The 6th annual Thorium Energy Alliance Conference was held in Chicago, Ill., last week and brought together professionals from the nuclear fields and others interested in energy issues.
Thorium as an energy source is not always a frequent point of discussion within the American Nuclear Society because the existing nuclear fuel cycle in the United States, and that of all other countries that use nuclear energy, is based on uranium. However, the potential for using thorium as an energy source is great and we should keep our minds open to researching alternative nuclear energy technologies (see "The Use of Thorium as Nuclear Fuel" - ANS Position Statement 78).
The conference started with opening remarks from Thorium Energy Alliance Executive Director John Kutsch, in which he explained that we have a "perceptual blindness" to the second- and third-order technologies that today's research can create. He emphasized that we need to be thinking of the vast possibilities for new nuclear energy technology and the role that thorium can play in advanced reactor designs.
So, why use thorium if we already have a uranium fuel cycle? According to the TEA website, a thorium power plant will produce less than 1 percent of the waste of that from a traditional uranium power plant of the same magnitude. The waste from a thorium plant is also benign in less than 200 years, while uranium power plant waste remains radioactive for over 10,000 years. Also, thorium is much more abundant in the earth's crust than uranium.
In a liquid fluorite thorium reactor (LFTR) design, thorium and uranium-233 are dissolved in fluoride-based salts to form a liquid fuel. This fuel is pumped between the core and a heat exchanger to transfer heat to a secondary salt loop, which then transfers the heat to a steam turbine, as illustrated in the image above. This technology was first investigated at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment in the 1960s.
If you want to learn more about thorium, check out the "Th" Thorium Documentary video playlist on YouTube, created by one of the TEAC6 conference attendees, Gordon McDowell. You can also see tweets from the event by clicking on #TEAC6 and support the cause through the Energy From Thorium Foundation. In addition, look forward to a new documentary coming out soon about the benefits of nuclear energy and using thorium as fuel, called The Good Reactor.
Lenka Kollar is the Owner & Editor of Nuclear Undone, a blog and consulting company focusing on educating the public about nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues. She is an active ANS member, serving on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Technical Group Executive Committee, Student Sections Committee, and Professional Women in ANS Committee. Connect with Lenka on LinkedIN and Twitter.