Fuelling the future: Thorium as an alternative nuclear fuel

25 March 2013

Professor Bob Cywinski gave a very interesting talk about using Thorium as a Nuclear fuel.

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Some of the advantages of using Thorium given were:

  • Less radioactive waste produced
  • Much greater amount of Thorium in the earths crust as compared to Uranium
  • Hardly any plutonium produced, so risk of nuclear proliferation is much reduced
  • No risk of reactor nuclear meltdown

Professor Cywinski also described an Accelerator Driven Subcritical Reactor (ADSR). An accelerator is used as a source of neutrons in a similar manner to spallation neutron sources such as ISIS.

The neutrons are used to keep a nuclear reaction sustained, but ensure that if the accelerator is switched off, then the nuclear reactor will also stop and no meltdown can occur. Some of the technical difficulties of this arrangement were described such as the need for having much more reliable accelerators than exist at the moment. 

One step forward in this direction is the EMMA accelerator (Electron Machine with Many Applications) at Daresbury Laboratory.  EMMA is a non-scaling Fixed Field Alternating Gradient Accelerator that uses electrons. 

The accelerator for an ADSR will need to use protons, but EMMA has shown that one of the hurdles to an ADSR can be overcome.

Prof Cywinski gave the audience good insight into the problems facing Thorium as nuclear fuel, both technical and political.

The talk took place on Thursday 21 March 2013.