Thorium Energy Alliance

Last updated
Thorium Energy Alliance
Formation2009 Washington, D.C., United States
Type Non-governmental organization
Purpose Educational, Sustainable Energy
Headquarters Harvard, Illinois
Region served
John Kutsch
RemarksSee article for more details.

Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA) is a non-governmental, non-profit 501(c)3, educational organization based in the United States, which seeks to promote energy security of the world through the use of thorium as a fuel source. The potential for the use of thorium was studied extensively during the 1950s and 60s, [1] and now worldwide interest is being revived due to limitations and issues concerning safety, economics, use and issues in the availability of other energy sources. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] TEA advocates thorium based nuclear power in existing reactors and primarily in next generation reactors. TEA promotes many initiatives to educate scientists, engineers, government officials, policymakers and the general public. [8]

Non-governmental organization organization that is neither a part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business

Non-governmental organizations - commonly referred to as NGOs, are usually non-profit independent of governments, many are active in humanitarian etc. areas, however, NGOs can also be as lobby groups for corporations, such as the World Economic Forum. NGOs is also sometimes expanded to nongovernmental or nongovernment organizations. They are thus a subgroup of all organizations founded by citizens, which include clubs and other associations that provide services, benefits, and premises only to members. Sometimes the term is used as a synonym of "civil society organization" to refer to any association founded by citizens, but this is not how the term is normally used in the media or everyday language, as recorded by major dictionaries. The explanation of the term by is ambivalent. It first says an NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level, but then goes on to restrict the meaning in the sense used by most English speakers and the media: Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information.

Energy security National security considerations of energy availability

Energy security is the association between national security and the availability of natural resources for energy consumption. Access to (relatively) cheap energy has become essential to the functioning of modern economies. However, the uneven distribution of energy supplies among countries has led to significant vulnerabilities. International energy relations have contributed to the globalization of the world leading to energy security and energy vulnerability at the same time.

Thorium Chemical element with atomic number 90

Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. Thorium is silvery and tarnishes black when it is exposed to air, forming thorium dioxide; it is moderately hard, malleable, and has a high melting point. Thorium is an electropositive actinide whose chemistry is dominated by the +4 oxidation state; it is quite reactive and can ignite in air when finely divided.


Energy crisis and the role of thorium

TEA promotes the use of thorium using a different rationale. Increasing world population, [9] depleting resources [10] and global warming have put severe constraints on the choices of power generation available today. [11] Traditional fossil fuel based energy generation faces two-fold challenges in terms of depleting resources and need to keep greenhouse gas emissions in control. [12] While interim measures like natural gas and unconventional oil are proposed, these still have a carbon footprint and are not universally available. [13] Hydropower use has reached a natural limit in many parts of the world, and the existing capacity is under stress due to climate change. [14] Renewable energy is seen as an important component of future energy generation, but being essentially intermittent, can not be effectively managed by the current power distribution technologies. [15] Hence, nuclear energy is seen as an important option for power generation in many countries. [16]

Human overpopulation The condition where human numbers exceed the short or long-term carrying capacity of the environment

Human overpopulation is when there are too many people for the environment to sustain. In more scientific terms, there is overshoot when the ecological footprint of a human population in a geographical area exceeds that place's carrying capacity, damaging the environment faster than nature can repair it, potentially leading to an ecological and societal collapse. Overpopulation could apply to the population of a specific region, or to world population as a whole.

Resource depletion wildlife depletion

Resource depletion is the consumption of a resource faster than it can be replenished. Natural resources are commonly divided between renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Use of either of these forms of resources beyond their rate of replacement is considered to be resource depletion. The value of a resource is a direct result of its availability in nature and the cost of extracting the resource, the more a resource is depleted the more the value of the resource increases. There are several types of resource depletion the most known being; Aquifer depletion, deforestation, mining for fossil fuels and minerals, pollution or contamination of resources, slash-and-burn agricultural practices, Soil erosion, and overconsumption, excessive or unnecessary use of resources.

