• 13 hours Oil Prices Rise After API Reports Major Crude Draw
  • 14 hours Citgo President And 5 VPs Arrested On Embezzlement Charges
  • 14 hours Gazprom Speaks Out Against OPEC Production Cut Extension
  • 15 hours Statoil Looks To Lighter Oil To Boost Profitability
  • 16 hours Oil Billionaire Becomes Wind Energy’s Top Influencer
  • 17 hours Transneft Warns Urals Oil Quality Reaching Critical Levels
  • 18 hours Whitefish Energy Suspends Work In Puerto Rico
  • 19 hours U.S. Authorities Arrest Two On Major Energy Corruption Scheme
  • 1 day Thanksgiving Gas Prices At 3-Year High
  • 1 day Iraq’s Giant Majnoon Oilfield Attracts Attention Of Supermajors
  • 2 days South Iraq Oil Exports Close To Record High To Offset Kirkuk Drop
  • 2 days Iraqi Forces Find Mass Graves In Oil Wells Near Kirkuk
  • 2 days Chevron Joint Venture Signs $1.7B Oil, Gas Deal In Nigeria
  • 2 days Iraq Steps In To Offset Falling Venezuela Oil Production
  • 2 days ConocoPhillips Sets Price Ceiling For New Projects
  • 4 days Shell Oil Trading Head Steps Down After 29 Years
  • 4 days Higher Oil Prices Reduce North American Oil Bankruptcies
  • 5 days Statoil To Boost Exploration Drilling Offshore Norway In 2018
  • 5 days $1.6 Billion Canadian-US Hydropower Project Approved
  • 5 days Venezuela Officially In Default
  • 5 days Iran Prepares To Export LNG To Boost Trade Relations
  • 5 days Keystone Pipeline Leaks 5,000 Barrels Into Farmland
  • 5 days Saudi Oil Minister: Markets Will Not Rebalance By March
  • 5 days Obscure Dutch Firm Wins Venezuelan Oil Block As Debt Tensions Mount
  • 5 days Rosneft Announces Completion Of World’s Longest Well
  • 6 days Ecuador Won’t Ask Exemption From OPEC Oil Production Cuts
  • 6 days Norway’s $1 Trillion Wealth Fund Proposes To Ditch Oil Stocks
  • 6 days Ecuador Seeks To Clear Schlumberger Debt By End-November
  • 6 days Santos Admits It Rejected $7.2B Takeover Bid
  • 6 days U.S. Senate Panel Votes To Open Alaskan Refuge To Drilling
  • 6 days Africa’s Richest Woman Fired From Sonangol
  • 7 days Oil And Gas M&A Deal Appetite Highest Since 2013
  • 7 days Russian Hackers Target British Energy Industry
  • 7 days Venezuela Signs $3.15B Debt Restructuring Deal With Russia
  • 7 days DOJ: Protestors Interfering With Pipeline Construction Will Be Prosecuted
  • 7 days Lower Oil Prices Benefit European Refiners
  • 7 days World’s Biggest Private Equity Firm Raises $1 Billion To Invest In Oil
  • 8 days Oil Prices Tank After API Reports Strong Build In Crude Inventories
  • 8 days Iraq Oil Revenue Not Enough For Sustainable Development
  • 8 days Sudan In Talks With Foreign Oil Firms To Boost Crude Production
Alt Text

This OPEC Strategy Could Boost Uranium Prices Next Year

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium…

Alt Text

New Tech Is Transforming Japan’s Energy Sector

The tech that built bitcoin…

Alt Text

Is Infinite Clean Energy Near?

The dream of creating a…

Stuart Burns

Stuart Burns

Stuart is a writer for MetalMiner who operate the largest metals-related media site in the US according to third party ranking sites. With a preemptive…

More Info

Is Thorium the Future of Nuclear Power

Is Thorium the Future of Nuclear Power

So following the near meltdown of several reactors at Fukushima Nuclear Power, it’s dead is it? Well, to follow one FT article, you could be mistaken for thinking that will be the likely outcome. As the article reports, impact on the industry has been dramatic, from miners like Cameco, a major Canadian uranium producer, whose share price has fallen 20 percent  since March 10th, to major deals like Russian ARMZ’s acquisition of Mantra Resources for A$1.2 billion that has been called off after the buyer’s (an ARMZ subsidiary Uranium One) share price fell 34 percent. Apparently by the end of last week, the (admittedly thinly traded) spot uranium price had fallen 27 percent since Friday to $50/lb.

More importantly for nuclear power, it is not the markets that have been spooked but public opinion and the governments that react to that opinion – at least in democracies. Germany has announced ten of their aging reactors will not be given leave to extend their operating life by 12 years as previously expected and countries as far apart – both politically and geographically – as the US and China have said they are reviewing safety procedures and future projects. Undoubtedly the cost of construction has gone up as a result of Fukushima and public opinion has been hardened, but as we saw with Chernobyl, time does allow fears to subside and the reality is nuclear power will continue to provide a significant percentage of power supply in many countries even if it may not take longer and cost more than we had expected a month ago.

