GENEVA - It’s high time for the nuclear industry to overhaul its conventional technology and shift to radically different reactor designs based on thorium fuel, a Nobel Prize winning physicist said.
Carlo Rubbia, a former director of the CERN laboratory who shared the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physics, described thorium as having “absolute pre-eminence” over all other fuels including fossil fuels and uranium, the metallic element that has driven reactors since nuclear first started powering public grids in 1956.
“In order to be vigorously continued, nuclear power must be profoundly modified,” Rubbia said at the Thorium Energy Conference 2013, held on the CERN campus here last week.
Rubbia pointed out that thorium leaves less long-lived waste than uranium, is far more plentiful and is resistant to weapons proliferation, as I reported on my Weinberg blog. He also noted that thorium is effective at safely breeding more fuel, and that it has a much higher energy content than uranium or fossil fuels (see chart below), a characteristic that he said gives it “absolute pre-eminence…as a source of energy.”.........
Nuclear scientists are being urged by the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to develop thorium as a new fuel.
Mr Blix says that the radioactive element may prove much safer in reactors than uranium.
It is also more difficult to use thorium for the production of nuclear weapons.
His comments will add to growing levels of interest in thorium, but critics warn that developing new reactors could waste public funds.