http://www.engineeringnews.co.za
  SEARCH
Login
R/€ = 14.19Change: -0.02
R/$ = 10.57Change: -0.04
Au 1305.35 $/ozChange: 6.47
Pt 1489.50 $/ozChange: 16.00
 
 
Note: Search is limited to the most recent 250 articles. Set date range to access earlier articles.
Where? With... When?








Start
 
End
 
 
And must exclude these words...
Close Main Search
Close Main Login
My Profile News Alerts Newsletters Logout Close Main Profile
 
Agriculture   Automotive   Chemicals   Competition Policy   Construction   Defence   Economy   Electricity   Energy   Environment   ICT   Metals   Mining   Science and Technology   Services   Trade   Transport & Logistics   Water  
What's On Press Office Suppliers Directory Research Jobs Announcements Contact Us
 
 
 
RSS Feed
Article   Comments   Other News   Research   Magazine  
 
 
Apr 06, 2012

Does thorium have a future as an alternative to uranium?

Back
Cape Town|Africa|Nuclear|Nuclear Support Group|Safety|Waste|Water|Africa|India|Norway|South Africa|United States|South African Institute Of Mining|Energy|Mining|Nuclear|Product|Thorium Technology|Environmental|Bush|Power|Waste|Water|Renewables Technologies|Thorium Technology
|Africa|Nuclear|Safety|Waste|Water|Africa|||Energy|Mining|Nuclear||Environmental|Power|Waste|Water|
cape-town|africa-company|nuclear-company|nuclear-support-group|safety|waste-company|water-company|africa|india|norway|south-africa|united-states|south-african-institute-of-mining|energy|mining|nuclear-industry-term|product|thorium-technology|environmental|bush|power|waste|water|renewables-technologies-technology|thorium-technology-technology
More Insight
© Reuse this



Irecently attended a thorium conference in Cape Town hosted by the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

There is a concerted effort to revive the idea of thorium as a better and ‘greener’ alternative to uranium. I would not classify thorium as ‘green’, but the experts tell us that it has four key properties that make it superior to uranium: you need less thorium to produce the same amount of energy, compared with uranium; thorium is more abundant than uranium (three to four times more); thorium cannot be used to make bombs because of its ‘proliferation resistance’ property (except that it does generate fissionable materials, such as U233, and its radioactive waste is said to be less dangerous and has a shorter half-life than uranium waste.

Thorium’s history confirms why it was never an option for atom bombs. There were thorium reactors in the 1950s and 1960s; US and German scientist worked on the reactors. The reactors were actually functional but not commercially available. By and large, these reactor programmes were abandoned for uranium-based reactors because the latter could be used to generate energy and to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

India has a big thorium reactor programme and seeks to be a leading country in thorium development. You will not hear much about it because it is quite a secret, following a pact India signed with the US during the George W Bush era. India never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite having nuclear bombs, which it actually tested at some point. So, India had to get the US’s nod for it to access critical technology from the Nuclear Support Group for its civilian nuclear programme. India has large deposits of thorium and this explains its urgency to develop thorium technology.

Commercially developed thorium reactors may not be very far off. There are two major developments as far as this story goes: Norway, in partnership with other countries, is racing to develop a commercially viable thorium fuel cycle to replace uranium-enriched rods for current light water reactors with thorium fuel, and India – and perhaps other countries as well – is looking at fourth-generation nuclear reactors as the next revolution in nuclear generation with many more modular formats similar to what we tried for the pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR).

Norway’s commercialproofing can be done in the next five years at substantially lower costs than those associated with the PBMR. I am not a supporter of nuclear power but, clearly, the Norwegians, who do not even have nuclear power, have worked out a very strategic niche and role for themselves. We should apply their ‘nose’ for strategic niches to the development of cutting-edge renewables technologies.

Our nuclear industry should learn the hard lesson about developing new nuclear technologies: going big, bulky ends up being slow and costly. India’s thorium reactors are still a very long way from being proven. When the Indians decide to be less secretive, they may spring a surprise on us or they may come out clean on how foolhardy their whole endeavour may have been.

From what we know, India is looking at having a fast-breeder thorium reactor of about 300 MW up and ready by 2013 or so. We will wait and see whether this really happens.

South Africa also sits with large deposits of thorium. In fact, we have a mine called Steenkampskraal – which was last operational in the 1950s – which produced some thorium that was probably supplied to the US thorium reactors.

