It may well turn out that thorium is the better nuclear fuel as compared with uranium, since it offers the advantages that: (1) it is present in around 3 times the abundance of uranium on Earth, overall, (2) it can be bred into the fissile nuclear fuel uranium-233, (3) far less plutonium and other transuranic elements are produced than is the case from uranium fuel, (4) the thorium fuel cycle might be used to consume plutonium, thus reducing the nuclear stockpile while converting it into useful electrical energy. This is not because commercial production of energy based on thorium is needed in Norway. However, the matter of thorium reactors is not straightforward. Four commercial thorium reactors were constructed, all of which failed. The fuel test rig was lowered into the reactor core on April 25, 2013. (ADS, MSR, A-LWR, etc.). Thorium is very insoluble, which is why it is plentiful in sands but not in seawater, in contrast to uranium. Thus it might prove more expedient to invest in this at least tried technology, which could extend the useful lifetime of nuclear power by hundreds of years. Thorium-plutonium fuels have good long-term radio-toxicity credentials. Thorium is not fissile – but fertile. Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The irradiation of two fuel pins containing thorium-plutonium oxide pellets is under way at the Halden research reactor in Norway. A vital part of her work – and also the most exiting – has been the ongoing Thor Energy irradiation campaign in the OECD Halden research reactor, now in its third year. Now we should embark on the challenge to make a conservative industry think of thorium as a viable supplement and alternative to uranium, she says. Her Master’s degree – one of the best in Sweden that year – was part of Thor Energy’s comprehensive thorium feasibility study completed in 2008. Ceramic thorium oxide has excellent properties as a waste-form in its own right even after irradiation. – My initial interest was in nuclear physics. Klara’s colleagues say she is very dedicated and preoccupied with a sustainable lifestyle. Employing fuels that generate less problematic waste streams, and that can also transmute (destroy) actinide components in current-generation thermal reactor systems. Nonetheless, there is likely to be resistance to the research and development of a brand-new technology based on thorium, in view of huge costs that will effectively be borne by the Norwegian taxpayer if they go it alone down this unlit path. Thorium exists in nature in a single isotopic form – T… It is very difficult to explain the possible advantages and disadvantages. Thorium itself generates essentially no plutonium, and no minor actinides as it burns – unlike uranium fuel. Thorium as an Energy Source - Opportunities for Norway Acknowledgements The Thorium committee was established in the beginning of 2007 with well known experts in the nuclear area from Norway, OECD/NEA, Sweden and Switzerland as committee members. – In high school I chose the natural science curriculum and got to be part of a group of genuine nerds. Thorium oxide would therefore serve as a good matrix for once-through fuel designed specifically to ‘burn’ plutonium. Norway holds a resource of 170,000 tonnes of thorium, which amounts to 15% of the world’s total of 1.2 million tonnes. Norway holds a resource of 170,000 tonnes of thorium, which amounts to 15% of the world’s total of 1.2 million tonnes. To further characterize these advantages, fuel design work is underway. Professor Chris Rhodes became involved with environmental issues while working in Russia during the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. There is far more thorium than that within the earth’s crust all told, averaging 8 ppm compared with around 2.8 ppm for uranium, but the above figures refer to richer ores, most commonly monazite sand which contains up to 12% of thorium. Thorium oxide fuels can therefore operate with lower internal pellet temperatures and exhibit less fission gas release than uranium fuels (including MOX). At a test site in Norway, Thor Energy has successfully created a thorium nuclear reactor — but not in the sense that most people think of when they hear … Nuclear reactors work by harnessing the energy released during nuclear fission, a chemical reaction in which a larger nucleus splits into two or three smaller nuclei, releasing a large amount of heat and neutrons. As for uranium based reactors, the basic classification of thorium nuclear reactors is based upon the average energy of the neutrons which cause the bulk of the fissions in the reactor core.From this point of view nuclear reactors are divided into two categories:. The openings through the test rig top plug enables on-line transmission of data from many sensors located inside the