Nuclear report embraces thorium as an alternative fuel
10 April 2013
A new government strategy outlining Britain’s future nuclear energy policies represents a 'significant step' towards embracing thorium as an alternative fuel.
A major report and review has recommended the UK should invest in nuclear research and development to tap a global market estimated to be worth almost £1.2 trillion.
It adds that part of this R&D effort should investigate the potential of thorium, which some scientists have long championed as an alternative to uranium and plutonium.
Professor Bob Cywinski, of the University of Huddersfield, which is leading UK research into thorium, said: “The Government’s proposed ‘roadmap’ is a significant step forward.
“It represents official recognition of the possibility that low-waste, sustainable thorium fuel could play a crucial role in the future pathways to nuclear power in the UK.”
The review of Britain’s existing nuclear R&D capabilities was led by Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser. Sir John’s report places the University among the academic centres of expertise and collaboration in nuclear research and development.
The government’s ‘roadmap’ backs Sir John’s call for further research, acknowledging thorium’s potential benefits, including its abundance and resistance to proliferation.
Professor Cywinski and Professor Roger Barlow, his University of Huddersfield colleague, co-founded ThorEA, the Thorium Energy Amplifier Association, now known as the Thorium Energy Association.
Professor Cywinski said: “The Association has argued for several years that an alternative nuclear future based on thorium could have significant advantages for the UK.
“We’re delighted that Sir John’s review at the very least suggests this claim is worthy of further research – and we’re certainly ready to pick up the gauntlet in that regard.”
Professor Barlow added: “Efforts to find a solution to our future energy needs have historically been rather scattergun, so we welcome a renewed sense of policy direction.”
“There’s a growing recognition that nuclear energy has to be an essential part of our energy portfolio. Now the challenge is to make clear all the advantages of thorium.”
Thorium has approximately 200 times the energy content of uranium, yet it generates a thousand times less radioactive waste and does not produce plutonium.
It is comparatively abundant – as common as lead, for example – and could therefore provide a supply of fuel that proves sustainable for the next 10,000 years or more.
Professor Cywinski said: “It’s interesting to consider where we might be now if thorium’s benefits had been widely recognised decades ago, as seemed likely at one stage.
“The UK might just have already built a multi-billion-pound industry based on the safe, virtually inexhaustible, low-waste, proliferation-resistant generation of nuclear energy.
“But there’s no reason why this can’t still happen – particularly in light of Sir John’s review, which agrees we need to think for the long term and perhaps a little differently.”
The government press release: Long-term partnership to help UK compete in £1 trillion global nuclear industry, is available here.