Thorium – A Future Energy Source?
Posted: 5/03/2015 5:00:00 AM
Mining Oil and Gas Jobs
Filed under: Australian-Life
Increasing pressure is being placed on the existing energy sources of coal and oil which ,while the are in plentiful supply, have the disadvantage as being regarded as environmentally unfriendly.
An alternative energy source which does not have the same environmental impact – nuclear energy – is regarded by many as too unsafe. All of these opinions ignore the very basic necessity for energy which not only drives current consumption but is increasing as the middle classes develop in countries such as China and India.
As a result, in South Australia which possesses 30% of the world’s uranium deposits, the government has asked for a Royal Commission to discuss the options for nuclear power in Australia.
The miningoilandgasjobs.com uranium spokesperson Laura Gibson said recently “Providing safety concerns can be adequately addressed then nuclear energy will play a greater role in the world’s future energy supply. And Australia will be part of this forward movement as a general understanding emerges that it is impossible to produce sustainable power supplies with zero carbon emissions.
Uranium can no longer be simply ruled out of discussions or debate”
She added “We are likely to see a future where nuclear power is a provider of jobs and thus employment not only at the level of engineers but at all levels”
With discussion increasing in the area of nuclear power and in particular its safety aspects, a growing group of supporters are being focused on another alternative to uranium - Thorium
Thorium is not new. China is conducting an examination into whether a USA designed reactor can be redeveloped to a working model and India has high level engineers working in teams to study future potential.
Surprisingly an unlikely alliance – the Australian Czech alliance – has also been created to further Thorium studies. Thorium was named after the Norse god of thunder.
While it has some similarities with uranium it differs in some important respects. Its atomic number is 90 while uranium is 92. Both are silver in colour and in their natural state in the ground are mildly radioactive. Significant energy can be developed from both given the right conditions.
Those with a science background would know that thorium is resistant to fission unlike uranium where the atomic nucleus splits apart easily generating a large supply of energy. This is not the case with thorium which must first absorb a neutron creating a heavier element
WHY THORIUM INSTEAD OF URANIUM?
Most importantly thorium reactors do not explode or meltdown as we experience at Chernobyl or Fukushima, secondly and also very importantly the products created from a thorium plant are not suitable for the construction of nuclear weapons.
The natural reserves of thorium are far larger in volume than uranium, the efficiency of the power production is far greater and the resultant waste is far less
SO WHY NO THORIUM SO FAR?
The same argument for the lack of weapon production applies in some quarters to favour uranium. And while there are four times as many reserves of thorium than uranium the world is not exactly short of uranium supplies either with many areas such as those in South Australia not having commenced any kind of mining
WHERE TO NOW?
Thorium technology is on the march. With the world wide headlines of Fukushima creating such dramatic impact the race for a safe alternative is boosted.
New thorium reactors are currently under construction in India and China and so in the short term future we will see an important examination take place on the subject of the viability of thorium power
For Australia while the country possesses 30% of the world’s uranium reserves it also has 20-30% of the world’s thorium reserves.
There is no doubt that should the debate on the subject of nuclear power for Australia be had, and there is growing opinion that it will, then thorium should and would play a significant part of that debate.
In the meantime uranium supplies 11% of global electricity from over 400 reactors and thorium has a long way to go in establishing itself as an economic and viable alternative