irradiation rig. There is no doubt that we will see a rise in nuclear power and for a number of reasons – cutting CO2 emissions, and securing energy supplies. This means that Norway is sitting on the third largest thorium resource in the world, which again is the basis for Norwegian interest in thorium reactors. Thor Energy’s largest shareholder is Thor Corporation. No nuclear power plant has ever been established in Norway; however, the country has a legal framework for licensing the construction and operation of nuclear installations. The conversion is not direct, and involves the initial formation of thorium-233, which decays rapidly to protactinium-233, and then to uranium-233 over a period of about a month. As I have already stressed, it is a very big accelerator that will be needed if the project has any chance of success, so big in fact that there are none with sufficient power anywhere in the world. No one should forget that we need to make our energy provisions against a backdrop of 10 – 20 years at best, as oil and then gas begin to run short (the “Oil Dearth Era”). Thorium Research Center in Norway The new government in Norway has announced a plan to establish a thorium research center. Thus, a thorium-plutonium fuel will achieve much greater net plutonium consumption than a regular MOX fuel (which makes new plutonium as it burns). The test reactor in Halden is located in a large cavern inside a mountain. A prototype reactor will power a paper mill in the town of Halden, Norway for the next five years. There are sizeable quantities of uranium on the world market, although the price has recently soared. Klara has been a Thor Energy employee since 2008 and has combined her professional career as VP Research and Development with her education and research activities. Thorium will absorb neutrons in a thermal reactor and its reactivity will increase as its 233U content grows. The objective here is to qualify thorium fuel for use in existing and future generations of light water reactors. The thorium crowd is adamant that thorium trumps uranium for nuclear safety and efficiency. Klara’s thesis was on necessary steps for a successful commercialization of thorium fuels as well as simulations of how various mixes of thorium fuel perform in the reactor. fuel temperatures and rod pressures. It is possible to design viable thorium-plutonium fuels for LWRs balancing intersecting issues of fuel reactivity, safety margins and reactor operability. Therefore, be careful when you argue for or against thorium reactors. Before we go around throwing accusations at early nuclear scientists for using uranium instead of thorium, let’s take a quick look at how nuclear reactors operate. Thorium-MOX proved to be a viable and in many respects advantageous option. Putin krever svar om uran-erstatteren (in Swedish) In the long-term perspective, thorium fuels can provide avenues to improve the credentials for nuclear energy by: In the news: Most of current thinking is based around using uranium as the fuel to drive it, but thorium could prove a very useful supplement and might power a new generation of reactors when we are short of uranium and do need to “breed” fuel if it proves uneconomic to mine poor quality uranium ores. So there is enough to be found out about thorium to occupy me for the rest of my career, Klara concludes. Through a guest speaker at the university, she became aware of Thor Energy’s planned thorium feasibility study and the opportunity to do the work as part of her master’s degree studies. Thorium is weakly radioactive, has a high melting point, and is available with more abundance than uranium as an element. Thorium Reactors – Advantages and Disadvantages. A number of countries (including the US, Russia, the UK, France and Japan) have entrenched firm investments in uranium based reactors, and will use them for as long as they can. It has been in operation since 1959 and has performed almost 800 test irradiations. A Norwegian company is breaking with convention and switching to an alternative energy it hopes will be safer, cleaner and more efficient. It was a traditional water cooled, solid fuel reactor. ThO2 has a higher thermal conductivity and a higher melting point than uranium oxide and it is better able to retain fission products within its crystal lattice. We had altogether 6 one day meetings in Oslo and some of the meetings continued into the following day. Scientists at the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) have been encouraged by the government to help research on an Indian thorium-based reactor, and on a … There are several basic facts of … Indeed, the 99+% of uranium-238 can be converted into plutonium-239 and this used in fuel-rods, but there are many negative connotations attached to plutonium, which is almost the “p-word” for the nuclear industry: i.e. Thorium is a nuclear fuel. Professor Egil Lillestol of Bergen University has been pushing thorium for some years now, and thinks that Norway should set the trend in building a prototype accelerator-driven reactor … Through the hole in the 70 cm thick reactor lid one can see the hexagonal pattern of fuel assemblies where the thorium fuel test rig now resides. The primary goal of the HTR fuel development programme at STL is to produce fuel spheres containing thorium and uranium for irradiation testing in the short term, as well as thorium and plutonium in the long term. