Thorium is a viable alternative to uranium for power generation with some huge potential advantages. It is a shame that the United States is not aggressively pursuing it as an energy source. China has been exploring the use of thorium and just announced a rapid acceleration in their development schedule.
According to the South China Morning Post…
A team of scientists in Shanghai had originally been given 25 years to try to develop the world’s first nuclear plant using the radioactive element thorium as fuel rather than uranium, but they have now been told they have 10.
That statement isn’t entirely true. There have been several reactors of varying design powered by thorium. My own state of Colorado had the thorium powered Fort St. Vrain power station back in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Thor Energy in Norway is pursuing a U-233/thorium fuel cycle
But the Chinese are working toward the holy grail of thorium reactors: a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR or “lifter”). Here is a nice “TED.com” video on the LFTR concept.
China’s appetite for energy is growing by leaps and bounds. Coal is their primary source of electricity, but the resulting smog chokes their cities. Coal will continue to be heavily utilized in China in coming years, but they see thorium a likely route to a cleaner future. They currently have nearly thirty nuclear reactors of various types under construction to meet some of the growing demand. But the LFTR has the greatest potential for fuel supply, non-proliferation, and minimal long term radioactive risk.
It is sad that the great United States may have to learn this lesson from the Chinese.