Nuclear Technology / Volume 194 / Number 2 / May 2016 / Pages 136-151
Technical Paper / dx.doi.org/10.13182/NT15-83
This paper reviews the front end of the thorium fuel cycle, including the extent and variety of thorium deposits, the potential sources of thorium production, and the physical and chemical technologies required to isolate and purify thorium. Thorium is frequently found within rare earth element–bearing minerals that exist in diverse types of mineral deposits, often in conjunction with other minerals mined for their commercial value. It may be possible to recover substantial quantities of thorium as a by-product from active titanium, uranium, tin, iron, and rare earth mines. Incremental physical and chemical processing is required to obtain a purified thorium product from thorium minerals, but documented experience with these processes is extensive, and incorporating thorium recovery should not be overly challenging. The anticipated environmental impacts of by-product thorium recovery are small relative to those of uranium recovery since existing mining infrastructure utilization avoids the opening and operation of new mines and thorium recovery removes radionuclides from the mining tailings.