Global warming Current rise in Earths average temperature and its effects

Global warming is the long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system. It is a major aspect of current climate change, and has been demonstrated by direct temperature measurements and by measurements of various effects of the warming. The term commonly refers to the mainly human-caused increase in global surface temperatures and its projected continuation. In this context, the terms global warming and climate change are often used interchangeably, but climate change includes both global warming and its effects, such as changes in precipitation and impacts that differ by region. There were prehistoric periods of global warming, but observed changes since the mid-20th century have been much greater than those seen in previous records covering decades to thousands of years.

Present generation nuclear reactors are all uranium based, fueled with either freshly mined uranium or recycled plutonium and uranium as the fissile material. There are concerns about a continued supply of uranium, due to resource depletion, as well as various obstacles to mining uranium deposits. [17] Moreover, the currently widely deployed nuclear reactors harness less than 3% of the energy content of uranium fuel. This technology, in turn, leaves large quantities of radioactive wastes to be disposed of safely. The issue of disposal of these wastes has not been addressed convincingly anywhere in the world. Moreover, a vast majority of the present generation reactors are based on the original design of reactors meant to power submarines, and whose safety is ensured by several active features and standard operating practices. Under various circumstances, these features and procedures were seen to fail, bringing about catastrophic consequences. Highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium are also the feedstock for nuclear weapons.

Uranium Chemical element with atomic number 92

Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weakly radioactive because all isotopes of uranium are unstable; the half-lives of its naturally occurring isotopes range between 159,200 years and 4.5 billion years. The most common isotopes in natural uranium are uranium-238 and uranium-235. Uranium has the highest atomic weight of the primordially occurring elements. Its density is about 70% higher than that of lead, and slightly lower than that of gold or tungsten. It occurs naturally in low concentrations of a few parts per million in soil, rock and water, and is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals such as uraninite.

Nuclear fuel cycle Process of manufacturing and consuming nuclear fuel

The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages. It consists of steps in the front end, which are the preparation of the fuel, steps in the service period in which the fuel is used during reactor operation, and steps in the back end, which are necessary to safely manage, contain, and either reprocess or dispose of spent nuclear fuel. If spent fuel is not reprocessed, the fuel cycle is referred to as an open fuel cycle ; if the spent fuel is reprocessed, it is referred to as a closed fuel cycle.

Uranium mining process of extraction of uranium ore from the ground

Uranium mining is the process of extraction of uranium ore from the ground. The worldwide production of uranium in 2015 amounted to 60,496 tonnes. Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia are the top three producers and together account for 70% of world uranium production. Other important uranium producing countries in excess of 1,000 tons per year are Niger, Russia, Namibia, Uzbekistan, China, the United States and Ukraine. Uranium from mining is used almost entirely as fuel for nuclear power plants.

Thorium has been proposed as a clean, safe, proliferation resistant and sustainable source of energy which additionally is free from most of the issues associated with uranium. [18] [19] The average crustal abundance of thorium is four times more than that of uranium. Thorium is invariably associated with rare-earth elements or rare metals like niobium, tantalum and zirconium. Hence, it can be recovered as a by-product of other mining activities. Already, large quantities of thorium recovered from rare-earth element operations have been stockpiled in many countries. Thorium is fertile material, and essentially all thorium can be used in a nuclear reactor. Thorium is not fissile in itself, absorbs a neutron to transmute into uranium-233, which can fission to produce energy. Therefore, a thorium based fuel cycle produces very little, easily manageable waste compared to uranium. [20] Thorium based fuel cycle options can be used to 'burn' all the presently accumulated nuclear waste. Various thorium based reactor designs are inherently more safe than uranium based reactors. [21] However nuclear proliferation using thorium has proven to be extremely difficult and non-practical, although proof-of-concepts of the contrary also have been proposed. [22]

Abundance of elements in Earths crust Wikimedia list article

The abundance of elements in Earth's crust is shown in tabulated form with the estimated crustal abundance for each chemical element shown as parts per million (ppm) by mass. Note that the noble gases are not included, as they form no part of the solid crust. Also not included are certain elements with extremely low crustal concentrations: technetium, promethium (61), and all elements with atomic numbers greater than 83 except thorium (90) and uranium (92).

