Thorium Energy Alliance

Last updated

Thorium Energy Alliance
Formation2009 Washington, D.C., United States
TypeNon-governmental organization
PurposeEducational, Sustainable Energy
Headquarters Harvard, Illinois
Region served
Executive Director
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]


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]

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.

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]

Despite all the favorable factors, and use 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]

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, August 21–22. [39]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Nuclear power Power generated from nuclear reactions

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium. Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Generating electricity from fusion power remains at the focus of international research. This article mostly deals with nuclear fission power for electricity generation.

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.

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.

Nuclear reprocessing is the chemical separation of fission products and unused uranium from spent nuclear fuel. Originally, reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing nuclear weapons. With commercialization of nuclear power, the reprocessed plutonium was recycled back into MOX nuclear fuel for thermal reactors. The reprocessed uranium, also known as the spent fuel material, can in principle also be re-used as fuel, but that is only economical when uranium supply is low and prices are high. A breeder reactor is not restricted to using recycled plutonium and uranium. It can employ all the actinides, closing the nuclear fuel cycle and potentially multiplying the energy extracted from natural uranium by about 60 times.

Breeder reactor type of fast neutron reactor that produces more fissile material than it consumes

A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor that generates more fissile material than it consumes. Breeder reactors achieve this because their neutron economy is high enough to create more fissile fuel than they use, by irradiation of a fertile material, such as uranium-238 or thorium-232 that is loaded into the reactor along with fissile fuel. Breeders were at first found attractive because they made more complete use of uranium fuel than light water reactors, but interest declined after the 1960s as more uranium reserves were found, and new methods of uranium enrichment reduced fuel costs.

Fast-neutron reactor Type of nuclear reactor

A fast-neutron reactor (FNR) or simply a fast reactor is a category of nuclear reactor in which the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons, as opposed to thermal neutrons used in thermal-neutron reactors. Such a reactor needs no neutron moderator, but requires fuel that is relatively rich in fissile material when compared to that required for a thermal-neutron reactor.

Molten salt reactor Type of nuclear reactor cooled by molten material

A molten salt reactor (MSR) is a class of nuclear fission reactor in which the primary nuclear reactor coolant and/or the fuel is a molten salt mixture. Key characteristics are operation at or close to atmospheric pressure, rather than the 75-150 times atmospheric pressure of typical light-water reactors (LWR), hence reducing the large, expensive containment structures used for LWRs and eliminating a source of explosion risk; and higher operating temperatures than in a traditional LWR, hence higher electricity-generation efficiency and in some cases process-heat opportunities. Design challenges include the corrosivity of hot salts and the changing chemical composition of the salt as it is transmuted by reactor radiation.

Uranium-233 (233U) is a fissile isotope of uranium that is bred from thorium-232 as part of the thorium fuel cycle. Uranium-233 was investigated for use in nuclear weapons and as a reactor fuel. It has been used successfully in experimental nuclear reactors and has been proposed for much wider use as a nuclear fuel. It has a half-life of 160,000 years.

Generation IV reactor New nuclear reactor technologies under development

Generation IV reactors are a set of nuclear reactor designs currently being researched for commercial applications by the Generation IV International Forum, with technology readiness levels varying between the level requiring a demonstration, to economical competitive implementation. They are motivated by a variety of goals including improved safety, sustainability, efficiency, and cost.

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
. This parallels the process in uranium breeder reactors whereby fertile 238
absorbs neutrons to form fissile 239
. Depending on the design of the reactor and fuel cycle, the generated 233
either fissions in situ or is chemically separated from the used nuclear fuel and formed into new nuclear fuel.

Nuclear power in India

Nuclear power is the fifth-largest source of electricity in India after coal, gas, hydroelectricity and wind power. As of March 2018, India has 22 nuclear reactors in operation in 7 nuclear power plants, with a total installed capacity of 6,780 MW. Nuclear power produced a total of 35 TWh and supplied 3.22% of Indian electricity in 2017. 7 more reactors are under construction with a combined generation capacity of 4,300 MW.

Peak uranium is the point in time that the maximum global uranium production rate is reached. After that peak, according to Hubbert peak theory, the rate of production enters a terminal decline. While uranium is used in nuclear weapons, its primary use is for energy generation via nuclear fission of the uranium-235 isotope in a nuclear power reactor. Each kilogram of uranium-235 fissioned releases the energy equivalent of millions of times its mass in chemical reactants, as much energy as 2700 tons of coal, but uranium-235 is only 0.7% of the mass of natural uranium. Uranium-235 is a finite non-renewable resource.

Liquid fluoride thorium reactor Type of nuclear reactor that uses molten material as fuel

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor is a type of molten salt reactor. LFTRs use the thorium fuel cycle with a fluoride-based, molten, liquid salt for fuel. In a typical design, the liquid is pumped between a critical core and an external heat exchanger where the heat is transferred to a nonradioactive secondary salt. The secondary salt then transfers its heat to a steam turbine or closed-cycle gas turbine.

Indias three-stage nuclear power programme plan for energy production

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.

The Energy Multiplier Module is a nuclear fission power reactor under development by General Atomics. It is a fast-neutron version of the Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) and is capable of converting spent nuclear fuel into electricity and industrial process heat.

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 due to how difficult it is to weaponize the specific uranium-233/232 and plutonium-238 isotopes produced by thorium reactors, while critics say that development of breeder reactors in general increases proliferation concerns. As of 2020, there are no operational thorium reactors in the world

Transatomic Power was an American company that designed Generation IV nuclear reactors based on molten salt reactor (MSR) technology.


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