Could Thorium be the Energy Source of the Future?
Increasing pressure is being put on our current energy resources of coal and oil. The growing population and concerns about global warming and the sustainability of current resources is being questioned. Although not a new discovery, Thorium could be the answer to future energy sources. It holds similarities to Uranium, but its efficiency in energy production is far greater and it emits substantially less waste.
Finding more environmentally friendly future energy sources which provide the same volume of energy is constantly on the agenda of coal and oil professionals globally. With the increasing middle classes, particularly in China and India, finding new ways to utilise resources is vital. With more and more discussion on the use of nuclear power, focus is moving towards an alternative energy to Uranium.
Like Uranium, Thorium’s properties allow it to fuel a nuclear chain reaction that can run a power plant and create energy. The difference is Thorium does not split and release energy, when mixed with neutrons it undergoes nuclear reactions and creates an isotope of Uranium, called U-23. This then splits and releases energy. There are some great benefits to Thorium – the first being that it allows thermal breeder reactors so more neutrons are released and fuel can be reprocessed, extending the resources. The second benefit is the fuel cycle of Thorium does not produce transuranic atoms which are the biggest health concern of nuclear waste.
So why hasn’t Thorium been used before? The resource has always been around, but only now has examination begun into utilising it for future energy potential. China is currently conducting work into whether a reactor can be developed into a working model and India currently has engineers working to study what possibilities lie ahead for Thorium.
The natural reserves of Thorium are far larger in volume than Uranium and there are 4 times as many reserves in the world. Although there isn’t currently a shortage of Uranium supplies, when planning future energy sources, the extensive amount of Thorium available could relieve the use of Uranium, particularly in South Australia where 30% of Uranium reserves can be found.
With nuclear disasters such as Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, there is increased pressure to find alternative energy sources. New Thorium reactors are currently under construction in India and China for developments in the short term. Although Thorium has a while to go before being established as a powerful energy source, we expect it to become a big deal in the not so distant future.