Steenkampskraal is being reopened, but not for thorium production – it has one of the largest deposits of high-grade monazite, an ore that contains generous amounts of thorium and rare-earth oxides (REOs). Monazite is also a waste product of mineral sands mining. So we sit on all of this ‘waste’ which is thought to have great value if commercial use for thorium can be found. This explains the big interest in thorium from the South African side.

The irony is that green technologies which use all sorts of REOs could end up making thorium as an alternative to uranium a viable option. Even digging REOs for green technologies is not without its problems and challenges. This is because an increase in the volumes REOs mined results in an increase in the radioactive waste pile, which goes unnoticed by the environmental lobby linked to the mining or disposal of monazite. I do not know the exact levels of radiotoxicity and the extent of the problem, but it does exist.

I am personally sceptical about thorium for now. I suppose the same things that bug me about nuclear energy would play themselves out in my thought processing of thorium.

These would be issues of waste of public funds, safety, the disposal of radioactive waste and the interest of big money in sucking the public purse for profit. But, as I am a great fan of open-mindedness, I will keep my mind open for now. However, as is always the case, as you go along the journey of discovery, you will find that you have more questions than answers.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
© Reuse this Comment Guidelines
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other Saliem Fakir News
Debates on living wages or minimum wages are not unique to South Africa. You will find similar debates in France, the UK and the US following a recession and growing household debt in these countries. Because of the globalisation of the world labour pool, low- and...
Living with an electricity monopoly mandated to provide basic services is always a double-edged sword. If it is well run and efficient, it can be a boon for consumers and the public in general. If it is run poorly and inefficiently, the aftershocks will hurt...
Article contains comments
I attended a recent Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) conference on nuclear power in Pretoria.  It brought to fore the mountain of justification – moral, financial and technical – the nuclear build programme has to climb for it to gain a foothold in our...
Article contains comments
More
 
 
Latest News
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim
Updated 5 hours ago South African engineering union Numsa has agreed to end a four-week strike after accepting a wage increase offer from employers, union leader Irvin Jim said on Monday. Numsa, South Africa's largest union, has accepted a 10% annual pay rise fixed for three years for...
Updated 5 hours ago Trade union Solidarity on Monday accepted the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa’s (Seifsa’s) revised wage offer. The three-year wage agreement, settled within the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), comprised...
Rob Davies
Updated 6 hours ago South Africa will use the upcoming US-Africa Leaders' Summit, which will also encompass the 2014 edition of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) Forum, to appeal for a 15-year extension of the nonreciprocal trade arrangement, as well as South Africa’s...
More
 
 
Recent Research Reports
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
Real Economy Insight: Steel 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the steel industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the global and South African steel and stainless steel markets, South Africa’s major steel producers and events that have shaped these markets.
 
 
 
 
 
This Week's Magazine
Multinational semiconductor chipmaker corporation Intel announced its national campaign to further acquire partners to drive its She Will Connect programme, an initiative that aims to expand digital literacy skills to young women in developing countries, further into...
South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope array programme should get back on schedule within a few months. This assurance has been given by SKA South Africa (SKA SA) associate director: science and technology Prof Justin Jonas. Early last month, Science and Technology...
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA’s) Metrorail service will remain a subsidised service following its current multibillion-rand rolling stock, station, depot and signalling upgrade programme. PRASA group CEO Lucky Montana has allayed fears that...
GARYN RAPSON Contaminated Land Provisions in the National Environmental Management: Waste Act No 59 of 2008 will open the door for court battles to determine who will be held liable for the remediation
The uncertainties around the remediation of affected areas as addressed in the Contaminated Land Provisions in the National Environmental Management: Waste Act No 59 of 2008 will possibly spark litigation and disputes between landowners and businesses, contractors...
South Africa is currently the largest component of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB’s) active portfolio in Southern Africa, comprising 62.5% of the bank’s $7.9-billion exposure to the 12-country region – the second largest beneficiary is Mauritius, which...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alert Close
Embed Code Close
content
Research Reports Close
Research Reports are a product of the
Research Channel Africa. Reports can be bought individually or you can gain full access to all reports as part of a Research Channel Africa subscription.
Find Out More Buy Report
 
 
Close
Engineering News
Completely Re-Engineered
Experience it now. Click here
*website to launch in a few weeks