Thorium: the wonder fuel that wasn't l Bob Alvarez l Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Robert Alvarez l Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  12 May, 2014

Excellent article from Bob Alvarez on why thorium is not the wonder fuel it's being promoted as and a brief history of the US's persistent failure in making thorium safe or efficient ending with the expected trail of dangerous, weaponizable, waste.

"...the United States has tried to develop thorium as an energy source for some 50 years and is still struggling to deal with the legacy of those attempts. In addition to the billions of dollars it spent, mostly fruitlessly, to develop thorium fuels, the US government will have to spend billions more, at numerous federal nuclear sites, to deal with the wastes produced by those efforts. And America’s energy-from-thorium quest now faces an ignominious conclusion: The US Energy Department appears to have lost track of 96 kilograms of uranium 233, a fissile material made from thorium that can be fashioned into a bomb, and is battling the state of Nevada over the proposed dumping of nearly a ton of left-over fissile materials in a government landfill, in apparent violation of international standards..."


"The federal government established research and development projects to demonstrate the viability of uranium 233 breeder reactors in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. By 1977, however, the government abandoned pursuit of the thorium fuel cycle in favor of plutonium-fueled breeders, leading to dissent in the ranks of the AEC. Alvin Weinberg, the long-time director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was, in large part, fired because of his support of thorium over plutonium fuel

By the late 1980’s, after several failed attempts to use it commercially, the US nuclear power industry also walked away from thorium. The first commercial nuclear plant to use thorium was Indian Point Unit I, a pressurized water reactor near New York City that began operation in 1962. Attempts to recover uranium 233 from its irradiated thorium fuel were described, however, as a “financial disaster.” The last serious attempt to use thorium in a commercial reactor was at the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado, which closed in 1989 after 10 years and hundreds of equipment failures, leaks, and fuel failures. There were four failed commercial thorium ventures; prior agreement makes the US government responsible for their wastes."

Read more:

The Promise and Peril of Thorium

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) The Promise and Peril of Thorium l OLIVER TICKELL   •   31 OCTOBER 2012 It's time to evaluate claims that thorium-fueled reactors can reduce ...

Thorium: Not Green, Not Viable and Not Likely, Oliver Tickell, June 2012

Oliver Tickell l   June 2012 Thorium: Not ‘green’, not ‘viable’, and not likely 1. Introduction "With uranium-based nuclear power continuing its decades-long economic collapse, it's awfully late to be thinking of developing a ...

Don't believe the spin on thorium being a greener nuclear option

Excellent article on why thorium reactors remain a pipe dream of a failing industry.

‘Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.’ Peter Karamoskos (ICAN)

The Ecologist l Eifion Rees  23 June, 2011

It produces less radioactive waste and more power than uranium but the UK would be making a mistake in looking to it as a 'greener' fuel. The Ecologist reports

In a world increasingly aware of and affected by global warming, the news that 2010 was a record year for greenhouse gases levels was something of a blow. 

With the world’s population due to hit nine billion by 2050, it highlights the increasingly urgent need to find a clean, reliable and renewable source of energy.

India hopes it has the answer: thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive element, four times more abundant than uranium in the earth’s crust.

Read full text

CCNR: Facts about Thorium, and Where thorium fits into the decay chain, and the byproducts that follow

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility Gordon Edwards is the President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility Gordon Edwards on thorium reactors: Background:Uranium and thorium are "p...

Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power

IEER/PSR Thorium Fact Sheet 2009 By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd A Fact Sheet Produced by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility Thorium “fuel” has been proposed as an alternative to uran...


Share |
Nuclear Power is not the Answer