Rare-earth element Any of the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium

A rare-earth element (REE) or rare-earth metal (REM), as defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, is one of a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides, as well as scandium and yttrium. Scandium and yttrium are considered rare-earth elements because they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties, but have different electronic and magnetic properties. Rarely, a broader definition that includes actinides may be used, since the actinides share some mineralogical, chemical, and physical characteristics.

Niobium Chemical element with atomic number 41

Niobium, formerly known as columbium, is a chemical element with the symbol Nb and atomic number 41. Niobium is a light grey, crystalline, and ductile transition metal. Pure niobium has a hardness similar to that of pure titanium, and it has similar ductility to iron. Niobium oxidizes in the earth's atmosphere very slowly, hence its application in jewelry as a hypoallergenic alternative to nickel. Niobium is often found in the minerals pyrochlore and columbite, hence the former name "columbium". Its name comes from Greek mythology, specifically Niobe, who was the daughter of Tantalus, the namesake of tantalum. The name reflects the great similarity between the two elements in their physical and chemical properties, making them difficult to distinguish.

Despite all the favorable factors, and utilization in commercial reactors in the past, [23] [24] interest in thorium diminished in the late 1980s due to various reasons. Critics of thorium claim that the advantages are overstated and it is unlikely to be a useful source of energy. Experts point the adverse economics and the availability of plentiful sources of energy that will deter full commercialization of thorium based energy. These and other issues regarding the use of thorium have been debated. [25] [26] [27] [28]

Advocacy for thorium

One of the stated objectives of TEA is the vigorous advocacy for use of thorium as a nuclear fuel. TEA through its activities reaches out to scientists, engineers, government official, policymakers, and lawmakers to sensitize about the advantages of using thorium as a fuel. TEA has conducted a number of publicity campaigns and social media based outreach activities. TEA has emphasized the research and development done in the USA during the 1950s to 1970s period on thorium based reactor designs and fuel cycle options. Of particular interest was the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) carried out at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the United States during 1964-1969. [29] [30]

Social media are interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. The variety of stand-alone and built-in social media services currently available introduces challenges of definition; however, there are some common features:

  1. Social media are interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications.
  2. User-generated content, such as text posts or comments, digital photos or videos, and data generated through all online interactions, is the lifeblood of social media.
  3. Users create service-specific profiles and identities for the website or app that are designed and maintained by the social media organization.
  4. Social media facilitate the development of online social networks by connecting a user's profile with those of other individuals or groups.
Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment

The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) was an experimental molten salt reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researching this technology through the 1960s; constructed by 1964, it went critical in 1965 and was operated until 1969.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory government research facility in Tennessee, United States

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is an American multiprogram science and technology national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered, managed, and operated by UT–Battelle as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) under a contract with the DOE. Established in 1942, ORNL is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system by size and by annual budget. ORNL is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Knoxville. ORNL's scientific programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology and national security.

TEA argues the importance of enabling thorium energy, especially in liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR pronounced lifter), in public hearings, such as the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. [31] TEA promotes the establishment of a working thorium powered reactor. TEA is particularly interested in restarting the homogeneous fuels research program and the commercialization of molten salt reactor [32] and the supply chain infrastructure to support it. [33]

Another aim of TEA is supporting the reemergence of a Western Rare Earths Infrastructure by bringing together rare-earth producers leading to the establishment of a consortium for refining rare earths and sequestering thorium for future use. [34] TEA supports changes in existing thorium regulation in the USA to promote safe production and stockpiling of thorium as a by-product of associated mineral industries activity.


TEA proposes to leverage education and training activities by:

TEA plans to engage politicians through round-table discussions and provide them with expert opinion, white papers, executive summaries and talking points to demonstrate thorium technology. [35]

There is a major initiative to engage the public through regular and social media channels. TEA facilitates experts to appear on radio and television and participate in group discussions and provide interviews. In this direction TEA generates a large quantity of its own media including, webcasts, podcasts, videos, pamphlets, [36] books and articles. TEA sponsors advertising campaigns in print, television and targeted mail.