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34. I write about peak oil, the end of globalisation and future energies, EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Michigan Economic Development Corporation With Forbes Insights, "University Shambles"(Melrose Books, 2009). There’s no such thing as Thorium reactors. Thermal Reactors. This is achieved by operating the fuel in a reduced-moderation core environment (lower hydrogen-to-heavy-metal-ratio), resulting in higher production of, New generation thorium mixed oxide fuel pellets loaded into reactor for testing, Putin krever svar om uran-erstatteren (in Swedish), Aiming to cut the time to market for Thorium Fuels, Achieving more sustainable energy generation in which mined nuclear material is used more effectively. Thor Energy is developing a nuclear fuel technology based on thorium as an alternative to uranium. The Unicorn is Thorium Breeder reactors that can use Thorium with 99% efficiency. Some of the following points can be valid for one reactor design and another point can be invalid for another thorium-based reactor. These engineers stand atop the test reactor in Halden, Norway, which is now burning thorium. But this isn’t about ditching fossil fuels, but rather about making the switch from uranium to thorium. Hence presumably reprocessing is involved in the final stage, since if the protactinium-233 is left in the reactor it will be at least partly converted to protactinium-234, which is not a useful fissile material. The four-year test at Norway's government owned Halden reactor could help thorium inch closer to replacing uranium as a possible safer and more effective nuclear power source. © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. In preparation for the manufacture of Th-MOX pellets, these (Th,Ce)O2 pellets were manufactured at IFE’s labs at Kjeller outside Oslo. Professor Egil Lillestol of Bergen University has been pushing thorium for some years now, and thinks that Norway should set the trend in building a prototype accelerator-driven reactor in which a massive particle accelerator converts thorium-232 to uranium-233 by irradiating it with slow (spallation) neutrons generated by the impact of a 1.6 GeV proton beam on a lead target. unmentionable, certainly in the tabloid press. I developed an existential attitude towards physics, defining the meaning of life as to finding out how the world fundamentally works – the atomic nucleus part of it. Uranium-233 made from thorium is harder to conceal than plutonium, since it is always contaminated with uranium-232, a strong gamma-ray emitter, and accordingly quite easily detected “in a suitcase” than plutonium which is principally an alpha-particle emitter and far more readily hidden. Thorium-MOX fuels can be designed according to two distinct objectives: Maximizing the utilization – and hence the incineration – of plutonium. The primary advantage of a thorium reactor is that it is extremely friendly to the environment. It can be used in several sorts of reactors. Soil contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium. I have always been interested in how things work and how they are built up, probably inspired by my father who is an engineer, Klara explains. Possible Advantages Later she developed the interest for new applications of nuclear physics, energy systems and more efficient resource utilization. – It’s like laying the pieces in a gigantic puzzle. It is with great joy, we are able to congratulate our colleague, Klara Insulander Björk upon receiving her PhD from Chalmers University in Gothenburg having with flying colors defended her dissertation on “Thorium Fuels for Light Water Reactors – Steps towards commercialization” at the Department of Applied Physics in May (2015). It was first discovered in 1829 by Morten Thrane Esmark, an amateur mineralogist from Norway. – I might have completed the first stage, but this is ongoing research and every answer we find, normally spurs a series of new questions to be answered, she says. A Dutch energy company has just embarked on a series of experiments testing the use of molten thorium salts in producing power from nuclear fission, the first of their kind