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What is thorium and why is it playing a role in the nuclear debate?

Tue, 27th Mar 2012

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Question

What is thorium and why is it playing a role in the nuclear debate? asked:

What is thorium and why is it playing a role in the nuclear debate?

Answer

Eric -   Thorium is element 90.  Itís about 3 times more abundant than uranium. Thorium, if you put it inside a nuclear reactor, will absorb a neutron and turn it to uranium-233 and then that becomes a fuel.

Ben -   So, it could be a useful thing to put into a nuclear reactor if we can get it to absorb those neutrons, if we can get it to play a part.  Would it be safer?  Would it be more useful or are the by-products less harmful?

Eric -   I think we have to look at it from a resource standpoint since itís 3 times more abundant than uranium, it provides another energy input, so we have to provide a catalyst to turn that thorium into something that could be fissioned to break in half and that catalyst becomes a neutron.  So from a safety standpoint, from a waste standpoint, I really don't see Ė you know, if you look at 10,000 feet, any real difference between the thorium or uranium cycle.

Ben -   So itís perhaps not the panacea that the internet seems to claim that it is?

Eric -   Well, I think if you had a chance to read Sir David Kingís SSEE Report towards a low carbon pathway, he talks about moving to a decarbonised society with more nuclear power and has discussions that there isn't enough uranium and so, that's where thorium can provide that extra element.

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Cant thorium be used in a different way, something like a liquid salt reactor. i remember reading somewhere that a liquid salt reactor would be more efficient and therefore better. can anyone elaborate? Kellzea, Sat, 31st Mar 2012

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