In the future, TEA plans to track the milestones in the creation of a thorium economy. One of the proposed methods will be to create a thorium and related technology stock portfolio and a Thorium ETF, which will allow the public to track and participate in the growing value of the thorium economy. [37]

Annual Conferences

TEA organizes regular annual conferences since 2009, where scientific sessions and cross-cutting energy and fuel management discussions bring together a cross-section of interested domain experts. [38] The inaugural conference in 2009 took place in Washington D.C., followed by California (2010), Washington D.C. (2011), and Chicago (2012). The 2013 annual conference was held in Chicago, May 30–31. The most recent conference was held in Palo Alto, CA, June 3–4, 2015.

The 2017 annual conference will be held in St. Louis, 21–22 August. [39]

See also

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Thorium fuel cycle nuclear fuel cycle using 232Th as fertile material, which absorbs neutrons to become into 233U (the nuclear fuel), which fissions to produce energy

The thorium fuel cycle is a nuclear fuel cycle that uses an isotope of thorium, 232
, as the fertile material. In the reactor, 232
is transmuted into the fissile artificial uranium isotope 233
which is the nuclear fuel. Unlike natural uranium, natural thorium contains only trace amounts of fissile material, which are insufficient to initiate a nuclear chain reaction. Additional fissile material or another neutron source is necessary to initiate the fuel cycle. In a thorium-fuelled reactor, 232
absorbs neutrons to produce 233
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Liquid fluoride thorium reactor

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Indias three-stage nuclear power programme

India's three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha in the 1950s to secure the country's long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India. The ultimate focus of the programme is on enabling the thorium reserves of India to be utilised in meeting the country's energy requirements. Thorium is particularly attractive for India, as it has only around 1–2% of the global uranium reserves, but one of the largest shares of global thorium reserves at about 25% of the world's known thorium reserves. However, thorium is more difficult to use than uranium as a fuel because it requires breeding, and global uranium prices remain low enough that breeding is not cost effective.

The FUJI molten salt reactor is a proposed molten-salt-fueled thorium fuel cycle thermal breeder reactor, using technology similar to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Molten Salt Reactor Experiment – liquid fluoride thorium reactor. It was being developed by the Japanese company International Thorium Energy & Molten-Salt Technology (IThEMS), together with partners from the Czech Republic. As a breeder reactor, it converts thorium into the nuclear fuel uranium-233. To achieve reasonable neutron economy, the chosen single-salt design results in significantly larger feasible size than a two-salt reactor. Like all molten salt reactors, its core is chemically inert and under low pressure, helping to prevent explosions and toxic releases. The proposed design is rated at 200 MWe output. The IThEMS consortium planned to first build a much smaller MiniFUJI 10 MWe reactor of the same design once it had secured an additional $300 million in funding.

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Thorium-based nuclear power type of power generation

Thorium-based nuclear power generation is fueled primarily by the nuclear fission of the isotope uranium-233 produced from the fertile element thorium. According to proponents, a thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle—including much greater abundance of thorium on Earth, superior physical and nuclear fuel properties, and reduced nuclear waste production. However, development of thorium power has significant start-up costs. Proponents also cite the lack of easy weaponization potential as an advantage of thorium, while critics say that development of breeder reactors in general increases proliferation concerns. As of 2019, there are no operational thorium reactors in the world.

Thorcon is a nuclear engineering company that is designing the ThorCon Reactor, a small modular reactor (SMR) that employs molten salt technology. The reactor design is based on the Denatured molten salt reactor (DMSR) design from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and employs liquid fuel, rather than a conventional solid fuel. The liquid contains the nuclear fuel and also serves as primary coolant. ThorCon plans to manufacture the reactors cheaply in shipyards employing modern ship building construction techniques.


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Further reading