Nuclear Technology / Volume 194 / Number 2 / May 2016 / Pages 281-293
Technical Paper / dx.doi.org/10.13182/NT15-103
By around 2025, thorium-based fuel cycles are likely to be deployed internationally. States such as China and India are pursuing research, development, and deployment pathways toward a number of commercial-scale thorium fuel cycles, and they are already building test reactors and the associated fuel cycle infrastructure. In the future, the potential exists for these emerging programs to sell, export, and deploy thorium fuel cycle technology in other states. Without technically adequate international safeguards protocols and measures in place, any future potential clandestine misuse of these fuel cycles could go undetected, compromising the deterrent value of these protocols and measures. The development of safeguards approaches for thorium-based fuel cycles is therefore a matter of some urgency. Yet, the focus of the international safeguards community remains mainly on safeguarding conventional 235U- and 239Pu-based fuel cycles while the safeguards challenges of thorium-uranium fuel cycles remain largely uninvestigated. This raises the following question: Is the International Atomic Energy Agency and international safeguards system ready for thorium fuel cycles? Furthermore, is the safeguards technology of today sufficiently mature to meet the verification challenges posed by thorium-based fuel cycles? In defining these and other related research questions, the objectives of this paper are to identify key safeguards considerations for thorium-based fuel cycles and to call for an early dialogue between the international safeguards and the nuclear fuel cycle communities to prepare for the potential safeguards challenges associated with these fuel cycles. In this paper, it is concluded that directed research and development programs are required to meet the identified safeguards challenges and to take timely action in preparation for the international deployment of thorium fuel cycles.