since the early 1970s. And because of the complexity of problems listed below, thorium reactors are far more expensive than uranium fueled reactors. Thorium cycles exclusively allow thermal breeder reactors (asopposed to fast breeders). Both open and closed thorium fueling options exhibit higher proliferation resistance than their corresponding uranium based cycles, as assessed by internationally recognized methodologies. – It is essential to monitor and verify how the neutrons and the fuel material in general behave in the reactor, Klara explains, – such data has never been collected before for these particular fuel types and is vital in order to qualify the fuel for commercial application as well as to calibrate and update our simulation software, she says. A team from the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) the Netherlands has built the first molten salt reactor powered by thorium in decades. The latter are reminiscent in scale to the putative nuclear-fusion reactors, said to mimic processes in stars, e.g. And now you have completed your thorium studies? Thorium-plutonium fuel can be designed with a priority to maximise plutonium consumption – by maximizing the extent to which neutrons are moderated in the reactor. She got in touch with CEO Øystein Asphjell and her employment was a reality. Thor Energy has undertaken a number of studies aiming to compare thorium-plutonium oxide fuel (Thorium-MOX) with other fuel types, uranium- and thorium-based. A vital part of her work – and also the most exiting – has been the ongoing Thor Energy irradiation campaign in the OECD Halden research reactor, now in its third year. Professor Chris Rhodes became involved with environmental issues while working in Russia during the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Many of the parts are unique to this specific rig and are manufactured on site in Halden with extremely high precision. Types of Thorium Reactors. Reactor grade plutonium is a very good fissile driver since it is available from today’s spent nuclear fuel inventories. To this end, the design and licensing of uranium-plutonium (MOX) fuels has “paved the way” for thorium-plutonium fuels since it is only the added plutonium component that makes MOX fuels different from simple enriched uranium fuels. As thorium reactor testing continues in nations like Norway and India, and major investors like Bill Gates (whose company TerraPower has also begun testing thorium reactors) get involved, attention to the metal will only grow... Research on these reactors will lead to implementation, and that will lead to profits for the well-positioned investor. Replacing 238U (90 %) in conventional U-MOX, Can be used in advanced new reactors Both rigs were intended to verify test results and are considered a further step towards commercializing thorium as a supplement fuel in conventional nuclear reactors. Thorium fuel cycles are highly resistant to nuclear proliferative actions. As of 2019, Norway's now only remaining nuclear reactor left in operation, the Jeep II reactor at Kjeller, is shut down after more than 50 years of service. Klara’s thesis was on necessary steps for a successful commercialization of thorium fuels as well as simulations of how various mixes of thorium fuel perform in the reactor. The U.S. tried for 50 years to create thorium reactors, without success. It is highly insoluble, it is non-oxidizable and it retains both fission products and actinides extremely well within its lattice. In between her work and research activities, she has also become the mother of two. News: Here she is (right) with Market Director Margaret McGrath, the Halden Research Reactor’s Project Manager. However, there are a whole host of scientific and engineering challenges that need to be overcome, and even identified in the first place because nobody has ever built one of these reactors, and hence the plans are still only on the drawing board. The First Thorium Salt Reactors in Over 40 Years Were Just Switched on in Europe. In terms of radioactivity, thorium is a nuclear fuel that can be used in reactors to generate low-carbon electricity, but operates in the Thorium-Uranium (Th-U) fuel cycle. New generation thorium mixed oxide fuel pellets loaded into reactor for testing, Thor Energy strengthens collaboration with Cambridge University, Second round of thorium test irradiation is underway. As the fuel operates, thorium is transmuted to uranium-233 which is an excellent fissile material that then yields energy in the fuel. We have developed an advanced thorium based oxide fuel, and we have established a consortium that finances and ensures the implementation of a five year irradiation project. Research and development of thorium-based nuclear reactors, primarily the Liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), MSR