Advantages of Thorium Reactors Over Traditional Uranium Reactors

Thorium reactors have been identified as the most viable alternative for nuclear energy reactors. A research conducted to evaluate the use of thorium as an alternative source of nuclear energy cited a number of advantage that thorium presents compared to current uranium experience. One of the main advantage that thorium has over uranium is availability. It has been estimated that the available uranium can also be enough to meet the energy needs for a period of 100 years only with similar consumption rate as the one recorded in 2008. On the contrary, thorium is readily available in different parts of the world and its mining is relatively easy as compared to that of uranium.

The total cost of nuclear energy generation in a nuclear plant is controlled by capital cost, maintenance and operating cost, as well as the fuel cost. This is gauged based on uranium which is the main nuclear reactor in the market. The cost of running a uranium-based nuclear plant is extremely high. On the contrary, thorium-based nuclear power generation plants are anticipated to be more economical as compared to current uranium plant. It is estimated that uranium will require 10 times more money to produce similar unit of power as thorium. Thus, thorium-based plants are regarded to be 10 times cheaper than uranium-based plant with the same production power. In this regard, thorium reactors are highly economical as compared to uranium reactors (National Nuclear Laboratory, 2012).

The other main advantage that thorium have over uranium in nuclear reaction is that higher quantity of actinides and only only small quantities of plutonium are generated in thorium fuel cycle. This lowers long-term spent nuclear fuel radio-toxicity. On the contrary, the spent uranium fuel radio-toxicity id for the first 500 years dominated by fission products. The fission products have typically after this time decayed and the process of radio-toxicity turns to be dominated typically by plutonium or any other transuranic element. This remains for about 100000 years before long-lived fission materials like I-129 turn to be dominant contributor. Thus, thorium cycles can be said to completely permit thermal breeder reactors and thus, it has a higher advantage as a nuclear reactor as compared to uranium since it stand a chance of producing more electrical power or energy than the uranium reactors.

Thorium fuel cycle does not contain plutonium, unlike uranium cycles that contains about 1% of the plutonium. This lack of plutonium in thorium fuel cycle reduces its proliferation risk of its nuclear weapons. On the contrary the presence of that 1% of plutonium in uranium increases its proliferation risk. Plutonium remains moderately inaccessible in used fuel. However, separated plutonium oxide is created in a reprocessing fuel cycle. This requires to be subject to severe physical protection which increases uranium fuel production cost (Zou & Barnett, 2014).

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