Uranium is a great nuclear fuel for Nuclear power Reactors but it has one flaw. Uranium is costly, and limited when it comes to availability.
Alternative is Thorium, but it is one of the toughest Nuclear fuel to handle.
Fossil fuels would exhaust soon, Nuclear reactors are the biggest bet. Thorium is available in abundance and often people have lived the Thorium Dream.
Why Thorium and not Uranium?
Thorium is more abundant and less radioactive than uranium, and it is said that thorium plants are much safer than conventional Uranium nuke plants. Thorium is way more energy rich too. Thorium can produce 90x times power and fractional amount of waste.
As a fuel, thorium has certain advantages. It is a better quality fertile fuel, gives better performance in the reactor and offers less problem with storage and disposal.
On the flip side, there are serious problems related to corrosion of stainless steel vessels and pipes, radiation build up, higher cost in fuel cycle activity due to automated reprocessing and re-fabrication and separation of spent fuel solution to avoid long-term radiological impact. All of them posed major technological challenges.
The biggest plus point, however, is thorium’s abundance in monazite-rich beach sands in Kerala and other states. India has an estimated 10.7 million tonnes of monazite sands containing 840,000 tonnes of thorium metal.
Building the Thorium Nuclear Power Plant in India
India has successfully run Thorium based Power house tests, that have proven to work.
Over the next five years, India plans to start building a safe nuclear reactor that can be installed in the heart of a metropolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai without posing danger to people and environment. The 300-MWe advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) would be so safe that it can be erected in the heart of any city, said S A Bhardwaj, director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.
Thorium reactors would start taking shape in 2016 in India.
The 300 MW reactor will require 52 tonnes of fuel in its core initially. As the subsequent annual fuel requirement is only 4.7 tonnes, India can sustain on its thorium reserve for hundreds of years.
The first thorium reactor would be a research project as several key technological issues were needed to be addressed before a thorium reactor was made commercial, said a DAE scientist. The lead time could be several decades.
Out of nearly 100 deposits of heavy minerals, at present only 17 deposits containing about four million tonnes of monazite have been identified as exploitable.
India’s Thorium Research
India’s infamous three-stage nuclear power program, probably the foremost and best-funded thorium power program in the world, is edging nearer to fruition. The quirky video above showcases some of the program’s experimental thorium technology from years back. In a meeting in May, the government announced it was well into its thorium program, and was currently developing its 10.7 million tons of Monazite sands, from which thorium is extracted.
“We are well into the first stage based on natural uranium fuel, both from domestic and imported sources,” says the Department of Atomic Energy. “This will be followed by second stage comprising of fast reactors. It is proposed to set up a large power generation capacity based on fast reactors before getting into the third stage. Thorium in itself cannot produce electricity and it has to be first converted to Uranium-233 in a nuclear reactor. A comprehensive three-stage nuclear power programme is therefore being implemented sequentially.” However, in comments he made in July, the atomic energy commissioner sounded less sanguine about thorium’s prospects in the immediate future. “We have to assess the thorium-powered reactor on various aspects in the long-term before replicating similar models in bigger ways”.
Thorium is abundant in India (and pretty much everywhere else), but there is a special concentration in the sands of Kerala. The plant, which itself will largely be used as an experimental facility, will generate 65% of its power from the famed radioactive chemical element.
India has suffered power shortages since ages, and Thorium could bring the Energy Boom in the country. Noting that India has nearly 30% of World’s Thorium assets, the scope is huge.
India’s Atomic Energy Commission has made repeated and vocal calls for other nations to join its crusade for thorium power, perhaps most recently in 2010. According to the Hindu Times, the AEC chairman said that “the world must revive research in utilising thorium and join hands with India, the only country engaged in this endeavour, to ensure that energy is sustainable for the next few centuries.”
India’s and world’s first Safe Thorium Power Plant could be half a decade far from reality. Though there are risks involved, determination and Proof of concepts may lead the project to gigantic success.
Thorium Dream Achieved?
Watch the Thorium Dream Documentary, its worth: