The effort to revise current federal law to allow the use of thorium nuclear fuel in reactors is still moving ahead, even as new, or different , benefits for thorium are advanced.
I spoke with staffers for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who sent me the press release linked at the bottom of this post.
The release, dated from 2008, notes two benefits from thorium I hadn’t previously noted. First, thorium fuel rods last three times longer than conventional rods. That leads to the second benefit – total nuclear waste would be reduced by about 2/3. Since thorium is less dangerous and degrades far more quickly than uranium, cleanup and disposal would be far less trouble. As noted earlier, thorium is not as highly radioactive as uranium, but it is powerful enough to generate great amounts of power and dispose of other, more toxic, nuclear wastes.
Safer disposal is one of the attractive points for Sens. Hatch and Reid, who are both opposed to long term storage of nuclear waste in their states.
Here is the basic quote:
Using thorium for nuclear power has a number of potential benefits over conventional uranium. As a resource, thorium is abundant in the U.S. and throughout the world. A thorium fuel rod would remain in the reactor about three times as long as conventional nuclear fuel, cutting the volume of spent nuclear fuel by as much as two-thirds. Also, thorium nuclear fuel would significantly reduce the possibility that weapons-grade material would result from the process. Finally, a thorium fuel cycle could be used to dispose of existing plutonium stockpiles, which is the national security goal.
Hatch will only go so far as to say thorium would “significantly reduce” the risk of nuclear waste being used for weapons. Others say there is no risk at all. I am unsure why the senator is more cautious. Perhaps the risk of creating weapons grade material depends on whether the reactor uses only thorium or is used to consume the world’s plutonium stockpile. Hatch, does however, note that using thorium reactors to burn plutonium waste is a major nation security benefit of thorium reactors. More clarification is needed.
There appear to be no significant opponents to Hatch/Reid. Since it is a new congress Hatch’s office has to coordinate with Reid’s office to be sure Sen. Reid is still a co-sponsor. The bill was was delayed roughly two years by the divisive debate over cap-and-trade. It is ironic to me that a bill that would help solve many of the problems was delayed for over two years fighting for a bill that would do no good at all. Hatch’s office expects the bill to be introduced early in the current session.