order to calculate its efficiency, as well as the safety claims. WNN stated that Thro Energy will be able to “provide unique information necessary for qualifying this new fuel for commercial use in current reactors.”
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com