design, has been or is now being done in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, India, China, France, the Czech Republic, Japan, Russia, Canada, Israel, Denmark and the Netherlands. The main prerequisites for this work are that normal, cylindrical oxide fuel pellets are used, supporting our view that this fuel should be deployable in operating LWRs with a comparatively small licensing effort. There are various advantages cited for this type of reactor, including the claim that it can be stopped easily if things get out of hand, and that it produces less long-lived nuclear waste than the uranium-fuelled fission reactors that are currently in common use. The immediate future doesn’t look optimistic for thorium, certainly with the untested accelerator-driven reactors, and yet two thorium reactors have been operated, which were of the far simpler molten-salt reactor kind. It is possible to achieve net ‘breeding’ of 233U in thorium fuels in faster-spectrum variants of light water reactors (LWRs) and in heavy water reactors. This draws on the possibility for high conversion and eventually breeding of fissile. It's still early days, but the use to thorium as an alternative to uranium could provide a cleaner, safer … Scientists at the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) have been encouraged by the government to help research on an Indian thorium-based reactor, and on a test programme in Norway. Some of the suggestions include using molten lead as the coolant for the system, but the reactor would run at a temperature above 700 degrees C. when the material becomes corrosive. He studied chemistry at…. This is done by operating the fuel in a core environment with high neutron-moderation (a high hydrogen-to-heavy-metal ratio). According to the US Geological Survey, Norway has a thorium resource of 170,000 tonnes or about 15 percent of the worlds total resources of 1,200,000 tonnes. Thor Energy develops nuclear energy technology based on thorium. I maintain my reservations about how long other resources, e.g. In order to create a reactive thorium fuel capable of producing energy, some form of fresh or recycled fissile material is needed as a ‘driver component’. The first thorium fuel specimens were loaded into the Norwegian fuel-testing reactor operated by the Institute for Energy Technology in Halden in April 2013, and the second round were loaded in December 2015. In the late 1960s, a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory designed a Molten Salt Breeder Reactor fueled by thorium and uranium dissolved in fluoride salts, but it could only breed uranium 233 by continuously removing impurities—including protactinium 233—from the reactor core. This holding company also owns stakes in another company related to thorium fuels, Fen Minerals which has extensive muting rights in the Fen complex which contains large deposits of thorium and rare earth elements. the sun, of which a working model is not expected for at least another 60 years. It was verified to produce more U233 than it consumed (breeding). Also, four research reactors have been built in Norway, the first was JEEP I which was operative from 1951 to 1966. 26.14 Norway 696 26.14.1 Thorium discovery in Norway 696 26.14.2 “Thorium fever” 696 26.14.3 Telemark geology 697 ... 26.15.3 Thorium-based reactor and its fuel cycle 703 Chris has given numerous radio and televised interviews concerning environmental issues, in Europe and in the United States and published more than 400 research and popular science articles and two books, "Toxicology of the Human Environment" (Taylor and Francis, 2000) and "Radicals on Surfaces" (Kluwer, 1995), along with his first novel, "University Shambles"(Melrose Books, 2009). Several instruments are located inside the fuel rods or are directly connected with the rod interior, measuring e.g. Thor Energy - which is leading the consortium carrying out the research - said this is the start of the third phase of a five-year trial-operation of thorium-based nuclear fuels. – So far, we have found no showstoppers for thorium to be used in light water reactors, but then we didn’t expect to in the first place. Modelling shows that the decay profiles for dose rates from thorium-plutonium spent fuels are essentially the same as those for uranium-based fuels, but there are fewer chemical pathways for thorium fuels to be dissolved – especially in oxidizing environments. And some of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster processes in stars, e.g Norway the new government in Norway announced. A nuclear fuel technology based on thorium fuel for use in existing future! Is transmuted to uranium-233 which is now burning thorium of data from many located! 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