But not all forms of nuclear power are equal; certainly not all forms carry the same inherent risks of meltdown. China is investing considerable sums in developing a technology using radioactive thorium that was first conceived back in the 1960s by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory but, supporters say, lacked funding because it didn’t have the benefit of creating weapons-grade fissile material as a by-product. In those Cold War days, weapons production was as important as energy production. There are potentially two thorium nuclear energy production technologies; the approach to be developed by China will be a thorium-based molten salt reactor. The fail-safe requires no external power or intervention. If the reaction begins to overheat, a plug in the base of the containment vessel melts and the contents simply drain under gravity into a pan. As a Telegraph article quotes former NASA engineer Kirk Sorensen saying, the reactor saves itself.

Many consider the MSR the best long term option, but there is a second thorium-based reactor process more closely aligned to existing technologies; this requires an external “accelerator source” of neutrons to maintain the reaction, and without the existing accelerator the reaction stops. Some, such as Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) proposed using a photon beam while others use a plutonium core such as that under development by India. According to sources quoted in Wikipedia, India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor that uses thorium with a plutonium accelerator in the reactor core. India, which has about 25 percent of the world’s thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor. The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2011, after which five more reactors will be constructed. India currently foresees meeting 30 percent of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.

Thorium, while not without its issues, has much to commend it over uranium. It is widely available in the earth’s crust; the US, for example, has vast reserves as a result of old rare-earth mining waste and Norway has so much it is contemplating research as a second renaissance once oil and gas runs out. The technology can also consume old weapons-grade nuclear fuel and uranium power plant waste, helping resolve a growing storage problem with conventional technology. According to wiki sources, thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste. The metal comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7 percent fissionable U-235.

Maybe most pertinent to the current debate, thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming, so fission stops by default.

To quote the IAEA in the article, the world currently has 442 nuclear reactors. They generate 372 gigawatts of power, providing 14 percent of global electricity. Some suggest nuclear output must double over twenty years just to keep pace with the rise of the China and India, or we will have to build massive numbers of coal-fired power stations. Solar, wind, wave and so on are good local options but are not scalable to fill the gap. If a commercially viable alternative to uranium-based reactors could be developed without the risks inherent in uranium power production, an almost “too good to be true” outcome could await. Buy those thorium shares now? Not just yet, but certainly keep your eye on this space.

By. Stuart Burns

(www.agmetalminer.com) MetalMiner is the largest metals-related media site in the US according to third party ranking sites. With a preemptive global perspective on the issues, trends, strategies, and trade policies that will impact how you source and/or trade metals and related metals services, MetalMiner provides unique insight, analysis, and tools for buyers, purchasing professionals, and everyone else for whom metals and their related markets matter.




Back to homepage


Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on March 31 2011 said:
    I'm a retired scientist. (power generation industry)"Buy Shares in Thorium"? Certainly sell your shares in Uranium and Oil - but there will be NO significant Shares in Thorium the metal or Thorium reactors. All the big nations will be self-sufficient in the metal - there will be no lucrative export trade.The LFTR technology is too old - all the good patents have expired - it is now "Share Ware". No 'Multi National" can dominate the technology. And therefore No Shares to trade.Chinas announcement that it plans to mass-produce and export thorium LFTR units seals the fate of anyone thinking of selling LFTR shares.The world has been waiting 50 years for someone with enough money to perfect these reactors.It is ironic that many Senators in the USA have died of old age while trying to lobby for Thorium funding. One little announcement from China and everything changes!There is a good article on "zero-carbon-electricity" at www vs2020.com
  • Anonymous on April 18 2011 said:
    Not sure about China's Thorium program but after 60 years of prototyping, India’s 3 stage cycle was successfully closed last year when the desired burn up rate was achieved in a stage 2 re-processor. Unlike the once thru "open" fuel cycle, the "closed" cycle reuses the original fuel many times over. India will commission the first commercial stage 2 re-processor by 2012 with the technology for Stage 1, 3 reactors well proven.On a parallel track, India has already designed a unique reactor that combines Stage 1,2,3 technologies in a single reactor, life 100 yrs, numerous passive safety features, meant for export. It is currently in validation stage.
  • Anonymous on May 03 2011 said:
    [quote name=""]I'm a retired scientist. (power generation industry)"Buy Shares in Thorium"? Certainly sell your shares in Uranium and Oil - but there will be NO significant Shares in Thorium the metal or Thorium reactors. All the big nations will be self-sufficient in the metal - there will be no lucrative export trade.The LFTR technology is too old - all the good patents have expired - it is now "Share Ware". No 'Multi National" can dominate the technology. And therefore No Shares to trade.Chinas announcement that it plans to mass-produce and export thorium LFTR units seals the fate of anyone thinking of selling LFTR shares.[/quote]Well it is true that the fortunes will be different, but what you don't have in trade of ores will be more then made up for in trade of reactor shells, replacement parts, and manufactured wares. Money will be made on this.
  • E. Berl on September 01 2013 said:
    With which public companies can investors profit from these advances?

Leave a comment




Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News