Thorium – Our Nuclear Saviour?

According to this article in today’s Metro, Thorium may be set to replace Uranium as a safer, more sustainable source of nuclear fuel – and China and India are both racing to harness it.

The 1950s and 60s saw research into Thorium put to one side, but interest has been renewed in the element recently, and India are hoping to build a Thorium nuclear reactor by 2016.

Unlike traditional Uranium-based reactors, Thorium reactors are able to be switched off rather than just controlled, which researchers are saying makes them safer. The waste also stays radioactive for a much shorter time than Uranium, but gives off gamma rays, which are able to penetrate much further than other forms of radiation.

Some critics also think that Thorium reactors aren’t viable, and this article from The Guardianpoints out that it has never been tested on a commercial scale. Furthermore, the article claims that so much development is needed to bring Thorium reactors into reality that they may have already been surpassed by other ‘green’ fuel sources by that time.

As fossil fuel supplies continue to dwindle and greenhouse gases flood our atmosphere, the need for more sustainable, greener energy supplies has never been greater. However, the scientific community must proceed cautiously with relatively underdeveloped technology such as Thorium reactors. The opinions on this material are very much divided at the moment and only time will tell if it will outshine Uranium and revolutionise the nuclear power industry – what do you think?


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