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Safer, Cheaper Fission Energy from Thorium April 5, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Energy.
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Thorium — the other actinide.

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of thorium fission reactors before. Thorium in nature is roughly three times as abundant as uranium — about as common as lead. A recent article in Wired notes that a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) uses its fuel three orders of magnitude more efficiently than solid-fuel uranium reactors, leaving little waste. Ironically, that seems to have been its downfall:

[The Atomic Energy Commission] proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material.

The arguments for LFTRs are extremely compelling: Not only is fuel a miniscule cost, but they are also so efficient and inherently safe that they leave little waste and they require an infrastructure footprint only about 1% that of a uranium reactor of the same power capacity.

Kirk Sorensen advocates for thorium fission energy at energyfromthorium.com.

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