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Drive to Build Thorium Reactor Prototype Launched In U.K.

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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  • Sep 9, 2011

The Weinberg Foundation says success with thorium-based reactors could lead to rapid deployment

Thorium8 Sept (NucNet): A new London-based lobbying organization aimed at promoting nuclear  technologies fuelled by thorium is calling for the UK’s Sellafield site to be used as a research centre into next-generation reactors.

The Baroness Worthington, the new organization’s patron, said yesterday in the House of Lords that Sellafield is a unique site and could become the home of “world-leading research” into the use of next-generation nuclear reactors.

She said thorium reactors, as well as being more efficient in their fuel use, generating no long-lasting waste, can be designed to burn up existing stockpiles of plutonium held at the Sellafield site. 

The U.K. government is closing the Sellafield site which had been producing MOX fuel for Japan from surplus plutonium. The U.K has not decided on a plutonium disposition strategy.

The Weinberg Foundation, which is being officially launched in London, says thorium-based reactors could “radically change perceptions of nuclear power leading to widespread deployment”.

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element. According to the Weinberg Foundation thorium can be “found in abundance” throughout the world.

The not-for-profit foundation is named after Alvin Weinberg, who pioneered a Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) during the 1950s and 1960s at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US.

Thorium backersAccording to a business newsletter, advocates of the technology are also convinced that  much of the necessary theoretical work has already been done through the late Alvin Weinberg’s design for a thorium-based liquid-fuelled reactor.

Photo left: Backers of the thorium reactor project, L-R:  Laurence O’Hagan, JoAnne Fishburn and John Durham

According to the newsletter BusinessGreen, John Durham, co-founder of the Weinberg Foundation and an environmental philanthropist, urged policymakers to take a serious look at the technology’s potential.

“The abundance, safety and proliferation resistance of thorium, utilised in proven reactor platforms, presents real hope for a viable and peaceful solution to our global energy needs – from desalination in desperately arid regions to lighting our homes and cities,” he said. “We must seize this time and the clear inclination of progressive nations to make safe nuclear energy a reality.”

The foundation said the LFTR was proven to be safe and to “massively reduce” the generation of long-lived waste. Despite its many potential benefits this unique reactor was never fully developed or commercialized, the foundation said.

The foundation said China has announced a program to develop a thorium-fuelled molten-salt nuclear reactor. Success of the multi-million dollar endeavor would establish China as “a world leader” in generating safe, cost-effective and politically palatable thorium energy.

On the Web

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